Louise Antony writes:
In light of the discussion on Brian Leiter’s blog, I want to say something in support of Hilde Lindemann’s comments in the recent Chronicle of Higher Education article on the East Carolina U/Colin McGinn incident. Many commenters are incensed that Prof. Lindemann seemed to endorse the use of “unofficial information” (as Daily Nous put it) in decisions such as the ECU Phil. Department’s vote to offer a distinguished visiting position to Colin McGinn. I’m baffled by this. Is there anyone out there in Bloggo-land who wants to say that scholarly achievement is the only consideration that should count in deciding whether or not to offer someone a position? (Anyone who says that it is the only thing that counts is simply wrong.) Every department I’ve ever been affiliated with has always – and quite rightly — taken into account both the candidate’s likely collegiality and his or her potential as a teacher and mentor. So now the question is: what kind of evidence can one use in assessing a candidate’s collegiality and potential as a teacher and mentor? Postings on a public blog can provide evidence. Disciplinary actions taken by a candidate’s previous employer can also provide evidence. What about the appropriate standard? Bearing in mind that a hiring meeting is not a criminal trial, that there is no “presumption of innocence” to be overcome, and that an individual’s being brought up for consideration does not engender any presumptive right to the position, it’s clear that the appropriate standard is the one typically used in normal hiring deliberations: what, given the evidence, is it reasonable to believe about how this colleague will behave toward his or her colleagues and students? An official finding that a person has engaged in sexual harassment is certainly very strong evidence that that person is untrustworthy – but it’s not the only evidence that can support that conclusion.
I understand that there’s tremendous concern about false accusation and innuendo – at least when the case at hand involves men and sex. So yes, the evidence needs to be looked at carefully in any particular instance. But are hiring committees supposed to ignore the evidence that exists? Are they supposed to disregard the fact of disciplinary actions taken by a previous employer? Are they supposed to ignore what the candidate has to say about the matter on a public blog? A decision not to offer a position to someone because there’s good reason to think the person is a danger to students is not a violation of anyone’s rights. A decision to go ahead and appoint such a person despite the evidence is reprehensible.