Many campuses are confronting issues related to the status of undocumented students, whose legal position may be threated in a Trump Administration. This letter from faculty to the U of Chicago Administration is illustrative of some of the concerns. A similar letter at Penn produced this response from University President Amy Gutmann. The good news is that Senator Lindsey Graham, a very conservative Senator from South Carolina, is already preparing legislation to protect these students whose status was protected by executive action by President Obama that Trump could repeal. He believes it will pass "overwhelmingly," which is hopeful.
Philosopher Michael Loughlin from MMU Cheshire writes:
[P]hilosophy is one of a number of academic subjects currently offered on the Cheshire campus of Manchester Metropolitan University. The whole campus is potentially facing closure as part of a commissioned "review" of its "financial sustainability" by a team of management consultants. The board of governors is considering options that include the survival of the campus with a significantly reduced range of academic provisions on offer to students, and its outright closure. In that event, a key provider of education in the Cheshire region for over 100 years would be lost and while some academic staff might be relocated to a city campus in Manchester, many academics - and many more support staff - could be facing redundancy.
We are trying to persuade the board of governors to consider less drastic options, arguing that campus closure would be a disaster for the local region and contrary to the university's commitment to "widening participation" - the region has been identified as an area with "a low density of HEIs" and we're concerned the students that commute from the local community may no longer be able to access university if the campus is closed. Too many academic provisions are being lost across the UK as universities 'streamline' their offerings, and this tendency represents a serious concern for those of us who believe that a traditional academic education should be an option for people from a broad range of backgrounds - social, geographical and economic. There is a case for a sustainable future for this campus, and in support of that case we're trying to get as many people as possible to sign a petition calling on the board to consider seriously the alternatives to closure. The petition can be accessed here:
The comments that many of our former students who have already signed are instructive, and we hope members of the board will read them - but they are more likely to do so if the petition has many supporters. So please consider clicking on the link and signing.
Nearly a thousand students, faculty and deans called for my and my husband’s immediate removal from our jobs and campus home. Some demanded not only apologies for any unintended racial insensitivity (which we gladly offered) but also a complete disavowal of my ideas (which we did not) — as well as advance warning of my appearances in the dining hall so that students accusing me of fostering violence wouldn’t be disturbed by the sight of me.
Not everyone bought this narrative, but few spoke up. And who can blame them? Numerous professors, including those at Yale’s top-rated law school, contacted us personally to say that it was too risky to speak their minds. Others who generously supported us publicly were admonished by colleagues for vouching for our characters. Many students met with us confidentially to describe intimidation and accusations of being a “race traitor” when they deviated from the ascendant campus account that I had grievously injured the community. The Yale Daily News evidently felt obliged to play down key facts in its reporting, including about the two-hour-plus confrontation with a crowd of more than 100 students in which several made verbal and physical threats to my husband while four Yale deans and administrators looked on.
I have always spoken up, but far too few do, perhaps because so many are committed to making it costly to do so.
A philosophy graduate student at Johns Hopkins University writes:
I am a member of the philosophy department at Johns Hopkins University writing to alert you to some rather disturbing events happening in the university. In short, the university’s administration is attempting to shut down an academic department without transparency, due-process, or clear justification. The department in question is the Humanities Center, an interdisciplinary department that has been part of the university since the 1960s. The issues between the administration and the department have been developing for several years, but they have just recently been made public. Several members of the department of philosophy, including myself, feel that the administration’s handling of the situation ought to be publicized as much as possible to discourage this kind of malfeasance both now and in the future.
Here is a brief description of the situation (further details can be found on this website, which has been set up in support of the Center):
Roughly three years ago, two senior members of the Humanities Center’s faculty announced plans to retire. The department requested permission to conduct searches to replace the retiring faculty. The dean at the time, Katherine Newman, told the department that any decision regarding new hires would be up to her successor, since she was planning to leave Hopkins that same year. Her replacement was Beverly Wendland, a member of the biology faculty. Dean Wendland informed the Center that she would not be considering either of their hiring requests until the department underwent a review, despite the fact that it had been recently reviewed twice (in 2008-2009 and 2011-2012). In both cases, the reviews were generally positive.
I’ve been wondering for a while now at the silence (I think!) in the philosophy blogosphere re the enormous troubles at South African universities, especially Witwatersrand but also UCT and others. They’ve been going on for ages and involve violence and closures and all sorts of extremely dramatic events (including libraries on fire, students being shot, intimidation of staff, etc etc). And it’s all revolving around a very complex and interesting issue - putting in a nutshell what probably shouldn’t be put in a nutshell - the issue of making university free for all at public expense in a country like SA where it’s still mostly whites that go to uni. There’s been some coverage in the Western news but not much as far as I know, e.g. http://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-34615004. Of course it’s all over SA news. A rather random selection of what it was easy to find:
Anyway, I just thought I’d let you know in case you're interested and of course in case you think it worthy/appropriate for a blogpost. Indeed I guess I think it’s in itself an interesting issue why this hasn’t already cropped up in the philosophy blogosphere (if I’m right that it hasn’t).
Comments are open for more links, information etc. on what's going on.
A draft law, the Higher Education and Research Bill, is making its way through the House of Commons. The bill amounts to the biggest shake-up in the sector for more than a generation. It is designed, among other things, to make it easier for private companies to set up universities, and to enable more researchers to commercialize their work. If it passes, existing funding bodies will close and replacements will be created. But in the process of change, the bill rips up an 800-year-old settlement between the nation’s scholars and the state. It opens the door to unacceptable political interference. It must be resisted.
I'd be curious to hear from UK readers, or others informed about this legislation, what they make of it and whether it will also have impact in other fields outside the sciences, like philosophy.
Philosophers often use LSAT data as a marketing tool to convince students who want to go to law school that they should major in philosophy. But how do we really know studying philosophy is the key to higher scores? Are the high scores really the result of studying philosophy or is there some other cause? In this post, I am going to suggest that privilege and economic class, rather than studying philosophy, better explain philosophy students’ LSAT results. Even if my suspicions are only partly right, it should make philosophers think twice about selling philosophy merely as a means to higher LSAT scores.
Making a causal connection for or against is very difficult (that alone should make us think twice). We don’t have access to either state level LSAT averages or LSAT scores from individual schools. What we have is the average score by majors. I am going to start with 2014 LSAC applicants by major report. Five of the most popular LSAT taking majors are: Political Science, Criminal Justice, Economics, Philosophy, and Sociology. Here are the LSAT results for those five majors:
Most colleges and universities have a general education mathematics requirement with some, including WIU, allowing a gen ed logic classes to satisfy that mathematics requirement. I am most interested in discussing the issue of mathematical reasoning standards for general education--specifically logic classes and students with cognitive or intellectual disabilities.
My main concern is with students who have intellectual disabilities. These disabilities are things like dyscalculia or acalculia, but also IQ levels that are in the 70s. As an educator, I am struggling with methods of teaching and evaluating students who have genuine intellectual disabilities and can’t do the work necessary to pass my class with a grade of ‘C’. The ‘C’ threshold has become a bigger issue for me in the last year since the replacement course grade standard was changed from a ‘D-’ to ‘C’ to be in line with the mathematics course requirement.
...that discriminate against LGBT citizens--which is a lot of countries! Philosopher Michael Cholbi called this to my attention, but I haven't seen much on it, though it would seem to be a significant violation of the contractual right of California faculty to academic freedom, since there are many pedagogical and research-related reasons faculty might need to travel to countries with otherwise reprehensible policies. Comments are open for readers who know more about this law and what it means.
A propos my observation last week that academic law has more conservatives and libertarians than academic philosophy, along comes this study, which doesn't cover philosophy (but one can infer the likely result):
We investigate the voter registration of faculty at 40 leading U.S. universities in the fields of Economics, History, Journalism/Communications, Law, and Psychology. We looked up 7,243 professors and found 3,623 to be registered Democratic and 314 Republican, for an overall D:R ratio of 11.5:1. The D:R ratios for the five fields were: Economics 4.5:1, History 33.5:1, Journalism/Communications 20.0:1, Law 8.6:1, and Psychology 17.4:1. The results indicate that D:R ratios have increased since 2004, and the age profile suggests that in the future they will be even higher. We provide a breakdown by department at each university. The data support the established finding that D:R ratios are highest at the apex of disciplinary pyramids, that is, at the most prestigious departments.
These results are not surprising, given that the Republican Party is now nothing more than a FOX-created freak show. But the variation by field is telling: economists have many more Republicans because they are in the grips of a theoretically coherent but false world view about markets and regulation that make support of Republicans instrumentally rational against that background worldview (academic law is parasitic on this). "Journalism/communication" is not a Wissenschaft, so put that to one side. Most parts of current academic psychology mimic and sometimes live up to wissenschaftlich standards, but nothing about the field's self-conception as a scientific discipline would lead anyone to think Republicans are anything other than a fringe party. My guess would be that academic philosophy is closer to Psychology than Law, but if anyone looks at the facts about party registration let me know. Unnoted in studies like this is that the Republican Party in the U.S. is now a radical outlier, a "freak show" as I've put it. The old Republican Party now occupies the Democratic Party, which still also has its liberal, FDR wing. The current official Republican Party is, as Donald Trump has made finally clear, a deranged amalgamation of the pathologies of capitalism in America in the early 21st-century.
Story here. Is it possible that two graduate students and one undergraduate conspired to make false allegations against Prof. Wentworth? Yes. Is it likely? No, not at all. So this seems to me an effort to intimidate the complainants, but in any case, if it moves forward, it will put the matter into the hands of real courts, which can also probe quite deeply into the plaintiffs' past. Given that Prof. Wentworth's academic career is over unless he prevails, this gamble would make prudential sense even if he is guilty as charged.
I touched on this case briefly in my CHE piece, but this discussion by NYU law professor Rick Hills is thorough and well-informed. I should note that, unlike Prof. Hills, I am not Prof. Chouhdry's friend, and I'm not sure I've ever even met him. But due process matters, for all the reasons Prof. Hills articulates so well.
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.
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.
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.
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.
MOVING TO FRONT FROM YESTERDAY: SHORT UPDATE (SEE #3, BELOW)
Let me start with a word about how I happened to start blogging about this. Eric Schliesser (Amsterdam) first called Prof. Stevens's website to my attention, and then, upon his receiving some kind of confirmation from Sally Haslanger (MIT), he blogged about it. Others began sending me links as news stories began to break. It was pretty clear from the start that Prof. Stevens's account was, understandably, biased in her favor and incomplete; her rhetorical posture also did not enhance her credibility by my lights (but that is weak and defeasible evidence in a matter like this). I have, in the past, championed cases that were framed as Prof. Stevens framed hers: an outspoken professor being mistreated by a heavy-handed administration. But given my lawyerly instincts, I wait until I have more information before pressing forward (this is why, for example, I did not blog about Professor Sartwell's case initially, until I was persuaded he had been treated wrongfully--as the outcome suggests he was.) Victims are often made to look guilty unfairly, but miscreants almost always plead their innocence and sometimes try to play the victim (for example), so some caution is required in these matters.
Here is what I think we now know based on the various news accounts, and information supplied by Professors Stevens and Tillery on various occasions (as well as others):
1. On March 8, Prof. Stevens met with Prof. Tillery, in his capacity as Associate Chair, regarding course scheduling in the Department. This meeting did not end well. Prof. Stevens claimed Prof. Tillery screamed at her and slammed the door on her; Prof. Tillery claimed it was Prof. Stevens who behaved unprofessionally. (The University's investigator found in favor of Prof. Tillery on this point.)
2. Subsequently, Prof. Stevens began making statements about Prof. Tillery's conduct to others; Prof. Tillery claims these statements were false and defamatory. Prof. Tillery retained a lawyer who sent Prof. Stevens a demand letter that she cease and desist her alleged defamation and, allegedly, that she reimburse Prof. Tillery for his legal expenses. [9/11 UPDATE: Prof. Stevens has updated her website; the only relevant new information is a copy of the letter sent by Prof. Tillery's lawyer to her.]
3. Prof. Stevens refused, and asked the university to indemnify her against Prof. Tillery's legal threat. Before deciding whether indemnification was appropriate, the University hired an outside investigator, Kathleen Rinehart, the General Counsel of St. Xavier University here in Chicago, whose integrity Prof. Stevens has ceaselessly attacked since going public with events on September 1, but without any actual evidence of misconduct by the investigator.
4. The investigator found in favor of Prof. Tillery regarding the March 8 incident, but also reported that "most individuals" she interviewed "expressed serious concern about the unpredictability of Prof. Stevens' conduct" either toward themselves individually or towards others in the department, and that the "cumulative impact" of her conduct has been "debilitating" for normal department functioning.
5. These findings, it appears (I'm less certain about this), triggered some "process" (whose details and standards of evidence are unknown at this time) that resulted in Prof. Stevens being banned from campus and required to undergo a psychological evaluation.
I learned recently that the fact that the Executive Summary of the Rinehart Report, which investigated the incident between Stevens and me, was placed in my personnel file gives me some ability to talk about it. In order to preserve the confidentiality of my colleagues, I have attached a screen shot of only that section of the Report that centers on me and the incident that Stevens has blogged so much about. Please feel free to share it and this note with your readers if you find it illuminating.
Prof. Tillery kindly wrote to me and gave permission to share the following, which gives a more illuminating statement of what has transpired than I have seen in the media accounts:
I am writing to thank you for your very fair-minded blogging about the Jackie Stevens matter at Northwestern. I saw that Sara Monoson had an exchange with you already, and I was wondering if you had any questions for me or would like me to share any of the documents that I have about my interactions with Professor Stevens. Contrary to Professor Stevens's portrayal of these events, she has not been removed from campus because of the strange interaction that occurred in my office. Instead, she was removed because the investigation that she called for so that she could gain indemnification from the university against my legal actions turned up issues that triggered some of Northwestern's security protocols. I never asked for Professor Stevens to be removed from campus. Instead, I asked that my office be relocated to a different building so that I could get about my work and avoid her, just as I did when I was not serving in the departmental administration. I actually initiated legal action against Professor Stevens because I worried that the university would not act to punish her for spreading false claims against me. And, yes, the claims have been demonstrated to be false, and Professor Stevens knows that. I would also like to stress that my great alarm about Professor Stevens is not about micro-aggressions--they were just an extra bit of unpleasantness--but about the conspiracy element of her personal experience. In short, I felt threatened by Professor Stevens because (1) she believes that she is living out some sort of espionage novel; (2) thinks that I am part of the team against her; (3) falsified a complaint against me, which multiple witnesses (including her own) have now refuted; and (4) suggested that a young man volunteered to harm me on her behalf. So, I wanted to leave my office and go someplace else because I was not eager to see how that espionage novel--with me as the villain--was going to end. And, one just has to read her blog to see that it is an ongoing narrative for her, except, that is, when she needs the university to pay her legal bills.
Professor Sara Monoson, Chair of the Department of Political Science at Northwestern, writes:
Given that Prof. Stevens has chosen to publicize what might have remained a confidential personnel matter, I can offer an unadorned timeline that will illuminate what set the university's action in motion. Prof. Stevens' research and political activity had nothing to do with it whatsoever.
Back in March 2016, Prof. Stevens filed a formal complaint against associate chair Prof. Tillery alleging verbal abuse. Prof. Tillery engaged an attorney to demand that she retract the false and defamatory accusation. She refused. She asked the university for indemnification. The university engaged an independent investigator whose credentials both parties approved. The investigator’s report concluded that indemnification was not warranted. That report also placed her behavior towards Prof. Tillery in the broader context of her pattern of uncivil and threatening conduct towards multiple faculty, staff and students in the department. The university is now dealing with this information according to established procedures. Prof. Stevens is doing her thing.
I hope you will ask more questions. For instance, why would she ask a university she claims to be persecuting her for indemnification?
I did ask that question in reply, and a couple of others, and will report further, probably later today.
UPDATE: I queried Prof. Monoson about whether there were other complainants and about other examples of threatening behavior by Prof. Stevens. Prof. Monoson replied:
A number of folks have been flagging this story: this version is free (but heavily dependent on Stevens), while the CHE story (which is much more informative) is behind a paywall. Briefly, Prof. Stevens has been barred from campus pending a psychological evaluation by a psychiatrist retained by the university. This grows out of complaints from her colleagues, in particular, an incident with the Associate Chair of Political Science, Alvin Tillery. Professor Stevens's account is here and Prof. Tillery's account is here. From the CHE article:
The university reviewed Ms. Stevens following a run-in she had in March with Alvin Bernard Tillery Jr., associate chair of political science. After the incident, each accused the other of screaming and shouting.
Mr. Tillery says Ms. Stevens’s behavior has felt "creepy" ever since he arrived at the university three years ago. He says she has screamed and sobbed in his office, spun tales of conspiracy theories — including charging the university with tapping her phones — and denigrated his scholarship in African-American studies. All of that, says Mr. Tillery, has made him worry that Ms. Stevens is unstable.
Then there was the confrontation in his office last March. "Do I think she might shoot me?" he asks. "Absolutely. It happens all over the country."
Although Prof. Stevens reports having an attorney at her webpage (which is wise!), it's not clear that her defense was reviewed by the attorney, since it fits rather too well with the allegation of spinning "tales of conspiracy theories." Of course, it may be she is correct to be paranoid and suspect a conspiracy, but on the evidence so far, it is very far from clear what is going on. This may be a case of Northwestern retaliating against an outspoken professor or it may be a case of a faculty member behaving very badly, to the point that an African-American colleague of hers fears for his safety. (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" mimsconduct. 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.)
Readers with more information, preferably from parties other than those central to the dispute, should feel free to e-mail me more information.
UPDATE: A friend of mine who knows Prof. Tillery "reasonably well" calls him an "extraordinarily nice guy" who "treat[s] people with a lot of respect," which is consistent with the outpouring of support from former students on his Facebook page.
'a handful of very vocal figures (many otherwise quite marginal to academic philosophy), whose mixture of foolishness, sanctimoniousness and/or vindictiveness we've commented on many times before--for example, here, here, here, here, here,here. "Pathologically self-righteous people" (to quote an earlier correspondent) can't be reasoned with, but perhaps they can be stopped. But this will require more courage and forthrightness from the majority in the profession, both faculty and students, who find this climate of fear, with its harm to honest intellectual discussion, unacceptable.'
There is a group at my university who call themselves [an acronym for a group of female students of philosophy at the university]. They actively recruit members and take it upon themselves to organise things like reading groups, "how to apply" workshops, etc. They don't stand out for their philosophical ability but they give themselves an active role and visible presence in the department. When I began at the university, I joined, but have been disappointed to discover the core group are a clique who approach politics with exactly the sort of self-righteous and authoritarian attitudes and behaviours you mention here. None of them are faculty: they are people who have at least finished undergraduate studies and are looking to complete either a Masters or a PhD at some point. As I said, they don't stand out for having particular philosophical ability. Faculty don't seem to be either opposed to or particularly supportive of them. However I have found their presence intimidating and frustrating, because I don't agree with all of their political opinions, or at least have the audacity to believe they are open to question. It's not just that they promulgate their own set of dogmas, but that you feel like you have to watch your back and be careful what you say, otherwise they might mobilise people against you. I find them anti-philosophical: they don't seem to value academic freedom or free inquiry, preferring instead to police language and thought for "problematic" expression and views.
Anyway, I hope they fall by the wayside over time, and don't represent the future of philosophy. I hope all we are seeing is some kind of political fad that will die out sooner rather than later. Thanks again for taking a public stand against this worrying phenomenon!
That piece clearly touched a nerve with many readers. Another junior faculty member at another university wrote about his social media exposure to his colleagues at a temporary job he had elsewhere:
[T]he sorts of things I was seeing were just appalling. As one of your correspondents put it, the kind of pathological self-righteousness, the grotesque moral peacocking competition to see who could most aggressively signal their sensitivity to the marginalized and oppressed...it was just unbelievable to me that so many professional philosophers and graduate students could be so manifestly self-deluded as to what they were doing and why. I needn't provide examples to you, I'm sure.
In that time, you were one of the few people who helped me keep my sanity. I am normally a very outspoken person, and if not for being on the market, and having tenure to think about after that, I am very much the sort who would have relished the opportunity to weigh in on all this shameful nonsense. But at the time, I could barely keep my head above water, and am now proud I managed to resist writing some publicly available screed that might have kept me from getting a job. One of the most frustrating things about that time (and now) is that I feel less free to express my opinions than I ever did as a graduate student, where I felt very free. The climate is so censorious and grandstandingly punitive that I, like so many others, feel effectively silenced. And I still largely feel that way despite having a TT job now.
More folks, including the many senior folks I hear from, need to be more vocal in the lives of their departments and on social media about the unacceptability of this behavior.
Although I've not talked to any of those involved, it's hard to escape the conclusion that this is all a coordinated effort: here now is the University President Robert Zimmer, and here is my colleage Geoffrey Stone (lead author of the University's free expression statement). Stone's piece has a useful chronicle of examples of attempts to suppress expression on various campuses.
It is amusing to see various folks in philosophy cyberspace who are precisely part of the problem ridiculing all this as a publicity stunt; but these are the same folks responsible for the "climate of fear" in academic philosophy about attaching one's name to the defense of reasonable views about gender, diversity, the appropriate punishment of sexual harassers, and the nature and content of the philosophy curriculum. It will soon be time to borrow one of their favorite tactics and "name and shame" the folks who have degraded the profession with their vindictive intolerance. There is a robust culture of free expression at this University, which other schools would do well to emulate. (I note as but one example that my libertarian and law & economics colleagues at the University of Chicago Law School knew full well the range of my political and moral opinions when they hired me!)
UPDATE: This interview with Geof Stone suggests that the Dean of the College's letter that got all the attention was not something approved by the University Administration: Stone basically disowns the way it was written.
Everyone in cyberspace is blathering about this, so I will add my own brief blather:
1. Academic freedom protects the right of faculty to utilize trigger warnings if in their professional judgment it is important for the pedagogical mission in a class. To the extent the letter implies they are forbidden, it is nonsense. ("Trigger warnings" are a popular blather topic in their own right, but there's not much more worth saying than this.)
2. Insofar as the letter is meant to send a message, the message is that all ideas can be discussed at the University of Chicago, subject to norms of civility essential for learning. So, for example, if some faculty or students here tried to suppress discussion of Germaine Greer's views about gender--as happened in philosophy cyberspace not long ago--they would be unsuccessful here. If anyone interfered with the expression of such ideas, they themselves would be subject to discipline for disrupting the mission of the university. By contrast, criticism of Greer's views on gender would enjoy the same protection at the University of Chicago.
3. #2 is obviously the only way for a serious university to run--even Herbert Marcuse argued that in the famous essay on "Repressive Tolerance." Here the Marxian left, the traditional liberal and the libertarian right should all be in agreement. Only that consumerist phenomenon of elite universities and their narcissistic students--roughly "identity politics"--is the outlier here.
About thirty years ago, I was a grad student TA at Michigan, which had a union for TAs. Our wages and benefits (esp. health) were way better than those held by the TAs at Yale at the time (they were not, needless to say, unionized).
That was then, of course. Market conditions changed, and wealthy private universities--and not-so-wealthy ones like NYU--had to respond to market pressures, pressures created often by the existence of unionized grad students elsewhere. NYU beat off a unionization challenge a decade or so ago by dramatically improving economic conditions for their PhD students, but NYU is especially vulnerable since the university's endowment does not allow it to compete in the "big leagues," so it is highly dependent on tuition and other short-term revenue and cheap labor, now mainly in the form of adjunct teaching.
Now the National Labor Relations Board has ruled, in a case brought by Columbia students, that grad students who work as TAs have the right to unionize, reversing a 2004 decision involving students at Brown. As usual, this brings forth the usual nonsense and tired canards about unions and the "special" character of graduate education. Thus the President of Yale:
As a Yale graduate student, professor, and administrator, I have experienced firsthand how the teacher-student relationship is central to the university’s academic enterprise. The mentorship and training that Yale professors provide to graduate students is essential to educating the next generation of leading scholars. I have long been concerned that this relationship would become less productive and rewarding under a formal collective bargaining regime, in which professors would be “supervisors” of their graduate student “employees.”
Today the National Labor Relations Board has ruled that graduate students at Columbia University, who assist with teaching and research as part of their education, are employees of that school. I disagree with this decision....
The Graduate School of Arts and Sciences enrolls the world’s most promising students in its doctoral programs. These students choose Yale for the opportunity to study with our outstanding faculty, and to take advantage of the university’s wide array of academic resources, generous financial aid, and comprehensive benefits. Yale will continue to provide exceptional support to our graduate students as they focus on their scholarship, successfully complete their degree programs, and find rewarding careers.
I want to argue that this situation demonstrates an absolute fissure in contemporary progressive politics, that there is a direct and unambiguous conflict between our efforts to address mass incarceration and the insistence that people accused of crimes such as sexual assault should be presumed to be guilty and that those who are guilty are permanently and existentially unclean. I want to argue that there’s nothing particularly hidden about this conflict, that acknowledging it is as simple as noting the direct contradiction of two progressive attitudes: the belief that certain crimes, particularly sex crimes and domestic violence, should be treated not only with harsh criminal punishments but with permanent moral judgment for those guilty of them; and the idea that we need to dismantle our vast criminal justice industrial complex, to oppose the carceral state, and to replace them with a new system of restoration and forgiveness. I further want to argue that progressives are not doing any of the moral and legal reasoning necessary to resolve these tensions, and that if we don’t, eventually they’ll explode....
[I]f an acquittal is insufficient to prove Parker’s innocence, what would such proof look like? Is exoneration even possible? And what do we do with people who are accused of crimes like sexual assault and domestic violence when their cases never go to trial? The current progressive impulse seems to be to simply treat them as guilty regardless, and permanently. Yet this strikes me as unambiguously contrary to the spirit and philosophy that contribute to our drive for criminal justice reform. How can we make such reform possible if we condemn huge groups of people to the status of guilty despite never being found guilty of any crime? And if such crimes carry existential and disqualifying moral judgment for life even for those only accused, how can we bring those imprisoned and released back into normal adult life?
People swing wildly from talking about criminal justice reform to insisting that everyone accused of entire classes of crimes, let alone convicted, are necessarily condemned to a lifetime of guilt. These impulses are not compatible. I strongly believe that we can balance the need to give sexual assault victims far more support and understanding than we traditionally have, and to begin to fix our society’s ugly failure to protect women from sexual assault, while still fighting mass imprisonment and the carceral state. But it will take hard work to get there, and the issue does not seem to even been on the radar for most people.
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)