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.
Q: To what extent did Yale teach you the art of critical thinking?
DC: Any critical thinking that I got from Yale was in my undergraduate courses, maybe in the true sense of the term, from the great Paul Weiss, Sterling professor of philosophy. Paul Weiss taught his class Socratically, asking to have questions fired at him, and he never failed to take down any five students simultaneously, if he needed to. I later put him on television, on the Jack Paar Tonight Show, and then I had Paul Weiss on my own show, as I did William F. Buckley, [whose] faculty advisor was Paul Weiss.
Weiss, by the way, was the first Jew hired with tenure in philosophy at Yale. (The episode is described in Neil Gross's biography of Richard Rorty: basically, Brand Blandshard championed the appointment, but it met with opposition from his anti-semitic colleagues and administrators, but Blandshard prevailed.) Fifty years on, the former Sterling Professor of Philosophy at Yale is now barely known or read.
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.
...for leadership of the most dangerous country on earth, you'll want to watch some of the debates. It turns out they don't matter very much, but the odds that Dopey Donald Chump can control himself are low, so hopefully they will generate lots of negative headlines, which will help the Democrats.
Following up on last week's post: of course, the first standpoint epistemologist in the contemporary, "inverted" and unMarxian sense was Lukacs who, in the 1920s, proposed that, in fact, the proletariat, in virtue of their class position, had special epistemic access to the pathologies of capitalism. The pedigree of that idea--an unabashed Left Young Hegelian who later became an unabashed Stalinist--would perhaps give one pause, but since most analytic philosophers, in their blissful historical ignorance, don't know anything about the pedigree, the unhappy history of 20th-century standpoint epistemology does not arise as a concern.
(Last week, I was in Vienna for a conference on relativism in German-speaking philosophy in what Martin Kusch (Vienna) calls, aptly enough, "the long 19th-century," roughly from Herder through the 1930s. Among the things I learned, thanks to an excellent paper by Johannes Steizinger (also at Vienna), is that the Nazis, and their philosophers (there were a lot of them!), were also (in a way) standpoint epistemologists, though for them the relevant standpoint was defined by the racial group, with each racial group having its own epistemic criteria. Since the Nazis also believed in an objective hierarchy of races, this required some philosophical gymnastics to square that with their epistemic relativism!)
We need to update the seven deadly sins. Take out gluttony — what’s wrong with the odd bit of gorging? — and replace it with ethical eating. Noble foodies, who refuse to pollute their bodies with what they view as ‘evil’ grub, are far greater irritants than compulsive cake-eaters.
Ethical eaters are everywhere. There’s the veggie army, those bunny-pitying meat-dodgers, which seems to grow every year. Vegans are on the march, too. In 2006, 150,000 Brits were engaged in the daily self–flagellation that is a plant-based diet; today, 542,000 are.
Trend analysts believe that social media — filtered photos on Instagram of a bowl of lentils looking deceptively delicious or Gwyneth Paltrow positively glowing after downing a test-tube of pureed spinach — plays a major role in coaxing naturally carnivorous humans to switch to leaves and nuts. I love how ethical eaters fancy themselves as brave resisters of the consumer culture that tells us all to scoff dead animals and yet they can be tempted into a lifetime of salad-only self-denial by the flutter of a celeb’s eyelashes.
Then there’s locavores, who only eat foodstuffs harvested in a 100-mile radius of where they live. Didn’t we used to call this protectionism? If ethical eaters think it’s good to prop up local industries by shunning the juicy, sun-dappled fare of dirt-poor African or Latin American farmers, then they and I have different takes on the word ‘ethical’....
There are now restaurants that promise ‘guilt-free dining’. Like The Grain Store in London, which offers diners an organic, carbon-neutral eating experience. So the grub doesn’t only nourish your body — it massages your ego; it flatters your moral pretensions. This is what I find so grating about ethical eating: it’s so self-regarding. It isn’t about changing the world. Hordes of caring teens opting for -beanburgers at Leon rather than Big Macs at McDonald’s are not going to overthrow The System, or even make much of a dent in the number of cows killed for meat. No, it’s about keeping oneself morally clean, unpolluted by the junk that other people eat.
It’s part of what the French philosopher Pierre Bourdieu called ‘distinction’, where one bigs up one’s moral status by contrasting it with the antics of the less switched-on. In this sense, vegans and freegans and locavores need McDonald’s to keep frying meat, and nasty corporations to continue flying fruit from Kenya to Tesco, because without all that wicked behavior they’d have nothing to distinguish themselves from.
“We regret to announce that all 50 states are now reporting several cases of DKD” said CDC epidemiologist Mark Webber. “DKD is characterized as expressing or believing that one has vast and expert knowledge in a subject which they actually do not....”
There is currently no known cure for DKD, but scientists are hopeful with more education and isolation, it can be contained.
“We haven’t seen this level of DKD since Jenny McCarthy started spreading her vaccine causes autism bullshit” said Webber. “I fear the DKD level will continue to rise as more and more people with DKD have access to the internet, as well as there being several celebrities with the disease.”
Some say the worst part of DKD is that the carriers have no idea they are infected, nor how easily they can spread it to others.
It was Marx and Marxists who were the inventers of "standpoint epistemology," the idea that one's "social" position--for Marxists, "class," for later writers, race, gender, and so on--exercises an important, sometimes decisive, influence on a person's beliefs. For Marxists, the key thought was that the "standpoint" resulted in distortion of one's knowledge, because it was tainted by the interests associated with one's social position. In the Marxist version of standpoint epistemology, the working classes did not have any special epistemic access to the actual facts about their situation--to the contrary, their understanding of the actual state of affairs was distorted by the ideology propagated by a different, dominant class, which systematically distorted social reality in its own interests. Marxists, like Marx, assumed (correctly) that there is an epistemically superior description of social reality that is not tainted by standpoint, and which can serve as a check on the ideological delusions promoted by dominant groups.
By contrast, in recent bourgeois academic philosophy--that is, philosophizing by well-to-do professors who never challenge the prerogatives of the capitalist class, which is basically almost all of current philosophy in the Anglophone world--standpoint epistemology has, ironically, been turned on its head. Now the social position of the purported "knower"--usually "race" or "gender" or "sexual orientation"--is not taken to be a distorting influence on cognition, but rather an epistemic advantage, one which even demands epistemic deference by others. We have travelled rather far from Marx.
(I thank Clifford Sosis for a stimulating e-mail exchange on this topic, though the ideas are strictly my own!)
In the last year, the notorious law gossip website Above the Law eliminated its comment section entirely, since it had become an even more idiotic cesspool than previously. During that same time, the Chronicle of Higher Education, after being quite hands-off with comment moderation, realized that was a disaster, and has started to moderate aggressively to produce substantive discussions. Meanwhile, the Inside Higher Ed website, which always had some moderation, has gone the opposite route, becoming even more hands-off, with the predictable result: its comment sections are increasingly sewers of ad hominem abuse, tangential ranting, and assorted nonsense consistent with the First Five Laws of Cyber-Dynamics. I fear this is probably related to IHE's takeover by a private equity firm that invests heavily in for-profit colleges. Comment sections, even appallingly stupid ones, generate traffic and interest. Until they reform their practices, I am going to generally refrain from linking to them. I would urge others with blogs to do the same.
Professor Benjamin Page (whose important work on American plutocracy is briefly described here) has circulated a statement regarding Prof. Stevens and recent events at Northwestern:
To: Colleagues at Northwestern and elsewhere
From: Benjamin I. Page, Fulcher Professor
Concerning: Jacqueline Stevens
September 22, 2016
In intellectual terms I have great respect for Jackie. She is very smart. Always provocative and interesting. I have enjoyed a number of lively interactions with her. Politically (in the world and national sense) I usually agree with her views, including some that others may consider far-out. Personally, we have always been on friendly terms. She has never caused me the slightest harm or discomfort – unless one counts my impatience with some of her lengthy discourses at department meetings; but that is par for the academic course.
Unfortunately, however, on matters of departmental citizenship and collegiality Jackie has fallen sadly short. She seems to have allowed her strong views on various substantive and (especially) procedural issues to provoke her into extreme actions that have traumatized a good many departmental colleagues – faculty, staff, students, and especially Chairs, the last three of whose lives she has made miserable repeatedly and over extended periods. Jackie’s recent scorched-earth policy of tendentiously blogging about normally confidential personnel matters threatens to disrupt the very functioning of the department. It has led our outstanding current department leaders Sara and Al – and most of my senior colleagues, including myself – to question whether it could be possible for any of us to serve as Chair with Jackie actively making trouble in the department.
This is a bad business. My sense is that several departmental colleagues and university administrators have been working very hard to avoid disaster. But Northwestern (and probably other universities as well) does not seem well prepared to deal with highly unusual situations in which extreme behavior by a single tenured faculty member threatens the functioning of a whole department. I am hopeful that this particular situation can be resolved. Perhaps new procedures will also be needed to protect against anything similar happening in the future.
The Political Science Department at Northwestern has been a wonderful intellectual home for me. I like and respect every one of my colleagues. I have greatly enjoyed working and talking with them. It is probably accurate to say that there is no other department in the country that could have been so helpful to the flourishing of my scholarly work. I would be extremely distressed, and would consider it a terrible loss to the university and the country, if anything were allowed to seriously damage such a fine group of scholars and human beings.
What matters in the narcissistic world of late capitalism is not what you think or do but how you feel. And since how you feel can’t be argued against, it is conveniently insulated from all debate. Men and women can now stroll around in continuous self-monitoring mode, using apps to track their changes of mood. The brutal, domineering ego of an older style of capitalism has given way to the tender self-obsession of the new....
What Davies recognises is that capitalism has now in a sense incorporated its own critique. What the system used to regard with suspicion – feeling, friendship, creativity, moral responsibility – have all now been co-opted for the purpose of maximising profits. One commentator has even argued the case for giving products away free, so as to form a closer bond with the customer. Some employers have taken to representing pay increases they give to their staff as a gift, in the hope of extracting gratitude and thus greater effort from them. It seems that there is nothing that can’t be instrumentalised....
Happiness for the market researchers and corporate psychologists is a matter of feeling good. But it seems that millions of individuals don’t feel good at all, and are unlikely to be persuaded to buck up by technologies of mind control that induce them to work harder or consume more. You can’t really be happy if you are a victim of injustice or exploitation, which is what the technologists of joy tend to overlook. This is why, when Aristotle speaks of a science of well-being, he gives it the name of politics. The point is of little interest to the neuroscientists, advertising gurus or mindfulness mongers, which is why so much of their work is spectacularly beside the point.
Reader Nick Gardner kindly calls to my attention this essay from The Atlantic. I've noted a number of perfectly sensible pieces like this over the last couple of years, but let's step back a bit and ask what it all means:
1. The cost of higher education in America is now quite extravagant, far more than most families in America can afford. Tuition, room & board, miscellaneous expenses at a private liberal arts college can easily run $60,000 per year.
2. The cost of higher education in America is not extravagant because of a vast conspiracy of malevolent actors: it is extravagant because, for reasons the economist William Baumol diagnosed long ago, the cost of hiring highly educated individuals to work closely with young people in developing their knowledge of literature, science, and arts is expensive, and gets more expensive over time, because what they do can not be automated, yet these teachers still have to pay their bills.
3. One alternative, of course, is to turn the teaching over to people who will do it for less. The unknown in the capitalist economics of higher education is what difference this makes. We honestly do not know the answer to that question. Equally honestly, the experiment involved in finding out the answer--it is not natural, since it is dictated by the demands of capitalist efficiency--involves sacrificing people in a way that, I assume (perhaps naively), most ethics boards would not approve.
This one has been an outlier throughout mot of the electoral season, and now is alone among national polls in showing Trump ahead of Clinton by five points or more. It is clear the race has tightened, ever since the new campaign managers got Trump to shut up and read from a teleprompter more often. While some reputable national polls have shown Trump ahead of Clinton by one point, most still show Clinton ahead nationally by 2 points or more. So what's going on with the Los Angeles outlier? It's a very unusual poll, surveying the same 3000+ people throughout the electoral cycle. But how were they chosen? Here's where the trouble starts.
The poll "weights the sample to account for how people say they voted in 2012: It’s set so that 25% of the sample are voters who say they cast a ballot for Mitt Romney and 27% for President Obama. The rest are either too young to have voted four years ago or say they didn’t vote." The problem is that people frequently misreport who they voted for in a prior election--those who voted for the loser often report they voted for the winner, or reported not voting at all. That means, of course, that Republican voters are overrepresented in this sample (perhaps dramatically over-represented), hence the screwball results. For more details, see the NYT discussion.
The intellectual historian Peter Gordon (Harvard) offers an informative review of the new biography of Habermas. Among other things, I was struck by the irony that Habermas--always an admirable critic of post-Nazi complacency in Germany, as Gordon emphasizes--secured his habilitation and first academic post thanks to the influence of the disgusting Nazi and lifelong anti-semite Gadamer! (I wonder if Habermas knew? For a long time, Gadamer was quite good at keeping it under wraps.) Gordon, in my view, significantly overstates Habermas's philosophical importance (in contrast to his invaluable role as a public intellectual holding post-War Germany to moral account). When Marxism returns, as it no doubt will, in something more like Marx's form, Habermas will be remembered mainly as taking the philosophically feeble (and irrelevant) attack on instrumental reason that began with Horkheimer and expanding it to the point that so-called "Critical Theory" collapsed into precisely the kind of bourgeois moral theorizing Marx loathed. (For anyone interested, I discuss this in a bit more detail here.)
As everyone knows, the major threat to free speech at American universities comes not from hyper-sensitive and narcissistic millenials (though they can be a nuisance at some schools) but from those who want to police discourse about Israel and Palestine, and punish those who hold insufficiently pro-Israel views. Several readers have flagged for me the latest incident at Berkeley, which has now been resolved in favor of academic freedom and against the would-be censors. (Thanks to Arthur Smith for this link.) Nothing has done more damage to Israel in America than the consistently disgusting behavior of its alleged friends.
Professor Stevens has updated her website, and released a number of documents, most significantly, the June 22 investigative report prepared by outside counsel, Kathleen Rinehart, after Prof. Stevens requested indemnification following receipt of a cease-and-desist letter from Prof. Tillery's lawyer last Spring. (For those who have not been following this case, see the earlier post for a summary of what is known and not known about this affair.)
Among the revelations in the report, one learns that "[a]s a result of the unpredictability of Stevens' conduct and safety concerns expressed by a number of people in the Department, an officer from the University's Police Department provides a daily presence in the Department" (p. 6). The report also states that the undergraduate who allegedly witnessed the March 8 incident "said he never actually saw anything" (p. 8) (this seems hard to square with the declaration posted on-line by Prof. Stevens--see #8 in the earlier account). The Report also states, but does not document with names or testimony, that "the faculty, staff and students intervieweed as part of this process are afraid, exhausted and/or fed up by Stevens' aggressive and unpredictable conduct" (p. 10) and that, "To a person, individuals stated that the interaction between Tillery and Stevens on March 8 was not an isolated event; instead efforts to work with Stevens to accomplish even simple or non-controversial tasks are difficult to impossible" (p. 10). Unless the investigator is simply a liar--and if this ends up in litigation, we will find out--this is extremely damning.
Oddly, Prof. Stevens now includes the following reference to me in her new "Postscript": "If he bothered to fact-check my views on Title IX, he'd discover that his gleeful crowing about the ironies of my being banished after my role in having Peter Ludlow fired is way off." The post to which she alludes is this one.The parenthetical comment of mine to which she now responds at length is the following:
(Longtime readers may recall that Prof. Stevens championed the cause of the undergraduate complainant against Peter Ludlow several years ago, claiming that Ludlow had engaged in "criminal" misconduct. While the University found Ludlow in violation of the university's rules about sexual harassment, they did not find against him on any of the allegations that might have been criminal, and no criminal charges were ever filed.)
Prof. Stevens appears to have only two weapons in her rhetorical armory: (often reckless) hyperbole and the ad hominem. Given the former, I guess my comment could count as "gleeful crowing," but I thought its relevance was that it shows that Prof. Stevens does have a penchant for...reckless hyperbole, which seems not wholly unrelated to the issues raised by her colleagues. Her disjointed response to this in the "Postscript" is par for the course for those who have been following her website. She reports, for example, that,
I sat with her [the student complainant against Ludlow] for a two-hour interview by a Chicago police officer, who was appalled that Northwestern itself did not report the allegations a year earlier. It was obvious that the officer found the student credible and Northwestern remiss for not insuring a criminal investigation of her allegations against Peter Ludlow when NU first interviewed the student one year earlier.
Since then I learned of several other incidents involving faculty assaulting students (one was a social scientist and he did this to more than one student) and that NU's administration hid these episodes.
In fact, the police did not file criminal charges against Ludlow, nor did the University investigation conclude there was any criminal misconduct by Ludlow. (No mention of these facts by Prof. Stevens.) Thus, the original parenthetical observation made in passing stands: Prof. Stevens used the word "criminal" to describe conduct that was not.
I had remarked once previously that Prof. Stevens's rhetorical posture tends to lend support to, rather than discredit, the allegations about her, especially her penchant to combine conspiracy theories with her inability to resist even the most absurd ad hominem attacks. (A striking example are the bizarre series of ad hominem insinuations in Section 5 of this update.) If, as Prof. Stevens reports, she has legal representation, she should have her lawyer vet her public pronouncements.
In any case, this new information still does not resolve questions 9-11 that I raised here and which bear on the academic freedom issues raised by this case.
UPDATE: A couple of readers have now also called to my attention this page created by philosopher Sally Haslanger (MIT) in support of Prof. Jacqueline Stevens. Haslanger admits to having been friends with Stevens for more than twenty years, and also acknowledges that,
She [Prof. Stevens] can be rude. She can even be offensive. But the only times I have seen her be either is when she was provoked by rude and/or offensive behavior by others.
I am not sure it helps Prof. Stevens's case that her friend offers testimony not inconsistent with the general tenor of the allegations against her. Prof. Haslanger also assures us that Prof. Stevens is only "rude" and "offensive" as a tit-for-tat in response to rude and offensive behavior. (The "Trump approach"?) I'm uncertain how reassuring we should find that, given that someone with a propensity for being rude and offensive--not on a blog, mind you, but apparently in real life and to colleagues--may not be the best judge of what counts as rude or offensive behavior by others. Of course, rudeness and offensiveness would have to be quite extreme and disruptive to warrant disciplinary measures, and we still do not know all the details of the allegations against Prof. Stevens on that score and whether they are credible.
There may be one 2nd-from-the-top spot left in October (I've had an inquiry but no commitment yet), otherwise everything else is taken. There are still 3rd-from-the-top spots in November available (and December, plus a 2nd-from-the-top then as well). The next open top spots are available in the New Year. E-mail me for more information.
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?
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.
This is an interesting response from a political theorist to the unfortunate piece by Professors Garfield and van Norden we discussed some time ago. It is true that much, but not all, of Western philosophy can be traced back to Plato, more or less, but I suppose Garfield & Van Norden would just say, "OK, then call philosophy departments 'Departments of Philosophy After Plato,'" an even more misleading title than the one they proposed! Why should lineage to Plato get special claim to the field? And what about the pre-Socratic philosophers? There's a reason they get called philosophers too! And just because styles of argument in some non-Western traditions are different (some are not different at all however!), the concerns are often recognizably similar.
Still, there is something to be said for disciplinary expertise and depth, and a department of philosophy can't be all things to all people. It is true that many wise and deep writings are not philosophy--it would be remarkable to suggest otherwise!
Let’s start with a tempest-in-a-teacup at Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine. Earlier this year, two students, both members of student government, threw a tequila-themed birthday party for a friend. The hosts provided attendees with miniature sombreros, which—the horror— numerous partygoers wore.
When photos of the party circulated on social media, campus-wide outrage ensued. Administrators sent multiple emails to the “culprits” threatening an investigation into an “act of ethnic stereotyping.” Partygoers were placed on “social probation,” while the two hosts were ejected from their dorm and later impeached. Bowdoin’s student newspaper decried the attendees’ lack of “basic empathy.”
The student government issued a “statement of solidarity” with “all the students who were injured and affected by the incident,” and demanded that administrators “create a safe space for those students who have been or feel specifically targeted.” The tequila party, the statement specified, was just the sort of occasion that “creates an environment where students of colour, particularly Latino, and especially Mexican, feel unsafe.” In sum, the party-favour hats constituted – wait for it – “cultural appropriation.”
Curiously, across my country Mexican restaurants, often owned and run by Mexicans, are festooned with sombreros – if perhaps not for long. At the UK’s University of East Anglia, the student union has banned a Mexican restaurant from giving out sombreros, deemed once more an act of “cultural appropriation” that was also racist.
Now, I am a little at a loss to explain what’s so insulting about a sombrero – a practical piece of headgear for a hot climate that keeps out the sun with a wide brim. My parents went to Mexico when I was small, and brought a sombrero back from their travels, the better for my brothers and I to unashamedly appropriate the souvenir to play dress-up. For my part, as a German-American on both sides, I’m more than happy for anyone who doesn’t share my genetic pedigree to don a Tyrolean hat, pull on some leiderhosen, pour themselves a weisbier, and belt out the Hoffbrauhaus Song.
The ultimate endpoint of keeping out mitts off experience that doesn’t belong to us is that there is no fiction.
But what does this have to do with writing fiction? The moral of the sombrero scandals is clear: you’re not supposed to try on other people’s hats. Yet that’s what we’re paid to do, isn’t it? Step into other people’s shoes, and try on their hats.
David Shoemaker (Tulane) calls my attention to the fact that Peasoup, the long-running ethics blog, has a new home and a new sponsor, the Prindle Institute of Ethics at DePauw University under the direction of Andrew Cullison. Prof. Shoemaker and David Sobel (Syracuse) will continue as the editors, and Shoemaker tells me they will be moderating comments a bit more actively to insure quality discussion.
...so the only remedy is to require them all to have blogs. (Having blogs hasn't slowed me down that much, alas, but 50% of what I read in jurisprudence should have been on a blog instead; 80% in the case of alleged Nietzsche scholarship [down from 99%]).
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)