We have already published one reflection from a woman of colour on the Pogge letter and discussions surrounding it. Leiter has published another., by women of colour from developing countries. Here’s what it says:
They had originally planned to make this a signed statement (which I had offered to post), but as one of the authors explained to me:
At each step, we were discouraged by friends and colleagues, who said we would be viewed as apologists for Thomas, and that we could kiss our feminist reputations goodbye. I’m very disappointed with where we are in academia, and I’m also disappointed with myself. We’re going to have to think of another way of expressing our views, or perhaps we will just need to wait a few months until the storm blows over. I’m sorry for having wasted your time, though it’s been good (for me) to connect with you. I read your blog regularly and appreciate your courage on many issues very much.
In the end, they decided they could share the statement they drafted, but without their names. Here it is:
We write to express some concern about the widely circulated Open Letter condemning Thomas Pogge. We clarify, first, that our aim is not to cast doubt upon the allegations upon which the letter is based. We are all too familiar with the institutional ‘cultures of silence’ that try to muzzle women who speak out against sexual harassment and sexual assault. We stand, always, with such women of courage in their quests for justice.
Our intention, here, is to advocate for the women, including ourselves, whose academic achievement, commitment to social justice, and personal integrity have been unjustly brought under a cloud due to Prof. Pogge’s alleged misconduct and also some efforts to condemn it. In particular, our concern is with what is said and yet left unsaid in the open letter. Among other things, Pogge is accused of violating professional norms by making “quid pro quo offers of letters of recommendation and other perks,” presumably in return for sexual favours. In no way has this been our experience with Prof. Pogge. Nor is it that of many other women whom we know to be professionally associated with him. In our view, the open letter should have been more discriminating in its choice of words rather than painted with such a broad brush.
Furthermore, while it is commendable that concern for the well-being of women, “notably women of colour,” associated with Pogge features prominently in the open letter, we are saddened that there is no corresponding language that recognizes our talent, merit, and integrity. This is a serious lapse, given the potentially harmful impact of the letter on women, notably young, professionally insecure women of colour from developing countries, who have worked with Prof. Pogge.
It is distressing that any of this needs to be said. But in a world where women still struggle to be taken seriously in their professional lives, and where women of colour are all too easily eroticized and portrayed as lacking agency, dignity, and integrity, we speak out of concern that the open letter’s categorical language on Pogge’s women of colour victims, along with thoughtless social media discussions about his corrupt, nefarious relationships with them, will only reinforce sexist and racist stereotypes. Our unease is amplified by the fact that the letter was shared hundreds of times across multiple online platforms, i.e., well beyond the academic “philosophical community” to which it is originally addressed. We ask for more caution, care, and compassion moving forward.
As one of the feminists who’s been very involved in trying to reform our discipline, I’m really saddened that people are hesitating to speak under their own names about this, for fear of losing their feminist reputations. I think the myth of the monstrous feminist cabal is a very damaging one. But I know that it’s out there (the myth, that is, not the cabal), and I do understand worrying about it.
But I’m glad that they’ve shared their concerns, so that we can discuss them. To my mind, the real damage to the reputations of women with references from Pogge comes from his behaviour, not the behaviour of those criticising him. And public criticism is important. But yes, that criticism makes more people aware of the problem, and that awareness is then likely to undermine the force of all of his letters. And this IS damaging– damaging, as the post notes, to philosophers of great integrity, talent, and merit. I’d welcome suggestions of how to deal with this immensely difficult dynamic in comments. (Would the post’s suggestion be the best way to do this? Are there other ways this could be done?)
43 thoughts on “More thoughts on Pogge letter from women of colour”
I think that one thing that the Open Letter could and should have done is (1) to parse the final sentence, which states that Pogge’s actions have harmed “most notably women of color”. Those who wrote and commented on multiple drafts of the letter certainly understood these harms to include the negative consequences that Pogge’s behavior might have and continue to have for (potentially all) women of color who have worked or studied with Pogge, particularly those from developing countries. It was probably wishful thinking to suppose that philosophers are somehow less likely to commit the various logical fallacies (hasty generalization, fallacy of association, etc.) — not to mention racialized, sexist stereotypes — implicit in the absurd assumption that *all* women of color associated with Pogge have been directly victimized by him (or were willing sex partners, etc.).
But the statement posted on Leiter, the FP blogpost cited above, and other discussions on blogs and FB, suggest that something more than this was required: (2) that the Open Letter should have explicitly noted that not all women of color associated with Pogge have been victimized by him — that some have had perfectly professional relationships with him; (3) that the Open Letter should have highlighted the accomplishments of all women philosophers of color, noting that they work and prevail in a climate that is hostile to them on many levels; and (4) that those who wrote and signed the letter should now make it a top priority to buffer women of color associated with Pogge in any way who may now be affected.
Regarding (2) – yes, the letter could have said that — perhaps in tandem with (1). Yet a focused political action such as this letter was usually highlights the wrongs done by the individual rather than reminding readers that that individual has also behaved impeccably at times; this is why siimilar open letters condemning the actions of sexual harassers (those regarding Geoff Marcy and Colin McGinn) did not specifically note that *not all* women who’ve worked with those men were harassed. But maybe it is necessary to say this when there’s an additional layer of stereotypes (and greater professional vulnerability), as in the present case. Regarding (3), my worry is that this would have sounded patronizing in the context of the Open Letter, but I may be lacking in imagination on this score. Regarding (4), I agree that it is important to create a buffer, and that initiatives like the alternate mentoring for Pogge’s students and postdocs are now necessary.
Following Iris Young’s social connection model of responsibility, I would suggest that many of us have responsibilities towards the women who Pogge has directly harassed and manipulated (Fernanda, “Aye”, etc.) as well as towards those indirectly affected (women of color who’re associated in some way with Pogge). As someone who works in global justice, I felt my responsibility was to inform myself about Pogge’s actions, and take steps to denounce (and so hopefully stop) his behavior and bring attention to his victims’ attempts to receive justice. And now, thanks to those who’ve articulated this point on blogs, I also recognize a duty to create a buffer zone (e.g. participate in the alternate mentoring initiative) for women indirectly affected by Pogge’s actions. Will undertaking these responsibilities negatively impact me (as someone identified as one of the letter writers)? Yes, but in minor ways: I can’t send my work to poverty/development/global justice/philosophy journals and book series that Pogge still sits on the board of, or apply for book and essay prizes that he helps to adjudicate, and I will be excluded from conferences in my field that he is invited to or which he is an organizer of.
Those who co-publish with Pogge, sit alongside him on professional boards, etc., include tenured women of color. Do they also have responsibilities to inform themselves about the allegations that have been made, and then, if they think they are valid, to withdraw their support from him and stop working with him? I believe they do; however I recognize that their position as racialised women in academe means that they face additional perils that make it more complicated and difficult to speak out. My hope is still that it will still be possible for us to forge a critical, honest, and mindful feminist solidarity in which we can all speak out against harassment in academe.
While I am not one of the authors of the letter, I know about it. Ms. Saul, the fear you identify is a real one, as is the phenomenon we fear (not necessarily a “monstrous feminist cabal”!). You should take this seriously rather than portray it as a figment of the imagination (which also seems patronizing!).
I’m sorry. I get frustrated with the hype on the internet about the terrible feminists running the profession. I should not have run that together with the concerns in the letter.
Thank you. I also don’t think the above post denies that Dr. Pogge is to blame too. I think the best starting point for honest, critical, feminist solidarity is to recognise that in our diverse world we will take diverse roads to achieving justice and delivering punishment, even when it comes to something as brutal and horrific as rape. This is not unthinkable. Rather than pressure and try to shame each other, we should support each other.
My final point, Ms. Saul, geography matters. The letter on Mr. Leiter says it is from women of colour “from developing countries.” It seems to me that this is relevant and should not have been left out.
I certainly didn’t intend to suggest that the post was absolving Pogge of blame. And I will edit as you suggest.
It would be great if we could shift the direction of this thread back to the substantive questions at the end of Jenny’s post. How do we as scholars and colleagues call out harassment and other harmful abuses of power by members of our profession without exacerbating the harms experienced by some of the discipline’s most vulnerable members? And, of course, this ties into the broader question of how much of the brunt of improving the climate in philosophy must be borne by the those of us who are the most marginalized, under-represented members of the discipline? I don’t have answers to these tough questions, but I would be grateful for others’ wisdom.
I found Monique Deveaux’s comment above to be helpful in thinking about the general question Jenny is raising, namely, how to support victims of a predator without tarnishing the professional reputations of all who have associated with him. I confess that the fallacy she identifies someone might make as a result of reading the Open Letter did not occur to me when I originally read it and, reading it again, I still don’t see how a careful reader would make it. But her point is that many readers aren’t careful and a misreading could have disastrous consequences for some of our profession’s most disadvantaged members.
Rather than focusing on the question of whether the original signatories to the letter should have anticipated this, I’d like to think about what might be done to avoid this in future, since open letters such as this one strike me as a necessary means to express community support for victims, as well as condemnation of predatory behavior. One good place to start, it seems to me, is to try to find a variety members of the community of individuals who would be affected by the public dissemination of such a letter in advance of publication in an effort to get feedback such as Monique’s, which would have undoubtably improved the Open Letter’s wording.
This highlights a serious harm that results from both sexual harassment as well consensual relationships between faculty and students. Most of the time we are talking about a heterosexual man faculty member, and this is the example at hand, so I will use those pronouns. If a faculty member has a reputation for sexually harassing students, or for engaging in sexual relationships with students, then _all_ of his students (including those who identify as men and as women) are at risk of having their professional standing or reputation undermined. They can be questioned for not speaking out, or for being complicit with this behavior, or for possibly learning by example that this behavior is not a big deal or is not harmful. This can really hurt students who identify as men! In this scenario students who identify as women, whether or not they were harassed, and whether or not they engaged in a sexual relationship with the faculty member, can have perceptions of their professional competence undermined by their association with this faculty member. I have seen all of these things happen both in cases of sexual harassment and in cases of consensual sexual relationships between a faculty member and a student. Both cases do huge harm, not only to the people directly involved, but also to the people around them–students, colleagues, the department, and the profession.
When faculty members in positions of relative disciplinary safety refuse to be complicit with these behaviors and speak out, it will always do some harm and some good. It takes education, skill, humility, and openness to discussion and criticism to minimize the harm and maximize the good.
What to do? One thing is to continue to work on making it safer for feminists in marginal positions to speak out. I think that White feminists in particular have a responsibility to attend to this issue. A second thing, which is already happening in many places [Thank You], is to work in a variety of ways to eliminate the culture of harassment in the discipline in the first place and support people in a variety of ways who have experienced harassment, or have been indirectly hurt by harassment.
“Those who co-publish with Pogge, sit alongside him on professional boards, etc., include tenured women of color. Do they also have responsibilities to inform themselves about the allegations that have been made, and then, if they think they are valid, to withdraw their support from him and stop working with him?”
I would think, as tenured professors, they have more of a responsibility. As women of color in the field, they have less. So maybe, if someone decides that they could speak up or act up in a way that their privilege and empowerment in the field would shield them from fallout, then they have more of a responsibility to act/speak. But if acting or speaking would open them up to harms that their status makes them especially vulnerable to, then they would have less of a responsibility in those instances.
The hard part might be figuring that all out, and doing the risk calculus, on top of determining whether your actions will likely help/harm.
Also, alluding to what Carla wrote, part of what we can do is help dismantle the stigma from working under someone who has acted inappropriately. Yes, it’s possible that a serial harasser’s students have zero talent in the field, and were chosen simply for their looks/whatever. But is that likely? Doesn’t seem to be. And is it charitable to actively wonder that about them? HELL NO. So we can work at making it a professional norm that it’s not appropriate to question the talent or competence of someone *just* because they worked under someone who was being grossly unprofessional.
(I mean, there’s few/no good reasons to questions someone’s talent/competence ever, because they aren’t single things you can make sweeping judgement about, but even that aside…)
Having quickly reread the original letter, I’m not particularly inclined to blame it. Rather, following on some remarks of Carla’s, it seems to me the problem is that once we know some bad acting involved more than one or two victims, then there’s going to be a substantial area about which one can have questions and doubts.
A second feature that stands out for me is that while people were warned about losing their credibility, no one offered to intervene on their behalf.
My own sense of the situation is that we still don’t know how to think about, and react to, these scummy situations. I also think that simply reminding ourselves to worry about the variety of victims is not enough.
Carla has some suggestions and I’d like to add some more. One general category to consider is official action. this might involve various statements by the APA, the Committee on the Status of Women, FP and other blogs. A point to be made is that conjections/assumptions about who else is involved can greatly increase the harm done by the original harasser. A second possible official thing might be to charge the APA ombuds person, or a comparable person, to be someone who can receive complaints and worries of the sort being expressed in the latest letter. (Ruth Chang has done some of this for Pogge rstudents an that might be atmplate.)
Another thing of course would be to add in reminders in anything like the letter about Pogge.
I wasn’t involved in drafting the open letter, and I applaud the efforts of those who were. From other contexts, though, I’m aware that one difficulty with open letters is saying everything that is essential without adding things in that some of those who you hope will sign it might take issue with. This creates a pressure to keep things short and direct. It seems that in this case it would have been helpful to spell out the negative fallout of Pogge’s actions in terms of aspersions cast on women scholars of colour, especially those from developing countries, who have worked with him, and make it clear that these aspersions are roundly rejected. But I personally think that the fact this point was not made does not reflect badly on the writers of the letter, all things considered. I do think it’s great that this has been raised now, and I hope that perhaps seeing that many people are responsive to this point will help to make it easier for others in a similar position in the future to raise similar points. These things are difficult, all efforts – even the most admirable – will have limitations and shortcomings, and our only hope for responding positively as a community to the issues in our profession is to cultivate an openness to having these conversations and taking the insights gained forward to future efforts.
“Rather than pressure and try to shame each other, we should support each other.”
Very well, how do you propose that we do this? As a survivor of Thomas Pogge’s misconduct and of Yale University’s recklessness, I would sincerely like to know.
For further reference, I have blacked out huge parts of the Thomas Pogge story for the sake of protecting other survivors….so, again, I ask: how can we do better? I hope that you critically assess your posture before answering.
Excuse me @Fernanda: what makes you think that I have NOT been critically assessing my posture before answering? Your last two comments, which are pointed at me directly, are examples of the kind of negative pressure I was talking about. I recognise that what you have experienced is terrible, but your tone is not acceptable to me. If we are to have a conversation, it has to be in a safe space for everyone. Over and out.
I’m having some difficulty moderating here. I really don’t want to edit the comments of people who have been harmed by Pogge and surrounding discussion. But I feel things are at risk of getting nastier here. Let’s all just remember that these are difficult matters, and that it’s difficult to get tone right on the internet.
The question I have, as a woman of color who worked with Pogge (and for the record, I was never harassed nor aware of harassment from him), is why do people find it relevant to state that Pogge’s victims were women of color in the first place? This is a detail that, to my mind (and I’m open to being convinced otherwise), has little relevance to assessing the badness of his actions, but can cause a lot of harm. The Thought Catalog letter that first outed Pogge in 2014 made it clear that he had a thing for Asian women. This put a huge target on the backs of Asian women who worked with him. Then it became clear that he also targeted at least one Latina. So people started saying that he targeted women of color. I’ve now seen it as “foreign women of color.” What is the point other than to narrowly identify the group of women he targeted? And to be sure, this means to many people, to narrowly identify the group of women who may have reciprocated his advances for quid pro quo relationships. This is not mere speculation on my part. As one such woman, I have received emails saying that my reputation is under suspicion, I have had my name thrown out on blogs as a potential beneficiary of his favors, I have had reporters and lawyers calling and emailing me. Again, what was the point in repeatedly emphasizing that his victims are WOC? Are we inherently more vulnerable? I object! Is it somehow more perverse and salacious that a white man likes non-white women? What is the insinuation here? In short, I think one thing writers of the open letter and of many many blog posts in support of Pogge’s victims can think about is what the point of racializing his offenses is. In our efforts to characterize his actions as harming a particularly vulnerable group of people, we have in fact made the situation worse for those very people by targeting them, insinuating that they are inherently victimizable, etc.
Is it possible for us to forge a critical, honest, and mindful feminist solidarity? Good question, though I’d like to add ‘inclusive’ to that. @JENNYSAUL, perhaps we should begin by respecting the women who wrote this post, and not dismiss their fear of retaliation as the product of a ‘myth.’ It’s clear that theirs was not an easy decision. Let’s also acknowledge that the Open Letter is hardly a grassroots feminist phenomenon that we should withhold from criticizing publicly. It is signed by some of the most powerful people in the profession: hundreds of them to be precise! In fact, perhaps we might ask why this post hasn’t been shared widely on social media whereas everything else to do with Pogge has gone viral within minutes. My hunch is that people don’t want to be perceived as supportive of anything that’s remotely critical of the Open Letter. All quite ironic, since these women’s criticism of the Open Letter appears to be fairly minor, and has more to do with form and means rather than substance and goals. Even so, there’s a backlash, and the demand that these critics immediately articulate an alternative (and the insinuation that if you can’t articulate a good one, then STFU with your complaint)! Perhaps we can agree that being critical and thinking through alternatives is everyone’s responsibility. It is not their burden alone. @MONIQUE, you make some great points, but perhaps you could simply respect that some people, even after weighing the facts before them and informing themselves of the allegations that have been made, will come to a different decision than the one you happen to think is correct. And that they may do so for principled reasons, not merely out of self-interest or a sense of self-preservation. @LADYDAY, your post moves me, though I don’t have an answer. Perhaps what we’re doing here IS, in fact, the answer. The Open Letter, the pushback, the weird anonymous posts, the spells of nastiness, all of it! I genuinely think this is an important moment. It is part of the treacherously difficult trial-and-error stuff that we will need to go through to get to a better place. My personal view is that we must tread very carefully. We live in a rapidly changing world where elite academics are being flown around daily, building vast networks across multiple countries, much of which we know very little about. It’s hard to fathom the full ripple effects of an action targeted at any one individual. Let’s appreciate that. Also, we teach our kids that there are consequences (and costs) to every action. Perhaps we need to sit with that thought ourselves, stomach its full awfulness, and then have the courage and modesty to accept it. Perhaps what the authors (and signers) of the Open Letter need to do is to honestly acknowledge that women like the ones who’ve written the Leiter letter were unavoidable collateral damage in the path to achieving their goal. Acknowledging collateral damage doesn’t make a goal wrong, but it does expose some of the flaws in the process to reach it, and it also offsets some of the triumphalism and smugness that goes along with ‘victory.’ This seems to me a good thing. Because triumphalism – including the pretty triumphalism of counting numbers (“we now have 502 signatures, we now have 753, we now have 1001”) – is surely a bad thing, not least because it doesn’t get us to deep, transformative change. Perhaps what needs to be said to these ^^ women, and others who worked or studied with Pogge, and who weren’t vetted during the drafting of the Open Letter, is simply this: “yup, ladies, you got burned. We regret this, but it was unavoidable, because a larger good that we identified was at stake. You have a right to be angry not only with Pogge, but also with us. We will try to make it up to you.”
“@JENNYSAUL, perhaps we should begin by respecting the women who wrote this post, and not dismiss their fear of retaliation as the product of a ‘myth.’ ”
I have already said, above, that I should not have said what I did.
“It’s clear that theirs was not an easy decision. Let’s also acknowledge that the Open Letter is hardly a grassroots feminist phenomenon that we should withhold from criticizing publicly.”
I posted this precisely so that people could make these criticisms, and so that we could have a discussion of how to improve our actions around these difficult issues.
“The question I have, as a woman of color who worked with Pogge (and for the record, I was never harassed nor aware of harassment from him), is why do people find it relevant to state that Pogge’s victims were women of color in the first place?” My understanding (I was not an author) is that the people who put this in the letter thought that it was particularly bad for him to target an especially vulnerable group in the profession, and that this should have attention called to it. But you are right to note that mentioning this has additional bad consequences, which are terrible.
Just to say this explicitly: I’m grateful to everyone who is coming here and sharing their views. The discussion is difficult but it’s an important one to have.
“Rather than pressure and try to shame each other, we should support each other.”
One step in of establishing an acceptable and supportive tone would be to refer to Dr. Saul as ‘Dr. Saul’, and not “Ms.”
Paul Prescott, your comment makes me laugh. “Ms.” is a perfectly legitimate way of addressing any woman, whatever her rank. Review your feminist instruction booklet and try to check your white, male privilege at the door if you must insist yourself upon this conversation.
“One general category to consider is official action. this might involve various statements by the APA, the Committee on the Status of Women, FP and other blogs.”
I think this may be the only way to protect survivors and prevent such broad-spectrum harm. It’s troubling to see the ripple effect of TP’s harm affect women he spared. As with plagiarism, the responsibility for corrective and preventative action lies with influential bodies – the official academic organizations named above and publishers. I am only a student, so I hope you’ll forgive my rudimentary form, but I wrote an argument for such official action; a possible way forward that would protect the interests of survivors, publishers, and authors, yet maintain the highest standards of scholarship.
My prompt was a comment in a thread in which philosophers were wrestling with the topic of “what to do with TP’s work,” which read as follows:
“There is no serious harm to seeing your abuser’s name mentioned in print…There is reason not to mention an abuser in a casual conversation with a victim, even if your mention has nothing to do with the abuse. However, there is no reason not to mention the abuser in a public work which one anticipates victims might read…”
First, I argue there is actual “harm to seeing your abuser’s name in print,” and authors and publishers are responsible not to harm:
1. There is likely to be “serious harm in seeing known abusers’ names mentioned in print,” because it causes survivors to be unable to perform their best work.
2. For this reason, survivors may not be able to secure and maintain employment. They may also be prevented from achieving their academic directives and personal goals.
3. Other philosophers and I are survivors of sexual misconduct and/or rape, and while the above-cited abuser did not abuse me, it is widely known that he abused other philosophers.
4. I was seriously harmed when I saw his name cited in an article because it triggered PTSD. This rendered me unable to perform my best work. It’s been distracting to the point that I am taking time away from other work to write this.
5. Rape and sexual misconduct survivors share varying degrees of similar post-traumatic effects, one of which may be PTSD. If other philosophers saw the name of their abuser or a known abuser mentioned in print, they would likely experience post-traumatic effects similar to those I experienced, which would render them unable to perform their best work.
Furthermore, I respond to Dr. David Wallace’s “satire, intended to demonstrate the problems for scholarship induced by not citing sources on moral grounds”:
What’s equally harmful and unacceptable to “not citing sources on moral grounds” is that no tolerable option exists if a source is a known abuser. “Proper Scholarship” requires that scholars choose between two bad options:
(a) Cite the abuser’s name – maintain scholarship but perpetuate harm to survivors, or
(b) Omit the abuser’s name – avoid harm to survivors but sacrifice scholarship and thus, self-harm
An amended “Proper Scholarship” would eliminate this dilemma, remove many reasons for “not citing sources on moral grounds,” and improve scholarship as a whole. A better “Proper Scholarship” would allow for an otherwise complete citation to omit an author’s name if:
(1) The author’s name cannot be determined by reasonable means, or
(2) The author’s name is on “Philosophy’s No Print List.”*
Reason for Creating “Philosophy’s No Print List”:
1. Publishers control the content within their publications.
2. It is wrong for publishers to knowingly harm survivors.
3. Survivors are likely to be harmed when they see their abuser’s name or a known abuser’s name mentioned in print, especially without warning, as happens when encountering citations.
4. Publishers harm by continuing to print names of known abusers
5. Publishers ought to cease printing names of known abusers
Leaders in philosophy and publishing have sufficient information from which to create the criteria for “a known abuser.” There is no official consensus in philosophy for what constitutes sufficient evidence of abuse, however, there are certain criteria that most would agree upon, even in cases without legal action. “Philosophy’s No Print List” would contain names of all known abusers, securely maintained and distributed electronically to all publishers and philosophy departments – including filters to download and live updates. The list effectuates the following actions:
1. Publishers cease publication of the name of the known abuser in any form.
2. Authors continued to properly cite sources, and simply omit the name of the known abuser in citations.
While I recognize that authors and publishers are not responsible for harms perpetrated by abusers whose works they may have cited or published in the past, they ought to avoid any future acts likely to cause harm. It seems some authors have already acted individually to protect survivors in this way.
One possible benefit to adopting a “No Print List” is potential abusers might refrain from sexual misconduct. Another benefit would be undeniable collective validation and support for survivors, which is invaluable. Survivors’ identities will be confidential if they so desire. Reporting methods may be developed such that survivors choose whether or not they are known to those outside of the reporting circle. Official acknowledgment and protection are vital for survivors to be able to perform their best work.
The minimal effect of these actions would be the improved quality of survivors’ work. The maximum effect would be the prevention of a survivor’s death by suicide. With collective efforts, we might transform a climate of fear, shame, and cronyism into one of mutual respect. If the climate changes, under-represented minorities in philosophy might not leave.
I hope we can continue to hammer this problem and act in the best interest of all. Here’s to hope!
I have let through some comments that are really on the border of our “be nice” policy. Let’s all pull back from that border now. And no more discussion about my title, OK? It’s off the topic.
Thanks for letting me through. I’ll be nice as long as people don’t target me for expressing a minority viewpoint. In one of the posts above, someone refers to the women such as those who have written this letter as “those that Pogge spared.” I am sorry, but this is a complete mischaracterization. Pogge has visited my country at least six times. He has had lengthy periods of contact with dozens of women. Young women. Students. There hasn’t been a single complaint against him. Again, this is not to deny the validity of the allegations that have been made. But if you want to get to the truth, try to stop spreading wild exaggerations that are convenient for your cause.
We are heartened that the discussion continues of how to better support students of professors who have been accused of misconduct. Without intending to divert attention from the present discussion, we want to remind people of the mentoring program recently put in place for current graduate students of Thomas Pogge’s or recent post-grads of his without permanent employment. Because we (former students of Pogge’s) have chosen to keep our own identities anonymous, for many reasons discussed in this thread, we post the following with permission from Ruth Chang.
From Ruth Chang, APA Ombudsperson,: “I can vouch for the absolute integrity of the posters of this post and am confident of their assurances of confidentiality. Their desire to help Pogge’s students is borne out of their own frustration in not being able to secure additional mentoring help when they were in a similar situation some years ago. We have an impressive lineup of senior volunteer mentors so I hope that any Pogge students who would like additional mentoring will take advantage of this outreach.”
Please see this earlier post on Feminist Philosophers for details about the alternate mentoring program for Thomas Pogge’s students. https://feministphilosophers.wordpress.com/2016/07/19/mentoring-for-pogge-students/
Please spread the word about this program to colleagues and peers. We are trying to reach as many students in need as possible.
@Anita: I’m pretty sure I’m not as you’ve characterized me. But these are difficult matters, as Dr. Saul notes. My apologies to you if I came across otherwise. Please feel free to contact me directly should you wish (contact info for me is readily available online).
Paul Prescott, I would like to say extremely sorry as well. I can answer everyone’s questions about what I am stating but refuse to be singled out for any type of shaming especially because I don’t have super-polished/elite English language. I hope that this discussion can be productive and that we can get beyond pure polemics. For instance, it is not a question of “not all” with Pogge. It is the reality of “not most.” The facts as they stand now is that those who have accused him comprise a small subset of people he has worked with and supervised (as I indicate in my above comment). Does that lessen the gravity of what he is actually accused of? Maybe in a polemical world, which is why people say things like “those he spared” implying that the women he spared are in the minority. In reality the gravity of even exceptional acts remains. I think anyone who is sensible will see that. A murderer may kill only 1-2 people out of the 100s he know, but he is still a murderer and the law and society will treat him as such. The sort of inflated language being used against Pogge is getting us nowhere and is exactly what sort of thing is hurting people like his former students and the women who worked with him in my country. It is meant to demonize one person not fix anything and is trying to kill a mosquito with a bulldozer. Let’s pull back from THAT kind of language.
Hi Anita — For what it’s worth, Thomas Pogge and I have close friends in common, and many in my circle are deeply dismayed by what we have learned. If I’m understanding you correctly, the problem you’re drawing our attention to is that Pogge has been BOTH a very real perpetrator in some people’s lives, AND an equally real benefactor in the lives of many others. That’s difficult reality with which to come to terms. But, such is the human condition! Assuming I’m hearing you correctly, we are surely in agreement that these are realities with which we must come to terms.
Hello Paul, yes of course the reality is difficult. There is no denying that. Now speaking only from my own point of view, I have not witnessed any wrongdoing from him, and as I said, I know of many women he has interacted with on visits to my country who also have no complaints. More than that, he has come across as someone who is interested in our opinions genuinely. He always gets surrounded at conferences and he tries to listen to everyone and answer us and is a sweet elderly man. Honestly cannot imagine his sexual intentions towards anyone. I have also read up on the allegations against him and they seem very convincing. It is extremely disturbing and disappointing no doubt. I think everyone is deeply troubled and most people think he must have done something wrong. We KNOW, as women, that most women do not lie about sexual harassment and that appearances are often not what they seem. I think the main difference in opinion is about the reaction to it (the strong open letter of condemnation that brought all women of colour who worked or studied with him under suspicion). It seems like an extreme and vigilante-like move, as I said like killing a mosquito with a bulldozer. I actually think if this had happened in my country feminists would be angry that this kind of action would be interfering with or undermining the legal process, and would be bad for bringing perpetrators to justice in the long run.
I apologize for any mischaracterization implied by my phrase “those he spared.” I ought to have said, “those women who were not abused when they worked with TP.”
As a survivor, I am truly grateful they are the majority. It’s disturbing to learn that a pervasive misogynistic attitude continues to harm all women in our discipline. This is the source of harm which I aim to address in my solution. I realize it’s too late to prevent harms related to TP’s actions.
I’d like to see influential organizational structures implement radical preventative/deterrent measures to stop sexual abuse and subsequent cascade of harms.
Given that a philosopher’s name is their most important asset, the consequence I’ve suggested – the cessation of abusers’ names in print – might be a highly effective deterrent to those inclined to abuse.
I fully recognize a drastic, long-overdue change in culture takes time. However, definitive steps by those in power effectuate change more efficiently. Of course, an enormous uproar is expected when people are called to change status quo behaviors.
It’s encouraging that organizations such as the APA clarify what constitutes sexual abuse. We don’t know whether or not such action has been effective. It seems current procedural consequences haven’t been impactful enough to deter potential abusers or change attitudes about women, all of whom are suspect.
One example from which we might draw a parallel here is the case of plagiarism, in which the perpetrator is immediately disqualified from publishing.
Why isn’t sexual abuse considered at least equivalently offensive as plagiarism? Wouldn’t we agree that sexual abuse requires a punitive action equally as impactful?
I think the original letter was well-intentioned, but we all make mistakes, even when trying to do the right thing. I think the original letter made some mistakes, and the anonymous statement posted here highlights what they were. The letter was meant to help, not harm. I now regret signing the letter, even as I still agree with many of the sentiments expressed in it.
@Monique, no one is saying that we shouldn’t support every woman’s coming forward. We absolutely must. There’s a big leap from that, however, to supporting specific sanctions aimed at an accused individual, such as the Open Letter or a no citations policy. There’s a black box in between, called ‘due process.’ Some people may feel that the burdens of due process aren’t really relevant (or are less relevant) when it comes to social media shaming and other forms of informal sanction because prison time is not at stake. I’m inclined to disagree, though this is new territory for all of us, i.e., the perils of ‘internet justice.’ Perhaps we’ll just need to struggle through it.
I fully agree with Roberta that the letter was well intentioned, though, of course, this doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t be critical of it. The fact that it was signed by a large number of full professors who have great power and influence in the academy is precisely why we should be critical of it.
Having said this, it might be a good idea to steer the discussion back towards how we may support women whom Pogge supervised or worked with, especially young, professionally insecure women. I think that’s the more important (and original) concern that’s been raised on this forum.
p.s. I also think it’s terribly unfair that the burden of “defending” the letter, as it were, is falling so heavily on Professor Monique Deveaux, who is demonstrating great courage as usual. I think other feminist philosophers who endorsed the open letter should come forward to weigh in on this issue, unless they feel it is unimportant or a diversion created by Pogge-apologists (in which case, it should be called out as such).
The term “Pogge-apologists” is perhaps appropriate. I happened to advise a friend against signing/endorsing the “open letter” since various problems, subsequently identified, were readily apparent from my perspective. That said, the move from criticizing these problems to pleading about the totality of the man’s conduct and character is unfortunate.
“Among other things, Pogge is accused of violating professional norms by making ‘quid pro quo offers of letters of recommendation and other perks,’ presumably in return for sexual favours. In no way has this been our experience with Prof. Pogge.”
But this is certainly what appears to have gone on, for instance, based on facts that are not in dispute in the Yale case. (Some of us are aware of other failed attempts by Pogge.) Of course, no one ever suggested or would believe that he was motivated to operate this way with all or even most women he encountered in philosophy. So what really is the function of the complaint? This looks reminiscent of Clarence Thomas defenders’ strategy for rebutting Anita Hill’s allegations or at least placing them, as it’s said, in fuller context.
Anyone paying attention knows by now that Pogge has a track record of sleazy sexually-motivated behavior (whatever its precise legal and ethical status) toward (some) women (of different physical and geographical types) that spans 30 years. It does not follow that Pogge must be among the worst persons in philosophy, that his work should not be taught or cited and his name should not be spoken in professional contexts, or that he should never again have a position of any kind in the world of philosophy. The issue of appropriate sanctions is quite separate from being clear about what very roughly has gone on. (I’m not sure, though, why Internet “shaming” is supposed to be a significant problem in his case: he worked long and hard to sow the lack of respect now openly voiced about his conduct and character.)
It also does not follow, of course, that general suspicion should be cast on Pogge’s former students and other mentees. From what I can tell, there has been no criticism or skepticism directed toward the official call for support for this vulnerable group.
In short, concern for Pogge himself seems largely irrelevant — except to those who specifically want to make an issue of his personal and professional well-being.
To Anon’s comment above: “From what I can tell, there has been no criticism or skepticism directed toward the official call for support for this vulnerable group.”
Maybe until now, because you just criticised it!
You say: “Of course, no one ever suggested or would believe that he was motivated to operate this way with all or even most women he encountered in philosophy.”
You are wrong. Plenty of people have suggested this, including at least one person on this thread. Not “all,’ but certainly most. It should be remembered that this issue is now well out of the hands of sensible people “in philosophy” (presumably like yourself?). It’s out in that big, bad world of Donald Trumps and Recep Erdogans where people make sexist assumptions quickly and act upon them.
It also needs to be remembered that there’s been NO clear public statement other than this one about the impact of the letter on vulnerable women.
To anon’ August 13, 2016 at 4:49 pm,
I don’t see that the anonymous statement in the original post is “pleading about the totality of the man’s conduct and character.” Rather, it is stating what is apparently a fact, which is that not all women who worked with Pogge had negative experiences with him. That does not exonerate him from his bad behavior, and the letter does not say that it exonerates him. Rather, the whole point of the anonymous statement is to say that women have been harmed by the assumption that there was “‘quid pro quo offers of letters of recommendation and other perks,’” presumably in return for sexual favours” for all women who worked with Pogge. You say, “From what I can tell, there has been no criticism or skepticism directed toward the official call for support for this vulnerable group.” But the authors of the anonymous letter say otherwise. Shouldn’t we believe them, just as we should believe the women who came forward to say that they were mistreated by Pogge? I think believing our sisters when they come forward under difficult circumstances to say that they were harmed is part of being a feminist. I believe them, and I am sorry for their harm, and sorry for the small part I played in it by signing the letter. And I am saddened that, just as they predicted, the authors of the anonymous statement are being accused of being Pogge apologists, when really, all they are asking is that the rest of us be a bit more careful when composing letters so that inadvertent harm isn’t done.
@Response to Anon: I expressed no criticism or skepticism about the call for support (via the APA) for vulnerable students and other mentees of Pogge — nor would I, since I believe that this vulnerable group should be supported based on the merits of their work and their teaching potential. I’m not sure how you came up with your misreading.
Let me add this: It is unfortunate to continue to focus critical energy on the “open letter” and various comments some believe aren’t careful enough, particularly as compared to Pogge’s sleazy behavior. The “open letter” has by now been extensively criticized, apologies have been offered, regrets expressed. Pogge’s behavior is the fundamental source of problems his students and mentees might encounter, to say nothing of the women he directly has harmed. No amount of misdirected energy is going to change this reality.
Anon, I’m not defending Pogge, whom I don’t know very well, but a principle. If you’re too cynical to grasp the difference, that’s your problem to sort out. Let’s hope you, nor your kids, ever find yourselves at the receiving end of severe public shaming based on “what has roughly gone on.”
I wish we could return to the subject of how to help the women who are caught up in the mess. Katha Politt’s article in The Nation shines a light, yet again, on Pogge’s victims, “all young, pretty, and nonwhite” (“non-white? Really?!? And “all”?) and reinforces the point that Pogge’s letters are “career poison” now. Absolutely great, yup, Tweet that article again, people! If the “career poison” thought hadn’t occurred to prospective employers before, it sure as heck will now! Are we to simply take such careless remarks as “well intentioned”? Are we, of the “nonwhite” world, making too big a deal out of this?
I am not an author of the open letter, yet I know quite a bit about the harm that Pogge has done (in addition to all the good he has done for many other young philosophers and global causes!). I’d like to make a few comments, since I’m worried that some of the discussion in this thread (NOT in the original post) is turning into a ‘throwing the baby away with the bathwater’ discussion.
First, it is clear that what philosophers know about Pogge’s behaviour is very unequally distributed. Much of the information is sensitive and confidential, and it is only those who have either been in the relevant networks in political philosophy for long enough, or who have heard direct accounts of women who have been harassed but who want to stay anonymous (or their mentors), know that this is not “a mosquito”. However, there are many, including some of Pogge’s friends, who don’t have this information, for whatever reason. It seems unlikely that all information will become fully public, since that would bring the anonymity of Pogge’s victims in danger, and it seems obvious that most of them don’t want that. So we shouldn’t reason on the assumption that everyone who could have wanted to see his immoral behaviour, must have been able to note it. That is not the case.
Second, it seems to me that the purpose of the letter is to prevent Pogge from continuing the harm he has done to some of the women who will cross his path in the future, which includes vulnerable women. Columbia and Yale had years to do so – and they failed miserable. So if you want to have “a clear public statement on the impact of this letter on vulnerable women”, I’d say: first of all, this letter has most likely helped to prevent further harm being done by Pogge, and hopefully to bring us a step closer to justice being done to the victims that have come forward. I think that is a major thing we should not forget. It is true that this letter, together with the various other pieces published over the last years, including a few written by Pogge’s victims (anonymously), as well as the press reporting, have had negative side-effects for some other people. The victims that spoke up are most likely also harmed by speaking up – it is very stressful to speak up in cases of sexual harassment. Fernanda gave up her anonymity, and the name of the author of the Thought Catalogue pieces is known in some circles. I don’t know these women personally, but I take it they are willing to accept all the stress this publicity generates in order to stop Pogge from continuing to do harm. Whatever else we are – legitimately!- concerned with, we should not forget this.
And yes, there is ‘collateral damage’ of all these reports, which is very regrettable. The question is, though, how much *additional* collateral damage was done by the open letter in comparison with the inevitable damage done by the earlier reports. I am not sure about that. My personal assessment is that the open letter was necessary, given that earlier attempts to stop Pogge failed. The open letter may have been a measure that would have been impermissible in an ideal world where universities make sure their professors behave morally, and/or where sexual harassment cases are fairly dealt with under criminal law. In that world, the university procedures and the courts would do their work. But we know how victims or sexual harassment are treated by the courts (recall the recent testimony by a Stanford woman student), and we know that many universities are primarily motivated by their reputations and/or financial interests. Despite its unintended negative side-effects, the open letter therefore seems permissible in the shit situation we are in.
If all the above is correct, then the question Jennifer Saul asked is an important question – what can we do to support the disadvantaged that this very difficult situation has created? That would include all of Pogge’s former PhD students, and others for whom he has been a mentor somewhere around the world. There is the alternative mentoring scheme. There is the important criticism to not pressure people close to Pogge into speaking up or signing the open letter, which was powerfully put by “A Woman Philosopher of Color” previously on this blog: https://feministphilosophers.wordpress.com/2016/06/23/guest-post-a-woman-of-colour-on-pogge-letter/. There is the present call to be careful with wording and harmful generalisations. What else can we do that helps those that are now disadvantaged from the ‘side effects’ of the publications and discussions, but without undermining efforts to stop Pogge from continuing to sexually harass women? Perhaps we can add: judging all young philosophers on their own merits, and not making insinuations, or accepting insinuations, that their achievements are in part thanks to their mentors.
This thread makes me sad. Why are we fighting over this? I see this as a struggle over recognition.The open letter had its role, but the women who’ve raised the issue about its impact have raised valid points. I can only imagine what it’s like to be a woman of color who worked with Pogge and have to answer questions from friends, colleagues, supervisors, prospective employers, and probably even family, about whether you knew; whether you were “one of them.” It’s a good thing, not a bad thing, to raise concerns about due process, proportionality, etc., whatever the crime and however morally depraved the accused. And to be fair, there hasn’t been any criticism of the open letter other than on a blog several months ago. I haven’t seen a single tweet, Facebook post, or newspaper article that’s been anything but laudatory (I’m happy to be corrected on this). Everything here needed to be said, and it’s really too bad that the “three women of color” felt they couldn’t sign their names to their thoughts. That’s a reflection on all of us who pride ourselves on our ability to create comfortable environments for deliberation and dissent. Let’s acknowledge that the open letter could have been done better, and move on.
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