I have a piece on the subject at CHE. This was written well before the election. I can't say this topic is likely to loom large in the years ahead anymore!
I have a piece on the subject at CHE. This was written well before the election. I can't say this topic is likely to loom large in the years ahead anymore!
(Thanks to Jerry Goodenough for the pointer.)
1) The Code of Conduct has this sentence: “Beyond this, teachers should take positive measures both to overcome their own implicit biases and to protect students from the effects of negative stereotypes”. But the replication crisis in psychology has not been kind to either theory: in both cases there have been some large-scale meta-analyses that have found little or no effect. So I’m rather surprised to see the APA adopting this into policy when at the least it’s highly contested science.
2) The Code of Conduct notes that the APA “rejects as unethical all forms of discrimination based on race, color, religion, political convictions, national origin, sex, disability, sexual orientation, gender identification, or age, whether in graduate admissions, appointments, retention, promotion and tenure, manuscript evaluation, salary determination, or other professional activities in which APA members characteristically participate.” From which follows in particular that the APA rejects as unethical discrimination based on religion in graduate admissions or appointments. But then the Code goes on to say that “it is not inconsistent with the APA’s position against discrimination to adopt religious affiliation as a criterion in graduate admissions or employment policies when this is directly related to the school’s religious affiliation or purpose, so long as these policies are made known to members of the philosophical community and so long as the criteria for such religious affiliation do not discriminate against persons according to the other attributes listed in this statement.” That looks straightforwardly false: an inconsistent pair of statements can’t be made consistent merely by declaring them to be. I assume this is poor drafting: what they mean to say is that they regard discrimination as unethical *except* in this particular circumstance.
Although I am not a member, it has come to my attention that the American Philosophical Association has adopted a very unusual Code of ethical conduct, quite unlike that adopted by other disciplines such as the Modern Language Association, the American Historical Association, or the American Psychological Association. None of these other codes purport to proscribe extramural speech beyond one's campus, let alone speech that might constitute what is capaciously defined as "bullying and harassment"; they focus instead on actual professional obligations in dealings with faculty colleagues, students, and research subjects.
Yet the APA purports to proscribe "bullying and harassment" quite generally, meaning, inter alia, "verbal agression...spreading malicious rumors; calling someone conventionally derogatory names or using derogatory stereotypes to describe them...'cyber-bullying' through email, text messages, or social media...subjecting an individual to repeated, unsolicited criticism, except when this is clearly limited to a matter of scholarly dispute; subjecting a person to public ridicule..."
Most of these terms admit of considerable interpretation, meaning the reach of the Code may be very broad. As the sociologist Randall Collins has noted, there has been massive inflation of the term "bullying" over the last generation so that it encompasses more and more ordinary interactions in which one party says something critical about another. By incorporating this inflation into the APA Code, you purport to expand the APA's authority over matters no other professional organization purports to regulate.
MOVING TO FRONT FROM YESTERDAY--UPDATED WITH RESULTS: ONLY 1 OUT OF 3 HAVE A "FAVORABLE" OPINION OF THE APA, WHILE 41% HAVE AN "UNFAVORABLE" OPINION.
What do philosophy faculty and students think about the APA these days?
UPDATE: So with nearly 530 votes cast, the results are not very favorable for the APA. Only about one in three philosophers (34%) have a favorable opinion of the job the APA has been doing, while 41% have an unfavorable view. (25% were neutral or had no opinion.) Only 14% have a "very favorable" opinion of the APA, while 18% have a "very unfavorable" opinion. I wonder if there is another professional organization held in such low regard by the academic community it supposedly represents?
Philosopher Michael Loughlin from MMU Cheshire writes:
[P]hilosophy is one of a number of academic subjects currently offered on the Cheshire campus of Manchester Metropolitan University. The whole campus is potentially facing closure as part of a commissioned "review" of its "financial sustainability" by a team of management consultants. The board of governors is considering options that include the survival of the campus with a significantly reduced range of academic provisions on offer to students, and its outright closure. In that event, a key provider of education in the Cheshire region for over 100 years would be lost and while some academic staff might be relocated to a city campus in Manchester, many academics - and many more support staff - could be facing redundancy.
We are trying to persuade the board of governors to consider less drastic options, arguing that campus closure would be a disaster for the local region and contrary to the university's commitment to "widening participation" - the region has been identified as an area with "a low density of HEIs" and we're concerned the students that commute from the local community may no longer be able to access university if the campus is closed. Too many academic provisions are being lost across the UK as universities 'streamline' their offerings, and this tendency represents a serious concern for those of us who believe that a traditional academic education should be an option for people from a broad range of backgrounds - social, geographical and economic. There is a case for a sustainable future for this campus, and in support of that case we're trying to get as many people as possible to sign a petition calling on the board to consider seriously the alternatives to closure. The petition can be accessed here:
The comments that many of our former students who have already signed are instructive, and we hope members of the board will read them - but they are more likely to do so if the petition has many supporters. So please consider clicking on the link and signing.
Nearly a thousand students, faculty and deans called for my and my husband’s immediate removal from our jobs and campus home. Some demanded not only apologies for any unintended racial insensitivity (which we gladly offered) but also a complete disavowal of my ideas (which we did not) — as well as advance warning of my appearances in the dining hall so that students accusing me of fostering violence wouldn’t be disturbed by the sight of me.
Not everyone bought this narrative, but few spoke up. And who can blame them? Numerous professors, including those at Yale’s top-rated law school, contacted us personally to say that it was too risky to speak their minds. Others who generously supported us publicly were admonished by colleagues for vouching for our characters. Many students met with us confidentially to describe intimidation and accusations of being a “race traitor” when they deviated from the ascendant campus account that I had grievously injured the community. The Yale Daily News evidently felt obliged to play down key facts in its reporting, including about the two-hour-plus confrontation with a crowd of more than 100 students in which several made verbal and physical threats to my husband while four Yale deans and administrators looked on.
I have always spoken up, but far too few do, perhaps because so many are committed to making it costly to do so.
...plus pathetic sexist tripe, but it also has its own resident raving anti-Semite, one "Jacques," whom no other contributor to that blog appears to have criticized for his insane bigotry. Some quotes from comments he's posted on that sorry blog:
Since the time of Marx through the many Bolshevik mass murderers like Kaganovich through to the present era of “whiteness studies” (i.e., anti-white-gentile studies) rammed with ethnocentric anti-white Jews, there is no group of people on earth who have been more venomously effective in the propagation of anti-Christian bigotry than leftist Jews. No group is more privileged or powerful or tribalistic...Jews enabled the Moors to take Spain. Jews traded in Christian slaves in huge numbers through the middle ages. Jewish wealth funded the rabidly Christophobic Bolsheviks. The Talmud tells us Christ is in hell boiling in excrement. All major Jewish organizations righteously demand that we flood Christian lands with unvetted limitless numbers of Muslims while making no similar demands on Israel.
Is it anti-semitic to believe on solid evidence the true proposition that...“leftist Jews” have been vastly over-represented among haters, oppressors and mass murderers of Christians, and in anti-Christian anti-European movements, and notably under-represented in the defense of the interests of Christians and non-Jewish Europeans
That the blog let this stuff stand defies belief. RightlyConsidered is operating at about the level of Breitbart, though trending towards StormFront! If right-wing philosophers want to be taken seriously, this blog is not the way to do it! But if they simply want to have their own cyber-circle of self-congratulation plus unabashed sexism and racism, then they're doing a great job!
A philosophy graduate student at Johns Hopkins University writes:
I am a member of the philosophy department at Johns Hopkins University writing to alert you to some rather disturbing events happening in the university. In short, the university’s administration is attempting to shut down an academic department without transparency, due-process, or clear justification. The department in question is the Humanities Center, an interdisciplinary department that has been part of the university since the 1960s. The issues between the administration and the department have been developing for several years, but they have just recently been made public. Several members of the department of philosophy, including myself, feel that the administration’s handling of the situation ought to be publicized as much as possible to discourage this kind of malfeasance both now and in the future.
Here is a brief description of the situation (further details can be found on this website, which has been set up in support of the Center):
Roughly three years ago, two senior members of the Humanities Center’s faculty announced plans to retire. The department requested permission to conduct searches to replace the retiring faculty. The dean at the time, Katherine Newman, told the department that any decision regarding new hires would be up to her successor, since she was planning to leave Hopkins that same year. Her replacement was Beverly Wendland, a member of the biology faculty. Dean Wendland informed the Center that she would not be considering either of their hiring requests until the department underwent a review, despite the fact that it had been recently reviewed twice (in 2008-2009 and 2011-2012). In both cases, the reviews were generally positive.
Philosopher Steve Hales (Bloomsburg) noted the victory in a comment on the earlier thread, and now Larry Udell, a philosophy professor at West Chester University, writes with some additional details and links:
You may have heard that our union recently fought off an attempt at not only union-busting, but a clear attempt to move our state system closer to community college status and away from university status. I thought I’d send this along.
Of special note: the State System attempted to pit regular faculty vs. adjuncts and students by offering higher pay raises for full-time faculty with the remainder of their package. We rejected that and took less money in order to ensure that we remain more like universities. (E.g.: this semester I have 170 students in 4 classes, with no TA. So I read and grade all of their essays – along with trying to fit in some research.
...this time at Indiana-Purdue University Fort Wayne. Other programs were eliminated as well. Yet another ill-omen for our field.
(Thanks to Matthew Van Cleave for the pointer.)
From their editorial:
A draft law, the Higher Education and Research Bill, is making its way through the House of Commons. The bill amounts to the biggest shake-up in the sector for more than a generation. It is designed, among other things, to make it easier for private companies to set up universities, and to enable more researchers to commercialize their work. If it passes, existing funding bodies will close and replacements will be created. But in the process of change, the bill rips up an 800-year-old settlement between the nation’s scholars and the state. It opens the door to unacceptable political interference. It must be resisted.
I'd be curious to hear from UK readers, or others informed about this legislation, what they make of it and whether it will also have impact in other fields outside the sciences, like philosophy.
From the fall of 2012 to the spring of 2015, I was a member of the APA’s Status and Future of the Profession Committee. I wrote in a comment to this post that my service was both rewarding and informative.
Like all standing committees of the APA, the Status and Future of the Profession Committee receives charges from the Board of Directors. As far as I know, there are no policies and procedures document for running the committee apart from Board charges; however, during the three years I served, the committee was charged with reviewing grant applications, and we were given clear guidelines for that. There were a few additional issues the interested can read about in the committee reports publically available here.
(1) Create policies and procedures documents that govern the work of each committee. These can be updated and changed through the years as the role of the committee changes, but to get the most out of the committees, they need more operating direction than just charges from the board.
(2) Staff committees with members who are more representative of the profession as a whole. This means the members should not come primarily from Ph.D. granting institutions and elite liberal arts colleges. If fact, I claim it would be best to have assigned, specific representation on each committee as well as at-large spots. Representational make up, of course, would be outlined in a policies and procedures document, but here is my suggestion: At least one member from the following: Ph.D. granting program, M.A. (and no Ph.D.) granting program, B.A. granting program, a community college representative, and four at-large seats. Having representation on these committees from a wide variety of constituency groups offers more buy in for all APA members.
Philosophers often use LSAT data as a marketing tool to convince students who want to go to law school that they should major in philosophy. But how do we really know studying philosophy is the key to higher scores? Are the high scores really the result of studying philosophy or is there some other cause? In this post, I am going to suggest that privilege and economic class, rather than studying philosophy, better explain philosophy students’ LSAT results. Even if my suspicions are only partly right, it should make philosophers think twice about selling philosophy merely as a means to higher LSAT scores.
Making a causal connection for or against is very difficult (that alone should make us think twice). We don’t have access to either state level LSAT averages or LSAT scores from individual schools. What we have is the average score by majors. I am going to start with 2014 LSAC applicants by major report. Five of the most popular LSAT taking majors are: Political Science, Criminal Justice, Economics, Philosophy, and Sociology. Here are the LSAT results for those five majors:
Last October, I wrote about accreditation as a way to create support for philosophy at colleges and universities. It generated some good comments, but I wanted to reiterate my support for philosophy accreditation. After the post, I received a supportive email from a philosopher who had recently entered into an academic leadership position. With permission, here is part of what this concerned philosopher wrote:
“I am part of a public university undergrad-only department that likely faces similar issues to yours. I am writing to you specifically to ask if you know anything about efforts to institute an accreditation program for Philosophy programs, since this came up as part of the discussion related to your previous posts.
I fully sympathize with philosophy faculty who argue that the widespread push for data-driven analysis, detailed top-down assessment procedures, and things like curriculum mapping have not caught on in Philosophy for good reason. Our subject matter resists this sort of thing and could even be badly distorted and misrepresented by it, unfortunately.
Most colleges and universities have a general education mathematics requirement with some, including WIU, allowing a gen ed logic classes to satisfy that mathematics requirement. I am most interested in discussing the issue of mathematical reasoning standards for general education--specifically logic classes and students with cognitive or intellectual disabilities.
My main concern is with students who have intellectual disabilities. These disabilities are things like dyscalculia or acalculia, but also IQ levels that are in the 70s. As an educator, I am struggling with methods of teaching and evaluating students who have genuine intellectual disabilities and can’t do the work necessary to pass my class with a grade of ‘C’. The ‘C’ threshold has become a bigger issue for me in the last year since the replacement course grade standard was changed from a ‘D-’ to ‘C’ to be in line with the mathematics course requirement.
It’s nice to be invited back, and I want to thank Brian for letting me blog on his site again. For those of you interested in a follow up story to the elimination of the Western Illinois University philosophy major and the closing of the Department of Philosophy and Religious Studies, let me get you all up to date.
The Philosophy and Religious Studies department has been eliminated along with its two majors. What is left are minors in both philosophy and religious studies and about two dozen philosophy majors that need to be taught out. Over the summer the Provost tasked the faculty in the eliminated departments with finding academic homes. The Religious Studies faculty voted to join the faculty in the eliminated programs and departments of Women’s Studies and African American Studies to become the Department of Liberal Arts and Sciences pending IBHE approval. The four remaining philosophers, not including our dean, were keen to find an academic home where we would fit academically AND retain some identifiable presence on campus. Not an easy task, and other departments in our college weren’t particularly interested in taking on four additional faculty members when layoffs were (and are still) a concern. The chair of Mathematics, however, offered to do just that--provide an academic home and a visible presence on campus.
How? The chair, presumably to signal his support of philosophy and its importance to a university education, submitted a request to the Provost to change the department name to: “Mathematics, Logic, and Philosophy.” We are awaiting approval, but if it is approved, philosophy will still have some visibility on campus.
It’s all a bit strange, and being in a new department is like starting a new job. Also I’m no longer recruiting students and discussing the benefits of a major in philosophy, even so, we do realize we need to market our minor. Some readers may remember this. Unfortunately this doesn’t have quite the same ring: “Thinking about a minor, minor in thinking.”
I am opening comments on this thread so that people can share and discuss successful programs and strategies for promoting philosophy minors.
UPDATE: At the link, above, Dean Zimmerman (Rutgers), a very prominent Christian philosopher who has made major contributions to metaphysics, writes:
I know firsthand, having been his colleague for quite a few years, that Jason is highly sensitive to the fact that Christians are something of a minority within philosophy. There were several Christian graduate students at Rutgers while Jason was here, and with whom he interacted frequently, and I am confident that none of them ever felt disrespected by Jason because of their faith. To the contrary, in my experience Jason seems to optimistically and automatically think well of his Christian colleagues and students — as though he could count on serious Christians to exemplify the virtues we profess. I’m grateful that he doesn’t lump us all in with political conservatives who are hijacking religious language, some of whom will apparently use any means to inflict psychic damage upon those they perceive as their “enemies”. Thank you, Jason.
Rob Hughes, a young moral, political and legal philosopher teaching in the Wharton School at the University of Pennslyvania, writes:
Having read Richard Swinburne's recent argument about the ethics of homosexuality, both the version he published in 2007/2008 and the version he presented in his talk at the SCP meeting, I can confirm your belief that his argument is awful. There is no need to discuss Swinburne's dubious moral premises. The argument clearly fails because it relies on a false and unjustified empirical assertion. Here it is, in Swinburne's own words (from the text of his recent talk posted on First Things, pp. 12-13):
"The evidence seems to me to indicate clearly that genes and environment (nature and nurture) both play a role in determining sexual orientation; and also that this orientation is sometimes to a considerable extent reversible. So if there was a general recognition in society of an obligation to abstain from homosexual acts, that would prevent homosexual behaviour being presented as an option for young people of equal value to the heterosexual one which makes possible procreative marriage. That would deter the young from wondering whether they are really homosexual when previously it would not have occurred to them, in consequence experimenting with homosexual sexual acts, getting accustomed to such behaviour and so developing a homosexual orientation."
Swinburne asserts here that sexual experimentation in adolescence or adulthood influences people's sexual orientation. This assertion is not an off-hand remark; it is crucial to his argument that God has a reason to prohibit homosexual conduct. (Swinburne does not think that natural law prohibits homosexual conduct; indeed, he nicely dispatches this view in one sentence on p. 8.) Swinburne's assertion is at odds with the evidence that a person's future sexual orientation is determined before school age and possibly much earlier. He provides no evidence for his assertion that sexual experimentation influences orientation, either in his 2007 book Revelation, or in his 2008 reply to critics, or in the text of his recent talk.
Swinburne claims to have provided evidence that adults can change their sexual orientation, but to call his evidence shoddy would be too generous. His 2007 book cited a study purporting to show that some people had changed their sexual orientation through "reparative therapy." The study's author, Robert Spitzer, retracted the study in 2012 and said that its methodology had a "fatal flaw." Swinburne's recent SCP talk acknowledges this retraction. The talk instead cites Michelle Wolkomir's 2006 book Be Not Deceived as evidence that "the sexual orientation of some, but perhaps not most, homosexuals can be changed to a significant degree." (19) The book is an ethnographic study of two small groups of gay and "ex-gay" Christians and their self-understanding. Treating this study as evidence that people can change their sexual orientation is a mistake for the same reason Spitzer's study was flawed: we have no way to establish that subjects who reported changed sexual desires were sincere and not deceiving themselves. The large number of ex-ex-gays gives us reason to suspect that people are either insincere or deceiving themselves if they claim to have altered their sexual orientations (including their desires as well as their behavior).
Several months ago, I learned, via the Chair of the Philosophy Department at British Columbia, that my old pal Carrie Jenkins had received an "offensive" package, and that the return address consisted in a mangled version of my Law School's address and a pseudonym attributed to me by a law blogger who had championed the idea that "law school is a scam" and whom I had mercilessly criticized for years (a short and sweet explanation of the whole background is here). That was weird, but I didn't think much of it, and no information about the "offensive" content was shared.
Then, in late August, David Velleman wrote to me as follows:
> From: David Velleman [mailto:email@example.com]
> Sent: Saturday, August 27, 2016 3:17 PM
> To: Leiter, Brian <firstname.lastname@example.org>
> Subject: An imposter
> Dear Brian,
> A few people have received packages of excrement from someone using your law-school address and a name widely [sic] believed to be your pseudonym. I assume it can't be you -- which means that someone is trying to embarrass you. I don't know if there's anything you can do about it, but I thought you would want to know. Some of the recipients have reported the packages to the police.
We touched on this briefly last week, but as so often happens, it's taken on a life of its own on various right-wing websites. Briefly, the usual "high-school-with-tenure" crowd on Facebook was reacting to the brouhaha about Richard Swinburne's anti-gay bigotry (discussed here). Jason Stanley (Yale), on his Facebook-page-cum-blog responded with a "fuck off" and then a reaffirmation and, shall we say, "elaboration" of the "fuck off" aimed at Swinburne and his ilk. Rebecca Kukla (Georgetown) (another regular in this crowd, whose FB "tough talk" we've encountered before), chimed in with the suggestion that the anti-gay bigots "suck my giant queer cock." There are two reasonably calm accounts of events here and here, both of which include slightly different (and somewhat odd) explanations from Stanley about what transpired. Meanwhile, a right-wing website called "Georgetown Academy" has been pursuing Kukla, claiming that her "message to Catholics" was "suck my giant queer cock." That isn't quite right: at best, that was her "message" to Catholics who are anti-gay bigots. Meanwhile, Jason has, wisely I suspect, removed his Facebook account, to deprive the enemy of further ammunition (though my recollection of his FB page was that it was mostly an extended exercise in "enough about me, what do you think about me?").
I will note that my own comments on L'Affaire Swinburne--"Swinburne offered the usual awful arguments for anti-gay bigotry that "natural law" theorists and Christian philosophers usually trot out. No one outside the sect takes the arguments seriously, because they aren't serious arguments, but put that to one side. This talk was given inside the "sect": should anyone have been surprised that a keynote address at a Christian philosophy conference included familiar arguments rationalizing anti-gay bigotry? Many self-identified Christian philosophers reject such arguments, but many others plainly do not"--didn't provoke nearly as strong a reaction, no doubt due to the absence of vulgar abuse aimed at Swinburne. It's testimony to the power of vulgar words that they can provoke such a strong reaction by contrast. My suggestion, were either Professors Stanley or Kukla taking my advice, would be to apologize for the unfortunate choice of language (everyone, after all, is allowed to have a visceral reaction, and there's nothing wrong with harsh language), but reaffirm the substance of their opposition to anti-gay bigotry, even when it masquerades as philosophy. (You know things are getting weird in philosophy cyberspace when I'm the one giving cyber-etiquette advice! But seriously, having been through right-wing cyber-shitstorms, I think this is a good way to defuse them.)
Several readers asked me via e-mail for my reaction to the part of David Chalmers's recent interview where he talked about the fall 2014 smear campaign and the role of the Advisory Board; in case others care, here's my answer. I thought Dave's comments were basically fair; here's the relevant bit of his answer (I bold the part I agree with in particular):
[The threatened] boycott...was damaging the reputation and credibility of the report as well as dividing the profession. Board members started emailing about it and we obviously had to find a way forward. Brian himself had been making noises about stepping down, and this seemed the obvious solution. The board didn't take any stand on the merits of the boycott. Stepping back, I'd say that over the years the report had gradually moved from being Brian's hobby to being an institution in the profession, and it's not too surprising that eventually there was a perceived tension between Brian's institutional role (leading the arbitration of quality in the profession) and his non-institutional role (as an opinionated blogger carrying on many battles within the profession).
This shit makes me want to retire.
I already don't "go out" in the philosophy blog-o-sewer, and maybe I'll stop going to conferences too.
Many of these people are not able enough to both do good philosophy and engage constantly in sanctimonious, and often quite nasty, moral police work. Many of them seem to be getting paid a lot to do mediocre scholarly work and spend 80% of their working hours on Facebook.
I touched on this case briefly in my CHE piece, but this discussion by NYU law professor Rick Hills is thorough and well-informed. I should note that, unlike Prof. Hills, I am not Prof. Chouhdry's friend, and I'm not sure I've ever even met him. But due process matters, for all the reasons Prof. Hills articulates so well.
...from the local organizer, philosopher Brandon Schmidly (Evangel U). (My earlier post is here, to which Prof. Schmidly briefly alludes.)
The other keynote speaker controversy making the rounds concerns a talk by philosopher of religion Richard Swinburne (Oxford) at a regional meeting of SCP at Evangel University in Missouri. This appears to be a sympathetic account of what transpired from someone in attendance. Briefly: Swinburne offered the usual awful arguments for anti-gay bigotry that "natural law" theorists and Christian philosophers usually trot out. No one outside the sect takes the arguments seriously, because they aren't serious arguments, but put that to one side. This talk was given inside the "sect": should anyone have been surprised that a keynote address at a Christian philosophy conference included familiar arguments rationalizing anti-gay bigotry? Many self-identified Christian philosophers reject such arguments, but many others plainly do not. As philosopher Chris Swoyer (Oklahoma) noted:
A substantial portion of Christians hold views like those attributed to Swinburne and do so on the basis of their understanding of Christianity. So it's surely not surprising for him to express such views in the setting he did.
That is surely right, and poses a difficult question for those Christian philosophers who repudiate such views about whether they want to be in that "setting" as it were.
In the case of the other keynote speaker controversy du jour, Professor Shelby was asked by a Black woman in his Q&A why he had not cited or discussed any Black feminist authors; Professor Shelby, unsurprisingly, was dismissive of the question, calling it a request for a "bibliography" and indicating he was just trying to do philosophy. He, correctly, supposed that a question of the form, "Why didn't you mention authors with particular racial and gender attributes?" is not a serious philosophical question, in contrast to, say, the question, "Why didn't you address the following argument by author X [who is also a Black feminist]?", which is an appropriate question. (Readers should review the full statement by the aggrieved audience member at the end of this post.) Other audience members shared this aggrievement as well. The organizing committee, instead of taking the opportunity to educate the aggrieved philosophy graduate student about the intellectual norms of the profession she plans to enter instead sent out a missive to all those who attended the conference stating that,
In particular, we apologize for the effects of the Saturday keynote address [by Prof. Shelby] and for our failure to do more about a situation in which SAF members felt personally and collectively hurt. When members identify effects including the erasure of Black women’s bodies and words, then we have to do better. What was said was wrong, and inappropriate at a feminist conference, and we take responsibility for our roles in the events that took place.
So one initial difference between the two cases is that Professor Swinburne's views really are a philosophical embarrassment, whereas Professor Shelby's views and his response to an inappropriate question were not. Indeed, the philosophical embarrassment is that the organizing committee of a philosophy conference caved in to meritless aggrievement by someone who apparently does not know what constitutes an appropriate philosophical question. The other difference involves the "official" SCP response to the Swinburne talk. Michael Rea (Notre Dame), the President of SCP, made the following public statement in the wake of attention being called to the Swinburne talk:
I want to express my regret regarding the hurt caused by the recent Midwest meeting of the Society for Christian Philosophers. The views expressed in Professor Swinburne's keynote are not those of the SCP itself. Though our membership is broadly united by way of religious faith, the views of our members are otherwise diverse. As Preisdent of the SCP, I am committed to promoting the intellectual life of our philosophical community. Consequently (among other reasons), I am committed to the values of diversity and inclusion. As an organization, we have fallen short of those ideals before, and surely we will again. Nonetheless, I will strive for them going forward. If you have thoughts or feedback you would like to share with me, I would welcome hearing from you via email or private message.
Like the SAF conference organizers, Prof. Rea rebukes the speaker to the extent of feeling the need to apologize for the effects of the talk (both statements apologize for "hurt"). Unlike the SAF conference organizers, Prof. Rea at least does not pronounce "what was said" to be "wrong" and verboten "for a Christian conference," which would, for the reasons noted by Prof. Swoyer, be a difficult position to defend in this "setting." Prof. Rea's response would have been better had it just consisted in the statement that "The views expressed in Professor Swinburne's keynote are not those of the SCP itself. Though our membership is broadly united by way of religious faith, the views of our members are otherwise diverse." If he'd left it at that, this would not be notable at all.
The comical sanctimony of certain segments of the philosophy "profession" is a regular topic of conversation and head-shaking among adults, but the insulting treatment of philosopher Tommie Shelby (Harvard) after his keynote at the meeting of the Society for Analytic Feminism (SAF) sets a new low. Justin Weinberg (South Carolina), who always has his finger on the racing pulse of the hyper-sensitive, offers this account:
At the SAF, some members of the audience found the keynote talk by Tommie Shelby (Harvard), drawn from his forthcoming book Dark Ghettos, highly objectionable. My understanding (which may not be entirely accurate) is that the controversy concerned some remarks in the talk about procreative ethics, how (as he puts it in an earlier article), “basic duties are not suspended or void because one is oppressed,” and whether what he said was disrespectful to poor, black women. Some attendees apparently thought that an apology was in order, perhaps from the organizers. (UPDATE: two days after the SAF conference ended, its organizers sent an email to the participants issuing an apology, and requesting feedback from them regarding the event and future conferences.) (UPDATE 2: further details regarding Shelby’s talk can be found in the comment below from “a poor black woman who was there.”)
I suppose Professor Shelby (and everyone else) has learned an important lesson here, namely, that the meeting of the Society for Analytic Feminism is not really a philosophical conference, but one in which failure of ideological purity (which is marked by giving "offense"--heavens!) is verboten and results in an "official" repudiation by the organization.
Again, if we were dealing with professionals--it appears we are not--then we would expect SAF to issue an apology to Prof. Shelby for this shameful treatment at what was supposed to be a philosophical event. (I should add that the sins of SAF should not be visited on those who work in feminist philosophy, though there is, of course, some overlap in the two groups. But I guess if I were a job candidate, I would get SAF off my CV, lest the sins of the SAF organizers be visited on the innocent.)
UPDATE: Philosopher Kate Norlock (Trent) tells me that Professor Weinberg's account is not accurate, and therefore the inferences I have drawn from it are not warranted. She writes:
Tommie Shelby spoke to an attentive and quiet audience without interruption.the question-and-answer period afterward involved many members of the audience providing substantial and critical comments and questions to him. I can attest, since I was there, that their objections were not to the notion that the oppressed can have moral duties.
Interestingly, one of the more unfortunate moments in the discussion period was a moment when Shelby attempted to deflect a robust criticism with the comment that he was "just doing philosophy." Since the unfortunate implication of this ill-chosen deflection is that his questioner may not be trying to do the same, I found myself asserting, as I closed the event, that I appreciated the extent to which we all, including our keynote speaker, remained engaged and did philosophy together. It is therefore disappointing to read your statement that "the meeting of the Society for Analytic Feminism is not really a philosophical conference."
Presentations at our conference included the works of philosophers from 30 different states and 3 countries. I provide you the link to our program so that you may be better informed as to the philosophical content of our conference:
I know you care about truth and fact more than your post indicates. I believe that you wish to be accurate and right. Your post about SAF is neither. It is not reflective of actualities and instead seems to merely echo Justin Weinberg's likewise uninformed post at Daily Nous. Your recommendation that my organization should not appear on a philosopher's CV may be well-intended but is predicated on misunderstanding on your part.
Last, please provide me with any proof that I or my organization officially repudiated Tommie Shelby or owes him an apology. Proof should include more than your repetition of Justin Weinberg's gossip. That the blogs cite each other does not constitute proof. Again, I know that you know this, or would ordinarily know this.
I appreciate the additional detail, but I am, I confess, still puzzled. I am surprised that Prof. Weinberg's posting would remain uncorrected on these points after more than a day and despite dozens of comments including from members of SAF. (UPDATE: Prof. Weinberg's post was updated to reflect this point after I posted this.) I have asked Prof. Norlock for the apology e-mail organizers allegedly sent to members; Prof. Norlock's message to me was silent on tHis. When I have more information, I will post more.
ANOTHER UPDATE: Another SAF meeting attendee has forwarded me the e-mail sent out by the organizers, which confirms the crucial part of Prof. Weinberg's original account:
We write to all participants in the SAF 2016 conference so that those of us not on Facebook or social media have the same access to our acknowledgement of the harms some participants have already identified, and opportunities to participate in addressing them.
In planning this conference, we wanted to create a safe and nurturing space for feminist philosophers and feminist philosophies. We recognize that this was not the case for everyone present, and for that we apologize. In particular, we apologize for the effects of the Saturday keynote address [by Prof. Shelby] and for our failure to do more about a situation in which SAF members felt personally and collectively hurt. When members identify effects including the erasure of Black women’s bodies and words, then we have to do better. What was said was wrong, and inappropriate at a feminist conference, and we take responsibility for our roles in the events that took place.
...yes, I'll get to that one too, but today is the first day of the quarter, so there's work to be done, and I've already spent too much time on the earlier brouhaha. The details of this one are available here. I'lll just note the comment of philosopher Chris Swoyer (Oklahoma) at Prof. Rea's FB page:
A substantial portion of Christians hold views like those attributed to Swinburne and do so on the basis of their understanding of Christianity. So it's surely not surprising for him to express such views in the setting he did.
A good development, which will hopefully scare off predatory journals in other fields.
(Thanks to Varol Akman for the pointer.)
A student writes:
I am a college graduate looking to apply to philosophy graduate programs this fall. My primary interests are in the fields of philosophy of mind and philosophy of psychology, with a special interest in issues in the philosophy of mental illness. I have interest in other issues within these disciplines, such as personal identity, embodied cognition, memory and it's effects on sense of self, among other things, but I am especially interested in philosophy and mental illness. One of the reasons this issue in particular is so important to me is because I suffer from bipolar and borderline personality disorder. My struggles with these disorders, as well as my experiences with difference therapies and treatment theories, have incited an interest in the philosophical questions associated with mental illness. My question is whether or not I should mention my disorders in my personal statements or statements of purpose. I have succeeded academically for many years despite my disability, but I am worried mentioning it would scare off prospective schools and make me look weak or unable to handle the stress of graduate work. On the other hand, my disorders are a driving force behind my interests in the fields of philosophy of mind and psychology and also give me a unique perspective on issues within both fields. What should I do?
My own view, which I've already communicated to the student, is that it's not necessary to go into one's autobiography in order to explain a philosophical interest in this topic, and that the risks are precisely as the student notes, namely, that an admissions committee will draw unfair inferences about the student's ability to succeed. What do readers think?
MOVING TO FRONT FROM YESTERDAY--UPDATED
The APA has released the 2016 edition of this document. I haven't had a chance to look carefully at it, so do not know how useful it is or isn't.
UPDATE: A reader who earned a B.A. and M.A. in philosophy from state universities writes:
I’m a daily reader of your blog and I very much appreciate your services to the profession (philosophical news, the PGR, academic freedom watchdogsmanship, and so forth). Anyway, I hold an MA from one of the so-called Leiterific programs and turned down a PhD spot to go into the real world job market. Naturally I noted the APA post on careers outside of philosophy that you linked to with great interest, but was disappointed to see the backgrounds of the folks they profiled: Yale Law; Princeton and Columbia; Chicago, Berkeley, Cambridge; Harvard. I think it’s great that the APA has decided to take alt-ac careers seriously (since so many PhD students don’t complete the degree), but in a field that is already so hierarchical and pedigree conscious, it struck me as especially snooty for them to exclusively highlight individuals with such prestigious backgrounds. I only mention it because many of those people trying to make it in the world with a Philosophy degree are not coming from Harvard or Princeton, and if they were, they would not be having some of the difficulties that they are. As someone who attended state schools and already feels like the professional elites in philosophy think my kind are deplorable morons (since after all, pedigree is a quick heuristic for intelligence and whatnot), it just seems especially tasteless for what was putatively a community service project to read more like a who’s who of alt-ac royalty. Anyway, I know you aren’t even a member of the APA, but if they ever ask for your two cents, perhaps you could mention that many of us wish their research ventures would take them outside of the ivory tower more often. Thanks again for everything you do!
Just to be clear, I'm sure no one in philosophy thinks a student with an MA from Northern Illinois or Wisconsin/Miwaulkee or Georgia State or any of the other excellent terminal MA programs at public schools is a "deplorable moron," but the mindless pedigree effect outside those "in the know" is real enough.
The website has been updated so that it is searchable in various ways. Unfortunately, there's still no distinction between the kinds of tenure-track jobs graduates secure, but perhaps that will come. (See, e.g., this.) Still, there is useful information here, including about AOS by department. A caveat: I've not double-checked any of this for accuracy, but perhaps someone will.
MOVING TO FRONT FROM YESTERDAY--MORE COMMENTS WELCOME
A senior philosopher elsewhere writes:
Over the summer, this blog hosted a brief discussion of how journals choose their editors-in-chief. As a follow-up to that discussion, I would be interested in learning more about the selection and duties of associate editors and members of editorial boards. I believe that associate editorships can be quite burdensome, since I'm told that the associate editors of at least some journals read and comment on a significant number of papers every year. But to be named an associate editor of a top journal is also significant professional recognition, and is therefore an honor. It would be interesting to know how various journals decide upon whom to confer it. And are members of editorial boards also expected to read and comment on submissions, or are positions on editorial boards entirely honorary? How are members of those boards chosen?
Please submit comments only once, they may take awhile to appear.
In Memoriam: Solomon Feferman (July, August)
A classic metablog moment (June)
ADDENDUM: There were also a rather large number of senior lateral moves that transpired over the summer: see here and scroll down for all of them.
Professor Sartwell writes: "I have been reinstated at Dickinson. All I'm permitted to say is that the parties have amicably resolved their differences in a manner that resulted in my return to employment."
Many thanks to all those who contributed to Prof. Sartwell's legal fund. I have no doubt that being able to retain excellent legal counsel was crucial to this happy outcome. (I should also acknowledge Dean William Carter of the University of Pittsburgh Law School who kindly responded to my request to find an experienced Pennsylvania lawyer familiar with employment law and higher education issues.)
An undergraduate at another university writes:
Dear Mr Leiter,
I am a student in philosophy at [name omitted]. I just wanted to express gratitude for this post (http://leiterreports.typepad.com/blog/2016/08/crime-vs-sex-crime.html#more) because it corroborates my experience and makes me feel as though I am not alone.
This part in particular stands out:
'a handful of very vocal figures (many otherwise quite marginal to academic philosophy), whose mixture of foolishness, sanctimoniousness and/or vindictiveness we've commented on many times before--for example, here, here, here, here, here,here. "Pathologically self-righteous people" (to quote an earlier correspondent) can't be reasoned with, but perhaps they can be stopped. But this will require more courage and forthrightness from the majority in the profession, both faculty and students, who find this climate of fear, with its harm to honest intellectual discussion, unacceptable.'
There is a group at my university who call themselves [an acronym for a group of female students of philosophy at the university]. They actively recruit members and take it upon themselves to organise things like reading groups, "how to apply" workshops, etc. They don't stand out for their philosophical ability but they give themselves an active role and visible presence in the department. When I began at the university, I joined, but have been disappointed to discover the core group are a clique who approach politics with exactly the sort of self-righteous and authoritarian attitudes and behaviours you mention here. None of them are faculty: they are people who have at least finished undergraduate studies and are looking to complete either a Masters or a PhD at some point. As I said, they don't stand out for having particular philosophical ability. Faculty don't seem to be either opposed to or particularly supportive of them. However I have found their presence intimidating and frustrating, because I don't agree with all of their political opinions, or at least have the audacity to believe they are open to question. It's not just that they promulgate their own set of dogmas, but that you feel like you have to watch your back and be careful what you say, otherwise they might mobilise people against you. I find them anti-philosophical: they don't seem to value academic freedom or free inquiry, preferring instead to police language and thought for "problematic" expression and views.
Anyway, I hope they fall by the wayside over time, and don't represent the future of philosophy. I hope all we are seeing is some kind of political fad that will die out sooner rather than later. Thanks again for taking a public stand against this worrying phenomenon!
That piece clearly touched a nerve with many readers. Another junior faculty member at another university wrote about his social media exposure to his colleagues at a temporary job he had elsewhere:
[T]he sorts of things I was seeing were just appalling. As one of your correspondents put it, the kind of pathological self-righteousness, the grotesque moral peacocking competition to see who could most aggressively signal their sensitivity to the marginalized and oppressed...it was just unbelievable to me that so many professional philosophers and graduate students could be so manifestly self-deluded as to what they were doing and why. I needn't provide examples to you, I'm sure.
In that time, you were one of the few people who helped me keep my sanity. I am normally a very outspoken person, and if not for being on the market, and having tenure to think about after that, I am very much the sort who would have relished the opportunity to weigh in on all this shameful nonsense. But at the time, I could barely keep my head above water, and am now proud I managed to resist writing some publicly available screed that might have kept me from getting a job. One of the most frustrating things about that time (and now) is that I feel less free to express my opinions than I ever did as a graduate student, where I felt very free. The climate is so censorious and grandstandingly punitive that I, like so many others, feel effectively silenced. And I still largely feel that way despite having a TT job now.
More folks, including the many senior folks I hear from, need to be more vocal in the lives of their departments and on social media about the unacceptability of this behavior.
Although I've not talked to any of those involved, it's hard to escape the conclusion that this is all a coordinated effort: here now is the University President Robert Zimmer, and here is my colleage Geoffrey Stone (lead author of the University's free expression statement). Stone's piece has a useful chronicle of examples of attempts to suppress expression on various campuses.
It is amusing to see various folks in philosophy cyberspace who are precisely part of the problem ridiculing all this as a publicity stunt; but these are the same folks responsible for the "climate of fear" in academic philosophy about attaching one's name to the defense of reasonable views about gender, diversity, the appropriate punishment of sexual harassers, and the nature and content of the philosophy curriculum. It will soon be time to borrow one of their favorite tactics and "name and shame" the folks who have degraded the profession with their vindictive intolerance. There is a robust culture of free expression at this University, which other schools would do well to emulate. (I note as but one example that my libertarian and law & economics colleagues at the University of Chicago Law School knew full well the range of my political and moral opinions when they hired me!)
UPDATE: This interview with Geof Stone suggests that the Dean of the College's letter that got all the attention was not something approved by the University Administration: Stone basically disowns the way it was written.
Everyone in cyberspace is blathering about this, so I will add my own brief blather:
1. Academic freedom protects the right of faculty to utilize trigger warnings if in their professional judgment it is important for the pedagogical mission in a class. To the extent the letter implies they are forbidden, it is nonsense. ("Trigger warnings" are a popular blather topic in their own right, but there's not much more worth saying than this.)
2. Insofar as the letter is meant to send a message, the message is that all ideas can be discussed at the University of Chicago, subject to norms of civility essential for learning. So, for example, if some faculty or students here tried to suppress discussion of Germaine Greer's views about gender--as happened in philosophy cyberspace not long ago--they would be unsuccessful here. If anyone interfered with the expression of such ideas, they themselves would be subject to discipline for disrupting the mission of the university. By contrast, criticism of Greer's views on gender would enjoy the same protection at the University of Chicago.
3. #2 is obviously the only way for a serious university to run--even Herbert Marcuse argued that in the famous essay on "Repressive Tolerance." Here the Marxian left, the traditional liberal and the libertarian right should all be in agreement. Only that consumerist phenomenon of elite universities and their narcissistic students--roughly "identity politics"--is the outlier here.
About thirty years ago, I was a grad student TA at Michigan, which had a union for TAs. Our wages and benefits (esp. health) were way better than those held by the TAs at Yale at the time (they were not, needless to say, unionized).
That was then, of course. Market conditions changed, and wealthy private universities--and not-so-wealthy ones like NYU--had to respond to market pressures, pressures created often by the existence of unionized grad students elsewhere. NYU beat off a unionization challenge a decade or so ago by dramatically improving economic conditions for their PhD students, but NYU is especially vulnerable since the university's endowment does not allow it to compete in the "big leagues," so it is highly dependent on tuition and other short-term revenue and cheap labor, now mainly in the form of adjunct teaching.
Now the National Labor Relations Board has ruled, in a case brought by Columbia students, that grad students who work as TAs have the right to unionize, reversing a 2004 decision involving students at Brown. As usual, this brings forth the usual nonsense and tired canards about unions and the "special" character of graduate education. Thus the President of Yale:
As a Yale graduate student, professor, and administrator, I have experienced firsthand how the teacher-student relationship is central to the university’s academic enterprise. The mentorship and training that Yale professors provide to graduate students is essential to educating the next generation of leading scholars. I have long been concerned that this relationship would become less productive and rewarding under a formal collective bargaining regime, in which professors would be “supervisors” of their graduate student “employees.”
Today the National Labor Relations Board has ruled that graduate students at Columbia University, who assist with teaching and research as part of their education, are employees of that school. I disagree with this decision....
The Graduate School of Arts and Sciences enrolls the world’s most promising students in its doctoral programs. These students choose Yale for the opportunity to study with our outstanding faculty, and to take advantage of the university’s wide array of academic resources, generous financial aid, and comprehensive benefits. Yale will continue to provide exceptional support to our graduate students as they focus on their scholarship, successfully complete their degree programs, and find rewarding careers.
I want to argue that this situation demonstrates an absolute fissure in contemporary progressive politics, that there is a direct and unambiguous conflict between our efforts to address mass incarceration and the insistence that people accused of crimes such as sexual assault should be presumed to be guilty and that those who are guilty are permanently and existentially unclean. I want to argue that there’s nothing particularly hidden about this conflict, that acknowledging it is as simple as noting the direct contradiction of two progressive attitudes: the belief that certain crimes, particularly sex crimes and domestic violence, should be treated not only with harsh criminal punishments but with permanent moral judgment for those guilty of them; and the idea that we need to dismantle our vast criminal justice industrial complex, to oppose the carceral state, and to replace them with a new system of restoration and forgiveness. I further want to argue that progressives are not doing any of the moral and legal reasoning necessary to resolve these tensions, and that if we don’t, eventually they’ll explode....
[I]f an acquittal is insufficient to prove Parker’s innocence, what would such proof look like? Is exoneration even possible? And what do we do with people who are accused of crimes like sexual assault and domestic violence when their cases never go to trial? The current progressive impulse seems to be to simply treat them as guilty regardless, and permanently. Yet this strikes me as unambiguously contrary to the spirit and philosophy that contribute to our drive for criminal justice reform. How can we make such reform possible if we condemn huge groups of people to the status of guilty despite never being found guilty of any crime? And if such crimes carry existential and disqualifying moral judgment for life even for those only accused, how can we bring those imprisoned and released back into normal adult life?
People swing wildly from talking about criminal justice reform to insisting that everyone accused of entire classes of crimes, let alone convicted, are necessarily condemned to a lifetime of guilt. These impulses are not compatible. I strongly believe that we can balance the need to give sexual assault victims far more support and understanding than we traditionally have, and to begin to fix our society’s ugly failure to protect women from sexual assault, while still fighting mass imprisonment and the carceral state. But it will take hard work to get there, and the issue does not seem to even been on the radar for most people.
I don’t know who ‘Jane’ might be, but she/he shows exemplary patience and wisdom for someone commenting below the line on a philosophy blog. The reply from ‘Grace’ who thinks that the hounding of a wrongdoer is a ‘natural consequence’ of his wrongdoing is chillingly reminiscent of Victorian attitudes to malefactors found in the pages of Dickens and Hardy. Thanks, Grace, for returning the philosophy blogosphere to its normal role as a home for absolutely dreadful and long-discredited ideas. (13.07.2016)
For those who don't want to wade through the comment thread (I haven't the strength or tolerance myself to read most comment threads on philosophy blogs), here is "Jane":
For weeks now, there’s been one article after another bringing up Pogge. There seems to be no merit in their publication, other than to continually drag his name through the mud.
The guy’s alleged transgressions are already well known. This seems to be an extended exercise in moral signalling, in stomping down on the back of someone’s head as he already lies in the mud, bringing up the topic again and again whenever people are bored of it so that nobody ever forgets how horrible Pogge is. We get it. And yet, it doesn’t stop.
Now we’ve read an article translated from German that discusses the old facts yet again. Is that enough, editors of Daily Nous? Can we move on?
I’m all for open discussions of sexual harassment policies. I just don’t see the merit in running down particular individuals or exulting in their shame.
Three women of colour from developing countries who have worked with Thomas Pogge asked me to share a statement regarding how the response to the allegations against Prof. Pogge has affected them. They had originally planned to make this a signed statement (which I had offered to post), but as one of the authors explained to me:
At each step, we were discouraged by friends and colleagues, who said we would be viewed as apologists for Thomas, and that we could kiss our feminist reputations goodbye. I'm very disappointed with where we are in academia, and I'm also disappointed with myself. We're going to have to think of another way of expressing our views, or perhaps we will just need to wait a few months until the storm blows over. I'm sorry for having wasted your time, though it's been good (for me) to connect with you. I read your blog regularly and appreciate your courage on many issues very much.
In the end, they decided they could share the statement they drafted, but without their names. Here it is:
We write to express some concern about the widely circulated Open Letter condemning Thomas Pogge. We clarify, first, that our aim is not to cast doubt upon the allegations upon which the letter is based. We are all too familiar with the institutional ‘cultures of silence’ that try to muzzle women who speak out against sexual harassment and sexual assault. We stand, always, with such women of courage in their quests for justice.
Our intention, here, is to advocate for the women, including ourselves, whose academic achievement, commitment to social justice, and personal integrity have been unjustly brought under a cloud due to Prof. Pogge’s alleged misconduct and also some efforts to condemn it. In particular, our concern is with what is said and yet left unsaid in the open letter. Among other things, Pogge is accused of violating professional norms by making “quid pro quo offers of letters of recommendation and other perks,” presumably in return for sexual favours. In no way has this been our experience with Prof. Pogge. Nor is it that of many other women whom we know to be professionally associated with him. In our view, the open letter should have been more discriminating in its choice of words rather than painted with such a broad brush.
Furthermore, while it is commendable that concern for the well-being of women, “notably women of colour,” associated with Pogge features prominently in the open letter, we are saddened that there is no corresponding language that recognizes our talent, merit, and integrity. This is a serious lapse, given the potentially harmful impact of the letter on women, notably young, professionally insecure women of colour from developing countries, who have worked with Prof. Pogge.
It is distressing that any of this needs to be said. But in a world where women still struggle to be taken seriously in their professional lives, and where women of colour are all too easily eroticized and portrayed as lacking agency, dignity, and integrity, we speak out of concern that the open letter’s categorical language on Pogge’s women of colour victims, along with thoughtless social media discussions about his corrupt, nefarious relationships with them, will only reinforce sexist and racist stereotypes. Our unease is amplified by the fact that the letter was shared hundreds of times across multiple online platforms, i.e., well beyond the academic “philosophical community” to which it is originally addressed. We ask for more caution, care, and compassion moving forward.
(Earlier post related to these issues.)