The CHE interviews Brian Leiter

The Chronicle of Higher Education has a story on this week’s events involving Brian Leiter, which includes an interview conducted with him on Thursday. Some excerpts:

Despite those steps, Mr. Leiter remained dismissive of the recent wave of criticism of him, which he attributed partly to feminist philosophers irritated by his defense of the due-process rights of scholars accused of sexual harassment, and partly to philosophers who periodically rebel against The Philosophical Gourmet because their own departments rank poorly.

. . .

Mr. Leiter attributed some of the criticism of him to a “cultural gap” that he said had developed in his argumentative field as younger philosophers had become heavily involved in social media and engaged in what he called “tone policing,” denouncing online comments they see as offensive or uncivil.

Mr. Leiter said that he had not made a decision about his continued involvement with the rankings report and that he had yet to hear a compelling argument for his stepping down. “What I am not going to do,” he said, “is capitulate to a cyber mob that is exercised about issues that are irrelevant.”

[sigh]

Just to be clear, this feminist is not ‘irritated’ with Brian Leiter because of anything about due process. This feminist finds bullying unacceptable, and is concerned about ways in which Brian Leiter’s role in the PGR has the potential to make his repeated acts of what I take to be bullying particularly harmful.

That’s not tone policing. I don’t object to Leiter’s tone per se. I object to the way he repeatedly says personally insulting and even threatening (in the sense of threatening legal action) things to people who are much less professionally established than he is. So yes, that amounts to ‘denouncing online [or in some cases, emailed] comments [I] see as offensive’. But that doesn’t mean it’s tone policing. That just means that I speak up when I find something offensive or unacceptable.

I can’t speak for others, and I don’t want to put words in anyone’s mouth, but I’m willing to bet that this characterization of those who are critical of Leiter is in general as inaccurate as it is in particular inaccurate of me.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go grab my torch and pitchfork. . .

49 thoughts on “The CHE interviews Brian Leiter

  1. [Edited to comply with comments policy] It defies imagination that Peter Schmidt couldn’t find a single person to quote who has been targeted by Leiter or to speak on behalf of those who have been targeted. [Edited to comply with comments policy]

  2. The “I’m a New Yorker” dismissal is incredible.

    I’ve been away from academic philosophy for years now but continue to follow the online debates over professionalism, environment, and so on. My education on these issues in a professional context started in the philosophy blogosphere, including through Leiter’s blog (e.g, about the CU affair)

    Even during my short period as a graduate student in philosophy, I was aware of Leiter’s power as stemming partly from the PGR and partly from his willingness to use his blog to publicly insult or shame people he regarded as intellectually or politically deficient (had I continued in the profession, I certainly would have been afraid to get on his wrong side by writing something “stupid”). Both of these forms of power are enabled in important ways by the willingness of his colleagues in the profession to tolerate them. Both need to be addressed. I am heartened by the number of signatories to the September statement and sincerely hope the events of the past several days signal the end of this tolerance.

    So, I had hoped to wake up this morning to find, if not an apology, than at least contrition and a changing of the guard at the PGR, and certainly not retrenchment. Seems you all still have a lot of work ahead of you. Good luck, and thanks.

  3. BJW, I took out some portions of your comment so that it complies with our comments policy. But your main point seems apt.

  4. Obviously disappointing that none of the targets were interviewed. That said, the “tone policing” part was not embedded in a direct quote, and there’s little explanation of the context of those remarks, so I’d caution that there’s a distinct possibility the journalist misinterpreted Leiter’s remarks on that topic. It would be a little surprising to see that Leiter equated all criticism of offensive of uncivil comments to tone policing, because he knows perfectly well that that’s not what tone policing is.

  5. That’s a really good point, Matt. I take myself above to be replying to the suggestion of the article, but not claiming that the article is a veridical representation of all of Leiter’s views.

  6. Ah, yes, sorry — I did blast off a bit there. As someone who is among the ever-shrinking number of actual working, paid journalists, I just find this sort of “reporting” irritating, but also damaging and unfair. But thanks for keeping the main point I aimed to make, which is that the story was glaringly one-sided.

  7. I honestly don’t know what “tone policing” is supposed to be (is it when you tell people to change their tone in order for it to be more rhetorically pleasing to you?). I’ve certainly told people to stop punching down via their tone–because that is a microagression. Does that count as tone policing?

    If so, I’m all for tone policing.

  8. I want to respect your commenting policy, and at the same time offer what I hope is a constructive disagreement — hope I can pull it off. I agree with the original concerns about bullying. As to the counter-accusations of policing and mob behavior, whether made by BL or CHE, I also think they have a germ of truth. Assume BL was totally wrong that he was a target of the original conduct statement — his decision to take offense as though he were is almost unimaginable to me, but perhaps he was one of those whose behavior was contemplated, and we all know that it’s easy to state complaints passively so that even the complainant seems targeted without that being the real point. Regardless, you’d have to concede, I think, that the formally neutral and elaborate rules concerning apologies have a very specific history and look a lot like policing. Broadcasting statements of concern and petitions is also pretty mob-like, especially when other grievances (like those concerning the kerfuffle about ranking departments as woman-friendly, which struck me as having a very different dimension) are folded in seamlessly.

    Now, sometimes we need what is fairly called policing, mobs are right to take action, and groups are justly formed. But it hardly feels comfortable to be on the other side of it, and I expect it feels a little like being bullied. These strike me as measures to be used with great restraint, even as this strikes others as being the big opportunity to finally effectuate some changes.

  9. Tone and content aren’t always neatly differentiable. I’ll stick to the one example I know because I lack adequate knowledge and time to learn about other recent issues. When a whole department is referred to as “s***”, that is different from calling it, say, the 298th ranked department. It matters that the person using the term organizes the primary quality ranking in the field. It matters that the reference was made in the context of threatening someone with legal action and potential unspecified public humiliation. It matters that his past relationship to her was as faculty responsible for a student’s job placement, which apparently made him privy to information he then threatens to use against her in some way. This collection of facts is… amazing. That is not acceptable professional behavior and it has nothing to do with “tone policing”.

    For what it’s worth, I’m not a terribly easy person to offend. Profanity does not offend me for the most part. I enjoy reading the ancient Cynic philosophers! Causing offense sometimes has a good purpose. I listen to a lot of music with lyrics people might consider rude; I enjoy various questionable jokes perhaps more than I should. My objection to the expletive in this context has nothing to do with the “tone” and everything to do with the content and the purpose it was intended to accomplish.

  10. Re Fritz: I think I see where that criticism is coming from. I obviously don’t speak for everyone here, but I would say that IF you think the kind of policing that you described are “measures to be used with great restraint” BECAUSE “it hardly feels comfortable to be on the other side of it, and I expect it feels a little like being bullied,” I would completely disagree.

    I think many people feel bullied in these instances because they are having their privilege challenged. Having your privilege challenged can feel like an attack on your core worth. It isn’t, however, because (1) you have lots of places (physical, social, and psychological) to retreat to in order to bolster your sense of self-worth and (2) because, from my own experience of having my privilege challenged, I’ve found that more often than not I was feeling attacked because I was unconsciously inserting premises that the other parties did not in fact hold. (Other people have reported this, too.) For instance, I took the claim “sit down and shut up white girl” to mean something like, “You will never have anything of value to contribute to this conversation.” What they really meant was, “You are not contributing anything of value to this conversation right now. Probably because you don’t understand the threads of power that are in play. So come back when you figure that out on your own and can contribute something of value.”

    This blog is, in my opinion, nowhere near as harsh as the blogs that I cut my teeth on, in this regard. Those blogs made me cry. But I was crying because I was used to never feeling vulnerable like that in a public space. That’s a very different experience from feeling terrible because you ALWAYS feel vulnerable like that in a public space.
    And at the end of the day, I learned a lot by taking those blogs’ advice and sitting down and shutting up for a long time. (About a year for gender, about another year for race issues, and a chunk of time for each new form of oppression I came across.) Doing that–and sitting with that uncomfortableness and hurt–has made me a better feminist, a better scholar, and a better person.

    So I think, especially within the scope as they are used here on Feminist Philosophers, these measures of “policing” do not need to be used with great restraint. Yes, they might push some people away from the conversation for good. But if someone has that sort of reaction, I don’t think they’re in a state of mind to productively contribute to a discussion about aspects of privilege and oppression, anyway. And I take it that our goal here is to have productive discussions about privilege and oppression, not try to gently persuade people to perhaps be more attuned to their privilege.

    Granted, if we can accomplish both goals at the same times without making people cry or feel attacked, that is the superior way to go. The problem is, people are often very obtuse and pig-headed when they have not had their privilege significantly challenged before (Lord knows I was–and still am at times). So often, the only way to get through to someone is to be aggressive and to enforce your communal norms–which can look like callous and arbitrary “policing” when you don’t know the principles behind them. There is a line to be drawn in terms of not being too paternalistic in this regard, but I don’t think Feminist Philosophers has really gotten anywhere near that line, overall.

  11. Stacey:

    That’s a fair point. I don’t think tone policing has ever been precisely or wholly adequately defined. But it seems to me that in felicitous claims of the form “S was tone policing P”, “tone policing” has the following features:

    – S did not have substantive objections to what P was saying (e.g., S is not claiming that what P said was false).
    – S objected to specific peripheral features of what P was saying (e.g., P has cursed, P has said something that’s abrasive, P has spoken aggressively) that S believes render P’s argument or claim unpalatable to dominant groups (e.g., white people).
    – That S’s behavior was objectionable. And, usually, that S should have known better than to do it.

    Am I way off here? Does that seem right? Because when I’ve heard claims of the form “S was tone policing P” that I’ve found objectionable, it has been because they’re run afoul of one or more of those things.

  12. I agree with Stacey that it is very possible to “feel bullied” without in fact being bullied. It’s good to see somebody making this important distinction.

  13. Matt can you say more about the “that S believes render P’s argument or claim unpalatable to dominant groups (e.g., white people).” part? Why dominant groups only?

    I thought you were giving conditions that would also apply to morally justified instances of tone policing, but then the dominant group part wouldn’t fit.

  14. Right, maybe that’s the contentious part. But I’m taking “tone policing” to, by definition, admit of no morally justified instances. If it’s morally justified, it fails to be tone policing.

  15. Okay yes, so when “tone policing” is using “the tone argument” and by definition is morally problematic, then that all sounds right.

    It’s just that, whereas I’ve often heard feminists accuse people of throwing around their privilege by way of “the tone argument,” I’ve heard people criticize feminists for being rude via “tone policing.” So I now connote “tone policing” with a criticism that social justice types are hypocritically or arbitrarily bullying others.

  16. Ah, got it. That’s a new one for me. If that’s how Leiter was using it, then it makes more sense (in that “I now understand how silly his claim is” sort of way).

  17. I would like to endorse emphatically Laura Grams comment here. The features she draws attention to of Leiter’s email to McAfee have not been given the attention they deserve and they tell a very bad story indeed — much worse than the C I Jenkins fracas. I have been pushing this line on PM. People object that McAfee was tenured so what did she have to fear! This is willful blindness, as is the ‘But how does Leiter count as powerful in the profession?’ refrain. It’s like he’s hypnotized people or something.

  18. yerblues, thanks for your comment. I have been feeling really bad, to be honest, about the extent to which this blog as has focused on what happened to Carrie Jenkins, somewhat to the exclusion of what happened to Noelle McAfee (and Carolyn Dicey Jennings, and. . .etc). One reason is simply that it was Carrie’s colleagues who wrote the UBC pledge. The second is that I know Carrie personally, and have posted stuff in consultation with her and at her request, but I don’t know Noelle. In any case, I worry this gives the false impression that the blog cares more about what happened to Carrie – and that’s really unfortunate. I don’t think it’s helpful to speculate about which harms are worse. Stuff happened and it was bad. But it’s really important that we don’t privilege some of those experiences over others.

    (Also, what’s PM?)

  19. Laura Grams at #10: As we sing at Fenway Park, “So good! So good! So good!”

    yerblues at #19: I have been bothered by this, too, and meaning to do something about it on my own blog. As magiclersatz more or less says at #20, the reason so many of us are focused on Carrie is just personal: She is very dear to us, so we are extra-super-angry on her behalf, whereas we don’t know Noelle McAfee. We are morally outraged on her behalf, but that’s different.

    Still, I would be careful when making comparisons. People have been hurt, badly, and that’s good enough. We can draw attention to the aspects of what made Leiter’s emails to McAfee so awful without saying whether it is worse than this or that. That invites comparisons of their responses and judgements of their appropriateness, which is not what we want to do.

    That said, when Leiter writes:

    “If my e-mails to you ‘get around,’ rest assured that other things will get around. I am tired of your sick nonsense. You are lucky to have any academic job, let alone a job at a nominally serious university.”

    it seems to me to be pretty clear what thing important to McAfee he is threatening. And that is just shocking.

  20. Thanks Magicalersatz, for acknowledging that Carrie isn’t the only one who has been harmed by Leiter’s behavior. Thank you also for explaining the circumstances that led to how and why her case has gotten so much more attention than other similar cases. It’s comforting to know that she isn’t being favored on purpose at the expense of others.

    But high profile of Carrie’s case gives us an opportunity to reflect on the times that we may have witnessed or even participated in similar sorts of professional bullying. If you can serve as an advocate for Carrie, then maybe the two of you can help the rest of us understand just how this sort of professional bullying affects the personal and the professional lives of its victims.

    Thanks Richard Heck, for drawing our attention to that quote directed at NM. How is she fairing after all of this? Does anyone know?

    *Maybe it’s posted in the comments above, but I don’t want the rest of this comment to delete while I scroll-up and look.

  21. It is tone policing. A bully is someone who attacks you on the schoolyard, not someone who picks bad logic apart with a gruff tone. I hope Leiter does not give into the bullying on this site.

  22. J. Rassamussen, using your own criteria, should I assume you think I attacked Brian Leiter on the schoolyard? Because I swear I spent recess breaks reading books like a good little nerd.

  23. “If my e-mails to you ‘get around,’ rest assured that other things will get around. I am tired of your sick nonsense. You are lucky to have any academic job, let alone a job at a nominally serious university.”

    The above quote is *not* an instance of picking apart logic. Sorry JR, you might win some, but you just lost one.

  24. 1. I deliberately misused the word “bullying” in the third sentence of my post to show how silly its usage is on this site. Sorry that did not come through clearly.

    2. My comment about picking logic apart is about Leiter’s behavior as a whole, not the specific comment to NM.

    3. Leiter made his “get around” threat in response to a threat he received from NM. They are both adults, both full professors, and they were both wrong by making threats. Why folks on this site excuse her threat but not his makes no sense.

    4. I should make clear that I do not condone many of Leiter’s emails. I just don’t think those emails render him a bully and predator. Folks on this site should spend their time exposing professors who sexually harass their students. Those are people who need to be thrown out of the profession, not Leiter.

  25. I didn’t say that he was a predator, and I didn’t even say that he was a bully. Nor did I say that Leiter ought to be thrown out of the profession. I said that his behavior was a form of professional bullying- and that behavior doesn’t belong in philosophy.

    Perhaps the concept of professional bullying needs to be pinned-down a bit better.

    Finally, I didn’t say that nobody on this site has engaged in bullying behavior. If they’re human, odds are that they have at some point.

  26. J. Rassamussen, you say: “Leiter made his “get around” threat in response to a threat he received from NM. They are both adults, both full professors, and they were both wrong by making threats. Why folks on this site excuse her threat but not his makes no sense.”

    Can you really not see that his threat is more severe than hers (which was simply that she might share his emails)? And can you really not see that the relative power differentials (not to mention the fact that he was placement director at UT Austin when she was on the market) matter a lot in cases like this? Because if you genuinely do not see that, I don’t think we’re going to have a productive conversation, and we’re probably best just to leave the issue.

    You also say, “Folks on this site should spend their time exposing professors who sexually harass their students.” Thanks for telling us how to spend our time. We in fact do plenty of what you’re suggesting. We also think this is important, your opinion notwithstanding.

  27. I don’t think that’s fair Magicalersatz. JR seems capable of having a productive conversation- even if they don’t think that Leiter’s behavior was an instance of professional bullying- which I maintain it was.

  28. 1. I don’t see a power difference. At the time the threats were made both NM and Leiter were both full professors with tenure. He was at Chicago, and she at Emory. Therefore, he had no power over her professionally. The fact that he was in a position of power over her 16 years ago is irrelevant. Please explain your understanding of the power differential.

    2. I don’t see why Leiter’s threat was more severe than NM’s. She threatened to share emails. He threatened to share something unknown. Therefore, none of us are in a position to judge the severity of the threats relative to each other. But if someone out there knows what Leiter was going to do, please share.

    Folks around here are drawing a lot of conclusions without many facts, or a rigorous application of basic logic.

  29. I didn’t say he wasn’t capable of having a productive conversation. I said I didn’t think that he and I would have a very productive conversation, and would probably be best to leave the issue.

    But in general, when someone says I’m using words in ways that are silly, says I’m misspending my time, and implies I hold beliefs I definitely don’t (such as, e.g., that I want Leiter ‘thrown out of the profession’), then they don’t generally seem like someone it’ll be fun or productive for me to talk to. Especially if they’re a random person on the internet who I don’t know. YMMV.

  30. Stacey, I appreciate your reply (#11), which was very helpful and thoughtful. Perhaps this whole sad affair is better viewed as someone abusing privilege than as (as I see it) someone who is both prone to abuse privilege and who simply doesn’t know first principles of civility and rationality. And as you say, I am sure it can be worse, and I am even more sure that is often less deserved. That said, I also think that what’s accumulating is not just a productive discussion about privilege and oppression, but ganging up, which comes across rather differently: even the less powerful, or less privileged, present more threateningly when behaving collectively. Obviously, that’s not something one blog can accomplish, but it sure looks like a broader development in this case, driven by what may well be warranted outrage, and I think it has different and perhaps unintended effects that warrant caution.

    As to policing norms, perhaps. It just looks like some of the norms — like the six-part, complex proposal about apologies — look a lot like a bill of attainder. Regardless of the merits of those rules, or the actual offensiveness of the purported attempt at apologizing, it comes across differently than would a simple and sharp rebuke, and feeds a perception that community norms are being created and invoked for the purposes of excommunication. Silly, maybe, if that wasn’t precisely the complaint being voiced originally. And I thought one of the premises here was that one takes injury seriously regardless of intent.

  31. Okay, JR, here’s an attempt to explain.

    Re your (2), she simply threatens to share his emails (or mention their content to others). He appears, by saying immediately after “other things will get around” that “You are lucky to have any academic job, let alone a job at a nominally serious university. You should take your advice about ‘hubris’ a bit more seriously.” to be implicitly threatening her career. That’s a big difference.

    Re your (1), Brian Leiter is one of the most famous people in our profession and controls an incredibly widely read and influential ranking system (the PGR). Noelle McAfee is a tenured professor, yes – but with *far* less influence in the profession. That’s why there’s a clear power differential. There’s also the simple fact that he’s a man, and he’s considerably older than her. These things matter too, especially given the other factors (his position, his influence, etc).

    Re your claim that we can’t use basic logic on this site: [massive eye roll]

  32. JR #30: I’ll bite. Admins, feel free to delete this if I’m out of line in doing so.

    “1. I don’t see a power difference. At the time the threats were made both NM and Leiter were both full professors with tenure. He was at Chicago, and she at Emory. Therefore, he had no power over her professionally. The fact that he was in a position of power over her 16 years ago is irrelevant. Please explain your understanding of the power differential.”

    I can’t explain what someone else means by that. But I see a power difference. He can’t get her fired, which I take it is the only difference you perceive. Someone in a particular strong position to influence how students regard another’s school and whether they enroll, or to influence whether other faculty consider joining that department, or perhaps how others perceive that faculty member (in terms of conferences, talks, publications, etc.), has greater power. Maybe there are other or mitigating things I’m missing, but this was much wasn’t very hard.

    “2. I don’t see why Leiter’s threat was more severe than NM’s. She threatened to share emails. He threatened to share something unknown. Therefore, none of us are in a position to judge the severity of the threats relative to each other. But if someone out there knows what Leiter was going to do, please share.”

    Vagueness can be more threatening, in context. (Believe it or not, “I’ll take care of you” or “You’ll be dealt with” are not always warm.) Here, the threat that other things will get around was coupled with a statement that the recipient was lucky to have a job. You’d have to be pretty dim not to worry a bit.

    “Folks around here are drawing a lot of conclusions without many facts, or a rigorous application of basic logic.”

    Depends on how broadly one defines “folks.”

  33. Thanks for the responses, folks. Some interesting perspectives. I guess we’ll have to agree to disagree.

    I will say, however, that this statement shocked me: “There’s also the simple fact that he’s a man, and he’s considerably older than her.” I don’t see how Leiter being a man gives him power over NM. Would be interested in hearing more on that.

    Also, if Leiter solely controlled PGR, then I would agree that his position results in some power over NM. But as I understand it his power is checked by the advisory board and the data. Leiter can’t just give Emory a bad rank because he feels like it. But if I’m missing something, let me know.

  34. I’ve received several emails about the posts from “Fritz” in this thread. I am not the “Fritz” who has posted in this thread. There are other people named “Fritz” in the profession and there are many others named “Fritz” in the world.

    Fritz Warfield
    University of Notre Dame

  35. I’d just like to add a further voice agreeing that more attention should be paid to the content of BL’s email(s) to NM. The fact that he oversaw job placement while she was a newly-minted PhD gives an extra depth to his “other things will get around…You are lucky to have any academic job, let alone a job at a nominally serious university.” That a faculty member who oversaw someone’s job placement would even *just* insult that person’s competence is shocking in itself. That he would also insinuate that somehow he (still) has the power to threaten her academic employment by releasing some unspecified long-held secret(?) information, and that she better say and do what he wants or else, is just beyond the pale. Really.

    By the way, I am a current grad student, and I know lots of other current grad students are keeping an eye on all of this, as (for better or worse) something of an indicator of what kind of field it is we’ve gotten ourselves into. If we become even more harshly aware of how dependent we already are on individual faculty members’ good graces, and especially if it seems to us that such good graces could turn into outright hostility and threats in response to any disagreement or criticism, well — this seems like a very bad state of affairs for the profession, and a very bad state of affairs for the “academic freedom” that BL professes to care so deeply about. Is that the kind of intellectual environment you want to cultivate? (It shouldn’t be).

  36. In response to J. Rassamussen, you have not stated all the directly relevant facts. In an email at 4:36 on 2/12/14, Brian Leiter threatens “legal consequences” and “to go very public” in response to, apparently, Prof. McAfee pointing out that his academic appt. is not in Philosophy. McAfee asks in reply, “Are you threatening me with something?” This prompts the reply including mention of her “s*** department” and “lousy department”. Noelle then advises Leiter he shouldn’t be sending threatening emails (“things get around”). He responds with the “other things will get around” comment quoted above, among other insults and the reminder he is a lawyer.

    The suggestion that each equivalently threatened the other is therefore factually inaccurate.

    For the record I think nothing turns on his being male or older. My colleagues may or may not agree. I think his status as her former placement director is relevant. I’m sorry for even getting involved in this discussion, but basic misrepresentation of facts needed to be addressed.

  37. Magical ersatz, thanks for comment #33. It *is* helpful. I support my feminist friends, but sometimes I don’t understand where they are coming from (the support is more from solidarity than from understanding). While it might be tiresome for you to explain what appears completely obvious, they often are not for those of us of privilege. So explanations like the one in #33 help. Also to Laura on #10: *yes*.

  38. JR, you seem to be confusing power differentials in a conversation with ‘power over’. If person a and person b are in a conversation, there can be a power dynamic without person a having any direct power over person b, and without person a being able to directly do anything in particular to b. So, for example, if I get an email from David Cameron, there’s a power dynamic in play. He’s a much more powerful person that I am. He doesn’t have any direct authority over me – I’m not British, I don’t live in the UK – so he can’t really do anything in particular to me. But it would be foolish for me to think that means we’re communicating as equals. Likewise if I get an email from Warren Buffett. He has no influence at my university, no power to fire me, etc. But he’s just a tremendously influential, wealthy person and that kind of thing *matters* to how we interact.

    For the case of gender, I’m definitely not – just to be clear – saying that in any conversation that involves a man and a woman, the man has a power advantage. If my partner gets an email form Hilary Clinton, she’s the more powerful party in that conversation. But interpersonal gender hierarchy is real (and well-corroborated) – men are taken more seriously when they speak, they’re judged to be more competent for performing the same tasks, their claims are judged to be more authoritative, etc. So gender really does matter to power dynamics – and in particular gender difference can *exacerbate* an already-present power differential.

    Now, back to Leiter and McAfee. Yes, it’s true that Leiter can’t get McAfee fired, can’t rig the PGR directly to affect her department, etc. But he is – I think we all agree – someone with *tremendous* influence in the profession, much more so than McAfee. So there’s a power dynamic in play when they communicate, especially about professional matters like, e.g., McAfee’s career. And I do think that gender has the potential to heighten this (though it’s certainly not the biggest factor, by any stretch of the imagination.)

  39. Also, I should be clear: I’m not sure we can really tell from the email what Brian Leiter was *intending* to threaten McAfee with (as you say, the threat is vague) – and it’s probably not helpful (or productive) to speculate. But one big reason why power dynamics are so important is that a vague threat like that feels so much worse coming from a powerful person. If Brian Leiter sent me that email, I’d be way more freaked out than if Prof. McAverage sent me that very same email.

  40. Seems like some folks are concerned that Leiter threatened NM with legal action. So? Happens all the time, and is not at all inappropriate. If a person believes they are being slandered they are well within their rights, and behaving well withing the boundaries of acceptable behavior, to threaten legal action (note that she does not deny tampering with his wikipedia page).

    Also, I now concede that Leiter is more powerful in philosophy than NM. But folks must also concede that he could hurt her career in no material way, particularly since she has said she is happy at Emory and recently got promoted. Power dynamics only matter when one person can use their power to materially harm someone else (e.g., boss threatens to fire employee who refuses sexual advances), and this scenario could not be more different.

    Let’s face it, Leiter and NM don’t get along. She threatened him, he threatened her. She also has not denied messing with his wiki page. As far as I can tell both behaved in inappropriately. Everyone should go about their business, and Leiter should continue his good work on PGR.

  41. JR, are you a troll for Leiter? You are completely ignoring the fact that he was specifically threatening to out some information that he had in his role as placement director. On its face that is beyond the pale, If you disagree, post nothing more here and give me a call. My cell phone is [deleted]. I’d like you to defend this indefensible position in person before you say anything more about this online.

    By the way, Leiter has nothing on me. This was all bluster including his threats as “a lawyer.” As far as I can tell, he isn’t a member of the bar and couldn’t even file a motion.

    [Moderator: We don’t think it’s safe to give out cell-phone numbers on the blog, so we’ve deleted. Apologies for this. Perhaps if JR wants to take Noelle up on her offer they can email her and set up a time to talk.]

  42. Just a small factual point, Noelle: Leiter is a member of the NY bar (as we elsewhere ferreted out), though in his CV he lists himself as “inactive” (which is not a formal status).

    I presume most of that talk was, in fact, bluster, but I don’t think it was because he lacks some formal capabilities.

    I’m very sorry for his inexcusable treatment of you.

  43. I would like to second bijan’s sentiment: noelle, BL’s behavior to you was atrocious. I am truly embarrassed to have someone like that being in in any way the face of my discipline.

  44. “Seems like some folks are concerned that Leiter threatened NM with legal action. So? Happens all the time, and is not at all inappropriate. If a person believes they are being slandered they are well within their rights, and behaving well withing the boundaries of acceptable behavior, to threaten legal action. . .”

    This can’t be right. Say that I decide that you have slandered me as a contributor to this blog by saying that it is bullying. Imagine that I have a significant amount of power within the profession, the means by which to hurt your career, professional reputation (in a baseless fashion or otherwise), and to file suit against you. Imagine further that I have sent you emails indicating that I may very well intend to do just that. Would I be well within my rights? I suspect you would think not.

  45. We need to make sure someone will be available to moderate comments on this post, so I’m closing them until we know we’ve got a moderator.

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