I'm sending this email anonymously since, nowadays, being linked to even the mild views that I wish to get your opinion on is grounds for being tossed in the dustbin of "bigotry."
I've seen professional philosophers hint that they have these views, the ones I'm about to express, in places on your blog, but I'm hoping to get them conceretely addressed here.
I fear that the modern left has lost any sense of appropriate boundaries for moral concern and suffers from an obsession with identity recognition that's rapidly undoing the reasonable hierarchy of moral priorities that leftists once had. As this worry implies, I count myself, firmly, among the left. But I can't endorse the shrill, self-destructive ethos rapidly proliferating on this side of the political fence, which might well be an expression of the "Generation Wuss" mentality that you've gestured to at times.
Let me illustrate with an example. I recently read of a stranger's experience, in a Twitter thread that has since been deleted, with a transsexual friend. Having no malicious intent whatsoever, this former individual casually addressed a group of friends, of which the latter person was a part, with the word "guys." His transsexual friend (a woman) informed him sometime later that hearing the word "guys" "triggered" her, induced serious psychological distress, by way of a gender identity conflict that this word brought about. In recounting this story on the internet, the person with the transsexuxal friend stated that he wasn't interested in maintaining a relationship with this person, since he wasn't willing to "walk on eggshells" and self-police his language to accommodate what he perceived to be unreasonable fragility on the part of his transsexual friend. Unsurprisingly, the individual recounting this story was incessantly berated by victim-mongering identity politickers on Twitter, who suggested that he's an "evil bigot" with virtual unanimity.
The belief presumably animating such sickening moralizing strikes me as utterly perverse, where, by "belief", I mean the view that those who cause any offense to some vulnerable individual are morally required to take every step necessary to rectify the caused--and, in the future, avoid causing--offense. Is there no obligation on the part of "offended" persons to accept that not everything they hear will reflect the reality that they desire, and to develop some, dare I say, resilience in the face of this reality? And where will it end? Are we all to avoid speaking in public about the persons we find physically attractive, for fear that some self-aware, unattractive person will be psychologically traumatized by the experience? Though I've asked many people those questions, I'm yet to encounter a principled reason to care so deeply for the offense of "misgendering" transsexual people, while caring not at all for the exclusion that is part and parcel of recognizing that some are beautiful and others ugly. The "reasons" offered typically amount to nothing more than handwaving about how gender "matters more", as if identity politickers can, absent contradiction, merely put aside the social harm and isolation that follow from linguistic practices that establish aesthetic pecking orders, while frothing about "misgendering" and demanding radical revision of the features of language thought to be harmful to certain groups, because the latter "matters more." By that logic, it could be argued that we should dismiss (something, by the way, that I do not want to do) trans issues entirely, since trans folk constitute such a small minority of the population and, as such, the harm to them from misgendering is less serious than the harm to black people from racism. Clearly the former (the respose of identity politickers to my question about inclusion of the ugly) is to do with quality of harm while the latter (about racism) is to do with quantity, but the spirit of the notions is the same.
My correspondent gave permission to open this for general discussion. I agree with the main themes of this e-mail, though less so with the last, long paragraph, which I don't entirely understand. The hyper-sensitivity of coddled narcissists masquerading as moral righteousness is, indeed, tiresome, and it also does an injustice to those who actually suffer from PTSD who are entitled, including legally, to accommodation. But what do readers think?
Professor Pessin compared Gazan Palestinians to “rabid pit bulls” who need to be caged. He described the Palestinian-Israeli conflict as a cycle of letting the “snarling dogs” out of their “cage” and then beating them back into it. One person named Nicole commented on the post suggesting the “dogs” be put down. Professor Pessin responded, “I agree.” Professor Pessin directly condoned the extermination of a people. A member of our community has called for the systematic abuse, killing, and hate of another people.
(Thanks to Lukas Slothuus for alerting me to this story.)
ADDENDUM: Prof. Pessin offers an "apology" here, though, oddly, without clearly renouncing the view that Palestinians are "dogs."
UPDATE: IHE now has an informative item on this affair. Prof. Pessin thinks it is a defense of his slurs to report that they were only aimed at Hamas, the elected representative of the Palestinians in Gaza. He also makes the ludicrous claim that this is all an attempt to silence him, an outspoken proponent of Israel (when has an outspoken proponent of Israel ever been silenced in the United States?). On the other hand, students asking the Administration to denounce Prof. Pessin's remarks are wrong to do so: it is not the job of a college administration to police or editorialize about faculty speech.
IHE has the details. The averages understate the possible differentias, obviously. Most state university salary data is now on-line via newspapers in most states, if one wants to do even more specific comparisons.
MOVING TO FRONT FROM LAST YEAR (SINCE TIMELY AGAIN--originanlly posted March 6, 2009)
Applicants to PhD and MA programs are now receiving offers of admission and, if they are lucky, are beginning to weigh choices between different departments. I want to reiterate a point made in the PGR, namely, that students are well-advised to talk to current students at the programs they are considering. There are often things you will want to know that you won't glean from familiarity with the excellence of the faculty's work, even if that remains the most important, if defeasible, reason for choosing a particular department. Here are some examples of information that no ranking, no departmental brochure, and no "official" departmental representive will tell you about; all of these are drawn from stories I've heard from students over the last few years about ranked departments (the departments will remain unnamed, obviously). You can think of them as representing "types" of problems you should be aware of before enrolling. I've tweaked some of the details to protect identities.
The Absent Faculty: Are the faculty who look so good on paper actually around and interested in working with students? I heard a story about a key senior person in one department who is an alcoholic, and who simply ignores his students. In another department, almost all the graduate students had to sign an open letter to the faculty a few years ago protesting the failure of faculty to return graded papers and their general lack of interest in mentoring the students. In yet another department, a well-known senior member of the faculty spent so much time travelling and lecturing around the world, that he rarely had time to review or discuss work carefully with students.
The Sexual Predator Faculty: Are women treated as young philosophers and aspiring professionals, or do faculty regularly view them as a potential source for dates and sexual liasons? It's a bit shocking to realize that this is still a live issue in some departments, but, sadly, it is. Are faculty-student sexual relations common in the department? What happens when the relations end? Are there repeated cases of sexual harassment complaints against faculty in the department? Do they ever result in discipline? I suppose it is possible this could be an issue for male students, but all the reports I've gotten over the years have been from women victimized by male faculty.
The Nasty Faculty: Talented philosophers and scholars often differ, dramatically, in how pleasant they are personally and professionally. I recall the story of one department where a member of the faculty was known to reduce students to tears in seminar. In another department, a faculty member regularly refuses to work with students, even those interested in his areas; he works only with those he deems "worthy," and there are not many of them! In another department, faculty openly express doubts about the competence of the graduate students and their ability. Make sure the philosophers who seem most interesting to you don't fall into these categories!
The Factionalized Faculty: Many faculties are "factionalized," in the sense that there are sub-groups that rarely see "eye to eye" about departmental issues, from appointments to admissions. Where this becomes worrisome, though, for a prospective student is when certain members of the faculty who share interests and approaches control all the key resources--fellowships, resources for speakers etc.--and use that control to define "in" and "out" groups of faculty and students: students with the "wrong" philosophical interests or who express an interest in the "wrong" faculty members are denied access to important perks and support. This kind of ugly factionalization is less common, but it exists.
I wish it were possible to meaningfuly measure and evaluate faculties along these important dimensions, but, alas, it is not. I have no doubt there are many programs that are really exceptional for how pleasant they are as places to do graduate study, and the way for a prospective student to discover them is to talk to lots of current students.
...over roughly the last 40 years, compared with a much smaller increase in, for example, tenure-stream faculty? Some of it is no doubt attributable to the tendency of administrators to reproduce in order to justify themselves, but I suspect there's more to the story: e.g., changing federal laws governing employment discrimination, sexual harassment, student privacy, and accomodations for disabilities have surely brought about a lot of this. Anyone know of a well-researched explanation?
It has been a mantra of those calling for Marquette political science professor John McAdams to be sanctioned for his blog criticisms of a philosophy teacher and graduate student, Cheryl Abbate, that as a student, Ms. Abbate was uniquely "vulnerable." Thus, the letter sent to Marquette by some number of Harvard philosophy graduate students stated:
Universities owe their graduate students—who are among the most vulnerable members of their communities—a guarantee of protection from this kind of treatment. But at Marquette, we were recently disturbed to learn, Cheryl Abbate was put in a position where her best option was to transfer out of her doctoral program.
We call on Marquette to articulate a clear policy for protecting its graduate students from abuses by more powerful members of its community.
As I noted at the time, the idea that universities have an obligation to protect teachers from criticism of their pedagogy by other members of the university is unworkable. But what I want to remark on here is the assumption that Ms. Abbate was "vulnerable" and Prof. McAdams was the "more powerful member" of the community. As a generalization, it is true that graduate students are more vulnerable to various professional and other setbacks than tenured faculty. But it wasn't true in this case, as should now be clear: It is McAdams who now faces the full might of the university as it tries to end his career, while Ms. Abbate has had the good fortune to move on to a much better PhD program, where she will hopefully flourish and move on into her own academic career. Assumptions about "vulnerability," like other stereotypes, may sometimes belie a more complex situation. And "protection of the vulnerable" can not, in any case, trump all other values, for when it does we end up with injustices like that at Marquette.
News item here. The comment from Salaita's lawyer is exactly right. They may get some claims dismissed, as noted before, but enough of the lawsuit will survive the motion to insure that Salaita may begin the process of "discovery," i.e., collecting evidence relevant to his claims from Illinois.
...against outspoken law professor (though see the very good statement by the Law Dean towards the end of the article). This is really appalling. The only silver lining is that I guess they concluded they couldn't get away with firing him outright.
Various blogs have been remarking on this study about faculty hiring networks and hierarchies: the short version is that very few graduates of PhD programs place at higher ranked programs, and most research-oriented tenure-track jobs are secured by graduates of a small number of elite PhD programs. The same, of course, is true in philosophy, though that was not the focus of this study. Particularly striking is the data reported here to the effect that in 2013-14, 88% of all reported tenure-track hires were graduates of PGR-ranked programs, and that a whopping 37% of all reported tenure-track hires that year took their PhD from one of the PGR top five programs. Fortunately, the PGR makes the relevant information about the hierarchy available to everyone, not just a select group of undergraduates.
Much of the discussion pertains to whether there is any correlation between these patterns and "merit." The original study (the first lilnk, above) looks at this in terms of publications, which isn't a very useful measure in philosophy. Based on my own experience, I'm inclined to say that, on average, graduates of the top programs (or the top programs in some specialties) are stronger candidates on the merits than others, but there are substantial minorities who are mainly riding the prestige effect out of the top programs, as well as substantial minorities handicapped by not have the halo effect of a top program.
ADDENDUM: Mason Westfall, a graduate student at the University of Toronto, writes:
While the correlation between graduates of top programs and tenure-track placement is robust, there are at least two causal hypotheses consistent with that fact. One explanation is the one that you highlight---a halo effect students enjoy by being from top programs. Another explanation is that the best undergraduates get into the best programs and choose them over less prestigious programs. That would mean the best students entering graduate school would be disproportionately at the most prestigious departments. It may be that the best students entering graduate school tend to be the best students leaving graduate school and then the best students leaving graduate school get the jobs. In order to test the contribution made by the department in particular, it seems like it would be necessary to locate a population of students who got into both higher and lower pedigree programs, but chose to go to lower pedigree programs. Even this would conflate the teaching/training contribution of the school with the halo effect, but it would give us substantially more information than the correlation highlighted.
I agree with all this. To be clear, I think there are some relatively weak candidates from top programs who nonetheless do well because of the "halo" effect or, in some cases, the loyalty of alums in teaching to graduates of the program.
ANOTHER: David Wallace (Oxford) writes:
Let me add to Mason Westfall’s two causal hypotheses a third: the training you get from top programs (undergraduate or graduate) makes you a stronger philosopher. I wouldn’t find it at all surprising, given two basically equally strong undergraduate philosophers who went to very different-strength grad programs, if one turned out much stronger than the other at the end. Indeed, I’d be depressed if that wasn’t so, at least on average and other things being equal: it would suggest that all the effort people put into providing a good education and good educational environment for students is pretty much epiphenomenal.
More novel is the bill’s requirement that schools and universities conduct surveillance on their students. Section 25.1 states that education institutions are among the ‘specified authorities’ – along with councils, prisons, hospitals and police chiefs – that must ‘have due regard to the need to prevent people from being drawn into terrorism’....Administrators must conduct ‘risk assessments’ to uncover ‘where and how’ their students might be drawn to extremist ideology, including ‘non-violent extremism’. All staff members should be trained in ways to ‘challenge extremist ideas’, and if they find anyone who appears ‘vulnerable to being drawn into extremism’, refer them to local anti-terrorism panels for ‘support’....
In addition, all visiting speakers must be vetted for their anti-extremist credentials at least two weeks in advance, and their lecture notes and slides scrutinised. Maybe this will help procrastinating academics to plan their lectures ahead of time. Or perhaps they will just stop speaking....
IHE has the story, and here is the quite unbelievable letter from the Marquette Dean, which shows he understands neither academic freedom nor tenure despite citing the AAUP principles. (See the useful discussion by John K. Wilson.) The Dean's disgraceful letter does include a transcript of the exchange between the philosophy instructor attacked by McAdams and her student, and as far as I can see, McAdams is correct to assert that the transcript supports a number of the original allegations he made. But the accuracy of his blog post isn't the issue; the issue is whether it's really the case that a tenured faculty member in one department can not blog about the professional conduct of instructors in other departments. Is it really a detenuring and firing offense at Marquette to do so unless it is 100% accurate and is based on due diligence in telling the complete story and from all angles? Apparently.
(The last time I blogged about this sorry episode, a junior philosopher elsewhere took to cyberspace to denounce my "cognitive dissonance"; when I asked him to explain the dissonance, he pointed to the fact that I had sided with a student and against a faculty member in a sexual harassment case. As I pointed out, sexual harassment in the workplace is, in fact, unlawful, even when carried out with speech. Criticism of someone's pedagogy is not unlawful, or at least not yet! This simple distinction was apparently lost on this PhD in philosophy, alas, who, I infer, subscribes to the New Infantilism principle: "Any criticism by a tenured person of a student is an offense against decency." Alarmingly, this now appears to be Marquette's "official" position.)
UPDATE: I suppose I shouldn't be surprised that Justin Weinberg (South Carolina), the leading cyber-cheerleader of the New Infantilism, should be on the wrong side of this issue, but his comment in response to someone pointing out, correctly, that Marquette's action is a "chilling attack on academic freedom" is unbelievable:
It is nothing of the kind. McAdams is not being disciplined because of his research, his teaching, his academic views, nor his political views. He is being disciplined because he recklessly, libelously, and obnoxiously used students and colleagues at Marquette in an attempt to advance his own agenda.
Remarkably, over 100 readers "liked" this nonsensical comment. The AAUP statement on academic freedom includes freedom to make extramural statements among the components of academic freedom, and I would be surprised if Marquette did not endorse the AAUP statement and incorporate it, contractually, with its faculty. (One might make a stronger claim: namely, that academic freedom ought to protect the right of faculty to criticize institutional practices, including pedagogical ones.) Although there has been a lot of bluster by Weinberg and others about "falsehoolds" and "libel," it simply isn't clear, even from the Dean's letter, that McAdams actually said anything false, let alone libelous. (In any case, there are remedies for libel that do not include revocation of tenure.) One can agree that McAdams behaved obnoxiously, but that is not a firing offense, at least not consistent with tenure. What the difference is between "us[ing] students and colleagues...in an attempt to advance his own agenda" and "criticizing the pedagogical practices of a colleague" I do not know. Is Weinberg's criticism of McAdams "an attempt to advance his own agenda" (promoting the New Infantilism) at the expense of McAdams? If not, why not? (Faculty are not, in any case, under a generalized Kantian obligation to treat everyone as an end, never as a means!)
[W]hen I see comments such as the ones from the first commenter “This is an absolutely chilling attack on academic freedom, and I hope the philosophy community will condemn it as such” (and the 17 “likes it has at this point), it makes me truly appalled to know that I am part of a profession whose members are willing to prioritize a tenured male’s freedom of speech over the safety of women graduate students and their reputation.
But McAdams, in his speech, did not threaten anyone's safety; others did, but McAdams is not legally responsible for that, nor should he be, at least if one thinks freedom of speech deserves some protection, even for men. One may hope this comment was posted by a benighted undergraduate who might yet revise his/her view with the benefit of more education and experience.
My colleague Geoffrey Stone, a well-known liberal legal commentaor and First Amendment scholar, has a very sensible piece in Huffington Post; some excerpts:
[T]he concern with campus sexual assault has begun to take on the characteristics of a panic in which government officials and school administrators have increasingly lost sight of other fundamental values that must shape the culture of institutions of higher learning....
[T]he Department of Education has declined to define precisely what it means by sexual assault. Clearly, it includes the crime of rape. But the meaning of sexual assault, at least as used in this context, can be extremely, and dangerously vague.
Fundamentally, it is bound up with such concepts as "consent" and "unwanted" sex. The problem is in defining how those concepts apply in this context. In many instances, especially where alcohol is involved, as it often is, extremely difficult questions arise about the meaning of "consent" and "unwanted." Is it measured by the subjective state of mind of the "complainant" or by the reasonable understanding of the "accused"? How are the participants, and the institutions, to know whether in any given interaction the accused crossed the line?....
The Department of Education has...sent strong signals, however, that colleges and universities must be tough on those who commit "sexual assault," however defined. The result is that academic institutions feel compelled to adopt very broad definitions of sexual assault for fear that if they get it "wrong" the Department will find them in violation of federal law and strip them of federal funds -- a penalty that strikes at the very heart of many colleges and universities.
To eliminate such overreaction on the part of academic institutions, the Department should set a clear -- and sensible -- standard for what counts as sexual assault. This standard should focus on the reasonable understanding of the accused rather than on the subjective understanding of the complainant. To impose serious discipline on students for committing sexual assault when they could not reasonably have understood in the circumstances that the sexual interaction was unwanted sets a standard of culpability that is both unfair to the accused and demeaning to the complainant....
[A] second issue concerns process....By what standard should the fact finder have to decide whether her story or his story is true, before expelling him?
According the Department of Education, in all such proceedings "the evidentiary standard that must be used" is "preponderance of the evidence," that is, whether it is "more likely than not" that he committed a sexual assault. In my judgment, that is the wrong standard. Indeed, many if not most colleges and universities have traditionally applied the "clear and convincing evidence" standard in such circumstances. The difference between these two standards is roughly the difference between being 51 percent confident that the student committed the sexual assault before expelling him and being 75 percent confident that the student committed the sexual assault before expelling him....
For a college or university to expel a student for sexual assault is a matter of grave consequence both for the institution and for the student. Such an expulsion will haunt the students for the rest of his days, especially in the world of the Internet. Indeed, it may well destroy his chosen career prospects. This is especially likely, for example, for law students.
Moreover, the procedures used in these disciplinary hearings do not come close to those employed in civil actions [which use a preponderance standard], which involve judges, juries, rules of evidence, lawyers, discovery, and a host of other procedural protections designed to enhance the reliability of the proceedings. Even at their best, college and university disciplinary proceedings are a far cry from civil actions in terms of fairness to the accused.
Thus, although the Department of Education may well be right that "proof beyond a reasonable doubt" is unnecessary in these circumstances because there is no risk of imprisonment or a formal criminal record, it is completely unfair, in my judgment, for a college or university to suspend or expel a student on the ground that he committed a sexual assault if the institution is only 51 percent confident that he did so.
A number of philosophy professors are on what increasingly seems to me to be the wrong side of these issues; that is their right, but they should stop acting as though they occupy the moral high ground. They do not, and Prof. Stone's piece usefully explains why.
News release here; still digesting the complaint, will post more after I'm through it.
MORE: The complaint, which has been filed in federal court here, adds details about the initial offer and acceptance, and the conduct of the defendants that I had not seen previously. Salaita is suing the University of Illinois Trustees and administrators for violation of his First Amendment speech rights and for violation of his due process rights; he is suing all the defendants for "conspiracy" under the applicable Civil Rights statute (which basically authorizes a civil action for deprivation of constitutional rights); he is suing the Trustees on the basis of promissory estoppel (see the discussion under #5 here) and for breach of contract (these claims are in the alternative, he won't prevail on both); he is suing the (as of now) unknown donors for tortious interference with contract, basically wrongful interference with the contract he had with the University (some readers my age or older will recall that this was the claim on which Penzoil secured a multi-billion dollar verdict against Texaco in the 1980s); he is suing all the defendants for intentional infliction of emotional distress; and he is suing Chancellor Wise for destroying pertinent evidence.
The defendants will, as I've remarked before, move to dismiss the complaint--in doing so, the court will take the facts as Salaita represents them and decide whether they state legal claims. Some of the claims may be dismissed: I'd bet on the intentional infliction of emotional distress claim to be dismissed. What is certain is that some (indeed, I expect, most) of the claims will survive the motion to dismiss. At that point, Salaita will be entitled to wide-reaching "discovery" of defendants's e-mails, phone records, internal memos, and so on. Since that is bound to be a huge embarrassment for many or all of the defendants, a settlement will be reached at that point: that's my prediction in any case. It will likely be confidential, will involve payment of Salaita's attorney fees and, I would hope, a seven figure payout to Salaita.
UPDATE: Just to be clear, given the facts and the law, Salaita ought to prevail on the merits on his First Amendment claim and either his breach of contract or promissory estoppel claim; he will also prevail on the due process claim if the court finds that there was a valid employment contract, which as we discussed previously, it should, but that's not guaranteed by any means. Most likely to be dismissed are the intentional infliction of emotional distress claim and the tortious interference with contract, though the latter might survive.
Few would disagree that the systems for preventing and prosecuting sexual assault on US campuses are in need of change. But the efficacy and fairness of recent reforms that focus on making college grievance procedures more favorable to complainants and on codifying strict new definitions of sexual consent remain highly questionable. Advocates of these reforms tend to dismiss their opponents as reactionaries and “rape apologists”—a characterization that is probably accurate in some cases—but feminists, too, have cause to view these measures and the protectionist principles on which they are based with alarm.
UPDATE: Ethan Jerzak, a Berkeley PhD student and Wisconsin native, writes "with deep shame for my home state":
It might be worth pointing out that, the same day that malevolent idiot Scott Walker announced the $300 million cut to the UW system, he pledged $220 million in state funds to build the Milwaukee Bucks a new arena. (The latter being, of course, a "common-sense, fiscally conservative approach"!)
UPDATE: Mark Tushnet, a law professor at Harvard, writes: "Of course I don’t understand his paper, but there’s a great line in it. After proving that the upper bound for gaps between primes exists and is less than 70,000,000, the next line is: 'This result is of course not optimal.'"
This is an informative overview of the law and the developments emerging from the current OCR in interpreting Title IX. My guess is the courts will eventually undo some of the interpretations promulgated by the current OCR.
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)