Alas, the fired professor is a rather creepy piece of work, but his lawsuit clearly has merit. A state university can not fire a tenured professor for holding creepy views, and the justification given (failure to fill out some conflict of interest forms) is transparently pretextual. What the university should have done is initiated a normal process to evaluate his competence; his conspiracy theories clearly fall within the purview of his alleged scholarly research and expertise, and it presumably would have been straightforward to establish that he is not competent through a formal peer-review of his ideas (think of the denier of heliocentrism in the astronomy department, the intelligent design theorist in biology, or the alchemist in the chemistry department). Instead, in response to public pressure, they cooked up a justification for firing him based on failure to file some paperwork, even though it's obvious he was being punished for his constitutionally protected speech. My guess is that since FAU can afford to fight this for longer than the fired professor can, that he will end up getting a settlement of some kind.
The petition is here. (Thanks to philosopher Joel Pust [Delaware] for organizing this.) The background statement hedges a bit more than is really necessary in my view, crediting claims by the college that are nonsensical and won't stand up in court. But the basic text of the statement is good and I urge all members of the academic community to sign the petition. Here's the key text:
We the undersigned, as members of the community of scholars, protest the apparent termination without due process by Dickinson College of Professor Crispin Sartwell, a TENURED associate professor of philosophy, contrary to Dickinson's own Academic Handbook, AAUP guidelines, and the customary standards of tenure.
Unless the College can produce a formal letter of resignation by Professor Sartwell or evidence that he accepted a separation agreement, we call for Professor Sartwell to be reinstated immediately and for the administration of Dickinson College to act in accordance with Dickinson's Academic Handbook and accepted AAUP standards in all subsequent dealings with Professor Sartwell.
UPDATE: The petition was released April 21, and garnered about 100 signatures in its first five days. In the last 24 hours, since this post went up, more than 80 additional philosophers and academics in other fields have signed--thank you! But I hope even more readers will join them as signatories. Ned Block, Jeff McMahan, John Gardner, Neil Tennant, Keith Whittington, Alex Byrne, Peter Vallentyne, Richard Moran, and C.D.C. Reeve are among the distinguished senior scholars who have signed in the last day: please join them! Colleges hate unfavorable attention to their bad behavior. Legal remedies are being sought, but the academic community can make known its concern with what has transpired.
UPDATE: A reader who teaches philosophy to undergraduates writes with two objections that deserve a response:
First, I detect from the tone of your post, perhaps wrongly, the implicit view that there is something crazy about undergrads giving professors advice about what to include on syllabi in the first place. If that's your view, I disagree. I think it's awesome for students to give respectful, constructive criticism to their teachers—and I think what Taylor writes certainly counts as that—as long as it's allowed to be a two-way conversation, and professors have the courage to defend what they teach, as well as of course the ultimate right to make the decisions. Would we really rather have students who always just passively accept our curricular choices? To me criticism can be a sign that students are taking responsibility for their own education. Our role should be to take their criticism seriously, help them to articulate it better, and then respectfully disagree—or, if appropriate, to take their advice! We should be trying to encourage this sort of conversation, rather than shut it down. If we were more committed to actually teaching students how to have this sort of debate well, maybe we would end up with (a) better, more interesting philosophy courses and (b) fewer puerile, easy-to-dismiss lists of demands. A win-win! (I certainly don't mean to lump Taylor's piece in with the latter category, by the way.)
Of course, we already have a way of getting feedback from undergraduates, namely, course evaluations, and student evaluations, at all levels, are useful I've found, especially if one pays attention to recurrent criticisms or worries. The value of feedback from undergraduates has nothing to do with whether a professional association's blog should provide a platform for advice that is based simply on speculation about the effects of "diversifying" the syllabus for which there is no known empirical support.
...some of whom were involved in the disgraceful Kipnis affair (which they actually have the audacity to revisit and try to rationalize in this new letter--and see also). Here's the letter. I would guess from the content that one of the primary authors was the author of the FP blog post we discussed awhile back. (The letter even cites the FP blog post, and makes clear the author learned nothing from the discussion of it, which is part of what is quite alarming about these zealots.) This crowd has long made clear their contempt for fairness and due process, so their posture in this matter is hardly surprising. I assume the adults at the AAUP will ignore this.
MOVING TO FRONT--ORIGINALLY POSTED APRIL 9 (UPDATED, AND UPDATED AGAIN ON APRIL 12, APRIL 14)
Professor Sartwell reports this development on his blog, though he has also shared with me the documentation confirming that this is, indeed, what has transpired. (Our earlier coverage of his case.) I have assisted him in finding a suitable Pennsylvania lawyer to vindicate his contractual rights of tenure and academic freedom, which the College appears to have violated. Legal representation is expensive, and the College has all the advantages here. I urged Prof. Sartwell to create a "GoFundMe" page to assist with his legal expenses, and I have donated myself and urge others to do so. I can not emphasize enough how serious this incident is: a tenured professor, engaging in lawful extramural speech on his blog, was first removed from his classes mid-term and now informed that he is no longer an employee--without any process or hearings whatsoever. Prof. Sartwell is entitled to fair legal process to vindicate his contractual and other legal rights, and I hope the community will support him.
UPDATE: Philosopher Joel Pust (Delaware) kindly calls to my attention a highly selective account in the Dickinson newspaper about recent events. Basically, the College, after removing Sartwell involuntarily from his classes and from campus, is trying to treat statements by Prof. Sartwell on various social media as tantamount to his having resigned his position, even though the College had sent him a termination agreement, which he never signed and explicitly rejected. (Some of the statements, in context, were clearly assertions that the College planned to terminate him, an asessment that proved correct; others, in context, express Sartwell's anger about how he is being treated.) The fact remains that Sartwell was removed from his classes without any kind of hearing or process, and the College has now informed him that he is no longer a faculty member without any hearing or process, even though he declined to sign the proposed termination agreement and rejected its terms.
APRIL 12 UPDATE: The AAUP has now written to Dickinson College about the Sartwell case: Download AAUP Letter to President Roseman 4-12-16. I want to add two additional comments about some of the bizarre claims made by Dickinson and that I've even seen reiterated on social media by people clearly not very knowledgeable about law. First, posting a country music video, "Time to Get a Gun," a song which itself contains no death threats, is not itself a death threat. Making a death threat is a crime in most jurisdictions, and yet no criminal charges have been filed against Prof. Sartwell, and for obvious reasons: he committed no crime. Second, notice the hypocrisy in Dickinson's position in this matter: on the one hand, they demanded that Prof. Sartwell receive a psychiatric evaluation; on the other hand, they now want to assert that e-mails and social media comments by the person they deemed in need of psychiatric evaluation constitute resignation from the faculty, even though at the very same time he rejected, more than once, proposed termination agreements. The more I learn about this case, the more appalling Dickinson's behavior appears. Thank you to those who have donated in support of assisting Prof. Sartwell to get a fair hearing for his legal rights.
APRIL 14 UPDATE: Thanks to all those who have donated to Prof. Sartwell's legal fund. He's closing in on the $5,000 goal; I hope others will contribute. Small amounts matter too! It's important for Dickinson to see that the academic community objects to this treatment of a tenured faculty member.
The full document is available here, though the Executive Summary is quite accurate as to the contents. Apart from a largely irrelevant fixation on the "corporate university," it's an informative report, one that makes clear how the Assistant Secretaries for Civil Rights in the Department of Education have badly overreached their authority since 2011. The report argues, correctly in my judgment, that the OCR had no authority to simply change the standard of proof from "clear and convincing evidence" to "preponderance of evidence." (Note that the latter is the standard of proof in civil litigation, and also in the Title VII employment discrimination context. But without going through the normal "notice and comment" process for substantive changes to administrative regulations, the OCR should not have altered the standard unilaterally. Since findings of fault for sexual harassment and related misconduct is much more like findings of criminal liability, the standard of proof should not have been lowered in my view--especially given that the investigative and adjudication procedures are largely amateur affairs to begin with.)
The other important point the report makes is that the OCR has demonstrated a shocking indifference to First Amendment and academic freedom values in its promulgation of regulations and enforcement actions. We saw this most clearly, of course, in the disgraceful Kipnis affair at Northwestern.
I don't plan on getting into the habit of following the lead of the APA, but I've heard now from several graduate students and junior faculty that they've been bullied and harassed by philosopher Mark Lance (Georgetown) on various social media platforms, especially Facebook, that I thought it was time to raise the issue in public. He apparently has a particularly bad habit of intimidating vulnerable people (students, untenured faculty) if they happen to post a link to something on this blog. If you've been a victim of Lance's bullying, please take a screen shot and pass it on me, I'll prepare a dossier perhaps for future publication here (I'm happy to remove identifying information, of course).
UPDATE: Several readers have pointed out that philosopher Rebecca Kukla--Lance's colleague, co-author and friend--assured others on Facebook that the reports of Lance bullying and harassing junior faculty and grad students on social media were not true--though she then admitted that "Mark can argue hard and come down harshly or even dismissively at times." Alas, sometimes the targets experience that as bullying, especially when the "hard" and "harsh" arguer is a tenured full professor. Unsurprisingly, the bully's friends didn't notice.
ANOTHER: Professor Kukla writes: "I agree that what is experienced as bullying is partly a subjective affair that can't be fully determined from the outside, and I don't wish to make any statements about Mark's capacity to bully. What I specifically found absurd, knowing him, was the idea that he picked junior 'targets' or that he especially had it out for people who sent things to your blog." Almost all of this is consistent with my initial post: it is quite possible that Lance is not conscious of the pattern or of his bullying behavior. However, as anyone who has encountered Lance on social media knows, he is quite clearly obsessed with me, and never misses an opportunity to insult or defame, also doing the same to those who do not share his view.
AND YET ANOTHER: An alert reader points out that before I posted either update, above, Prof. Kukla had already responded to the initial post on Facebook as follows:
Rebecca Kukla My new plan is to bombard him with screenshot after screenshot of me typing things like go fuck yourself Brian and mind your own fucking business Brian and what the ever-living fuck are you even talking about Brian.
Goodness, such tough and scary talk; so surprising that the e-mail she sent me, by contrast, was so benign. I'm sure the APA ombudsperson will get on this abuse and harassment right away.
BEYOND PARODY: Apparently some anonymous person somewhere in cyberspace made vulgar sexist remarks about Prof. Kukla after she posted in defense of Lance on Facebook. According to the moral genius Mark Lance, this is my fault. Really. Let me quote the explanation: "Leiter, of course, knew that this was the predictable reaction...just as Trump knows perfectly well what the results of his incitements will be." You can see examples of Trump inciting violence here (it starts at about 3:40). And after viewing them, you will see that "obviously" the post, above, is exactly analogous. Really. His Holiness Monsignor Lance said so.
I used to endorse a particular brand of politics that is prevalent at McGill and in Montreal more widely. It is a fusion of a certain kind of anti-oppressive politics and a certain kind of radical leftist politics. This particular brand of politics begins with good intentions and noble causes, but metastasizes into a nightmare. In general, the activists involved are the nicest, most conscientious people you could hope to know. But at some point, they took a wrong turn, and their devotion to social justice led them down a dark path. Having been on both sides of the glass, I think I can bring some painful but necessary truth to light.
Important disclaimer: I passionately support anti-oppressive politics in general and have only good things to say about it.,,,
There is something dark and vaguely cultish about this particular brand of politics. I’ve thought a lot about what exactly that is. I’ve pinned down four core features that make it so disturbing: dogmatism, groupthink, a crusader mentality, and anti-intellectualism. I’ll go into detail about each one of these. The following is as much a confession as it is an admonishment. I will not mention a single sin that I have not been fully and damnably guilty of in my time.
First, dogmatism. One way to define the difference between a regular belief and a sacred belief is that people who hold sacred beliefs think it is morally wrong for anyone to question those beliefs. If someone does question those beliefs, they’re not just being stupid or even depraved, they’re actively doing violence. They might as well be kicking a puppy. When people hold sacred beliefs, there is no disagreement without animosity. In this mindset, people who disagreed with my views weren’t just wrong, they were awful people. I watched what people said closely, scanning for objectionable content. Any infraction reflected badly on your character, and too many might put you on my blacklist. Calling them ‘sacred beliefs’ is a nice way to put it. What I mean to say is that they are dogmas.
Thinking this way quickly divides the world into an ingroup and an outgroup — believers and heathens, the righteous and the wrong-teous. “I hate being around un-rad people,” a friend once texted me, infuriated with their liberal roommates. Members of the ingroup are held to the same stringent standards. Every minor heresy inches you further away from the group. People are reluctant to say that anything is too radical for fear of being been seen as too un-radical. Conversely, showing your devotion to the cause earns you respect. Groupthink becomes the modus operandi. When I was part of groups like this, everyone was on exactly the same page about a suspiciously large range of issues. Internal disagreement was rare. The insular community served as an incubator of extreme, irrational views.
MOVING TO FRONT FROM MARCH 10--MORE COMMENTS WELCOME
The Regents are set to approve what one correspondent aptly called "tenure lite," and faculty involved in the process are, correctly, not happy. The big issue is not post-tenure review, which many states have adopted, so far without egregious miscarriages, but rather this:
Under the final plan, tenured faculty can still be laid off and programs downsized in financial emergencies....They also could lose their jobs if their programs are discontinued for "educational considerations," which include long-term student and market demand as well as "societal needs." Each system campus will be free to develop its own policies under the plan....
Now Wisconsin chancellors can cut programs that aren't generating revenue regardless of the courses' educational value and can fire professors who teach concepts such as climate change that aren't popular with conservative legislators who hold the system's purse-strings, [critics] contend.
"If professors are put at risk for telling the truth, for seeking out the truth, for teaching the truth, and losing control of what they teach, we have lost something very essential in public higher education," said Barmak Nassirian, director of federal policy for the American Association of State Colleges and Universities.
Opponents also warned that quality instructors will flee to schools with stronger tenure protections.
I do think this is a disastrous revision of the tenure rules, that will invite political meddling and mischief. It will also put Philosophy Departments at risk, if not at Madison, certainly in other parts of the UW System. I am not aware of any other state authorizing programs and tenured faculty to be terminated under the vague and much lower standard of "educational considerations." (Am I wrong? Please correct me in the comments, with links please.) And to think that this catastrophe happened in a state that used to be at the progressive vanguard!
Thoughts from readers, whether in Wisconsin or elsewhere?
UPDATE: IHE clarifies the issue about the role of "educational considerations," noting that the AAUP "also allows for faculty layoffs for educational reasons determined by faculty members" (emphasis added).
I had withdrawn my original post about this from several days ago, because many details were unclear, and there was a risk then, I was led to believe, that publicity would adversely affect the interests of Prof. Sartwell and perhaps others. But now I am persuaded that the matter warrants public scrutiny, and I hope reporters from CHE or IHE will investigate what is going on.
Here, briefly, is what is now a matter of public record.
Prof. Sartwell, on his blog, accused two philosophers, Alexander Nehamas (Princeton) and Linda Zagbeski (Oklahoma) of plagiarism of different aspects of his work; both denied the allegation, and I have no reason to think the allegations are true since I have not investigated them for myself. It also does not matter. As a matter of academic freedom, Prof. Sartwell has a right to accuse other professors of plagiarism; if the allegations are not true, he should be sued for libel. It is not for Dickinson College to discipline him.
In complaining about Prof. Zagbeski's alleged plagiarism, he concluded by posting a country-music video by a singer named Melissa Lambert called "Time to Get a Gun." Prof. Sartwell writes about country music, and posts lots of music videos. Prof. Sartwell denies making any threats, and if, on the basis only of the original blog posting, Professors Riggs and Zagzebski from the University of Oklahoma actually reported him to the police, as alleged, they acted wrongfully. And, worse, if Dickinson College, put Prof. Sartwell on a temporary leave on the basis of this blog post, the College also acted wrongfully. (I have experience with mentally ill cyber-stalkers posting apparently threatening messages; I have never, however, reported them to the police, but I have taken prudent measures to investigate what's going on. The behavior in question was quite a bit more serious than posting a music video.)
But the matter deserves scrutiny from journalists who cover higher education. It may be that there are other factors that explain both the behavior of the philosophers at Oklahoma and the behavior of Dickinson College. But the academic community deserves to know at this point, since what is public so far is alarming and suggests a possibly serious breach of academic freedom and the rights of tenured faculty.
At last, we have a genuine anti-semitic loony-tune in academia, one Joy Karega, Assistant Professor of Rhetoric & Composition at Oberlin College, with a PhD from the University of Louisville. So far, the evidence is she confines her anti-semitic ravings to her Facebook page. After initially defending on academic freedom and free speech grounds her right to be an anti-semite on Facebook, Oberlin now appears to be changing course, which is unfortunate. The College would be well within rights to find out what's going on in her classrooms, but given that she's an assistant professor in a field with no discernible wissenschaftlich standards, it's not clear quite how that would work. In any case, even if Oberlin holds firm and resists punishing her for her Facebook speech, I would expect this to come back to haunt her at tenure time, by which time the media's 30-second attention span will have moved elsewhere.
...from The Atlantic, commenting on a recent debate at Yale, which included philosopher Jason Stanley, whose intervention, alas, appears again not to have been helpful from the account given. Interestingly, the "there is no free speech problem on campus" position lost in a landslide with the audience after the debate!
...and in violation of its own procedures in the way it dismissed Assistant Professor Melissa Click. Just to be clear about the differences from the Salaita case: Click was not a tenured professor, and she was not fired for her scholarly or political views. Click pretty clearly did engage in inappropriate conduct, but she was still entitled to a formal faculty review prior to Board action, as the comments from Missouri law professor Ben Trachtenberg make clear. However, she is unlikely to have any meaningful legal remedy, given that the same result probably could have resulted from the regular procedures, and the Board's action was not wholly capricious or without any review and evaluation. Alas, like the University of Illinois incident, or the Barnett case at the University of Colorado, or the earlier Churchill case at Colorado, or the LSU case of the "vulgar" professor, it's now quite clear that controversial speech is no longer protected by tenure or due process, the way it once was in public universities. And, alas, the APA's irresponsible "civility" statement plays right into the hands of this administrative mischief.
[I]t was someone in the faculty senate and not the university that offered the advice to UH faculty that you linked to this morning. I’m certainly no fan of the new law—it’s absurd. But I also think that some of the fear-mongering of my colleagues goes too far (a class in statistical fallacies might be in order for those who think the new law gives them reason to change their curriculum—I say this as someone who teaches an intro to ethics course that’s basically designed around the idea that many of the things that we value the most are worthless). I am far less concerned about the students who will wait until 8/1 to carry a concealed handgun on campus than I am of the ones who are probably already carrying.
Predictably, I suppose, some pontificators on social media are mystified that the irresponsible APA statement could be at all controversial. Indeed, philosopher Jenny Saul (Sheffield) has reiterated her view that controversy about the statement reflects badly on the state of the profession. My view is, unsurprisingly, different: the absence of controversy in certain parts of academic philosophy is what suggests the "profession" is populated with people who are not really grown up. The deficiencies of the APA statement are so obvious that it should hardly be surprising that, for example, no group of academic lawyers has promulgated a statement so ridiculous.
Let us recall what the statement said--not regarding the criminal threats and racist abuse suffered by Prof. Yancy--but regarding the lawful anonymous speech on metablogs:
Abusive speech directed at philosophers is not limited to responses by the public to published op-eds. A look at some of the anonymous philosophy blogs also reveals a host of examples of abusive speech by philosophers directed against other philosophers. Disagreement is fine and is not the issue. But bullying and ad hominem harassment of philosophers by other philosophers undermines civil disagreement and discourse and has no place in our community.
I'm not entirely sure why the statement targets anonymous speech, since it seems to me there are many possible examples of speech that runs afoul of the APA statement that was not anonymous. But they all raise the question: what exactly is the "abusive speech" that is now according to a handful of philosophers at the APA forbidden? Consider:
1. Philosopher Rachel McKinnon (Charleston) launched a Twitter tirade against Justin Weinberg (South Carolina), because he had linked to a part of a discussion by Leslie Green (Oxford) of whether Germaine Greer was correct about transgender women. Prof. McKinnon wrote, inter alia, that those she attacked should "suck it up, buttercup," and proudly proclaimed "we're not polite" after denouncing Weinberg for having "fuck[ed] up just now." Indeed, she regularly calls her opponents "philosophy asshat," "fuckwhistles" and tells them to "shut the fuck up" and "fuck off." Surely this speech violate the APA's new policy! If so, what is the APA going to do about it?
2. I have, on multiple occasions, made harsh criticisms of anti-gay bigotry in the philosophy profession, for example, here, here, and here. Does this speech violate the APA's new policy? (Admittedly, if it does, the APA can't do anything about it, since I am not a member.)
3. After I criticized a badly reasoned opinion piece co-authored by Jason Stanley (Yale), he denounced me on his very public Facebook page before hundreds if not thousands of my colleagues, dismissing me as "old, dated, shrill, and frightened." This certainly sounds like ad hominem abuse (though admittedly it did lead dozens of philosophers to friend me on Facebook!). Does this volate the APA's new policy on speech? If not, why not?
My own view is that (a) all of this speech ought to be legal; and (b) none of it should be the object of sanction or opporobium by a purportedly professional organization. Yet all of it appears to fall within the scope of the APA's careless statement. And the reason why professionals in other fields, especially law, don't promulgate statements like this is precisely because such standards are vague and overbroad and thus inconsistent with the values of freedom of expression central to all intellectual and political life. That the APA has been captured by some academics who don't see this should be a cause for concern.
Via Anne Jacobson at FP, comes this very amusing video, prepared I gather by philosopher John Schwenkler (Florida State). The "Hitler" character this time is the Chair of the Board of Trustees who learns, to his dismay, what President Newman has done!
UPDATE: Prof. Schwenkler informs he did not prepare this video, he merely shared it. He also kindly shares another one (also not of his making).
Professor Naberhaus asked me to share the following statement regarding his plans and recent events:
Having been reinstated as a member of the Mount St. Mary’s faculty, I have decided to return to the classroom beginning tomorrow. For my 8:00 a.m. lecture class I will be teaching on the scheduled topic, Plato’s Allegory of the Cave, in which Plato presents his radical notion that education is not a matter of filling the mind with knowledge, but of turning the soul toward Truth.
My return to teaching has nothing to do with accepting the “mercy” of President Newman. (It should be remembered that the charges against me still have not been specified.) Rather, I am returning for my students, who were left without a replacement for me last week. My aim in returning is the same as my aim in teaching generally: to deepen the hunger for truth in my students.
I have invited my colleagues at the Mount and other universities to join me in solidarity by exploring, in whatever way they deem appropriate, similar themes in their classes this week.
I am grateful to many people for their continued support--of me, and more importantly of the principles of academic freedom and the sober, fearless pursuit of truth.
He's reinstated the unlawfully fired professors, though philosophy Prof. Naberhaus says he will not return until Newman resigns, and the faculty have overwhelmingly voted in favor of his resigning by Monday morning. I am told that the mistreated faculty are still exploring legal remedies for how they have been treated, so they still welcome donations to their legal fund, though it is fair to say the cause is now less urgent. Newman is clearly a loose cannon, so the targets of his campaign are wise to keep their legal options open.
Here is the statement, which now puts the APA on record as participating in the inflation of "bullying" phenomenon and, much more seriously, conflating the criminal threats and racist abuse to which Prof. Yancy was subjected with "uncivil" but lawful speech (the APA even uses, bizarrely, the language of "cease and desist"!). Apparently some people at the APA learned nothing from the University of Illinois's crusade on behalf of "civility." There were reasons to be skeptical that an APA statement would have much impact on racist sociopaths of the kind who were harassing Prof. Yancy, but now the APA has gone and done something much more outrageous and unprofessional. The APA has no business regulating lawful "uncivil" speech, or legislating what counts as "civility," let alone calling on people to "cease and desist" from it. (I may have more to say about this later or tomorrow, but I wanted to get something up now, as I will be occupied for the next six hours or so with teaching, a job talk, and a prospectus defense.)
ADDENDUM: The statement is on the APA blog, where comments are open. Do save copies of your comments, in the event they do not appear for violating the new APA "civility" code. If I hear from readers that too many responses are being suppressed there, I'll open comments here tomorrow.
ANOTHER: Philosopher Lewis Powell (Buffalo), the lead editor of the APA blog, writes to share the following pertinent information for those planning on commenting there:
Our policy is not to approve anonymous or pseudonymous comments on the blog. Typically, when someone submits a pseudonymous comment using a real email address I will email them to explain the policy and invite them to recontribute their comment under their public identity, but not everyone who posts pseudonymously provides a functioning email address (and I suspect that many don’t take the time to read our comment policy). So if you could note to your readers that aspect of our commenting policy in the post where you direct them to comment on the statement, it would likely help prevent some frustrations for prospective commenters.
Given that some pseudonymous commenters may be unsure whether the APA's new "civility" policy rules them out of bounds, I'll open comments here for discussion of this statement, and whether it is or isn't appropriate, sensible, etc. Comments may take awhile to appear due to my other obligations today.
FEBRUARY 15 UPDATE: IHE has an article about the statement, which includes the usual obfuscatory blather from apologists for speech suppression, and which includes a quite remarkable quote from Amy Ferrer, the Executive Director of the APA, who has clearly gotten way out of her depth on this one (I should add she's been a quite effective Executive Director in many respects). Philippe Lemoine has a good response to all this, which I'll simply repost here:
So the APA is asking people who engage in a very ill-defined kind of speech to “cease and desist”, but we’re supposed to conclude that it isn’t “trying to restrict speech”. When you read that, it’s hard not to be reminded of the slogan of the English Socialist Party of Oceania in 1984, “war is peace, freedom is slavery, ignorance is strength”. Of course, I understand that you think the APA is trying to encourage some people to speak, but let’s be clear that it’s trying to do that by restricting the speech of others, on the ground that it has a silencing effect. This attack of freedom of expression in the name of freedom of expression has unfortunately become very common, but that doesn’t make it right, as anyone who has read Mill can tell. I also find the notion that people who support the APA’s statement are generally in favor of encouraging the expression of unpopular views preposterous. My impression was that, for instance, many of them didn’t think there was anything wrong with suing Kipnis for the unpopular views she expressed in CHE. But the most outrageous quote in that article is probably Amy Ferrer’s, who apparently can’t tell the difference between the racist insults and death threats that Prof. Yancy received and what people say on blogs, which confirms if there was any doubt left that people at the APA are badly confused.
Simon Newman, the deranged President, has apparently talked to some lawyers in the last couple of days. CHE now reports that he has sent Prof. Naberhaus a letter informing him that he is still on the payroll, despite being "terminated" earlier in the week! He now also proposes that they try to resolve things.
Translation: the lawyers told Newman the firing was an unlawful breach of contract; by keeping him on the payroll, the University can immediately mitigate the damages a court will make them pay. In addition, the lawyers advised Newman that he should try to find a way to reinstate the professor fully, since the firing itself was a breach of contract, since it was done without any process to which tenure entitled Prof. Naberhaus.
Comments are open for more information on developments in this case. I have a very hectic day, so comments may be a bit slow to appear.
Here is the site. I would encourage everyone to donate what they can--a robust legal defense will be required, and just the fact that the academic community is supporting, financially, the two victims of administrative misconduct here will increase the odds of a favorable outcome.
I owe the amusing title to philosopher Phil Gasper, who asked regarding this, "I wonder if philosophers of language have any insight into this issue?" One thing that's clear is that academic freedom at some religious institutions has little meaning, alas.
UPDATE: Ask and ye shall receive! Philosopher Ephraim Glick (St Andrews) writes:
I thought you or your readers might be amused to hear that there is in fact some relevant literature in philosophy of language. The locus classicus is Geach's "Intentional Identity", which notes that someone who doesn't believe in witches can still truly assert something of the form "Hob think a witch did X, and Nob thinks she did Y". Similarly, even if Hob and Nob aren't familar with each other, someone could truly assert something of the form "Hob and Nob think the same witch did such-and-such". An early response by Dennett discusses an example involving gods. Other authors who have discussed the problem include Burge, Salmon, Walter Edelberg, and myself.
Don't get your hopes up, though --- no one in this literature has said enough to resolve disagreements about whether Christians and Muslims worship the same god!
He's sent the following to parents of students, complete with MBA-babble, as well as defamatory innuendo:
Dear Mount Parents,
Mount St. Mary’s University is in growth mode, and on the move.
We are transforming our 200-year-old Catholic University to meet the needs of a demanding global economy. Your student is a part of this exciting transformation. We are building on our existing Liberal Arts core and Catholic Intellectual Tradition and preparing students for a more technical skills-based job market in a way that only The Mount can. Talk to any of our alums, and they will tell you how Mount Priests humanized our faith, and helped them grow into the people they are today.
At The Mount, our true differentiator is and always has been the formation and the creation of the Mount Person, a person of character, of confidence, of wisdom, and of faith. Over Christmas break, we asked our current students what they would like to see more of at The Mount. Well, they were very vocal, and their needs matched those of the guidance counselors, high school seniors and parents, that we also surveyed during this time. Your daughters and sons are attuned to what the job market has to offer and the skills they will need to have, in order to ensure a great career in whatever field they choose. We are going to share some of the results of our research with them in the next few weeks.
Remaining aligned with what the World needs requires change. Change is hard, and requires not only new thinking, but new ways of preparing students – now both inside the classroom, and through experiential learning opportunities.
I want to briefly address my decision to dismiss two faculty members who violated a number of our University policies and our code of ethics. We, as an institution, have received quite a bit of press recently and have chosen not to respond more forcefully with information about the specifics of their conduct which we have available to us. In keeping with our values, we will take the high road. But it is critical that you know that we would never undertake actions like that unless the conduct in question warranted it. You may see other versions of events, but we have chosen to restore our focus on educating your students rather than explaining the damaging actions of a few individuals. We need to move forward with hope and faith rather than fall prey to fear and disparity during this time of transition.
I am a father. My heart knows just who you have entrusted to our care. The education, safety, and ultimate future of your son or daughter is at the heart of why I am here and what I love about the Mount.
Follow our progress, see our university thrive with growth in its third century, but please know as a parent, that we are providing your student with a caring, welcoming, and academically strong environment. Students impacted by faculty changes will receive communication regarding their advising and class schedules.
For specific questions and concerns, please reach out to the Office of the Provost email@example.com.
Yours in Christ, President Simon Newman
Only a court of law is going to stop this venal character. Comments are open for more information, updates etc.
(Thanks to Mark Murphy and John Schwenkler for pointers.)
UPDATE: Via Prof. Schwenkler in the comments, a statement of protest (well-written, and with links to useful background information). Please sign, with title and institutional affiliation, so that at least the Board of Trustees at this institution can get a sense for the depth and breadth of concern about this.
I have no crystal ball, so I can’t tell you whether there will be...a return to the core values of robust expression and debate which are essential for academic life, as even Herbert Marcuse realized in his famous polemic against “Repressive Tolerance.” There is some portion of the younger generation of professional philosophers (grad students and assistant professors) who consistently have the wrong views on these questions. They may well take over the discipline, that I cannot predict. It’s ironic, because other humanities fields, like English, went through this totalitarian catastrophe in the 1980s while philosophy remained a paragon of wissenschaftlich seriousness. The real threats to philosophy as a profession do not come, of course, primarily from benighted youngsters who are victims of group polarization; they come from institutional and economic forces that are basically indifferent to intellectual merit. That’s the real battle that needs to be fought, though I fear we academics are not well-equipped to fight it.
Over at the latest incarnation of a metablog, there is a quite interesting commentary on this issue from someone with experience in both academic English and academic philosophy:
I am an English PhD with an MA in Philosophy from a top-twenty program, and I am struck and puzzled by what seems to be Philosophy’s repetition of the politicized “theory wars” of the 80s-90s. What is going on here? On the basis of pure anecdote and observation, I suspect in part the following:
1. External economic pressures that first hit English in a big way then also started to hit Philosophy in a big way.
2. Specialization exhaustion set in first in English, and now has also become steadily more pervasive in Philosophy.
3. Points 1 and 2 are not unrelated.
4. The new approaches of “feminist philosophy” and the like respond to points 1 and 2 by inventing a new and uncharted territory in response to specialization exhaustion; this new approach must first be justified politically and morally in order then to make itself intellectually fashionable, hence awarded, hence self-perpetuating.
5. The academic context in which this is now occurring is even more administratively heavy than it was three decades ago. Hence the moral and political necessity of the new approaches will also require more direct appeals to top-down administrative intervention than was necessary in English.
6. In both cases, the proponents of the new approaches are basically of two sorts: those already powerful and those not already powerful. The motivations of each group vary, but there is an observable tendency of the first to appeal to morality and justice (they can afford to do so) and of the second to appeal to intellectual novelty and smartness. The second group want to be admitted into the world of the first; the first group wants to pretend that they are not only more intelligent, but also more humane than their elite opponents, with whom they have their fiercest battles.
7. If one or two major Departments are won over to the new approach, the discipline can change very quickly indeed.
8. Thirty years later you’ll realize that the intrinsic conservatism of your discipline, the false certainty of its historical and conceptual divisions, “areas”, and so on, really did need an overhaul. Unfortunately, by then you might have forgotten some of best and most important insights and practices of your discipline prior to the Revolution. In the way that I am an outlier in my generation of English professors for having a pretty thorough knowledge of the Bible, and a bit of Latin and Greek, perhaps some decades hence some young maverick grad student in Philosophy will stand out for her interest in Frege and Quine, her unaccountable fascination with modal and second-order logic, her bizarre affinity for Chisholm.
(A brief aside about the metablog: like all anonymous fora, the metablogs have been a mixed bag: a mix of the stupid, the defamatory, and the obsessed, along with the insightful, the amusing, and the illuminatingly contrarian. The metablogs thrive because of the culture of fear and hostility cultivated by a small handful of philosophy academics active on social media. But if one can wade through the morass, as I periodically do, there are often genuinely interesting contributions. UPDATE: I've removed the link, since elsewhere on the thread, unrelated to what I had linked to, there is a lot of crap, even by metablog standards of "crap." I do wish the owner of the metablog would do a little moderation, stuff is appearing there that will lead to legal action.)
I find some of this plausible, some implausible, most of it intriguing. I wonder what readers make of this. I'd certainly welcome hearing from academics in English as well as Philosophy, and those in other fields that have gone through similar periods of transformation and controversy. Anonymous comments are fine, but please include a valid e-mail address (which will not appear) and choose a stable pseudonym so other commenters can target their responses accordingly.
My source in Turkey (who, for obvious reasons, does not want to be identified) writes:
We have some more horrible news. One of Boğaziçi's undergraduate philosophy students, Jülide Yazıcı, was arrested, along with 3 other students, and has apparently already been charged with the extremely serious charge of "being a member of a terrorist organisation". She had been posting in support of faculty under attack.
I'm trying to find out more about the other 2 students. One of them is from Bilgi University, the other one is from Bogazici too, named Heja Türk; nephew of Ahmet Türk, one of the most famous Kurdish politicians.
6 were detained in a police operation involving house raids in İstanbul two days ago. Out of the detainees, 4 students were arrested with charges of “being a member of a terrorist organization” and “making terrorist propaganda”. The names and affiliations of those arrested are as follows: -Jülide Yazıcı, Boğaziçi University Philosophy Undergraduate Student. She lately supported a petition in Philosophy Department to support 'Academics for Peace'. -Heja Türk, Boğaziçi University, Western Languages and Literature Graduate -Mehtap Demirci -Çağrı Kurt, Bilgi University, Political Science
I believe all 4 are still in custody.
Comments are open for more information and links.
UPDATE: More information here and commentary here.
A philosophy professor will be put on trial. Note that under Turkish law, insulting the President is an actionable offense. It is the law, and not necessarily its application in this instance, that is rotten.
UPDATE: A philosopher in Turkey writes: "I think it might be worth pointing out that Orsan is an important part of Turkish philosophical community - being the person behind 'Philosophy in Assos'": http://www.philosophyinassos.org/assos.htm. These events are an important part of Turkish philosophical calendar. Ironically he was supposed to be giving lecture in Assos on 'Freedom, Justice and Courage' and I think this falls on the day they set for his Trial."
Continental Philosophy Farhang Erfani, a philosopher at American University, provides a useful set of links to news, events, interviews, reviews, videos, etc. related to "Continental philosophy" (broadly construed)