This is an open letter on behalf of the Harvard Philosophy Department’s Graduate Student Organization. We were very concerned to learn about the public attacks by Marquette Professor John McAdams against Marquette graduate student Cheryl Abbate.
Anyone who teaches ethical theory will have to manage conversations involving politically sensitive topics, and in doing so, it is impossible to express agreement with every student on every occasion. Indeed, part of the point of an ethical theory course is to equip students to examine critically even their most deeply held views on moral issues.
These are sound and sensible points. But then the letter continues:
However one may characterize Cheryl Abbate’s way of managing a discussion of same-sex marriage inside or outside the classroom, she ought not to have been subject to the public attack orchestrated by Professor John McAdams. As a foreseeable result of this attack, Cheryl Abbate has been subject to an overwhelming volume of hate mail and threats, as well as negative attention in national media. In initiating this flurry of attacks, we believe that Professor McAdams exploited the power differential between a professor and a graduate student.
Universities owe their graduate students—who are among the most vulnerable members of their communities—a guarantee of protection from this kind of treatment. But at Marquette, we were recently disturbed to learn, Cheryl Abbate was put in a position where her best option was to transfer out of her doctoral program.
We call on Marquette to articulate a clear policy for protecting its graduate students from abuses by more powerful members of its community.
There is much that is strange about this, in roughly ascending order of significance:
1. Ms. Abbate was able to transfer to a much better program (Colorado), a silver lining in an otherwise dark rain cloud. It's hard not to see her as being better off professionally in the end, despite the ugliness that prompted her to transfer.
2. Professor McAdams's creepy behavior was not in any way facilitated by "the power differential between a professor and a graduate student." Note, first, that McAdams is, despite his many years in the academy, still merely an Associate Professor of Political Science. And apparently even his local institutional clout is so meager that the University is unabashed to suspend him without a hearing. More importantly, since Ms. Abbate was a student in the philosophy department, McAdams had no power over her at all. What enabled him to ignite a right-wing firestorm was his ability to use his blog to tap into a pre-existing network of "conservative" social and traditional media that love narratives about intolerant liberals in the academy. This has nothing to do with power differentials between faculty and students; graduate students, after all, have pulled the same kind of stunt against tenured professors! There is a serious problem with the way in which social media is used to harass faculty and students, which we have noted before, and universities ought to defend their teachers and students against such attacks, as they sometimes do, but not by punishing faculty or student speech.
3. In this regard, I do wonder what these graduate students are asking Marquette for by way of "a clear policy for protecting its graduate students from abuses by more powerful members of its community"? Presumably, the University already protects students, including instructors, from sexual harassment, physical assault, and other unlawful misconduct. But is it to protect them from speech critical of their pedagogy? How can a university, consistent with a commitment to free speech and inquiry, including about its own teaching and research, possibly "protect" anyone from that?
IMPORTANT UPDATE: A PhD student in philosophy at Harvard writes:
As a PhD student in the philosophy dept. here at Harvard, I wanted to write you regarding your recent post on your blog, entitled “More on the Marquette Case.” As you noted there, a letter was written by the “graduate students in philosophy at Harvard,” addressed to the Dean at Marquette. However, not all the students in our department approved of this letter, and indeed, some of us wanted not to send it. It was sent because we were outnumbered in a straight vote about whether to send it; effectively we had no choice after that vote.
I, for one, agree with your analysis of the latter half of the letter, and wanted to clarify, for what it’s worth, that the letter does not speak for all the students of the department. Rather it represents some of the more politically-inclined folks who get riled up about these sorts of things and then take action ‘on behalf of the students’ as soon as they have a straight majority. There is at least some significant minority of us not represented by this letter.
I had suspected as much, but it's good to have confirmation of this fact.
ANOTHER: Jeremy David Fix, another PhD student at Harvard (who gave permission to use his name), writes:
While I did not help compose the letter, the voting process did not require a 'straight majority'. A 75% majority was required to pass the motion and send the letter. This requirement was clearly stated in the open graduate student meeting where the letter was discussed, the email that asked for the vote through an anonymous online survey, and the email that confirmed the result of the vote, as far as I remember. Though my colleague is correct that "not all the students in our department approved of this letter, and indeed, some of us wanted not to send it", the actual percentage of supporting votes was significantly higher than 75%. Whatever the validity of the concerns about the content of the letter, this letter in no way indicates that the graduate community is overrun by politically motivated folks illegitimately pretending to speak for others.
I agree that there is no evidence that "the graduate community is overrun by politically motivated folks illegitimately pretending to speak for others," and I did not interpret the original e-mail, above, that way. The unknown is how many of the graduate students actually voted (my originally correspondent thinks only about 20 of the 40 students in the program voted). In any case, the important point, given that the letter is not very sensible, is that not all Harvard graduate students supported it.
What the editorial says seems right--in shorter form, the U.S. is a lawless, criminal nation on the international scene, but we all knew that, right?--but what it omits is the role the Times, like most of the mainstream media in the US played, in shilling for war and offering apologetics for criminality until such apologetics could no longer be sustained. After all, the report describes standard operating procedure of the CIA for decades.
UPDATE: Some highlights of American tax dollars at work. As with most important moral questions, there were no hard philosophical questions here.
Speaking of unchecked punitive impulses: responding to this post, David Velleman advises on Facebook: "The key is to stop visiting Leiter's site and adding to his traffic stats. It only encourages him -- and adds to his income." I think Velleman, a "moral" philosopher, is now the first person to suggest that my speech warrants a financial penalty as well! But what percentage of my income is a proportionate remedy for my speech concerning punishment and proportionality?
ADDENDUM: Velleman offered this boycott proposal several days ago; yesterday, the blog had over 14,000 visits. Go figure?
I was astonished to learn that some people thought it was inappropriate for Peter Ludlow to be an evaluator in the current PGR. Ludlow has been a regular respondent to the surveys for many years; we have always invited past participants (except when they ask to be removed), and we did so this year as well (including, for example, those who signed the boycott statement--many of them did, in the end, participate happily). On what basis could Brit and I take the punitive measure of excluding him as an evaluator because of misconduct and allegations of misconduct unrelated to his philosophical competence?
In an earlier thread on the controversy about an administrative decision to deny Colin McGinn a visiting position at East Carolina University, a young philosopher wrote, in response to the question I posed:
"Should loss of a job for sexual misconduct bar someone from any future academic appointment?"
Uh - YES. Is this a serious question?
John Gardner, the Professor of Jurisprudence at Oxford, then weighed in with the following comment that deserves some serious consideration from those with unchecked punitive impulses:
Of course it's a serious question. We need to begin by asking whether the refusal to hire is punitive, and if so whether the punishment is porportionate to the offence. Or whether the refusal to hire is preventative, in which case whether there are ways to prevent that do not destroy someone's life so completely. If the answer is 'both', we need to know in what proportions, so that we can work out whether the constraints on each goal are being sensibly applied. If the answer is 'neither - we're just trying to send out a signal' (see David Sobel below), then I invite you to consider whether it's morally acceptable to use a person, any person, to do that. Unpleasant narcissists are people too and it's not open season when one of them gets exposed for what he is. It still matters how we treat him. It shocks me that anyone would doubt whether 'How should we treat a wrongdoer in such a situation?' is a serious question.
It is shocking.
UPDATE: A philosopher elsewhere writes:
I wonder if people think being disciplined for sexual misconduct should bar someone from employment of ANY kind?
Or is it any employment with supervisory responsibilities? Or any employment that involves interactions with other people?
And while we are at, what about other offenses? Other crimes against persons? Property crimes?
Should people with a criminal record be allowed to hold jobs?
If not, should they be eligible for public assistance?
...as he now threatens the University of Wisconsin (Madison) for cancelling classes during President Obama's visit to campus. How could such a malevolent neanderthal be elected in the formerly progressive state of Wisconsin?
(Thanks to David Lay Williams for the pointer.)
UPDATE: Larry Shapiro points out, correctly, that this is past michief from Representative Vos, not current.)
I agree with Jennifer Lackey that universities which really want complainants about sexual harassment and misconduct to come forward should, as a matter of course, indemnify them for subsequent legal risks, but I did think this proposal was rather startling and dangerous, as did others (complete with the overused word "bullying"!).
UPDATE: A philosopher in the UK writes:
According to Eric Schliesser (boiled down) we should shun colleagues (call them Ys) who resort to law to defend themselves against colleagues (call them Zs) who accuse them of harassment, even falsely. Unless, presumably, a Y resorts to law only to accuse a Z of harassment (even falsely). In that case, surely, we should stand shoulder to shoulder with the Y and instead shun the Z who resorts to law. Unless, I guess, the Z in question resorts to law only to accuse the Y in question of harassment (even falsely). In that case, I assume, we should stand shoulder to shoulder with the Z and instead shun the Y who resorts to law. Unless, I suppose, that same Y resorts to law only to accuse that same Z of harassment (even falsely). In that case shouldn't we stand shoulder to shoulder with the Y and instead shun the Z who resorted to law? Unless, perhaps, that Z resorts to law ... etc. etc. He started it. No, she did. No, he did.
One important aim of living under the rule of law is to control (by final authoritative determinations of who did what to whom, made in open court following full contestation of evidence) the baneful effects on all concerned of this facile morality of the playground. If resorting to law is itself available as a kind of playground intimidation, that only goes to show that we do not live under the rule of law. It seems to me that we should put our energies, not into shunning law-users, but into creating an adequately funded legal aid system that can retain excellent lawyers chosen by those they represent. In a barbarian land (like mine) where funding such a legal aid system through taxation is ruled out by the forces of darkness, I guess we may have to fall back on other sources of funding (such as university indemnification), tant pis. But turning against legal determinations of fact - that's playing right into the hands of the forces of darkness by abandoning the system that gives us our last line of protection.
The Republican agenda for next year also includes several changes for the University of Wisconsin, according to Vos. He said that he wants to ensure that faculty spend more time teaching, and that research is geared toward helping the state's economy.
“Of course I want research, but I want to have research done in a way that focuses on growing our economy, not on ancient mating habits of whatever,” said Vos. “So we want to try to have priorities that are focused on growing our economy.”
Vos and Joint Finance Committee Chairman John Nygren were asked whether they were open to a budget request by the UW that would increase funding for the System by $95 million dollars. Nygren called that a “tough sell,” saying he didn't think the state should make up for funding the System lost as part of a mandatory tuition freeze.
A nice aspect of the briefly overboard smear campaign back in September was that I got tons of e-mails from friends, colleagues, students, former students and former colleagues offering sympathy, praise, words of appreciation, and so on. But one theme that came up a lot was the alleged similarities between the (partially successful) campaign to oust me from the PGR and what the University of Illinois did to Steven Salaita. At first, I didn't give this much thought, because of the two obvious differences: Salaita lost his livelihood, whereas the smear campaigners targetted only my editing the PGR, not my livelihood; and Salaita's "offensive" speech was on matters of public concern, whereas mine was not. But as more correspondents raised it, it did seem to me there were some moderately interesting similarities: first, the critics of both Salaita and of me were convinced of the utter rectitude of their objections to the "offensive" speech; and second, the critics were not content simply to criticize and denounce, they wanted to exact a tangible "punishment," or what they perceived to be such a punishment. The combination of sanctimonious rectitude and a desire to exact punishment for offensive speech makes a dangerous brew, far more dangerous in the Salaita case obviously.
IHE has the story. Mr. Maher's ability to speak freely, and reach a wide audience, would not in any way be hindered by not being honored as a commencement speaker at Berkeley. One can sympathize, though, with the Chancellor's attempt to put a stop to the endless "Generation Wuss" hair-trigger indignation and offense-taking about everything, without any sense of proportion or priorities. On the other hand, I expect the outcome would have been different had Mr. Maher's rude jokes been about, say, Zionist Jews rather than Muslims.
I'm a longtime reader of your Leiter Reports. I have noticed that of late you have been tracking a trend in our society wherein some hypocritical notion of civility is used as an excuse to suppress speech. I therefore thought you might be interested in this piece of news I happened across today: http://www.ocregister.com/articles/police-637903-meeting-hat.html. In short, a city council meeting was cancelled and attendants (who refused to leave) were threatened with arrest because someone was wearing a hat that read "Fuck the Police" (it was deemed "offensive" and "disrespectful"). The most unsettling thing about this situation is that the Mayor of Santa Ana, the Mayor Pro Tem, and the Chief of Police all seem to have no idea that any constitutional rights were violated here--that is, these people who have the law in their hands have no inkling of even very basic constitutional law. On the other hand, this earlier article on this event (http://www.ocregister.com/articles/police-637732-council-meeting.html) is a little more reassuring, since it shows that at least the people know their rights and are willing to subject themselves to intimidation and threats of arrest in order to stand up for the free speech rights of a complete stranger (and a "disrespectful" one at that). Let's hope they don't sign a kindness pledge.
Over and over, we have the evidence that it is not Isis that “radicalises” Muslims before they head off to Syria – and how I wish David Cameron would stop using that word – but the internet. The belief, the absolute conviction that the screen contains truth – that the “message” really is the ultimate verity – has still not been fully recognised for what it is; an extraordinary lapse in our critical consciousness that exposes us to the rawest of emotions – both total love and total hatred – without the means to correct this imbalance. The “virtual” has dropped out of “virtual reality”.
At its most basic, you have only to read the viciousness of internet chatrooms. Major newspapers – hopelessly late – have only now started to realise that chatrooms are not a new technical version of “Letters to the Editor” but a dangerous forum for people to let loose their most-disturbing characteristics. Thus a major political shift in the Middle East, transferred to the internet, takes on cataclysmic proportions. Our leaders not only can be transfixed themselves – the chairman of the US House Committee on Homeland Security, for example, last week brandishing a printed version of Dabiq, the Isis online magazine – but can use the same means to terrify us.
I've posted a lot recently about how busy I am with the PGR. That's important context to the following.
Recently, one blogger has taken to policing my tweets and comments on blogs, in order to find material she can take out of context to try to embarrass me. (I had previously worked closely with this philosopher in assisting a victim of sexual harassment in transferring to a more civilized program, but apparently trying to help victims of actual misconduct is now less important than finding ways to humiliate someone who had the audacity to express concerns about due process in the Ludlow case, to host a discussion of the Colorado Site Visit report (after the Feminist Philosophers blog shut down all discussion of it), and to disagree on various occasions with FP philosophers on variousissues). This is juvenile, but par for the course in cyberspace.
Now two other philosophers (one of whom is closely allied with the first, and both of whom are opposed to the PGR, about which more in a moment) have posted portions of e-mails I sent to two faculty who had attacked me, but again stripped of all context. They even claim, falsely,that I made a "threat that 'things will get around'". (In fact, it was the person I wrote to who made that threat, not me, but concern for facts and context do not loom large in this pathetic affair.) They did not even have the courtesy to ask about any pertinent context before posting the e-mails.
I will supply the context here.
During the summer, after I criticized some misleading job placement ranking data, Carrie Jenkins (British Columbia) took to the web to make clear that in her view such criticism was not permissible in our profession and that, therefore, she viewed my blog post as "unprofessional and unethical," and that, in consequence, she was no longer going to treat me as a "normal or representative member of" the profession. (I learned about Jenkins's post attacking me from Catarina Dutilh Novaes.) On social media, Jenkins had long impressed me as a bit of a "sanctimonious ass" (as I said in the e-mail), and this was certainly par for that course. I sent her a sharp and derisive e-mail about her blogged threats, to which she never replied. But I did wonder, as one might imagine, in what ways she was not going to "treat me as a normal" member of the profession. But apparently our profession is so degraded that if one philosopher declares in public that she will not treat Brian Leiter "as a normal member of the profession," that's OK, and I'm supposed to say nothing.
Noelle McAfee took her PhD at the University of Texas at Austin, and was on the job market when I was placement director there. Unlike some of those on the current crusade, I am not going to disclose more details, but suffice it to say there is a lot of missing context. I will discuss here only what is already in the public record. Since getting her PhD, McAfee, who teaches now at Emory, has been a member of SPEP, including its "Advocacy Committee" (a Committee created to counteract the PGR), and has for many years made false and misleading claims about me and the PGR. I have corresponded with her off and on for years, asking her to cut it out. The straw that broke the camel's back, however, came earlier this year, when yet again she took to the Internet to lie about me and the PGR; the lies or (more charitably) misrepresentations included claiming that (1) there was a 39% drop in the number of programs that participated in the 2011 PGR compared to 2009 (McAfee can't count); (2) the 2011 PGR failed to disclose the departments that participated in the survey (McAfee apparently could not find her way around the PGR site either in order to locate the lists); (3) Emory and other departments are "refusing" to participate in the PGR (some departments request to be included, but others, including Emory, have been included at various intervals--and Emory did, in fact, once request inclusion, contrary to McAfee's false assertion); (4) the PGR reflects a sexist bias against departments with lots of women (a claim not supported by any careful analysis of the data); and (5) various false statements of fact about my professional situation. Then it turned out that, under a pseudonym, McAfee was vandalizing my Wikipedia page. As I said to her, "I am a philosopher, but I’m also a lawyer, and I’ve grown tired of malevolent misrepresentations about me and the PGR like yours. You are on notice and I hope you get the message." In fact, she got the message, since she revised many of the false statements of fact.
This is how the law works: if you say false things intended to damage someone's reputation, you have acted illegally. U.S. law gives more cover for defamers than elsewhere, but even here there are limits. In the future, I can have my lawyer send these e-mails, but I frankly thought it more gentle to write myself.
Those who posted the e-mails, without any of the preceding context, raise this as an objection to me as the "editor of the PGR." Well, I am the editor of the PGR; I am also one of the leading Nietzsche scholars in the world, a law professor, a New Yorker with limited toleration for the fools our profession breeds, a leading figure in legal philosophy, a leading philosophy blogger, a devoted teacher and mentor (defamation of me has grown so common on this score that I've taken to putting my evaluations on-line), a husband, a son, a father of three, a longstanding opponent of cyber-harassment based on gender and race, and a defender of academic freedom and the rights of everyone from Steven Salaita to John Yoo to speak freely about matters of public concern without state sanction. But those out to attack me now, both those who published the e-mails (without context) and Catarina Novaes, have made clear that this is primarily about the PGR.
So let me be clear: the PGR is a service to students, not to me. For me, it's now nothing more than a headache--both because of all the time it takes, but because it opens me up to slimy attacks by unethical and unprofessional people. It would be in my self-interest to stop publishing the PGR, but it would not be in the interests of students or the profession (well, it would be in the interest of the Emorys and other weak departments for me to stop publishing it). But since those who want to attack me are primarily motivated by the PGR, let me put it to a poll. The next two months of my life would be much more peaceful if I do not do the next PGR. What do readers think? (Sorry, had to repost this due to a technical problem--it was about 50-50 last time--here it is again.)
[Poll closed--with about 3000 votes, it was roughly 56% against, 44% in favor--given the social media campaign to mobilize anti-PGR votes, I'm surprised it was not even more lopsided]
UPDATE: A couple dozen philosophers (many friends or colleagues of Prof. Jenkins), and other longtime PGR opponents, have indicated they will not serve as PGR evaluators to protest my criticism of Prof. Jenkins. (Only a handful of them would have been invited as evaluators anyway.) Like the others, they omit all context, including that Prof. Jenkins targetted me in the first place: I did not send her an e-mail out of the blue. As a commenter "Jean" on the Feminist Philosophers blog put it:
In Leiter’s email to Jenkins you can see what got him riled up is this: “I will not accept or treat those whose behaviour regularly fails to meet these standards as normal or representative members of my profession.” This is not just a pledge to be respectful to others, but a pledge to somehow decommission violators of her norms. Since it does seem to me (from context) that she was primarily thinking of Leiter as a violator, it’s understandable that he takes this personally.
They also repeat the misrepresentation of a Twitter comment, which another philosopher put into circulation. I sent Prof. Jenkins the following letter about that:
Dear Carrie: Laurie Paul and Heidi Lockwood tell me you were upset by the Twitter exchange from the other day. I am genuinely sorry for upsetting you, it was, truly, the opposite of my intention. May I please try to explain what I thought was going on?
Tim Crane and I had a series of back-and-forths on Twitter about the contested Nietzsche review, which he had commissioned for TLS. He needled me, and I needled back. I posted his comment in defense of the review on my Nietzsche blog, and he quipped that I would now call him a charlatan (I told him he was only a charlatan when it came to wine expertise in a separate tweet). You weighed in with a tweet that I took to mean, "Don't worry, Brian calls lots of people charlatans, including me." I thought that was funny and a friendly gesture, so I replied to say, "Well, I did once call you a sanctimonious arse, but never a charlatan, and in any case, I don't dislike you and know there are lots of good things about you." Unfortunately, that's more than 140 characters.
Now as you know several months ago I did send you an intemperate e-mail, which I regret sending, but it was in response to something you had done which really upset me. I read your "pledge" back then (as did Catarina at NewApps, from whom I learned about it) as directed at me and as saying: "I am not going to treat Brian Leiter as a normal member of the profession." I found that very offensive at the time. I should have cooled off for 24 hours, but instead I sent you an intemperate e-mail. I learned you then put it into public circulation, so I took that to be the context of the tweet exchange. Part of what I wanted to convey with the tweet exchange was only that I wasn't annoyed about that earlier incident, and I took the fact that you tweeted what you did to mean you weren’t either.
She did not reply. I do regret my earlier intemperate e-mail, though the context noted above may at least make it explicable.
UPDATE: We presently have over 550 nominated evaluators, and now about two dozen have signed the boycott letter. I would be sorry to lose their input, but given the way the boycott letter sent out by Richard Heeck presented what transpired, I understand and respect their decision, even as I regret it. The actual sequence of events, as I laid it out for a reporter this evening, was clear:
July 1: I posted a sharp critique of some utterly misleading rankings produced by Carolyn Jennings, a tenure-stream faculty member at UC Merced. She quickly started revising it after I called her out.
Later on July 2, Catarina Novaes also joined the criticism, pointing me to the response by Carrie Jenkins, which she characterized, obviously correctly, as “reacting to what many perceived as Brian Leiter’s excessively personalized attack of Carolyn Dicey Jennings’s analysis.”
THE 'SMEAR' CAMPAIGN: A good example of the "smear campaign" aspect of some of what is going on is the false claim promoted by an anonymous website that my targets "recently" have been disproportionately women. In fact, during the exact same time period, far more men than women have come in for criticism, derision, or polemics, including Eric Schliesser, Santiago Zabala, Tom Stern, Matt Drabek, Leon Wieseltier, Dirk Johnson, Ben Cohen, Ed Kazarian, Vince Vitale, William Vallicella, and Mark Oppenheimer, among others (I leave out the 'big names' like Zizek and Niall Ferguson). Why does the smear site mention only one of these men? Because it's purpose is not to inform, but to damage my reputation. I have twice now posted a comment on that site pointing out that there are multiple errors of fact and multiple omissions of fact, and asking the person responsible to e-mail me from their pseudonymous e-mail address so that I may supply a document listing the errors and omissions with hyperlinks. The site owner has not approved my comment nor contacted me, again, for the obvious reasons: the purpose of the site is not to provide information, but to smear me. (That its so-called "resources" include any reference to Paul Campos makes that even more plain.)
Similarly--and contrary to Richard Heck’s latest misrepresentations (which he’s apparently been e-mailing out to the world)--when Noelle McAfee threatened that my e-mails to her would “get around” (a threat she has now made good on), the only thing I told her would “get around” is that I believed she had a personal vendetta against me because she felt I hadn’t done enough for her back in the late 1990s when I was one of the placement directors. That personal vendetta subsequently became a professional one as she became involved with SPEP and its Advocacy Committee.
Fortunately, the smears have receded, and there have been more substantive discussion of the actual issues by Simon May, Alex Rosenberg, and others, for which I'm grateful.
THE 'PGR AURA': The worry that some have, as I understand it, is that "the PGR aura" gives my criticisms a weight and importance they would otherwise not have. Simon May (Florida State) gave the most cogent statement I've seen from any of the boycotters, though in my view the weaknesses of his argument are also illuminating (more on that in a moment).
Here is what I take to be the core issue. I respond aggressively with only a miniscule fraction of my critics out there in the world. (The Internet is awash with literally thousands of criticisms of my rankings, my views, and me, and 99% of their authors have never heard from me--contrary to those falsely asserting a "pattern" of my targetting "vulnerable" people--even in the cases at hand, the "targets" are tenured professors at major research institutions. This is one of many reasons why the description of any of this as "bullying" is absurd). Do such aggressive responses raise questions about the work I have done for many years as editor of the PGR? Simon May thinks it does. He writes:
[T]he point is that Prof. Leiter’s status as the editor of the de facto or quasi-official rankings of philosophy departments indicates the community’s endorsement of his behaviour as within the bounds of acceptability.
I would have thought that participation in the PGR indicates that people think I and the Advisory Board have done a good job running it as a useful service for students and departments. It constitutes an endorsement of my extramural statements to critics as little as it constitutes an endorsement of my atheism, my left politics, or my contempt for Jacques Derrida and Ayn Rand. Perhaps, though, "endorsement" is the wrong word: the issue is whether participation in the PGR constitutes "toleration" of conduct that should not be tolerated?
A lot of Simon's case turns, as he correctly acknowledges, on his judgment that my e-mails were "abysmal and utterly unacceptable." This is strong language, melodramatic in my view, but perhaps not in the view of others. There are no doubt great differences of style and temperment between me and Simon, partly due to culture, to professional background, and to life experiences. I do not think anything I did was "abysmal and utterly unacceptable," even as I regret, as I've said repeatedly, sending the e-mail to Prof. Jenkins. (Although I would have written them slightly differently in retrospect, I do not regret the thrust of the other e-mails to a malevolent and persistently dishonest critic over a period of many years, one who has repeatedly walked the line on defamation and who even took to vandalizing my Wikipedia page under a pseudonym.) But I understand why some people would prefer I not send intemperate e-mails or assert what I take to be my legal rights so aggressively. I will no doubt do it less often in the future, and think more carefully before doing so. (I am hopeful that if I step down from the PGR, there will be fewer outbursts directed my way, and so less need for any kind of redress.)
As things stand, as uncontested PGR editor, Prof. Leiter has relatively free rein to act in as belligerent a manner as he might wish towards any member of the community.
This is also not true. I have "free rein to act in as belligerent manner as" I might wish because I am a citizen of a free society, in which I can speak my mind. Simon's worry, I take it, is that the "PGR aura" enhances the effect of a belligerent critique. I am not sure it does, but maybe there are cases where it does.
The mere knowledge that he is very safely embedded in a social network of esteem and approval, and that he has an unparalleled ability to dictate the content of discourse about the profession, inhibits public assertion of anything likely to raise his ire.
Anyone who spends a few minutes on Google searching discussions of me and the PGR can quickly confirm that this is false: the Internet has been awash with public discourse critical of me, the PGR, my views of philosophy, and on and on for many years. My "social network of esteem and approval" does not insulate me from mountains of criticism. It could still be true, and perhaps this is Simon's real point, that "the PGR aura" mitigates or lessens the amount of criticism that would otherwise occur. This may also be true, neither Simon nor I know. Whether this is a bad thing, of course, depends on the kind of criticism that is not aired. Given the criticism that is aired, regularly, some of which is quite vicious despite the PGR aura, I am skeptical.
The communications show that Wise was lobbied on the decision not only by pro-Israel students, parents and alumni, but also by the fund-raising arm of the university. The communications also show that the university system president was involved, and that the university was considering the legal ramifications of the case before the action to block the appointment.
Most of the emails have the names of the senders redacted and some are nearly identical, suggesting the use of talking points or shared drafts. Many of the letter writers identify themselves as Jewish and/or sympathetic to Israel, as students, parents or alumni, and as people who say that the tone of Salaita's comments (especially on Twitter) makes them believe he would be hostile to them and to their views....
Seventy people wrote to Wise to urge her to block Salaita's appointment (it is possible that some of the email messages are duplicates from the same person -- the redactions make it impossible to tell)....
While many of the emails are fairly similar, some stand out. For instance, there is an email from Travis Smith, senior director of development for the University of Illinois Foundation, to Wise, with copies to Molly Tracy, who is in charge of fund-raising for engineering programs, and Dan C. Peterson, vice chancellor for institutional advancement. The email forwards a letter complaining about the Salaita hire. The email from Smith says: "Dan, Molly, and I have just discussed this and believe you need to [redacted]." (The blacked out portion suggests a phrase is missing, not just a word or two.)
Later emails show Wise and her development team trying to set up a time to discuss the matter, although there is no indication of what was decided.
At least one email the chancellor received was from someone who identified himself as a major donor who said that he would stop giving if Salaita were hired. "Having been a multiple 6 figure donor to Illinois over the years I know our support is ending as we vehemently disagree with the approach this individual espouses. This is doubly unfortunate for the school as we have been blessed in our careers and have accumulated quite a balance sheet over my 35 year career," the email says.
I have not looked at the Illinois FOIA, but I'm surprised the names are redacted. These people deserve to be exposed in public.
The University's conduct is so clearly illegal that I really did not see these egregious statements from the Chancellor and the Board coming. That the Chancellor of a major research university in what is a politically moderate (even liberal at times) state would affirm in public that faculty at state universities have no right to make comments that are uncivil or demeaning, even though they manifestly do under the First Amendment and, arguably, as a matter of academic freedom is truly unbelievable. My supposition, naively, had been that some adult in the university's counsel office would have explained to the miscreants or incompetents the probable legal consequences; but either there are no adults in the counsel office or they were ignored.
The question now is what to do that might make a constructive difference: I welcome suggestions from Illinois faculty and others.
...and I'm delighted that my disrespectful and demeaning speech makes me unappointable at the University of Illinois, where the First Amendment no longer applies. This commentary on her disgraceful letter is apt and I endorse everything Mr. Wilson says.
ADDENDUM: This is a tamer, but also, solid response, making clear how the Chancellor's "explanation" of her decision is even worse than the decision itself. (Thanks to Mike Dorf for the pointer.)
A lawsuit is now inevitable, and it will presumably have a defamation claim added to the constitutional and contractual claims. The Chancellor should resign: she's a disgrace. I again urge other philosophers to join the boycott. It gives me no pleasure to say that, since now the boycott has no end in sight. But the conduct by the Chancellor and the Board is such an egregious violation of the basic norms and integrity of academic institutions, that firm and public action is now imperative.
ADDENDUM: The Board of Trustees is also a disgrace--even in Texas, the Board has not done anything this egregious in a long time:
August 22, 2014
Earlier today, you received a thoughtful statement from Chancellor Phyllis Wise regarding the university’s decision not to recommend Prof. Steven Salaita for a tenured faculty position on the Urbana-Champaign campus.
In her statement, Chancellor Wise reaffirmed her commitment to academic freedom and to fostering an environment that encourages diverging opinions, robust debate and challenging conventional norms. Those principles have been at the heart of the university’s mission for nearly 150 years, and have fueled its rise as a world leader in education and innovation.
But, as she noted, our excellence is also rooted in another guiding principle that is just as fundamental. Our campuses must be safe harbors where students and faculty from all backgrounds and cultures feel valued, respected and comfortable expressing their views.
We agree, and write today to add our collective and unwavering support of Chancellor Wise and her philosophy of academic freedom and free speech tempered in respect for human rights – these are the same core values which have guided this institution since its founding.
In the end, the University of Illinois will never be measured simply by the number of world-changing engineers, thoughtful philosophers or great artists we produce. We also have a responsibility to develop productive citizens of our democracy. As a nation, we are only as strong as the next generation of participants in the public sphere. The University of Illinois must shape men and women who will contribute as citizens in a diverse and multi-cultural democracy. To succeed in this mission, we must constantly reinforce our expectation of a university community that values civility as much as scholarship.
Disrespectful and demeaning speech that promotes malice is not an acceptable form of civil argument if we wish to ensure that students, faculty and staff are comfortable in a place of scholarship and education. If we educate a generation of students to believe otherwise, we will have jeopardized the very system that so many have made such great sacrifices to defend. There can be no place for that in our democracy, and therefore, there will be no place for it in our university.
Chancellor Wise is an outstanding administrator, leader and teacher. Her academic career has been built on her commitment to promoting academic freedom and creating a welcoming environment for students and faculty alike. We stand with her today and will be with her tomorrow as she devotes her considerable talent and energy to serving our students, our faculty and staff, and our society.
We look forward to working closely with Chancellor Wise and all of you to ensure that our university is recognized both for its commitment to academic freedom and as a national model of leading-edge scholarship framed in respect and courtesy.
Christopher G. Kennedy, Chair, University of Illinois Board of Trustees
Robert A. Easter, President
Hannah Cave, Trustee Ricardo Estrada, Trustee Patrick J. Fitzgerald, Trustee Lucas N. Frye, Trustee Karen Hasara, Trustee Patricia Brown Holmes, Trustee Timothy N. Koritz, Trustee Danielle M. Leibowitz, Trustee Edward L. McMillan, Trustee James D. Montgomery, Trustee Pamela B. Strobel, Trustee
Paula Allen-Meares, Chancellor, Chicago campus, and Vice President, University of Illinois Susan J. Koch, Chancellor, Springfield campus, and Vice President, University of Illinois
Donald A. Chambers, Professor of Physiology and Biochemistry; Chair, University Senates Conference
Jerry Bauman, Interim Vice President for Health Affairs Thomas R. Bearrows, University Counsel Thomas P. Hardy, Executive Director for University Relations Susan M. Kies, Secretary of the Board of Trustees and the University Walter K. Knorr, VP/Chief Financial Officer and Comptroller Christophe Pierre, Vice President for Academic Affairs Lawrence B. Schook, Vice President for Research Lester H. McKeever, Jr., Treasurer, Board of Trustees
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)