Another Pogge story

From Delia Graff Fara, at Leiter.

I had a mildly unpleasant experience with Pogge when I was a senior undergraduate at Harvard and he was a visiting professor who stayed in my “house”, Harvard’s equivalent to residential colleges at Princeton and Yale. (I lived in Cabot House.)

In brief, I was having a meeting with Pogge during and after dinner in our dining hall to talk about Rawls and Rousseau, the subjects of my senior thesis.  He kept me talking for longer than I felt comfortable with.  It was night and the dining hall had long since emptied out.  I finally ended the meeting when he started rubbing my thigh, by just saying that it was late and that I needed to leave.


Kathleen Stock on Objectification

A small sample from her post:

So far, we have the following answers to our original questions: Broadly speaking, objectification involves treating another person in ways that resemble the way we treat inanimate objects (treating them as an instrument, or as lacking in autonomy, or as inert, or as fungible, and so on). Sometimes these behaviours occur in the context of actual sex, or are simply eroticized by those involved, and in both those contexts, it makes sense to call them forms of ‘sexual objectification’. As a matter of contingent cultural context, forms of objectification are mostly extended towards women rather than men, but they don’t have to be. Equally contingently, objectification is usually harmful to its recipients, but it doesn’t have to be; much depends on context (the intentions of those involved and/or the consequences).

We have yet to say much about the many contingent contexts in which objectification, thus understood, obviously is harmful, especially to women. We have also yet to say anything about how photos can objectify. I think we can illuminate both of these questions by speculatively positing a causal mechanism that might lie behind a lot of the forms of objectifying behaviour identified by Nussbaum and Langton. This mechanism in question is what I call ‘mind-insensitive seeing’ (or more precisely, ‘seeing-as’, though this can be ignored for present purposes).

Read the whole thing!

Pogge, ‘Remarkable’ Conduct, and Greedy Women

Others have already remarked on parts of Pogge’s response to the recent allegations outlined at BuzzFeed (with additional information at Huffington Post), e.g., here, here, and here. Daily Nous reported that the response had been updated with email correspondence, so today I read through it. Two themes in particular stuck out.  First, the “remarkable” nature of Lopez Aguilar’s showing up at Yale for the purportedly fake appointment, and second, the (nearly explicit) insinuations that the allegations against him are coming from greedy women looking to profit. After reading the correspondence Pogge has provided, Lopez Aguilar’s conduct not only fails to be remarkable — Pogge’s appears even more so. And while references to greedy women may play well to sexist stereotypes, the trope is not borne out in the evidence we’ve been given.

From Pogge’s reponse:

“There are other familiar phenomena that can explain false allegations: we know of law firms going after rich institutions for the sake of winning large financial settlements, which can often be obtained through the extreme embarrassment of a media frenzy even without court proceedings in which the evidence could be carefully and critically examined. And we know that false charges and rumors can be highly effective weapons in the intensely competitive worlds of academia and university politics . . . I would welcome the opportunity to challenge her allegations in a proper judicial forum. But I fear that such talk of legal action is no more than a cover for legally extorting a financial settlement . . . On 30 August 2010, Lopez Aguilar presented herself with my fake job offer letter at Yale. This was remarkable for four reasons. First, she had never accepted the position by signing and returning the offer letter as the text of this letter clearly prescribed. Second, she showed up for work two days before the starting date specified in the offer letter, just before I would return from Latin America as she well knew. Third, she had a concurrent full-time job at Brookings Institute and thus was not available for a second full-time job. Fourth, she obviously knew that she had asked for this letter to secure an apartment lease and had offered to ‘rip it to shred’ (21 July 2010) after it had served that purpose. On the basis of Lopez Aguilar’s conduct and subsequent communications, I inferred that her plan was to force me into paying her a second full-time salary for the 2010-11 year. My alternative to somehow finding the money to pay her was to confess to Yale that I had provided her with a fake offer letter.”

I’m going to reproduce portions of the email exchanges here, but the full text of Pogge’s response and the correspondence is available here.

Regarding Lopez Aguilar appearing at Yale, when Pogge alleges she knew full well that she was not actually employed by him, in an email sent to both Pogge and Lopez Aguilar on August 29 (from page 20 of the PDF), someone (I don’t know who; the sender’s name is redacted) writes:

“Fernanda, [redacted] usually gets in around 10. I usually get in around 9. Let us know when you plan to come. If you’ve gotten your ID card authorized for 230 Prospect, then you can get in the front door. You would do that either at the ID place on Whitney, or at the MacMillan Center. If not, you should call me or [redacted], and we’ll come down and let you in. My cell is [redacted]. Looking forward to meeting you!”

Lopez Aguilar responded that day to both Pogge and the sender,

“Also [redacted], I was wondering if you happened to know whether I should go to one place first, either the ID place on Whitney or MacMillan Center, in my quest for building access tomorrow. Do you know if my name is already listed as qualifying for access approval?”

If Lopez Aguilar’s appointment was never genuine, why, exactly, is she being advised on how to show up for work? Moreover, what’s remarkable about showing up in advance of one’s start date to get her ID card authorized, if that’s what you’ve been instructed to do?

On August 30, Pogge wrote:

“You got me into a huge amount of trouble Fernanda, as I am not authorized to give out jobs to people on my own. I sent you that letter, as drafted by you, strictly for the Tafts Apartment because, so you said at the time, you could not get a letter from Brookings fast enough to secure the apartment you wanted. This was strictly as a favor to you so you could get this apartment. . . I am just amazed. You manage to destroy in an hour as much as I manage to build in months. For what? To get into the building with your own card on Tuesday?”

In a reply dated August 31, 2010, Lopez Aguilar wrote,

“I can swear to you, honest to everything that I hold dear, that I do not understand this sorry state of affairs. . . You have trivialized me and my actions Monday, under the false claim that I ‘just wanted to get into the building with my own card.’ No! I was instructed to report to MacMillan as per [redacted] request (which you read), and after I had asked if you or anyone else knew about my status/if I had permission to obtain access, to no avail. Once there, I tried to prove that I was at Yale legitimately, and not utterly delusional. I showed [redacted] the letter of employment I drafted for the Taft because I honestly believed that you would be employing me; and had you told me that my presence at Yale was to be clandestine, I would have never, ever done so. I would have asked you why, certainly, but I would not have shown them the letter. I only used it to prove that you and I had been in correspondence about my working at the Global Justice Program.

And yes, I sincerely thought you would be employing me, by way of a monthly stipend. I thought the only thing that was indeterminate was the monthly amount, which is why I had specified that this document would be worthless in September, when we would determine an amount that you thought more appropriate.”

In an email dated September 3, 2010, Pogge confirmed that there was nothing wrong with her showing up, working on campus, or asking about access, but rather it was showing someone the offer written for the purposes of securing an apartment that was unappreciated. Which is to say, the very email correspondence Pogge has provided the public seems to undercut each of the reasons we are meant to find Lopez Aguilar’s conduct “remarkable.” According to the correspondence, she didn’t sign and return the letter because she did not believe that the stipend amount offered in it was definite.  She showed up before the start date because she had been instructed to arrange building access for herself. Whether or not she had another position, Pogge himself seemed to be expecting her to work with his program at Yale, and moreover, expected her on or around the letter’s start date.

Regarding the notion that the alleged victims are after him, or Yale, for money, and always have been, on page 24, from an email dated September 6, 2010, Lopez Aguilar writes that she would like to be paid for the work she did for ASAP (“at whatever price you think fair, although, as I have already made clear to you – my estimates (of time, energy spent) place that assignments work value at $2,000), but that she will continue her work for the Global Justice Program without pay. She requested that she be granted the appropriate unpaid status so as to obtain access to campus, and particularly the building she would be working in. Again, on September 7, she reiterates that from this point onward, she would prefer not to be compensated for her work with GJP, but she that intends to serve as a volunteer throughout the year. Pogge replied both that he does not want the Global Justice Program to receive further help from her, and moreover (in an email dated September 7), the sort of unpaid status that would allow her access to the building and campus does not exist (which, in turn, raises questions about his account that she was not meant to be paid).

I find it perplexing that Pogge inferred “her plan was to force [him] into paying her a second full-time salary for the 2010-11 year” when in the correspondence he’s provided, she explicitly says multiple times after their dispute that she does not want to be paid for work with the GJP going forward, and yet she is still willing to do said work.

More generally, if she were after financial gain, going to the media before having filed suit in court would be an irrational thing to do, as it is keeping a university’s name out of embarrassing media in the first place that would typically make for the best leverage in terms of a settlement. Complaints filed with the Department of Education do not result in financial settlements for victims like many lawsuits do, and so at least with respect to that legal action, a financial motivation makes no sense (indeed, having not yet filed such a complaint, again, would make for better leverage if one were merely seeking financial gain).  And, of course, none of that is to mention that six years is quite a long time, and a significant amount of energy, to spend pursuing a settlement. If one were really after easy money, there are better uses of one’s time.

Finally, with respect to the claim “that false charges and rumors can be highly effective weapons in the intensely competitive worlds of academia and university politics,” it is worth remarking on that the one woman who was willing to identify herself publicly is the same woman who has left academia. This isn’t surprising. Indeed, I am sure that Pogge is quite familiar with the difference power, politics, and dependence can make. And while in some ways, I appreciate that he acknowledges that there is generally a high price to pay for reporting harassment, I am also sure that he is familiar with how liberal rhetoric can be used to distract from the persistent inequalities of the status quo. In fact, I think he wrote the book.

UPDATE: The link to the response doesn’t seem to be working right now. A copy of the response and appended correspondence is here.

Guest Post: Common strategies to undermine victims

Elise Woodard writes:

It’s extremely common, in cases of sexual harassment or assault, for the accused (and their allies) to attempt to undermine women’s credibility in the following ways.:
(1) Remark on the fact that the woman continued communicating with her alleged assailant even after the incident. Bonus points if her communication was at any point enthusiastic or amicable.
(2) Note if the woman did not report the incident immediately. The longer she waits, the less credible her story is. (Despite the fact that most women do not report right away, for various reasons some of which are related to trauma.)
(3) Exploit any fact you know about her relationship history or her mental health history. Capitalize on the fact that she was taking anxiety medication, has a history of depression, or even a passing interest in BDSM (in cases of sexual assault).
(4) Highlight that the most horrifying details of the incident were missing from the initial report. Ignore the fact that recounting (or even recalling) these details is often degrading, humiliating, and difficult for the woman.
(5) Use feminist language or draw attention to your feminist affiliations in a patronizing way, so that you seem like you care more about women’s interests than they do.
(6) Suggest that your accuser has financial or other ulterior motives for making such a “false” accusation. Ignore how (re)traumatizing cases involving sexual assault/harassment are for the victim (though, apparently, also the accused “as can be seen … from the gap [the case] left in [Pogge’s] publication record”) and how difficult they are to win.

Pogge has not employed each of these strategies (in part because not all of them are applicable), but he has done most of them. It’s important to keep in mind the fact that these 6 tactics are frequently used to unjustly undermine a woman’s credibility. (3) through (6) have no bearing on the truth of the accusations, and a woman’s actions referenced in (1) and (2) are extremely common, in part because these incidents are often traumatic. [For anyone who has been sexually assaulted or harassed, or who has basic knowledge about trauma, (1) and (2) may be far too familiar.]

Unfortunately, these tactics are often sufficient for persuading people to suspend judgment about the case. And given standards of evidence in legal cases, suspending judgment can be effectively the same as just taking the side of the accused. Thus, given the tactics’ neutralizing power, it’s hard to not believe that they result in some sort of testimonial injustice.

Schliesser on Pogge

With characteristically thoughtful reflections.

Here’s just one:

Pogge has been an excellent mentor to many talented and accomplished women. This has been great for the profession, which, as we all know, has struggled to recruit and maintain women in the field. To recognize this, is not to deny that he has also been an awful professional colleague to other women (humans can be this imperfect); and, as the reports make clear, several of these have left the profession to our great shame. In addition, there must be quite a few witnesses (I have spoken to a few unrelated to the cases discussed in the press) who may not have interacted with Pogge personally, but who saw that he would get away crossing boundaries without anybody lifting a finger. How many more left the field in disgust (or anger)? Given that the profession is such a status hierarchy, bad behavior at the top can generate a huge pattern of exclusion. This is our generation’s disappearing ink.

For more, go here.


More on Pogge: Links

An excellent discussion of the way that the “presumption of innocence” is used in internet discussions, by Jonathan Jenkins Ichikawa here.

The admonition not to pass judgement about the allegations is simply the admonition to ignore them. “Don’t believe anything unless it’s been proven in a court of law.” But this is just a ludicrous epistemic standard. Do you care whether powerful men in academic philosophy are using their stature to coerce students into compromising sexual situations? Then you should be interested in credible testimony to the effect that this one has been. Don’t be tempted by the fallacious inference from it hasn’t been proven in court to you have no way to tell whether it’s true.

Eric Schliesser notices the strangeness of Pogge’s invocation of lie detector tests here.

I was baffled to read the quoted sentence in Thomas Pogge’s Response to the Allegations (see here) My gut reaction was, “if a mutually agreeable experts can be found, such an expert would be a fraudster.” It is widely known that Polygraph testing is a pseudo-science.

Philosophy Goes Pop on testimonial injustice in discussions of the case here.

This is not an isolated phenomenon. When Bill Cosby was accused of rape by 58 women, a surprising number of people leapt to his defense, delegitimizing the women’s claims altogether as hearsay. We are consistently taught to view women as liars, starting with the stereotype that women are gossips who believe whatever they are told. This stereotype pervades depictions of women who claim to have been assaulted or harassed. In fact, one police unit even called their sexual assault division the ‘Lying Bitches Unit.’ There is a tendency to believe that women are lying about sexual harassment and assault, and to find alternative explanations that exonerate the perpetrators.

Huffington Post here.

Pogge’s response, here.

Buzzfeed, discussing Pogge’s response, here.

If you’re looking for places with discussions of Pogge (including, sadly, a lot of scepticism about victims’ testimony) there are two posts up at Daily Nous, here  and here.

Here, we’d welcome discussion from those grappling with how to improve our profession.   Those who want to undermine victims’ credibility can head somewhere else.  We’ll be confining ourselves to useful discussion.

Big News Story on Pogge Case

But a recent federal civil rights complaint describes a distinction unlikely to appear on any curriculum vitae: It claims Pogge uses his fame and influence to manipulate much younger women in his field into sexual relationships. One former student said she was punished professionally after resisting his advances.

Read the whole story here.

Conference accessibility: avoiding some common pitfalls

[Thanks to Teresa Blankmeyer Burke for help and discussion on this post.]

Summer conference season is upon us! In a perfect world, all our conferences are perfectly accessible. But it’s an imperfect world – our conferences are run on limited budgets, our university accessibility teams are often less than ideally helpful, and many of us who are organizing events are scrambling to keep our heads above water as we juggle a sea of logistical details with little help and even less time. Managing accessibility in imperfect circumstances like these can be hard. It’s especially hard for disabled people, in ways a lot of non-disabled people don’t realize – Teresa Blankmeyer Burke has written beautifully about the hidden labor of disability, including all the time and energy spent arranging accommodation. But it’s also just generally complicated and complex. This post offers a few troubleshooting guidelines for how to approach conference accessibility. Hopefully readers can add more in the comments. (And there are some starting points for particular things to think about regarding conference accessibility here and here – lists like these are invariably controversial and imperfect, so if anyone has alternative suggestions please feel free to raise those in the comments as well.)

  • Ask. – This is maybe the most important thing. Ask about accommodation requirements. And don’t just ask the people you know to be disabled – lots of people might have accommodation needs you don’t expect or know about (and they might be uncomfortable bringing them up if you don’t ask). Ask as a matter of course.
  • When people answer, listen. – This may seem obvious, but it’s really important not to second-guess what someone tells you about accessibility on the grounds that it will ‘probably be fine’. So, e.g., someone tells you they need an accessible hotel room. You can’t get one in the hotel you’re planning on using for the conference. But you can get a hotel on the ground floor, so you figure this will probably be fine. The person isn’t in a wheelchair, so they don’t need all the bells and whistles of an accessible room, right? Turns out, though, that many disabled people need the accommodations of accessible rooms – especially the bathroom set up – for reasons far beyond extra space for wheelchairs. Lots of disabled people do lots of complicated things in bathrooms. None of them want to explain it in detail to the person organizing a conference they’re attending. If someone asks for an accessible room, don’t reinterpret that request on the assumption that something else is ‘probably fine’. Similarly, don’t rely on your own judgement about which accessibility requirements are necessary. If someone has asked speakers to use a mic, and a mic has been provided in the room, don’t allow speakers to ignore the mic and say ‘It’s fine, I’m sure everyone can hear me.’ If someone has asked speakers to use a mic, it’s probably because they really do need speakers to use the mic.
  • If in doubt, ask for clarification. – So suppose you’re in a bind. Your conference is over budget, the hotel you’re getting a group rate for doesn’t have any available accessible rooms, and you think maybe the person attending your conference just needs to avoid a specific thing (stairs, narrow halls, etc.) Don’t just assume this is fine, but also don’t approach this issue by saying ‘So I’m planning to book you this basic ground floor room – is that okay?’ If it’s not okay, the person in question will have to respond with many a disabled person’s least favorite phrase: ‘I can’t. . .’. Disabled people, especially successful ones, are socially conditioned to hate this phrase. There’s so much pressure on disabled people to say that everything is fine, to never admit that they can’t do something, to internalize accommodation requirements as their own weakness. They will often go to great lengths just to avoid saying they can’t do something. Don’t put them in that situation. Instead, you can ask something like this: ‘Just to clarify so I get this right: do you need a fully accessible room, or will a room without [this particular thing] work?’
  • Don’t ask for justification. – For the love of God, please don’t make a disabled person explain why they need a particular accommodation. Maybe one day we will live in a world where none of the realities of disability are stigmatized or verboten. But we are not there yet. See above re bathrooms. We also, unfortunately, live in a world where non-disabled people often assume they understand disabled people’s experiences and/or their real (rather than their stated) accommodation requirements. When a disabled person has asked that speakers use a mic, and a speaker assures them ‘Don’t worry, I talk loud, you’ll be able to hear me!’ it’s then up to the disabled person to justify and explain why that’s not true and why they really do, honest to goodness, need that mic. That’s a crappy position to put them in, and it’s requiring them to divulge information they may prefer to keep private.
  • Give details. – Give a conference schedule and give details about that schedule. The last talk ends at 5pm. Dinner is at 7pm. How are people getting to the restaurant? Is it tacitly assumed that everyone will be going for a drink between the talk and dinner? Many disabled people need to plan their schedules with extreme precision. They need to know what’s going to happen and when it’s going to happen. They also need this information as far in advance as possible. For some disabled people, planning for accommodation needs to happen well in advance of the conference. Details, for many disabled people, are an accessibility issue.
  • Once you’ve given details, stick to those details. – Again, this comes down to the fact that being able to plan reliably is a huge issue for many disabled people. If you’ve given a schedule, stick to the schedule. If you’ve promised breaks, don’t treat them as opportunities for the talks to run longer than scheduled. And if for some reason you’re hosting a conference in an atmosphere where you just know things will be chronically late and not run on schedule, at least flag this in advance so that people can try to plan accordingly.
  • Be transparent. – If you’re having a conversation with a disabled person about accommodation, give them as much information as you can about what you can provide. Be honest about what you can’t provide. Real information – even if the information is about what you can’t do – is so much better and more helpful than ‘We’ll do our best – I’m sure we’ll figure something out!’ If you’re corresponding with university administration about a particular accessibility issue, copy the disabled person into the emails so they know what’s going on.
  • University equality/accommodation services are a good resource to use, but may not be as helpful as you’d like. – These offices are often entirely student-focused, and can easily forget that disabled faculty exist. Asking for help making sure your conference is accessible to your disabled visiting speaker can sometimes be met with a perplexed stare. Often asking about a specific piece of accommodation for a specific venue will get you more traction than asking for general help with making your event accessible. But even then, the helpfulness can vary a lot from place to place.
  • It’s complicated, some things won’t work like you hope, and that’s fine. – Working on accessibility – especially when you have incredibly limited resources and time – is hard. And it’s never perfect. Providing specific accommodation is, in so many cases, a matter of trying to provide individual bandaids for a deeply structural, systematic problem. Sometimes you don’t have the resources to do what you’d like. Sometimes the technology screws up. Sometimes you overlook something. Sometimes different accommodation requests conflict. But just having a conversation about accessibility with openness and goodwill – and being willing to do what you can with what you have – goes a very, very long way.

Dialogues on Disability – Bryony Pierce

Shelley’s latest interview is out now – this time she chats to Bryony Pierce about experimental philosophy; living with the changes wrought by a hit-and-run accident, and the philosophical reflections they may provoke; the classification of disorders; and much, much more…

My guest today is Bryony Pierce. Bryony is a research associate at the University of Bristol, where she recently completed her Ph.­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­D. Her research interests include consciousness, philosophy of action, free will, and experimental philosophy. Often, when she is not working, Bryony can be found crouching in the undergrowth, camera in hand, in pursuit of aesthetically pleasing insects or other similarly inspiring sights.

You can read the interview here.

Great stuff as always!