What a piece of work!
Over at the FP blog, there is someone described (opaquely) as "having some expertise in law and philosophy." Is the person a lawyer? I'm not sure. Is it one person or several (the FP blog refers to the pseudonym as "they"). In any case, in the post at issue, the procedural posture of the recent events in the Salaita lawsuit is correctly described. But buried in the rather pedantic discussion of the procedures comes this gem:
(Pardon a brief detour in the discussion. Looming over the entire process is settlement. Discovery is very costly, so the University may be especially motivated to settle now that their motion to dismiss has been denied. Suppose that the University wants to depose 10 people, and suppose each deposition takes 8 hours. Depending on who is taking the deposition, the hourly billable rate might be anywhere from $450 to upwards of $1000. Suppose it’s something in the middle, maybe $700. Just the deposition time itself — setting aside preparation time and assuming that it’s just this one lawyer doing all the work — will cost the University $56,000. That’s a new professor’s salary or a few graduate student stipends for a year and that’s just taking depositions. There will also be time spent defending depositions (what the University will do when their witnesses are being deposed, which amounts to sitting there and occasionally objecting for the record), collecting and reviewing documents, and preparing for trial. The high costs of litigation may often make settlements a good economic proposition for both parties, which is why reading anything about the merits into the existence or amount of a settlement alone, as some did after the University of Colorado settled with David Barnett, is disfavored.)
That last line is obviously a reference to my (correct) diagnosis of the Barnett case But I did wonder, who exactly is it that "disfavors" drawing inferences from the terms of a settlement? Certainly not anyone familiar with the law or lawsuits. Indeed, even FP's "they" are in favor of drawing inferences: after all, the point of noting the costs of discovery is to suggest that sometimes lawsuits settle simply for economic reasons. No one, of course, denied that cost-benefit calculations go into settlements, though they don't work in the simple-minded way "their" discussion suggests: after all, it just isn't the case that a university's budget for litigation is fungible with its instructional budget. And the more important point, which I made in connection with the Barnett settlement, is that universities can almost always afford to litigate longer than individuals: all the economic considerations typically force individuals to settle for less when litigating against institutional actors. That's why the terms of the Barnett settlement were so striking: not only a cash payout, and a forgiven loan, but payment of a substantial portion of Barnett's attorney fees. Against the backdrop of Colorado's Title IX troubles (described in my post), and no evidence of wrongdoing by Barnett that would justify revocation of tenure, the inference to the best explanation of what happened is plainly the one I offered. The only relevant question is whether there is a better explanation; it certainly isn't "theirs."
But back to Salaita: although "they" describe the procedural posture of the case correctly, they omit all the relevant strategic considerations that now kick in. The University wants to avoid discovery, which will be hugely embarrassing, even more embarrassing than what's already come out. The most potent claims in Salaita's lawsuit survived the motion to dismiss. If, as seems very likely, Salaita establishes the facts alleged in the complaint for the breach of contract claim, he will win a motion for summary judgment before the judge who decided the motion to dismiss claim. The lawyers for the University of Illinois understand all this. This is why, as I said a few days ago, I predict a settlement before the calendar year is out, and I would not be surprised if it includes reinstatement for Prof. Salaita, which will save the University millions of dollars in monetary damages (as well as legal costs).
.,.in a long piece by a lawyer and a psychologist (Jonathan Haidt). They coin the apt term "vindictive protectiveness" to describe the behavior of the enforcers of this infantilization (anyone watching philosophy cyberspace will be familiar with the phenomenon). The article itself is a mixed bag, as one would expect given Haidt's involvement. But they do make some interesting points; for example:
Because there is a broad ban in academic circles on “blaming the victim,” it is generally considered unacceptable to question the reasonableness (let alone the sincerity) of someone’s emotional state, particularly if those emotions are linked to one’s group identity. The thin argument “I’m offended” becomes an unbeatable trump card. This leads to what Jonathan Rauch, a contributing editor at this magazine, calls the “offendedness sweepstakes,” in which opposing parties use claims of offense as cudgels. In the process, the bar for what we consider unacceptable speech is lowered further and further
Since 2013, new pressure from the federal government has reinforced this trend. Federal antidiscrimination statutes regulate on-campus harassment and unequal treatment based on sex, race, religion, and national origin. Until recently, the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights acknowledged that speech must be “objectively offensive” before it could be deemed actionable as sexual harassment—it would have to pass the “reasonable person” test. To be prohibited, the office wrote in 2003, allegedly harassing speech would have to go “beyond the mere expression of views, words, symbols or thoughts that some person finds offensive.”
But in 2013, the Departments of Justice and Education greatly broadened the definition of sexual harassment to include verbal conduct that is simply “unwelcome.” Out of fear of federal investigations, universities are now applying that standard—defining unwelcome speech as harassment—not just to sex, but to race, religion, and veteran status as well. Everyone is supposed to rely upon his or her own subjective feelings to decide whether a comment by a professor or a fellow student is unwelcome, and therefore grounds for a harassment claim. Emotional reasoning is now accepted as evidence.
If our universities are teaching students that their emotions can be used effectively as weapons—or at least as evidence in administrative proceedings—then they are teaching students to nurture a kind of hypersensitivity that will lead them into countless drawn-out conflicts in college and beyond. Schools may be training students in thinking styles that will damage their careers and friendships, along with their mental health.
As the newly released e-mails show, these two geniuses (Burbules and Tolliver) aided and abetted and rationalized the unlawful behavior by the Chancellor. The University of Illinois may be rid of Wise (who comes across as a remarkable lightweight in these e-mails), but no one there should rest easy until these two miscreants are removed from all administrative positions.
UPDATE: Corey Robin points out one e-mail in which Chancellor Wise admits to trying to destroy and conceal what would otherwise be discoverable evidence. Not smart, or prudent. That admission will be costly, I expect.
...but only if the Reading staff are successful in challenging the latest neoliberal mischief. As events in Wisconsin show, this ugliness may be coming to America too. It would help the cause if termination for cause were the norm, not the exception, but the ruling class would not welcome that.
(Thanks to Michael Rosen for the pointer.)
Good riddance (and for those who missed last year's events, see this). Today's court decision (in favor of Salaita)--obviously right and predicted long ago--is no doubt the explanation. I may not get a chance to digest the opinion for a few days, but when I do, I'll post some more (if there's anything particulary interesting).
(Thanks to Jason Stanley for the tip on the court decision.)
ADDENDUM: Well, I read a good chunk of the opinion, it is well-done and devastating for the university: the breach of contract claim survives, the promissory estoppel claims survives (though in the end, Salaita can only prevail on one or the other--the breach of contract is the better claim, and he will prevail on it), and the claimed violation of his First Amendment rights survives the motion to dismiss. For my earlier discussions, see this (on the constitutional issues) and this (on the contractual ones). This is a good day for the American justice system and a bad day for the miscreants at the University of Illinois. I predict a settlement before 2015 is over, and I now would not be surprised if it included reinstatement of Salaita (that's how bad the court's decision is for the University).
ANOTHER: The CHE headline misdescribes the court decision (the article does not). On a motion to dismiss, the only question is whether, taking the facts as alleged by the plaintiff, they state legal causes of action. Thus, the court asked the question: if the facts are as Salaita alleges, does he have a valid breach of contract claim, and the court gave that a resoundingly affirmative answer (coming pretty close to ridiculing the university's position that there wasn't really a contract). The breach of contract and the First Amendment claims are Salaita's most potent in terms of damages. It was obviously agreed in advance that Chancellor Wise would step down given an adverse decision, presumably because the University knows that the outrageousness of her conduct will be exposed to view once discovery begins and presumably also thinking that it will be easier to settle with Salaita once they are rid of the University official who said, "We will not hire him." My bet is that, in order to block discovery, which would throw open to public view the bad behavior of many actors behind the scenes, and in order to avoid the damages attached to losing the breach of contract and First Amendment claims (which they would almost certainly lose, and for which the damages could easily amount to compensation for his entire career, i.e., 35 years of salary and benefits, plus additional damages for the constitutional claims), the University will now try to reach a settlement in which he is reinstated (subject to some face-saving terms for the University, like Salaita promising not to scare students in the classroom), and compensation is limited to damages for the last year plus his attorney fees. This is a very good day for tenure, for contracts, and for free speech.
AUGUST 10 UPDATE: Rob Kar, a law professor at the University of Illinois, has a good discussion of the contract law issues.
After the Kipnis fiasco several weeks ago, one in which, unfortunately, philosophers played a starring role, a law colleague asked me "Are all philosophers nuts?" Well, not all, but certainly plenty of them lack professional judgment, as we have had occasion to note before. Still, given the awful publicity for academic philosophy, one might hope that philosophers would think twice before providing further evidence to an unflattering narrative about the field. But, as Sartre said, one must live without hope.
Toronto's Joseph Heath wrote an insightful and sensible piece about the overblown rhetoric in the media about "political correctness," but then identified a more serious problem with one current of academic work:
Often when journalists talk about [political correctness], what they have in mind is old-fashioned language policing. Now I must admit, it is still possible to find this sort of thing in the nooks and crannies of academia. For example, one academic reviewer took exception to a line on the dust-jacket of my recent book: “Over the last twenty years, the political systems of the Western world have become increasingly divided—not between right and left, but between crazy and non-crazy,” condemning my use of the term “crazy.” Apparently it is “ableist.”
So yeah, this sort of thing still exists. What’s important is that it is no longer taken very seriously. This sort of verbal policing is the academic equivalent of a stupid pet trick – one that everyone knows how to do, and most people get over by end of undergraduate. In mixed company, using a term like “ableist” provokes a lot of eyeball-rolling, and is generally recognized as a good way of ensuring that no one outside your own very small circle will take you seriously.
There is, however, a deeper problem that has not gone away. This is the phenomenon that we refer to as “me” studies....
[S]ome people take the advice, to “follow your passion,” as an invitation to choose a thesis project that is essentially about themselves. For example, an old friend of mine in Montreal studying anthropology wrote her Master’s thesis on, I can’t remember the exact title, but it was something like, “Negotiations of difference in Quebecois-Jewish couples on the Montreal Plateau.” At the time, she was living with a Jewish guy on – you guessed it – the Plateau. So she basically wrote an MA thesis about issues in her own relationship. This is classic “me” studies....
Where “me” studies can easily become more problematic is when people decide to study, not their own lives per se, but rather their own oppression. Now of course oppression, in its various forms, is a perfectly legitimate topic of inquiry. Indeed, many of the forms of social inequality that we tried to eliminate, over the course of the 20th 1century, have proven remarkably recalcitrant in the face of our efforts....
[W]ho is best positioned to study these various forms of oppression. After all, we all live in the same world that we are studying. So who is best positioned – those who suffer from it, or those who do not? The inevitable conclusion is that neither are particularly well-positioned, since both will be biased in the direction of producing theories that are, at some level, self-serving, or self-exculpatory. Thus the best arrangement will be one in which lots of different people study these questions, then challenge one another to robust debate, which will tend to correct the various biases. This is, unfortunately, not how things usually play out. Instead, the field of study tends to attract, sometimes overwhelmingly, people who suffer from the relevant form of oppression – partly just for the obvious “me” studies reason, that the issue is greater interest to them, because it speaks to their personal ambitions and frustrations. But it can also set in motion a dynamic that can crowd out everyone who does not suffer from that particular form of oppression.
In terms of the quality of academic work, the results of this can be really disastrous. I can’t tell you how many people I’ve met, who specialize in some form or another of “critical studies,” who are among the worst critical thinkers I’ve met. It’s because they lack the most important skill in critical thinking, which is self-criticism – the capacity to question one’s own view, and correct one’s own biases. And the reason that they’re so bad at it is that they have never had their views seriously challenged....
The problem is that, when you’re studying your own oppression, and you’re obviously a member of the oppressed group in question, people who are basically sympathetic to your situation, but who disagree with your specific claims, are going to be extremely hesitant to challenge you, because they don’t want to appear unsympathetic.....So you are only going to hear from two types of people – those who are sympathetic but want to take a more radical stance, and those who we might label, for convenience, “jerks,” which is to say, people who are both unsympathetic and who are, for one reason or another, immune to any consideration of what others think of them....
I don’t know how many talks I’ve been to where the question period goes this way. Someone presents a view that a solid majority of people in the room think is totally wrong-headed. But no one is willing to say things like: “I don’t think that what you are saying makes any sense” or “you have no evidence to support this contention” or “the policies you are promoting are excessively self-serving.” The questions that will be asked come in only two flavours: “I’m concerned that your analysis is unable to sustain a truly emancipatory social praxis” (i.e. “I don’t think you’re left-wing enough”), or else “you people are always whingeing about your problems” (i.e. “I’m a huge, insensitive jerk”).
Then of course, out in the hallway after the talk, people say what they really thought of the presentation – at this point, a whole bunch of entirely reasonable criticisms will get made, points that probably would have been really helpful to the presenter had they been communicated. The end result is a perfect example of what Timur Kuran refers to as belief falsification (not a great term, but Kuran’s work on this is very interesting). So basically, practitioners of “me” studies suffer from a huge handicap, when it comes to improving the quality of their work, which is that only people who are extremists of one sort or another are willing to give them honest feedback....
This dynamic may help to explain why the reaction that so many “me” studies practitioners have to criticism becomes so highly moralized. They begin to think that all criticism of their views arises from some morally suspect motive. This is what then gets referred to as “political correctness,” namely, the tendency to moralize all disagreement, so that, instead of engaging with intellectual criticism intellectually, they respond to it punitively.
At the FP blog, Jenny Saul (Sheffield) then called attention to a "great piece" by philosopher Audrey Yap (Victoria) responding to Heath; Saul singled out this passage in particular as evidence of the "greatness":
Western philosophy in general has too much in the way of “me” studies, namely straight, upper-middle-class, cis, heterosexual white men studying other straight, upper-middle-class, cis, heterosexual white men. This, as far as I can tell, has narrowed the discipline in general, much to its detriment.
This was such an obvious non-sequitur on Heath's argument, that I originally thought it had to be misquotation, but, alas, it was not. Apparently the author thinks that the philosophical systems of Descartes, Hume, and Kant are usefully explained as being about their own experience as "straight, upper-middle-class, cis, heterosexual white men." This kind of mindless identity politics is not the face that philosophy should put before the world.
UPDATE: Reader S. Wallerstein writes:
In fact, contrary to what Audrey Yap claims, traditional philosophy does not represent the point of view of heterosexual males, because so many famous philosophers were probably gay (if that term has any meaning before the mid 20th century) or did not marry (were they asexual or homosexual?). Philosophy begins with Plato, who seems not to have been heterosexual. The term "upper middle class" refers to mid 20th century and early 21th century social conditions and I doubt that anyone would call Plato "upper middle class" nor could they call Hume "upper middle class" nor Descartes nor Nietzsche nor Marx nor Engels nor Spinoza. Professor Yap should study some history and she would learn that "white, heterosexual upper-middle-class" is a category that only makes sense within the context of contemporary U.S. and Western European societies.
By the way, it's Foucault, whom I always thought was beloved by the "me studies" crowd, who points out that the term "gay" (and hence, the term "heterosexual") has no meaning before the late 19th century, that's there a history of sexuality, of how we categorize these things. I don't know if Foucault's research can always be relied on, but it's obvious that the Greeks had no idea of "heterosexuality" and "homosexuality" in our sense and it seems that in Shakespeare's time, in England at least, they didn't see things that way either.
ADDENDUM: Audrey Yap claims she doesn't understand the point of the preceding. I will help: the point was to call attention to mindless identity politics of a kind that philosophers should oppose. The point of posting Mr. Wallerstein's comment was that it made some nice points, and was funny. Prof. Yap thinks this is 'adversarial': well, yes, I was criticizing something I thought deeply misguided. Prof. Yap's reply is also "adversarial" and tries to score points.
Prof. Yap reports she believes that "everyone's social position affects their thinking." I believe that too; I think the class position of academics is, for example, quite important to understanding what they spend their time on; indeed, I think it's very helpful in understanding a lot of academic identity politics. (Even more important, with Nietzsche, I think one needs to understand the non-rational psychology of people [their cruelty, malice, envy, resentment, fearfulness etc.] to really understand the meaning of what they say and do, superficial appearances notwithstanding.) But Prof. Heath's original essay was not disputing this: indeed, he conceded that the social situation of those studying the oppressed will bias their approach, whether they are oppressor or oppressed. His point, as I read him, was that when the oppressed study themselves, they tend to do so extremely uncritically, moralizing their positions instead of defending them with evidence and arguments. Yap's reply was a non-sequitur with regard to Heath's article, though she now says she was being "sarcastic." Sarcasm only works, however, if it's responsive to what was being said.
At the FP blog (where there isn't even a link to this post!), a commenter "Susan" makes a nice point:
Audrey, I don’t think that you’re reading Leiter’s response to you correctly or charitably. Leiter called your response to the Heath piece a “non-sequitur,” and hence, he gave a philosophical reason for his implicit conclusion that your piece, whatever its independent merits, was not argumentatively relevant to the Heath piece that you took yourself to be responding to. Many top-notch articles and books in philosophy, as well as blog posts, personal conversations, etc. correctly and non-aggressively use a charge of “non-sequitur” to advance an argument. Thus, your claims that Leiter “wrote a dismissal” and that this dismissal was caused by a “preoccupation with adversariality” are simply false and unfounded, respectively. A dismissal, on the other hand, would not have provided a compelling reason for thinking that your piece was not argumentatively relevant to the Heath piece. In honesty, I agree with Leiter here that your piece does not engage with the claims made by Heath, changes the subject, and then declares a conclusion irrelevant to Heath’s to be probable or proven.
I can not resist noting, for the annals of the New Infantilism, that instead of linking to this post directly, Prof. Yap uses something called "do not link" to link to it. Yap and co-conspirators apparently believe that by doing this, they do not add to the google prominence of this blog. Alas, it's way too late for that.
Via IHE. Comments open for more information, links, discussion, perspective.
Via IHE. I'm very pleased to see that he will have gainful academic employment, I hope it will turn into something more permanent, assuming that the University of Illinois is not required legally to rehire him.
Sahotra Sarkar (Texas) forwarded to me the letter sent to the Council of the International Society: Download ISHPSSB venue letter
Signatories include, besides Sarkar, John Dupre (Exeter), Paul Griffiths (Sydney), Samir Okasha (Bristol), Alex Rosenberg (Duke), and Rob Wilson (Alberta), among others. The letter offers a variety of considerations, some political, some practical/logistical. I am opening this for (substantive) discussion.
If the facts are as the plaintiff alleges, then her First Amendment rights were violated. Some readers may recall we discussed this case in understanding some of Steven Salaita's potential claims against the University of Illinois.
UPDATE: The jury found against the instructor, presumably meaning they did not find there was enough evidence that she was denied the job because of her political viewpoint. She certainly had enough evidence in her favor to warrant a trial, but unlike the Salaita case, the evidence was decidedly more mixed. (Thanks to Thomas Gallanis for the pointer.)
Holy fucking shit! But, seriously, this does not sound like a firing offense, though it would be grounds for some disciplinary action. Is there more to this story?
(Thanks to David Ross for the pointer.)
...since, after all, if your views are offensive, you are not entitled to be employed, right? Peter Singer is, by my lights, a pernicious presence in philosophy, but my lights or the lights of disability activists are irrelevant to whether he should be employed. This is what academic freedom means: academics can hold views that you think are appalling, stupid, worthless. Maybe you are right, and maybe you are not. But the lifeblood of the academy is insulation from such outbursts of indignation.
This latest outburst doesn't really matter, of course--Singer has weathered worse. But it is symptomatic of something dangerous.
Interesting piece by a college professor, about ten years into his teaching career; some excerpts:
Things have changed since I started teaching. The vibe is different. I wish there were a less blunt way to put this, but my students sometimes scare me — particularly the liberal ones.
Not, like, in a person-by-person sense, but students in general. The student-teacher dynamic has been reenvisioned along a line that's simultaneously consumerist and hyper-protective, giving each and every student the ability to claim Grievous Harm in nearly any circumstance, after any affront, and a teacher's formal ability to respond to these claims is limited at best....
The current student-teacher dynamic has been shaped by a large confluence of factors, and perhaps the most important of these is the manner in which cultural studies and social justice writers have comported themselves in popular media. I have a great deal of respect for both of these fields, but their manifestations online, their desire to democratize complex fields of study by making them as digestible as a TGIF sitcom, has led to adoption of a totalizing, simplistic, unworkable, and ultimately stifling conception of social justice. The simplicity and absolutism of this conception has combined with the precarity of academic jobs to create higher ed's current climate of fear, a heavily policed discourse of semantic sensitivity in which safety and comfort have become the ends and the means of the college experience.
This new understanding of social justice politics resembles what University of Pennsylvania political science professor Adolph Reed Jr. calls a politics of personal testimony, in which the feelings of individuals are the primary or even exclusive means through which social issues are understood and discussed. Reed derides this sort of political approach as essentially being a non-politics, a discourse that "is focused much more on taxonomy than politics [which] emphasizes the names by which we should call some strains of inequality [ ... ] over specifying the mechanisms that produce them or even the steps that can be taken to combat them." Under such a conception, people become more concerned with signaling goodness, usually through semantics and empty gestures, than with actually working to effect change.
(Thanks to Ryan Doerfler for the pointer.)
I'm curious to hear what readers make of this. I have very little to do with undergraduates--I taught Nietzsche here to undergrads two years ago, it was a lively and engaged group, and I did not encounter any problems like this. I certainly have never encountered nonsense like this at the Law School here, or with the graduate students, but in neither case is that surprising. So, those who teach undergraduates regularly, is the author on to something or not?
...because of his views on killing the disabled (the article is in German, I'm opening comments if someone has time to translate more of it). This is, as I recall, not the first time Singer has had trouble in Germany, where, given the history, they are more sensitive than the typical utilitarian to the implications of such views.
One of the complainants apparently believes that factual errors in Kipnis's first article--which the complainant believes were significant and harmful, but which seem to Kipnis (and many other readers, myself included) minor and largely beside the point--somehow justify the filing of a Title IX "retaliation" complaint. They do not, and they should not. This student is getting terrible advice, and only digging her hole deeper. The only sensible response to events of the last week is a mea culpa for having abused Title IX by filing a frivolous retaliation complaint against lawful speech by a faculty member with no professional or other connection with the graduate student victim of sexual harassment.
...this time at CHE (behind their paywall). It does contain some new information (new to me, at least, I had not seen this previously) about the rape complaint against Peter Ludlow: it says "the university found him responsible for sexual harassment" but not rape. It also reports that, "Northwestern has banned him from the campus, [Ludlow] said, and has scheduled a hearing for next month on whether he should be fired."
MOVING TO FRONT AGAIN, MORE UPDATES AND COMMENTS
The University of Wisconsin System would see $250 million in cuts and sweeping changes in its operations, under a proposal put forward by GOP lawmakers Friday that would still be less dramatic than changes proposed by Gov. Scott Walker.
Lawmakers on the Legislature's budget committee are poised to reduce Walker's controversial proposed cuts to the UW System from $300 million over two years to $250 million, which UW System leaders praised, but faculty members on campuses said was not nearly enough. The extra $50 million would be distributed to campuses around the state that are judged by UW leaders to be hardest hit by the cuts, according to a GOP motion.
The Joint Finance Committee would continue for another two years the freeze on tuition for undergraduate state residents that was proposed by the governor and likely 2016 presidential candidate.
In addition, the provisions of academic tenure for professors would no longer be included in state law. The UW Board of Regents could choose to retain tenure under its rules or decline to do so, which would allow it to lay off any faculty in cases of budget difficulties or changes to academic programs.
The hypocrisy is that they reduce funding but freeze tuition: they should take their own neoliberal ideology seriously. Let the University of Wisconsin be a private university, which is what it's becoming. Let it charge what the fabled "market" will bear, but don't slash its funding and freeze its tuition, that's just hypocrisy and cowardice. Let the universities raise salaries to compensate for eliminating tenure, since tenure is the single most important form of non-monetary compensation faculty receive.
Unless the Neanderthal Scott Walker and the Repugs in Wisconsin are soundly defeated, this is America's future.
UPDATE: More on the legislative attack on tenure and other mischief. Comments open for more information, insight, perspective.
ANOTHER: IHE on the attack on tenure.
A wise decision, though the comments of the student suggests she still does not understand the wrongfulness of her conduct; Prof. Eisenman's observations are interesting:
"I don't blame any students who brought charges against me," Eisenman told The Huffington Post on Monday. "They're just students, they're learning, they're smart, they're trying things out, they make mistakes." He continued: "I do hold responsible the administrators overseeing Title IX. It was well within their prerogative to examine the charge and to determine it was without merit...."
The student, who didn't want her name publicly revealed, said part of the reason she withdrew her complaint against Eisenman was that investigators had begun to probe the case without getting her full statement.
"I cannot continue to be so naive as to hope that internal complaint processes can safely be made use of in good faith. It's clear that they cannot," the student wrote in withdrawing her complaint on Sunday....
Eisenman said he believes Title IX is essential, but the law's protections must "be treated with respect." He said he worries that unfounded investigations weaken the law. "This makes it much more [susceptible to] attacks with from the right," he said.
...though it's not Kipnis who is the clown. Josh Marshall does a nice job excorciating nonsense written about this case by Justin Weinberg (South Carolina) (cf. our update here) and a philosophy graduate student. (Mr. Marshall is apparently unfamiliar with the most important rule of the New Infantilism, namely, no adult may ever criticize a student.)
UPDATE: Still more Weinberg whacking.
I don't usually link to right-wing crazy blogs, but this bit of satire is too good to let pass. Indeed, it's such good satire that the person who sent it to me thought it might be real (it is not, I assure you).
My colleague Geoffrey Stone discusses two recent cases at Northwestern, including the one involving Kipnis. (I should note that we did not discuss these cases prior to either of us writing about it, but his view was wholly predictable given his past work.) It's truly depressing to see some philosophers who should really know better trying to rationalize Kipnis's mistreatment and the abuse of Title IX. Read Prof. Stone's article! (That some other philosophers are on the wrong side of this issue is not surprising, but still depressing, and it bodes ill for the future of this 'profession,' such as it is.)
...a Northwestern radio, television and film professor had a Title IX "retaliation" complaint filed against her after writing an opinion piece in CHE about sexual politics and paranoia on campus; her chilling account of this appalling Kafkaesque ordeal is behind a paywall [UPDATE: A free version, for 24 hours is here], but here is an excerpt:
When I first heard that students at my university had staged a protest over an essay I’d written in The ChronicleReview about sexual politics on campus — and that they were carrying mattresses and pillows — I was a bit nonplussed. For one thing, mattresses had become a symbol of student-on-student sexual-assault allegations, and I’d been writing about the new consensual-relations codes governing professor-student dating. Also, I’d been writing as a feminist. And I hadn’t sexually assaulted anyone. The whole thing seemed symbolically incoherent.
According to our campus newspaper, the mattress-carriers were marching to the university president’s office with a petition demanding "a swift, official condemnation" of my article. One student said she’d had a "very visceral reaction" to the essay; another called it "terrifying." I’d argued that the new codes infantilized students while vastly increasing the power of university administrators over all our lives, and here were students demanding to be protected by university higher-ups from the affront of someone’s ideas, which seemed to prove my point....
Things seemed less amusing when I received an email from my university’s Title IX coordinator informing me that two students had filed Title IX complaints against me on the basis of the essay and "subsequent public statements" (which turned out to be a tweet), and that the university would retain an outside investigator to handle the complaints....
I was being charged with retaliation, it said, though it failed to explain how an essay that mentioned no one by name could be construed as retaliatory, or how a publication fell under the province of Title IX, which, as I understood it, dealt with sexual misconduct and gender discrimination....
I wrote back to the Title IX coordinator asking for clarification: When would I learn the specifics of these complaints, which, I pointed out, appeared to violate my academic freedom? And what about my rights — was I entitled to a lawyer? I received a polite response with a link to another website. No, I could not have an attorney present during the investigation, unless I’d been charged with sexual violence. I was, however, allowed to have a "support person" from the university community there, though that person couldn’t speak. I wouldn’t be informed about the substance of the complaints until I met with the investigators.
Apparently the idea was that they’d tell me the charges, and then, while I was collecting my wits, interrogate me about them. The term "kangaroo court" came to mind....
I replied that I wanted to know the charges before agreeing to a meeting. They told me, cordially, that they wanted to set up a meeting during which they would inform me of the charges and pose questions. I replied, in what I hoped was a cordial tone, that I wouldn’t answer questions until I’d had time to consider the charges....
I’d plummeted into an underground world of secret tribunals and capricious, medieval rules, and I wasn’t supposed to tell anyone about it....
Both complainants were graduate students. One turned out to have nothing whatsoever to do with the essay. She was bringing charges on behalf of the university community as well as on behalf of two students I’d mentioned — not by name — because the essay had a "chilling effect" on students’ ability to report sexual misconduct. I’d also made deliberate mistakes, she charged (a few small errors that hadn’t been caught in fact-checking were later corrected by the editors), and had violated the nonretaliation provision of the faculty handbook.
The other complainant was someone I’d mentioned fleetingly (again, not by name) in connection with the professor’s lawsuits. She charged that mentioning her was retaliatory and created a hostile environment (though I’d said nothing disparaging), and that I’d omitted information I should have included about her. This seemed paradoxical — should I have written more? And is what I didn’t write really the business of Title IX? She also charged that something I’d tweeted to someone else regarding the essay had actually referred to her. (It hadn’t.)
Please pause to note that a Title IX charge can now be brought against a professor over a tweet. Also that my tweets were apparently being monitored.
Much of this remains puzzling to me, including how someone can bring charges in someone else’s name, who is allowing intellectual disagreement to be redefined as retaliation, and why a professor can’t write about a legal case that’s been nationally reported, precisely because she’s employed by the university where the events took place. Wouldn’t this mean that academic freedom doesn’t extend to academics discussing matters involving their own workplaces?
As I understand it, any Title IX charge that’s filed has to be investigated, which effectively empowers anyone on campus to individually decide, and expand, what Title IX covers. Anyone with a grudge, a political agenda, or a desire for attention can quite easily leverage the system.
And there are a lot of grudges these days. The reality is that the more colleges devote themselves to creating "safe spaces" — that new watchword — for students, the more dangerous those campuses become for professors. It’s astounding how aggressive students’ assertions of vulnerability have gotten in the past few years. Emotional discomfort is regarded as equivalent to material injury, and all injuries have to be remediated....
I’d been asked to keep the charges confidential, but this became moot when, shortly before my campus meeting with the investigators, a graduate student published an article on a well-trafficked site excoriating me and the essay, and announcing that two students had filed Title IX retaliation complaints against me. She didn’t identify her source for this information or specify her own relationship to the situation, though she seemed well versed on all the inside details; in fact, she knew more about the process than I did.
It wasn’t me alone on the chopping block. She also excoriated our university’s president for his op-ed essay on academic freedom, which, she charged, was really a veiled commentary on the pending Title IX charges against me and thus subverted the process by issuing a covert advance verdict in my favor. (He’d obliquely mentioned the controversy over the essay, among other campus free-speech issues.) She didn’t seem particularly concerned that she herself was subverting the process by charging that the process had been subverted, and by revealing the complaints in the first place.
She was also surprisingly unconcerned about how effectively her article demolished its own premises about the asymmetry of institutional power. If a graduate student can publicly blast her own university’s president, mock his ideas, and fear no repercussions, then clearly the retaliatory power that university employment confers on anyone — from professors to presidents — is nil. Nor had my own essay exactly had a chilling effect on anyone’s freedom of expression....
At the end of the interrogation, the investigators asked if I wanted to file my own retaliation complaint against the student who’d revealed the charges. I said that I believed all parties involved were using the process for political purposes. I declined to press charges against anyone....
Nothing I say here is meant to suggest that sexual assault on campuses isn’t a problem. It is. My concern is that debatable and ultimately conservative notions about sex, gender, and power are becoming embedded in these procedures, without any public scrutiny or debate. But the climate on campuses is so accusatory and sanctimonious — so "chilling," in fact — that open conversations are practically impossible. It’s only when Title IX charges lead to lawsuits and the usual veil of secrecy is lifted that any of these assumptions become open for discussion — except that simply discussing one such lawsuit brought the sledgehammer of Title IX down on me, too....
What’s being lost, along with job security, is the liberty to publish ideas that might go against the grain or to take on risky subjects in the first place. With students increasingly regarded as customers and consumer satisfaction paramount, it’s imperative to avoid creating potential classroom friction with unpopular ideas if you’re on a renewable contract and wish to stay employed. Self-censorship naturally prevails. But even those with tenure fear getting caught up in some horrendous disciplinary process with ad hoc rules and outcomes; pretty much everyone now self-censors accordingly....
As of this writing, I have yet to hear the verdict on my case, though it’s well past the 60-day time frame. In the meantime, new Title IX complaints have been filed against the faculty-support person who accompanied me to the session with the investigators. As a member of the Faculty Senate, whose bylaws include the protection of academic freedom — and believing the process he’d witnessed was a clear violation of academic freedom — he’d spoken in general terms about the situation at a senate meeting. Shortly thereafter, as the attorneys investigating my case informed me by phone, retaliation complaints were filed against him for speaking publicly about the matter (even though the complaints against me had already been revealed in the graduate student’s article), and he could no longer act as my support person....
A week or so earlier, the investigators had phoned to let me know that a "mediated resolution" was possible in my case if I wished to pursue that option....The students were willing to drop their complaints in exchange for a public apology from me, the investigators said. I tried to stifle a laugh. I asked if that was all. No, they also wanted me to agree not to write about the case.
I understand that by writing these sentences, I’m risking more retaliation complaints, though I’m unclear what penalties may be in store (I suspect it’s buried somewhere in those links). But I refuse to believe that students get to dictate what professors can or can’t write about, or what we’re allowed to discuss at our Faculty Senate meetings. I don’t believe discussing Title IX cases should be verboten in the first place — the secrecy of the process invites McCarthyist abuses and overreach.
UPDATE: True to form, Justin Weinberg (South Carolina) actually comes to the defense of Northwestern's treatment of Laura Kipnis. By selectively quoting from the original Kipnis article, he obscures the fact that in the passages in question, Kipnis was clearly talking about the lawsuit by the undergraduate against Ludlow, not the graduate student. Kipnis's article says almost nothing about the allegations by the graduate student, and never names anyone, not even Ludlow. Nowhere in the article does Kipnis accuse the graduate student of lying. The only useful thing Weinberg manages to do is link to the Title IX "retaliation" provisions, which makes clear that for a "retaliation" claim to have merit, Kipnis would have to have "subjected the person [the complainant] to adverse action, treatment or conditions." If Kipnis's opinion piece about sexual paranoia on campus, in which the graduate student is not even named and barely referenced, constitutes adverse "treatment," then there is no right for any faculty member at any institution receiving federal funds to offer any opinions, however indirect, about any question surrounding allegations of sexual misconduct at the institution. Even in the Title VI context, I am aware of no decision finding that speech like that of Kipnis--who has no power over any graduate student in philosophy, or their professional situation or opportunities--could constitute "retaliation" (feel free to correct me in the comments with a citation to such a case). The quite plain answer to "what's going on" at Northwestern in this instance is that graduate students have misused Title IX, and the University, fearful as all universities are of running afoul of those currently policing Title IX, aided and abetted this abuse. Fortunately, some commenters have already called out Weinberg's misrepresentations.
...oil billionaire in Oklahoma wants researchers fired for linking the oil & gas industry to increased earthquakes.
...thanks to Freedom of Information Act requests; very interesting:
Specifically, from July 21  Wise was herself touting Salaita’s free-speech rights, and during the subsequent two days leading up to the BOT meeting she consulted multiple times with UIUC Provost Ilesanmi Adesida and UIUC Assistant Provost and Associate Director of the Office of Equal Opportunity and Access Menah Pratt-Clarke on Salaita’s hire letter. These exchanges are notable because they show Wise consulting regularly with these faculty members, and not just in the administrative vacuum that UIUC’s earlier FOIA productions to the public had suggested. And of course it’s also interesting to note that from very early on Wise’s thoughts and those of Provost Adesida and Assistant Provost Pratt-Clarke had turned from Salaita’s free-speech rights to the question of whether or not he could be un-hired based simply on a decision not to forward his hiring to the BOT.....
Consider also the email exchange of July 22 in which Adesida tells the UIUC Vice President for Academic Affair Christophe Pierre that, regarding the Salaita hiring, “He [Salaita] accepted the offer; this has been done since September last year! It is final,” which I discuss in detail in the Open Letter I sent to the CAFT on their investigation. This email was seemingly never provided by UIUC to the CAFT. Why? It’s unfortunately quite possible UIUC didn’t provide it because it supports the argument made by Salaita’s lawyers at the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) of what’s termed “promissory estoppel,” that is, a legal doctrine that, if applicable, would bind UIUC to its hire offer because that offer was unambiguous and Salaita relied on it to his detriment. According to CCR, UIUC’s lawyers claim estoppel is not applicable because “Defendants [UIUC, Wise, etc.] contend (a) that no unambiguous promise was made to Salaita, and (b) that Plaintiff’s reliance on any promise was unreasonable.” But that email of Adesida’s on July 22 sure suggests Adesida himself believed the offer was unambiguous and “final,” which certainly seems strong evidence against UIUC’s claims.
With nearly 900 votes in our poll from the other day, I'm happy to report that 90% of respondents thought the University acted wrongfully:
Given the public record, what is your opinion regarding the Barnett case at the University of Colorado, Boulder?
I myself do not think on the evidence available that Prof. Barnett acted wrongfully (though without a doubt imprudently, as one of his colleagues suggested the other day), but I can certainly see how reasonable people could differ on that question. I am more astonished by the 10% who think that what Prof. Barnett did could constitute a firing offense for a faculty member with tenure.
I hope a Department looking to raise its profile in philosophy of language and mind, as well as metaphysics, will take advantage of the misconduct of Colorado's Administration in the Barnett case. In addition to having a strong publication record (papers in Mind, Philosophical Review, Nous, Australian Journal of Philosophy, Philosophy & Phenomenological Research and elsewhere), Barnett also got a Teaching Excellence award at Colorado a few years ago.
Although predictable sanctimonious posturers in the bowels of cyberspace (like David Koepsell) apparently think it correct to fire a tenured professor for writing a report trying to exonerate one of his graduate students, the overwhelming response of philosophers and others appears to have been that a grave injustice was done in this case, either because Prof. Barnett did not act wrongfully in trying to defend his student or that even if Prof. Barnett was wrong to do his own investigation of the University's investigation into the allegations, what he did was not by any stretch of the imagination a firing offense. That's my impression only; I wonder what readers think about this case? If you have not followed it, please read some of the Daily Camera articles before voting.
They have secured the resignation of philosophy professor David Barnett, whom a faculty committee found did not commit "retatliation" against a complainant in a sexual harassment case, with a payout of $160,000 to Barnett (roughly 1 1/2 years of salary and benefits), forgiving an $80,000 loan, and payment of his legal fees. Since philosophers don't really understand how lawsuits work, let me explain what actually happened here.
The University has been under intensive Title IX scrutiny for several years; toleration of sexual harassment in the philosophy department was the tip of the iceberg (those boys, now forced into early retirement or resignation, look like "saints" compared to some of the misconduct associated with the athletics program). Serial violations of Title IX can result in loss of all federal funding for a university (the Obama Administration has been aggressive in cocking the trigger on that gun); for a school like Colorado, whose areas of academic excellence (outside Philosophy) are overwhelmingly in the natural sciences and engineering, such a loss of funding would be fatal. So the University has been keen to show that the bad 'ole days are over. To that end, they actually got rid of serial sexual harassers and, allegedly, stopped the recruitment-by-rape program for football. Good for Colorado! But so fearful are the administrators at Colorado that they've now forced out a tenured professor whose only malfeasance was to write a report that tried to exonerate one of his grad students against hotly contested accounts of sexual misconduct.
So what does the settlement mean? It's pretty simple: the university knows its case for firing Barnett is pathetically weak; it knows there is a real risk he would prevail in litigation; it also knows that the University, unlike Barnett, can afford to spend years litigating the matter; so it has offered not only a cash settlement with Barnett but it has offered to pay his legal fees hoping, reasonably, to take advantage of Barnett's prudent risk aversion (five years of litigation, lawyer fees, he loses, etc.--for just a year, his legal fees are already 50K). Just for the record: you generally don't agree to pay legal fees when you're on the side of the angels. You do so when you have a chance of getting rid of a complicated legal problem--firing a tenured professor who didn't engage in a fireable offense--that it would be to your advantage to get rid of.
In short, this settlement says: We, the University of Colorado are acting wrongfully, but we are leveraging our superior financial position, to get the result we want, to show that we are Title IX saints, despite the sordid history.
I do not know David Barnett; I do not even know his work. The only time I ever posted about him was here. Some people have told me David Barnett is an asshole; perhaps so, though his enemies would seize the moment to say so. But that isn't a firing offense, or lots of philosophers would be fired, and for worse behavior than trying to defend graduate students they believed to be wrongly accused of sexual misconduct.
As with many such cases, there is no doubt a lot that is not public. What is public suggests that Barnett has been wronged, and the terms of the settlement suggests that the University knows its position is legally dubious, but they hope to sustain it by virtue of superior resources.
In the current neoliberal environment for state universities--in which right-wing Governors like Scott Walker are eviscerating preeminent public universities, while others are privatizing their functions--this development can only be viewed with alarm.
ADDENDUM: It's indicative of Colorado's highly selective interest in alleged faculty malfeasance that it has not moved to fire Paul Campos, a law professor who is such a notorious charlatan and underperformer--one who even admitted in print that he is a fraud--that a Dean of another law school wondered in public about the case for firing him. But since there is no Title IX credibility at stake, the University, so far, isn't interested.
ANOTHER: A philosopher at Colorado writes:
Your diagnosis of the situation at Colorado was quite accurate. For the record, I can assure you that Barnett is not an asshole. It is true that he is not a terribly prudent person. He rather recklessly risked his career, and ultimately lost it, trying to defend a graduate student from an administration that became deeply invested in making an example, in the first instance, of the accused graduate student, and then of Barnett himself. Having placed an $825000 bet [the amount paid to settle the retaliation claim] on Barnett’s guilt (prior to having conducted any kind of inquiry into the accusations against him), they were never going to back down, notwithstanding the Privilege and Tenure committee’s not-guilty verdict. Barnett’s real character flaw was his rather naive faith in the willingness of administrators to respond to evidence and reason. (Some philosophers have no sense of audience.) There are a couple of assholes in the CU Philosophy Department - as there no doubt are in most large departments - but Barnett was not one of them.
AND ANOTHER: David Koepsell, a familiar noxious mediocrity to readers of this blog, tweets sarcastically, "Guess who thinks Barnett was the one wronged at Colorado." Apparently not Koepsell!
...now faces censure. (Philosopher Kirk Sanders is quoted in the IHE article towards the end; kudos to him for his forthright remarks.)
...this time in the form of pending legislation in Iowa that provides that,
(1)....If a professor fails to attain a minimum threshold of performance based on the student evaluations used to assess the professor’s teaching effectiveness, in accordance with the criteria and rating system adopted by the board, the institution shall terminate the professor’s employment regardless of tenure status or contract. (2) The names of the five professors who rank lowest on their institution’s evaluation for the semester, but who scored above the minimum threshold of performance, shall be published on the institution’s internet site and the student body shall be offered an opportunity to vote on the question of whether any of the five professors will be retained as employees of the institution. The employment of the professor receiving the fewest votes approving retention shall be terminated by the institution regardless of tenure status or contract.
The first provision is bad enough--a legislatively authorized breach of contract and due process--but the second is just vicious and insane.
(Thanks to Chris Surprenant for the pointer.)
UPDATE: Reader Prabhu Venkataraman calls to my attention that this nasty piece of legislation has been killed in committee.
The focus is on the situation in Britain--where, oddly, the absence of a meaningful private higher education sector has allowed bureaucrats to run mad--but many of the points resonate elsewhere.
(Thanks to Andrew Lugg for the pointer.)
MOVING TO FRONT FROM YESTERDAY, SEE 4/2 UPDATE.
Disgraceful, if accurate. IHE reports that the University is denying they are cancelling the conference. My guess is that the University is overstating the safety/security issues (and understating its ability to address them) in order to make it appear that the organizers pulled the plug.
The larger issue, of course, is why some supporters of Israel feel the need to shut down critical speech.
(Thanks to Taylor Carman for the pointer to the first item.)
UPDATE: Chris Bertram (Bristol) calls my attention to this pertinent piece.
APRIL 2 UPDATE: The University now admits it is cancelling the conference. Disgraceful, disgraceful, disgraceful.
The Chancellor is a law professor; one philosophy professor is quoted in the linked article.
(Thanks to Michael Swanson for the pointer.)
...with the head of the system pledging to resign if the Republican assault on the system makes it through the legislature. Folks in Wisconsin, any more details, insights in to what's going on?