A statement

[UPDATE: The google site is currently down for ‘violating terms of service’. There is an alternative, temporary site here: https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/421308/statement.html]

https://sites.google.com/site/septemberstatement/

It is up to each of us individually to decide what we will volunteer to do. The undersigned members of the philosophical community have decided to decline to volunteer our services to Leiter’s PGR. While we recognise that there are other ways to condemn Professor Leiter’s behaviour and to support our colleague, we think the best choice for us involves publicly declining to assist with the PGR. We cannot continue to volunteer services in support of the PGR in good conscience as long as Brian Leiter continues to behave in this way. We therefore decline to take the PGR survey, we decline to serve on the PGR advisory board, and we decline to send Professor Leiter information to help him compile the survey (e.g. updated faculty lists and corrections). We are only declining to volunteer our services to the PGR while it is under the control of Brian Leiter. With a different leadership structure, the benefits of the guide might be achieved without detriment to our colleague.

We feel that we need to consider very carefully what kind of example we are setting for graduate students, and for philosophers across the whole discipline, when something like this happens. Tolerating this kind of behaviour signals to them that they can expect the same in their own professional lives. We wish to set a clear example of how to respond appropriately but firmly.

30 thoughts on “A statement

  1. Well, first you say you wont’ contribute to the PGR “as long as Brian Leiter continues to behave in this way,” and then you say you won’t contribute to the PGR “while it is under the control of Brian Leiter.” These are two quite different things.

  2. Ligurio, the statement gives a conditional about what the signatories can do in good conscience. They cannot in good conscience contribute to the PGR so long as Brian Leiter continues to behave in this way. The implicature is, I take it, that they believe the bulk of evidence suggests the consequent of the conditional holds – Brian Leiter continues (and will continue) to behave in this way. So the signatories decline to the participate in the PGR while it is under his control. It’s not that complicated.

    Also, I don’t know who you’re addressing by your use of ‘you’. I wrote this post, but I didn’t write the statement.

  3. It’s extraordinary how people will pick at minor aspects of wording and utterly ignore the actual issue.

  4. In the English language, the meaning of the phrase “as long as Brian Leiter continues to behave in this way” is not the same as the meaning of the phrase “while it is under control of Brian Leiter.”

    You may draw whatever implicature you like from this, I suppose, even if that requires you to change the meaning of “as long as Brian Leiter continues to behave in this way” to “because Brian Leiter continues and will continue to behave in this way.” But I have a hard time believing that most will be persuaded that there are not, in fact, two different conditions here.

    I’m sorry if the “you” offended.

  5. “In the English language, the meaning of the phrase “as long as Brian Leiter continues to behave in this way” is not the same as the meaning of the phrase “while it is under control of Brian Leiter.”

    No one said that the meanings of these two phrases are the same. And the use of ‘you’ didn’t offend, it was just weird/misleading. By all means, continue to try to pick holes in this statement. You’re making a great point (though maybe not the one you intend to be making).

  6. Oh, look – Robert Stalnaker has signed. Ligurio, maybe you should direct your worries about the language in the statement to him. . .

  7. I have signed the list and the list of signatures is growing steadily. Furthermore, it now includes very senior people in the profession, such as Robert Stalnaker and Daniel Garber. It is clear, however, that there is a still a lot of fear surrounding the idea of doing so, especially among junior members of the profession. To those who have little to fear, I would hope that the length of the list of signatures will now be empowering.

  8. The importance of this matter should not be underestimated. Let us be clear: the man behind the most influential ranking of philosophy departments has attempted to publicly humiliate and silence a younger (but very highly regarded) female member of the profession. Professor Leiter is no stranger to controversy, but his conduct in this instance is so far beyond the bounds of decency that a severe response is justified. I applaud the signatories of this statement. Those who have not yet signed should seriously consider doing so: this is an ideal context in which to take a public stand against precisely the sort of bullying behaviour which poisons academic philosophy, especially for women and other under-represented groups.

    This is not the time for pointless discussions of semantic minutiae, thought-experiments, or other irrelevant speculations. Many philosophers seem to believe that serious situations call for a cute responses which deflect from the real issues at stake. Do your best to set aside your urge to turn every issue into a version of the Trolley Problem.

  9. But I am unclear about “the actual issue” because of the “wording” itself. Is the actual issue Leiter’s behavior, or his control of the PGR? Some agree that Leiter’s behavior is at times inappropriate, but think he does a very good job with the PGR, for all its limitations.Some others agree that Leiter’s behavior is at times inappropriate, but think he does a bad job with the PGR in any case. So what is the real issue?

    If it is Leiter’s behavior, do the writers believe that Leiter can change his behavior, or don’t they? What if Leiter apologized? Would that be sufficient, or not?

    Or do the writers believe that Leiter’s behavior will not change, and hence that the PGR should not be under his control? If it is this latter belief, as magicalersatz claims, then this is certainly not clear from the language of the document itself.

    By raising these questions, I’m not trying to *defend* Leiter at all. I’m only trying to understand how the writers understand the relationship between his (1) behavior and (2) his control over the PGR, and hence what conditions the signatories to the letter are in fact committing themselves to.

  10. Ligurio, if you’re finding the wording of the statement confusing, I gently suggest that this is not obviously the fault of the statement. The statement is worded pretty clearly, as far as I can see – though it obviously doesn’t give a full and frank discussion of all counterfactual situations, since that would make it incredibly long and no one would read it.

    I’m going to consider any further comments on the wording to be de-railing, and I’ll delete them accordingly.

  11. I take the motivation for the letter (and its wording) to be the belief that Leiter’s behavior is incompatible with his editorial role with the PGR. Hence there are two solutions acceptable to the signatories: Leiter can modify his behavior, or he can hand over editorial responsibilities.

    (I share the belief, and were there any prospect of my being involved in the PGR, I’d sign the letter.)

  12. Anonymous, it does not matter if there is any prospect of your being asked to participate. There was no prospect of my being asked, either. Signing has symbolic value, and the larger the numbers, the less people will have to fear, and the more will sign.

  13. I don’t even have a job, so I’m going to stay out of it. But it’s *brilliant* all the ‘secure’ people who are stepping up and signing. Thanks, from one of the many unable to take the stand herself.

  14. “It is clear, however, that there is a still a lot of fear surrounding the idea of doing so, especially among junior members of the profession.”

    Where and how is this “clear”? Some of us, especially who are tenured members of the profession, haven’t signed for reasons that have nothing to do with “fear.” (Of what exactly? Unhinged, bogusly litigious emails; fewer invitations to conferences; frayed in-house connections to prestigious journals and edited collections; a less generous PGR ranking for our departments?) Nor must these some of us be expressing, by default, quiet solidarity with BL or the PGR.

    Maybe, say, some of us aren’t into signing petitions when the stakes are so relatively low and personal — especially in a profession that otherwise almost never springs to strong collective action. Speaking for myself and my priorities, I don’t need that kind of “empowering” — though I’m raising no objection to those who might or who have other priorities that would lead them to sign.

  15. @anonphil, I find certain aspects of your comment troubling. The fact that the philosophy profession “almost never springs to strong collective action” is not a sound reason for declining to sign the petition: the lack of strong collective action within philosophy is not a virtue, but a problem. Likewise, the fact that you don’t feel you need “empowering” is not a good reason for declining to sign the petition: the petition is not designed to make you feel empowered, but to send a message to students and faculty that it’s unacceptable to treat members of the profession as Professor Leiter has done. Finally, you seem to mock people who feel some degree of apprehension about publicly disagreeing with Leiter. You should take a look at what happens to people when they have done this in the past – it’s not a nice experience. In fact, just look at how Professor jenkins has been treated: would you wish to go through all this nonsense?

  16. @anonphil: I have personally heard from several people expressing such concerns, including people with tenure. And that is just this morning.

    @Incandenza: Exactly. Those of us who have been the targets of such emails and subjected to public humiliation really do not need to be told by those who have not how we are allowed to react to them (any more than victims of child abuse need to be told by Richard Dawkins how they should react). If you have not had that kind of experience, then you simply have no idea what it is like. That is especially true for those of us who are survivors of various other sorts of violence, for whom this kind of episode can be triggering.

  17. The site has been disabled. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out who might have complained. . .

    “The Google Account of a site owner has been disabled because of a perceived violation of the Terms of Service. The site owner needs to restore their Google Account before this site can be viewed.”

  18. Please keep us posted on this site as to when an alternative site for signing the petition has become available.

  19. What?! The site has been disabled! Another victory for free speech, I guess. This is just outrageous.

  20. A momentary setback. I seriously doubt there is an actual violation of the ToS here. And there are lots of other places to host free websites.

  21. The site is indeed down. I don’t want to jump to conclusions about the cause – the explanation may entirely innocent, and technical difficulties should not be ruled out.

    However, if it emerges that Brian Leiter was responsible for disabling the site – perhaps by threatening litigation against Google – then he has disgraced himself utterly, and the philosophical community should unite in condemnation of his conduct.

  22. “Oh, look – Robert Stalnaker has signed. Ligurio, maybe you should direct your worries about the language in the statement to him. . .”

    So the femphils aren’t immune to status-pandering either, eh? I thought it was just Leiter.

  23. Yes, you’re exactly right comeon. That comment was obviously completely serious and to be taken at face value. Just like this one. Well spotted!

  24. Thanks especially to candenza at to many others for pointing out that we need to keep our eye on the real issue.

    It’s not just PGR that is influential, it is also the leiter reports. He claims his is the most read philosophy blog in the world. He presumably benefits financially from the ads on the blog. We philosophers hold some collective responsibility for the success of his blog — *we’ve been reading it.* I don’t want the leiter reports or brian leiter to be the face of my discipline. And I certainly don’t want him to have a platform.

    How can we boycott his blog? This is another way to respond to his behavior. And a boycott of this kind is something all members of the profession (including grad students) might participate in, whereas a refusal to assist with PGR is something that is only meaningful when made by faculty (and perhaps only by tenured faculty). Thus, a blog boycott seems to be a potentially empowering way for a much more diverse range of philosophers to condemn BL’s behavior.

    Does anyone know if any such a boycott is in the works? Since philosophers might occasionally want to read BL’s blog when / if he posts further incendiary things, the language might be something like “I will strive to get my philosophy news from news sources other than the Leiter reports.” So signatories could still peek at BL’s blog if they “had” to, e.g. to check on some outrageous thing he says and to respond to it. But they wouldn’t regularly seek out his blog.

    thoughts?

  25. @Incandenza: You are free to find “troubling” whatever you do in my comment, for whatever reasons. But my comment does not “mock” anyone, for any reason.

    @Richard Heck: I wasn’t doubting that some tenured people experience “fear” of signing a petition critical of BL or the PGR. Probably due to my personal limitations, I have some difficulty grasping the reasonable basis (beyond superfluous professional ambition) for such fear.

    Since there is a lot of indirect, suggestive address going around, please allow me to respond directly to the following, which I realize was not directly addressed to me: “Those of us who have been the targets of such emails and subjected to public humiliation really do not need to be told by those who have not how we are allowed to react to them…. If you have not had that kind of experience, then you simply have no idea what it is like. That is especially true for those of us who are survivors of various other sorts of violence….”

    As a matter of fact, I have been subjected to (indifferently unintentional) “public humiliation” — namely, in an officially professional philosophy context, with a job at stake. Moreover, I have been subjected, outside of philosophy, to “other sorts of violence” — including a kind that predictably leads to death. Unfortunately, then, I have had experiences that would be deemed relevant to having an informed view about reactions to public humiliation and to grave physical violence.

    In any case, I wasn’t suggesting anything whatsoever about how others “are allowed to react” to their experiences — as I thought I made clear by writing, “I’m raising no objection to those who might or who have other priorities that would lead them to sign.” My point was that petitioners should be cautious about inferring the views or motives of philosophers who would prefer not to sign.

    For various reasons, and as one who has previously served as a PGR evaluator, I happen to believe that production of the PGR should be suspended at least for this year.

  26. Some of us have been informally boycotting his blog for about six months, give or take a few months. As far as I know, nothing has been formally organized.
    (Yesterday was the first time in many months that I looked at his blog, when I heard about the PGR polls.)
    [edited, because apparently I can’t do math today]

  27. stacey, thanks for that information. a more public official boycott might inspire others to switch their news sources… (I’m a grad student myself and don’t wish to be the one to begin such a boycott, though I would gladly sign it).

  28. Richard,

    That is a fair point, and I have now requested that my name (my real one, natch) be added to the letter. Thanks for convincing me.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s