I owe the amusing title to philosopher Phil Gasper, who asked regarding this, "I wonder if philosophers of language have any insight into this issue?" One thing that's clear is that academic freedom at some religious institutions has little meaning, alas.
UPDATE: Ask and ye shall receive! Philosopher Ephraim Glick (St Andrews) writes:
I thought you or your readers might be amused to hear that there is in fact some relevant literature in philosophy of language. The locus classicus is Geach's "Intentional Identity", which notes that someone who doesn't believe in witches can still truly assert something of the form "Hob think a witch did X, and Nob thinks she did Y". Similarly, even if Hob and Nob aren't familar with each other, someone could truly assert something of the form "Hob and Nob think the same witch did such-and-such". An early response by Dennett discusses an example involving gods. Other authors who have discussed the problem include Burge, Salmon, Walter Edelberg, and myself.
Don't get your hopes up, though --- no one in this literature has said enough to resolve disagreements about whether Christians and Muslims worship the same god!
He's sent the following to parents of students, complete with MBA-babble, as well as defamatory innuendo:
Dear Mount Parents,
Mount St. Mary’s University is in growth mode, and on the move.
We are transforming our 200-year-old Catholic University to meet the needs of a demanding global economy. Your student is a part of this exciting transformation. We are building on our existing Liberal Arts core and Catholic Intellectual Tradition and preparing students for a more technical skills-based job market in a way that only The Mount can. Talk to any of our alums, and they will tell you how Mount Priests humanized our faith, and helped them grow into the people they are today.
At The Mount, our true differentiator is and always has been the formation and the creation of the Mount Person, a person of character, of confidence, of wisdom, and of faith. Over Christmas break, we asked our current students what they would like to see more of at The Mount. Well, they were very vocal, and their needs matched those of the guidance counselors, high school seniors and parents, that we also surveyed during this time. Your daughters and sons are attuned to what the job market has to offer and the skills they will need to have, in order to ensure a great career in whatever field they choose. We are going to share some of the results of our research with them in the next few weeks.
Remaining aligned with what the World needs requires change. Change is hard, and requires not only new thinking, but new ways of preparing students – now both inside the classroom, and through experiential learning opportunities.
I want to briefly address my decision to dismiss two faculty members who violated a number of our University policies and our code of ethics. We, as an institution, have received quite a bit of press recently and have chosen not to respond more forcefully with information about the specifics of their conduct which we have available to us. In keeping with our values, we will take the high road. But it is critical that you know that we would never undertake actions like that unless the conduct in question warranted it. You may see other versions of events, but we have chosen to restore our focus on educating your students rather than explaining the damaging actions of a few individuals. We need to move forward with hope and faith rather than fall prey to fear and disparity during this time of transition.
I am a father. My heart knows just who you have entrusted to our care. The education, safety, and ultimate future of your son or daughter is at the heart of why I am here and what I love about the Mount.
Follow our progress, see our university thrive with growth in its third century, but please know as a parent, that we are providing your student with a caring, welcoming, and academically strong environment. Students impacted by faculty changes will receive communication regarding their advising and class schedules.
For specific questions and concerns, please reach out to the Office of the Provost email@example.com.
Yours in Christ, President Simon Newman
Only a court of law is going to stop this venal character. Comments are open for more information, updates etc.
(Thanks to Mark Murphy and John Schwenkler for pointers.)
UPDATE: Via Prof. Schwenkler in the comments, a statement of protest (well-written, and with links to useful background information). Please sign, with title and institutional affiliation, so that at least the Board of Trustees at this institution can get a sense for the depth and breadth of concern about this.
I have no crystal ball, so I can’t tell you whether there will be...a return to the core values of robust expression and debate which are essential for academic life, as even Herbert Marcuse realized in his famous polemic against “Repressive Tolerance.” There is some portion of the younger generation of professional philosophers (grad students and assistant professors) who consistently have the wrong views on these questions. They may well take over the discipline, that I cannot predict. It’s ironic, because other humanities fields, like English, went through this totalitarian catastrophe in the 1980s while philosophy remained a paragon of wissenschaftlich seriousness. The real threats to philosophy as a profession do not come, of course, primarily from benighted youngsters who are victims of group polarization; they come from institutional and economic forces that are basically indifferent to intellectual merit. That’s the real battle that needs to be fought, though I fear we academics are not well-equipped to fight it.
Over at the latest incarnation of a metablog, there is a quite interesting commentary on this issue from someone with experience in both academic English and academic philosophy:
I am an English PhD with an MA in Philosophy from a top-twenty program, and I am struck and puzzled by what seems to be Philosophy’s repetition of the politicized “theory wars” of the 80s-90s. What is going on here? On the basis of pure anecdote and observation, I suspect in part the following:
1. External economic pressures that first hit English in a big way then also started to hit Philosophy in a big way.
2. Specialization exhaustion set in first in English, and now has also become steadily more pervasive in Philosophy.
3. Points 1 and 2 are not unrelated.
4. The new approaches of “feminist philosophy” and the like respond to points 1 and 2 by inventing a new and uncharted territory in response to specialization exhaustion; this new approach must first be justified politically and morally in order then to make itself intellectually fashionable, hence awarded, hence self-perpetuating.
5. The academic context in which this is now occurring is even more administratively heavy than it was three decades ago. Hence the moral and political necessity of the new approaches will also require more direct appeals to top-down administrative intervention than was necessary in English.
6. In both cases, the proponents of the new approaches are basically of two sorts: those already powerful and those not already powerful. The motivations of each group vary, but there is an observable tendency of the first to appeal to morality and justice (they can afford to do so) and of the second to appeal to intellectual novelty and smartness. The second group want to be admitted into the world of the first; the first group wants to pretend that they are not only more intelligent, but also more humane than their elite opponents, with whom they have their fiercest battles.
7. If one or two major Departments are won over to the new approach, the discipline can change very quickly indeed.
8. Thirty years later you’ll realize that the intrinsic conservatism of your discipline, the false certainty of its historical and conceptual divisions, “areas”, and so on, really did need an overhaul. Unfortunately, by then you might have forgotten some of best and most important insights and practices of your discipline prior to the Revolution. In the way that I am an outlier in my generation of English professors for having a pretty thorough knowledge of the Bible, and a bit of Latin and Greek, perhaps some decades hence some young maverick grad student in Philosophy will stand out for her interest in Frege and Quine, her unaccountable fascination with modal and second-order logic, her bizarre affinity for Chisholm.
(A brief aside about the metablog: like all anonymous fora, the metablogs have been a mixed bag: a mix of the stupid, the defamatory, and the obsessed, along with the insightful, the amusing, and the illuminatingly contrarian. The metablogs thrive because of the culture of fear and hostility cultivated by a small handful of philosophy academics active on social media. But if one can wade through the morass, as I periodically do, there are often genuinely interesting contributions. UPDATE: I've removed the link, since elsewhere on the thread, unrelated to what I had linked to, there is a lot of crap, even by metablog standards of "crap." I do wish the owner of the metablog would do a little moderation, stuff is appearing there that will lead to legal action.)
I find some of this plausible, some implausible, most of it intriguing. I wonder what readers make of this. I'd certainly welcome hearing from academics in English as well as Philosophy, and those in other fields that have gone through similar periods of transformation and controversy. Anonymous comments are fine, but please include a valid e-mail address (which will not appear) and choose a stable pseudonym so other commenters can target their responses accordingly.
MOVING TO FRONT FROM YESTERDAY--MORE INFO FROM PROF. WHITE IN COMMENTS, PLUS OTHER COMMENTS/SUGGESTIONS--MORE DISCUSSION WELCOME
Philosopher Alan White (Wisconsin/Manitowoc) has been involve throughout in the process of revising the Regental rules on tenure after the assault on tenure by Governor Walker and his Republican allies in the legislature. The current proposed polices can be viewed here. Prof. White kindly gave permission to share his letter to colleagues about the current draft:
1. The faculty tenure document.
This document is the Regents' policy replacement for the statement of tenure formerly ensconced in Wisconsin state statute 36.13. You may recall that the Regents immediately adopted the verbatim language of 36.13 as interim policy after the state removed it. Except for the inclusion of the next to last entry "Oversight, Roles and Responsibilities"--needed, I suppose, to authorize administrators to do their jobs in carrying out Regents' policy--this document largely just copies 36.13. So in letter and spirit, I'd say this just codifies what the Regents did last year with the interim action. While that's good news, it's in fact limited by newly adopted state statute 36.21, modified to specify that termination may be for conditions ("certain budget or program changes") that do not qualify as financial emergency--and deletes "financial emergency" from the old statute as the standard for layoff or termination. An entirely new law, 36.22, details procedures for "layoff or termination of [a] faculty member due to certain budget or program changes." So, in fact state statute has abandoned the AAUP gold standard of financial exigency as sufficient reason to terminate tenured faculty.
2. The Procedures Relating to Financial Emergency or Program Discontinuance Requiring Faculty Layoff and Termination
The title of this document has at least some good news: Regents' policy reinstates financial emergency as a standard of terminating tenured faculty, but note--only *a* standard. That's because of 36.21-22 of course. It has a couple of added statements referring to procedural protections for laid-off faculty set out in 36.22 and deleted a couple of definitions from the previous draft, but it looks very much like the one you saw prior to our final meeting. There are some added passages that *appear* to afford extra protection. For example, notice on page 5 F. there is a statement added: "It is recognized that the chancellor should make a recommendation adverse to the faculty recommendation with respect to discontinuance of an academic program only for compelling reasons which should be stated in writing and in detail." But please note this language is not a *requirement* but "recognized" as optimally the case. "Should"s are not "Must"s. At the very least we need to fight for language changes like that.
My suggestion if that if you are going to comment on this document, please read 36.21-22 as well. I provided those in an earlier email.
3. The Periodic Post-Tenure Review document
Despite my own protests--joined by Madison reps--this document is largely unchanged from the draft we had at the final meeting. On page 3 point 12 following, we argued strenuously for including an extra step prior to what is described in 12. b., which essentially allows only an administrative reconsideration in the case of a negative review. We argued for a second faculty review in the case of a negative review, just to ensure that the negative review was justified. It's not included here. I think we need to press for that. In addition, I and other committee members argued that the time frame to asses remediation in the case of a negative review(12. c. ii)--18 months--was too brief to be realistic for some cases, and that it should be expanded. The time frame is unchanged. And of course page 4 16. is unchanged as well. The only option for a faculty member terminated by this process is independent of UW grievance processes--filing a civil suit.
As goes Wisconsin--one of the country's best public university systems--so may the nation go. This deserves everyone's attention, as well as everyone's thanks to Prof. White for his work on this. Comments are open for further information, comments, links, etc.
A sensible statement by the chair of Amherst College's Board of Trustees, in the wake of the decision to rename the school's controversial mascot:
A statement issued by Cullen Murphy, chair of the college's board, said that while the college would prefer that people not use the Lord Jeff nickname or mascot, the college will take no action against those who -- as individuals -- do so. "The college has no business interfering with free expression, whether spoken or written or, for that matter, sung. Period," Murphy said. He added, "To those who argue that stepping back from Lord Jeff as an unofficial mascot takes us down some sort of slippery slope that calls into question the name of the town or the college, the board would respond that you can find slippery slopes anywhere you look, that real life isn’t a philosophy class or court of law, and that people long ago figured out the commonsense way to deal with slippery slopes: just draw the line. Amherst College will always be the name of the school."
Good for him. Undoubtedly this will be challenged in court, since the gun crazies have many lawyers at their disposal. But civil disobedience is the right posture, and Weinberg can afford to do it, literally and symbolically. (He and his wife, who is a law professor at UT Austin, earn over $800,000/year; they are also both senior enough that they could retire in protest. And given that he rather clearly the most famous member of the faculty, with an international reputation, even some of the yahoos in the state legislature may be given pause about the ramifications of driving him off the faculty.)
News release here. I'm glad to see the APA join the other professional organizations that have spoken out about this, especially since a dozen or more philosophy faculty (including, as I understand it, some APA members) have been targeted in this campaign.
UPDATE: Unfortunately, the statement by APA Board Chair Cheshire Calhoun (Arizona State) is not very good. She is quoted in the press release as follows:
Cheshire Calhoun, chair of the board of officers, said, “It is extremely disturbing that Turkish academics have been subjected to severe governmental and university pressures, including detention and criminal investigations, for doing exactly what one might hope that any academic would do—protest the violation of basic rights protected by one’s country’s constitution and international conventions.”
But the Turkish government denies that anyone's basic rights are being violated, and that it is the rights of Turkish citizens which are under threat from Kurdish rebels. Thus, this objection will be easy to dismiss as partisan ("Armenian lovers" is, I am told, the preferred term of abuse by Turkish nationalists). The correct and relevant objection is to the persecution of academics for ordinary political speech, regardless of one's view of the merits of their position. The message the Turkish government needs to get is that its university system will fall into worldwide disrepute if the government persists in persecuting faculty for their political speech, regardless of the merits of their position.
Marvin Krislov, the president, said that while some of the demands "resonate with me and many members of our community, including our trustees," he would not respond directly to the proposals from black students, which were termed non-negotiable.
"[S]ome of the solutions it proposes are deeply troubling," Krislov wrote in a response posted on Oberlin's website. "I will not respond directly to any document that explicitly rejects the notion of collaborative engagement. Many of its demands contravene principles of shared governance. And it contains personal attacks on a number of faculty and staff members who are dedicated and valued members of this community."
The 14-page list of demands at Oberlin was detailed and contained many controversial items. Among other things, it demanded the immediate firing of some Oberlin employees, the immediate tenuring of some faculty members, specific curricular changes, a review and possible revision of the grading system (to be overseen by students), the creation of "safe spaces" for black students in at least three buildings on campus, the creation of a program to enroll recently released prisoners from a nearby prison as undergraduates, divestment from Israel, and a requirement that black student leaders be paid $8.20 an hour for their organizing efforts.
The students also demanded changes at Oberlin's noted conservatory. For instance, the list of demands said that students should not be required to take "heavily based classical courses that have minimal relevance to their jazz interests." Stating that classical music students are not required to study jazz, the list of demands says that students of jazz "should not be forced to take courses rooted in whiteness."
As we noted in December, the Oberlin student "demands" set a new low for their unreasonableness, demanding actions that were plainly illegal. It's a oood thing the President drew a firm line on this nonsense.
Here is a fairly good overview of what transpired. FAU's stated rationale for termination--failure to file reports about his "outside activites"--seems feeble and implausible. What they should have argued is that, given his academic specialty, his conspiracy-mongering suggests professional incompetence--it would be as if a biology professor taught creationism instead of evolution by natural selection, or an astronomy professor taught that heliocentrism was false. This process would have taken longer, but the fired professor's grounds for a breach of contract suit are probably stronger given how the university actually went about terminating him.
The legal philosopher and legal scholar Alon Harel (Hebrew University, Jerusalem) writes:
I was asked to examine again carefully the case of Hanoch Sheinman. I was told that I was misled with respect to some of the facts. I tried to do my best to explore all the relevant facts and here are my findings. [Ed.-see Prof. Harel's earlier comments]
Let me first say that the accusations that decisions of promotion and tenure at Bar-Ilan are politicized are not new and are unfortunately based in evidence. The most famous case in which Bar Ilan used political considerations was that of Menachmen Klein, who for a long was not promoted despite his scientific achievements. I believe therefore that the academic community is justified in exploring the issue carefully. Decisions concerning promotion and tenure at Bar Ilan should be scrutinized in cases of suspicion. The suspicion is of course particularly grave in the case of Hanoch because of the threats issued in an earlier letter sent to Hanoch by his dean during the operation/war Zuk Eitan.
As I see it, the current accusations against Bar Ilan University are based on the following:
1) Bar Ilan established a mid-term review process retroactively.
2) The faculty deviated in its instructions from the instructions of the rector as the rector instructed faculties to perform the process during the third year while the implementation at the law faculty included individuals who have completed three years.
3) The implementation was inconsiderate, hasty, and unfair because it was sent to Hanoch when he was abroad, the deadline was much too short (one week) and Hanoch was also on sabbatical and had some family events which made it particularly difficult for him to meet the deadline.
I think claim 1 is not justified while there is some merit in 2 and 3.
I do not see that there is a problem in the 'retroactive procedure'. This is because the procedure of mid-term review does not impose harsher requirements for tenure. It is merely a procedure designed to provide feedback to the candidate. I do not think candidates are being made worse off as a result of this process.
On the other hand I think that the faculty unjustifiably deviated from the instruction of the rector in making a decision to extend the mid term review to people who have completed third year. Hanoch is right that the language of the rector's instruction does not apply to his case. Although I think the rector can extend the process to candidates at their fourth or fifth year, the faculty should not extend it to such cases.
I also think that given the circumstances of Hanoch at this time, the fact that he is on sabbatical abroad and the Bar Mitzva of his son all justified greater empathy than the one shown by Bar Ilan. This is particularly true given the history of his case at Bar Ilan.
I will again open comments, but will moderate for relevant substance, and edit accordingly. Only comments with a full name in the "name" line and a valid e-mail address (which will not appear) will be published.
Last month's fake controversy du jour--complete with false accusations and selective presentation of evidence ("Lebron-gate" for short)--included an appearance of the weirdest trope to infect philosophy cyberspace over the last couple of years, a variation on "think of the children!" This is the idea that criticizing a graduate student (even if you didn't intend to, and even if you didn't use his name!) is a line that can not be crossed in the minds of some putatively "professional" philosophers. One aspect of this I find puzzling is that in academic law and its associated social media, no such norm is recognized by anyone (I realize it's not recognized by most philosophers either, but the question is why philosophy social media behaves so differently). So, for example, right-wing law professor David Bernstein (George Mason)--an always reliable apologist for Israeli crimes and punishment of anti-Israeli speech--here chastises by name a law student at the University of Texas at Austin who disrupted a speech by an Israeli. (As a sidenote, I think universities should prevent these kinds of disruptions, and not just of Israelis.) Academic law blogs did not erupt in horror (real or feigned) that Prof. Bernstein had criticized a "mere" student. And Bernstein did this on a much bigger platform, a blog nominally hosted by the Washington Post.
Maybe academic philosophy is just more of a hotbed of New Infantilism and faux-sensitivity than academic law? That's probably true, but I think there are some other factors at work; in no particular order:
(1) There is no culture among law students of feeling "vulnerable" and in need of "protection," whereas there clearly is in philosophy cyberspace (recall the bizarre letter from some Harvard PhD students regarding the Marquette case).
(2) There is more respect for free speech norms among law students and professors than among philosophers; this is not surprising, given the strong libertarian tendencies of American free speech law. As a result, there is more skepticism about the idea that certain topics can't be broached (and especially when it is something as odd as "not criticizing a student").
I am opening comments, but they will be moderated for relevant substance, and perhaps edited to that end. Only comments with a full name (in the name line) and a valid e-mail address (which will not appear) will be approved.
The victim is the legal philosopher Hanoch Sheinman, one of the leading scholars in the field of his generation, who is a member of the law faculty. The persecutors are the Dean of the Faculty of Law, Shahar Lifshitz, aided and abetted by the University Rector Miriam Faust. Readers may recall that when, during the assault on Gaza, Prof. Sheinman expressed sympathy for all victims of the violence, a controversy ensued and more than two hundred academics signed a petition in his support. Although the Dean purported to back down at that time, it's now clear he did nothing of the kind. As now reported in Haaretz (behind a paywall, alas) and set out in Prof. Sheinman's lawyer's letter to Dean Lifshitz ( Download Letter to Dean Bar Ilan), in the last week of November, the Dean announced a new (and retroactive) "midway review process" for Prof. Sheinman, affording him one week to produce all the necessary materials to the Appointments Committee. (The lawyer's letter sets out all the sorry details of this episode).
The continued harassment of Professor Sheinman by Bar-Ilan University is shocking and a disgrace. I and others will continue to monitor the situation. I hope it is not necessary to call for a general boycott of the university, but unless the political persecution of Prof. Sheinman stops that seems the likely next step.
A reader on the job market sends along a portion of a rejection letter he got (from a top department), with the notable parts capitalized (by the reader):
Thank you for applying for one of the tenure-stream positions that we advertised last fall. We regret that we will not be moving forward with your application at this time. WE RECEIVED NEARLY SIX HUNDRED RESPONSES TO OUR ADVERTISEMENTS, INCLUDING A DISCONCERTINGLY LARGE NUMBER OF HIGHLY TALENTED AND ACCOMPLISHED APPLICANTS. ALTHOUGH we had listed these jobs as open, several factors led us to concentrate most of our search efforts on three main areas: Early Modern (before Kant), philosophy of language and certain branches of ethics that we particularly need. We had originally hoped to search within a wider array of fields but difficulties with the state legislature and the fact that several advantageous senior hiring opportunities emerged forced us to narrow our remaining attention largely to the core areas listed, which represent our greatest departmental needs (we hope that we will have a few more positions to offer in the years ahead). Please forgive the impersonal ch aracter of this note: the sheer number of applications and our SCHOOL'S MANNER OF STORING APPLICANT FILES MAKE IT DIFFICULT TO INFORM YOU OF OUR DECISIONS SWIFTLY IN ANY OTHER FASHION.
Thank you for providing us with an opportunity to consider your credentials. WE LIVE IN A TIME OF SHORTSIGHTED EDUCATIONAL POLICIES THAT HAVE MADE OUR PROFESSIONAL POSSIBILITIES FAR MORE LIMITED THAN THEY WERE IN THE PAST.
It provides helpful perspective on trends in student ‘majors’ in higher ed in the US, UK, and Australia from the 1950s forward. Its major theme is the relative stability of the percentage of university students studying the humanities — and so, with the rise of mass ed, large increase in their absolute numbers — in each country. (The percentage in the UK is roughly double that of the US, with Australia in between.) A caveat is that the range of fields of study has broadened considerably in the humanities, thereby impacting enrollments in core fields such as philosophy.
...in the sciences, but it contains some information probably relevant to the problem in philosophy; an example:
A 2015 Nature survey of more than 3,400 science graduate students around the world suggested that many were overly optimistic about their chances in academia. About 78% of respondents said that they were “likely” or “very likely” to follow an academic career, and 51% thought that they would land some type of permanent job in one to three years. In reality, only about 26% of PhD students in the United States move into tenured or tenure-track positions, and getting there can take much longer than this
After being in touch with some of the faculty there, I've learned more about the situation, and it is very discouraging. What I've been hearing is that the college's administration cooked up this plan without any meaningful input from (or consultation with) faculty -- a clear violation of both the spirit and the letter of the institution's shared-governance rules. (See also http://m.timesunion.com/local/article/Saint-Rose-facing-protest-6644752.php).
In any case, I wanted to share a link to a petition started by a St. Rose undergraduate in protest of the cuts:
UPDATE: Philosopher Christopher Pynes, who is also Chair of the Faculty Senate at Western Illinois, confirms "that tenured full professors have been given informal notices that they are being laid off."
Saint Rose, a small and financially troubled Catholic college in Albany, New York made the announcements on Friday. A Catholic college without a philosophy program? Are there any others? They are firing 23 faculty, including some with tenure--on financial exigency grounds? I'm unsure. More information welcome.
Although fewer than 1% of survey participants reported that their institution had adopted a policy on trigger warnings, 7.5% reported that students had initiated efforts to require trigger warnings on campus, twice as many (15%) reported that students had requested warnings in their courses, and 12% reported that students had complained about the absence of trigger warnings. Despite a media narrative of "political correctness," student requests concerned a diverse range of subjects from across the ideological spectrum.
Rutgers faculty are fed up, rightly so. Bear in mind that the main thing is measured is the amount of shit shovelled, since there are no quality controls on the "productivity." For earlier discussion, see here.
The report is here (the authors include two former colleagues of mine from the Law School). Their task was a difficult one, given the law, and most of their recommendations seem sensible and judicious. Permitting concealed carry in classrooms is going to be met with a lot of unhappiness, to put it mildly, but the reasons they give for that prohibition, given the law and given the safety issues, are not foolish ones. I guess my inclination would have been to bar carrying weapons in classrooms, and let the matter be resolved by legal challenge or subsequent legislative action. I imagine the other proposed prohibitions will all survive challenge or scrutiny. I do not envy the situation my former colleagues now face.
This is interesting, and some of it may foreshadow the future of academic philosophy in the United States, e.g., "I’ve encountered two types of people who are having trouble adapting to the field. First, there are those who bridle at the left-political conformity of English and who voice complaints familiar from the culture wars" (other parts are more specific to English, I suspect).
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)