As soon as the prospective graduate students visiting Northwestern University’s philosophy department reached the top of Chicago’s lofty John Hancock Center, the cocktails began to flow. Later that evening, everybody had dinner at a prominent professor’s high-rise apartment, where the partying continued well past midnight.
Those raucous recruitment weekends were once routine in the department. But the big, boozy nights are over. Now prospective students spend an early evening with professors at a local Thai restaurant. No one orders alcohol, and the director of graduate studies often brings her children.
That is the new reality as colleges are increasingly vigilant about sexual harassment. When a well-known philosopher at Northwestern, who had hosted the party at his apartment, was pushed out of the university after a female graduate student filed a high-profile complaint of sexual misconduct, the department examined not only his behavior but also its context. “These events all provided a really easy opportunity for nonprofessional relationships,” says Jennifer Lackey, director of graduate studies in the department.
69 percent of female graduate and professional students said in a 2015 survey by the Association of American Universities that they’d experienced sexual harassment on campus, but fewer than 1 in 10 of them reported it to anyone at the university.
By A Woman Philosopher of Color
I am genuinely grateful for and impressed by the critical discussions that have taken place across the blogosphere and on Facebook (and otherwise) about Thomas Pogge’s harmful behavior. That said, I am worried that many of the voices that are being heard about this matter are those of white women (and men). With the exception of a few, such as the courageous Fernanda Lopez, women of color have largely remained quiet. This is for good reason. Given their precarious position in the discipline, it makes sense that women of color are reluctant to discuss the matter. Fear of further exclusion from the discipline runs high. When some women of color have managed to talk about the matter, they have done so only to make clear that they were not victimized by Pogge. It is unfortunate that women of color in philosophy feel the need to do this. However, it is an appropriate response in the context of some of the dialogue that is taking place.
For example, consider the letter written by Professor Melissa Williams indicting Pogge for his harmful behavior and his weak response to the allegations against him. At the end of the first page, Williams asks Pogge (to whom the letter is addressed) to engage in a thought experiment:
You do not seem to grasp how damaging your conduct has been. Imagine, for a moment, that you are a woman of color who worked with Thomas Pogge on this or that project over the years. Imagine the topic of Thomas Pogge’s conduct coming up in conversation, and eyes turning to you with the implicit question, “You too?” Imagine further that Thomas Pogge’s letter of reference for you was important in securing your current job, so that you are constantly wondering whether colleagues believe you got the job only because you slept with Thomas Pogge. I know you to be capable of imagining yourself in another’s position, and you must have imagined scenarios like this.
Williams uses this thought experiment to criticize Pogge for trying “to discredit” his accuser in his response to the initial BuzzFeed article. Though the connection to the above thought experiment is left unclear, Williams is right to call Pogge out for his poor response to the allegations. It is wrongheaded for many reasons, some of which are also discussed here. My main worry with Willilams’s argument is that it does not go far enough in its support for women of color in philosophy. After making the point about “reference letters”, Williams should have taken this opportunity to make clear that the women who do succeed in the profession are very good and that whether they did or did not get a letter from Pogge is really not a basis to evaluate them on. If this simple fact remains unacknowledged, then women of color who work in global justice are left in the position of having to prove that they were not victims or that they didn’t receive letters or jobs on the basis of letters from Pogge.
Professor Ingrid Robeyns’s post on “Why we should sign the Thomas Pogge open letter” makes other important mistakes. Roebyns argues that in deciding whether to sign the letter or not, what matters is whether one regards oneself to be a member of the relevant academic community. In Pogge’s case, the relevant academic overlapping communities are (at least): academic philosophy/political theory; the community of people working on global justice; and the universities where Pogge works or has worked, and organisations to which he is affiliated. If one is a member of any of those overlapping communities, then knowing about the Open Letter yet not signing can reasonabl[y] be seen as a statement that one believes that this is none of one’s business since (i) this is merely a matter of a person’s sexual preferences, which is a private matter; and/or (ii) the legal institutions will do their work, and we must let them do their work; and/or (iii) we don’t have all the relevant information and hence shouldn’t judge.
Robeyns goes on to convincingly argue that these are not good reasons for failing to sign the letter. However, contrary to what Robeyns suggests here, there are other reasons for not signing the open letter that should not be understood as an expression of believing that “this is none of one’s business.” Some of these reasons apply broadly, but seem especially relevant in the case of women of color in philosophy.
First, in the United States, many decisions about tenure are based on external letters. For junior professors who work in global justice and who may have little choice over who is asked to write a letter on their behalf, there is the risk that Pogge himself or some of his ardent supporters may be asked to weigh in on one’s tenure case. Pogge and/or his supporters could hold one’s signing of the letter against her (or him). This seems especially worrisome for women of color who have worked with Pogge or in global justice and where his letter or his supporters’ letters may seem natural to include.
Second, Robeyns’s post ignores the general fact that it may be especially hard for women of color – let alone junior women of color – to sign the statement, given their precarious position in the discipline. Again, the worry about negative repercussions or further exclusion runs high. There is also the worry that women of color have historically been lumped into the group of “repeat players with a track record of reckless accusations who will sign anything, regardless of the merits”. Because of this history, women of color are likely to be very leery of signing an open letter of this type.
Third, there are other ways to express support of the women who have been harmed and to condemn Pogge’s actions. For example, there are many women of color and otherwise who have been working behind the scenes to, among other things, help with writing the open letter and to provide relevant information for the civil rights case. Especially when one is doing these other things, not signing the letter does not necessarily imply that one does not share in the attitudes expressed in the open letter or that one does not condemn Pogge’s actions.
It is unfortunate but understandable that women of color are reticent to speak about the Thomas Pogge matter. Because of the dynamics of this case and of those in the discipline of philosophy, this is unlikely to change for the near future. I hope that those who do have the privilege of being able to speak will work harder to take the considerations of women of color in philosophy more seriously.
 Note that Professor Leiter does not seem to have women of color in mind here. There is, however, a history of identifying women of color as being out to get white men (especially through false accusations of sexual harassment).
UPDATE 6/20/2016: An “Open Letter Regarding Thomas Pogge” has been signed by over 160 academics, including most of the members of Yale University’s Department of Philosophy as well as the department chair; you can add your name to the letter by clicking on the middle tab at the top of the letter.
From the Huffington Post, regarding allegations of quid pro quo:
In her affidavit, obtained by HuffPost, Aye said she met Pogge at a conference in 2013, and began emailing with him soon after. He offered to help her career, she said, stating early on in an email, “lots of job openings cross my desk, so maybe I can help you find a place where you can be productive in the [global justice] universe.” She said she always denied his offers. Their relationship became intimate during his visits to Europe in late 2013.
But Aye said she decided in early 2014 to “warn other women” that Pogge had deceived her repeatedly, including hiding that he had been married for about 30 years.
Pogge has denied acting inappropriately with any graduate students.
Aye believed she was one Pogge’s “secret mistresses,” she wrote in her affidavit, and that some of the other women were graduate students for whom he’d written recommendations. She alleged these relationships bordered on being “quid pro quo” arrangements.
Pogge wrote in an email to HuffPost that he had written a recommendation for one of the students he became intimately involved with, but said he did so before he “had any romantic relation with her.” He said he was familiar with her academic work because he had taught her in the summer of 2010.
And regarding Columbia:
Yale recruited Pogge away from Columbia in 2007. When Pogge faced university charges of sexually harassing Lopez Aguilar at Yale in 2011, he told the school investigator that Yale was fully aware of the allegations against him at Columbia, according to BuzzFeed. Yale hired him anyway.
Aye said Pogge had told her a different story about what happened at Columbia.
“He said that when he was at Columbia, he had a stalker who was crazy and eventually she entrapped him and performed oral sex on him, but the woman was crazy,” she said. “Harassment never even came up, it was just him sharing a story about crazy women he’s encountered in his life.”
Pogge disputed part of that claim in an email to HuffPost: “I cannot recall ever telling her that I was stalked by anyone (nor was I in fact stalked by anyone — at Columbia or elsewhere).”
Christia Mercer, who has taught philosophy at Columbia since 1991, said she was aware of allegations that Pogge had behaved inappropriately with a student at the school. Mercer said she warned professors at the University of Oslo in Norway, where both she and Pogge held academic positions, about the claims against him after she read the Thought Catalog essay in 2014. Pogge was reappointed later that academic year, and still holds a position with the university.
A powerful post.
In the last two weeks, we have seen gender, higher education and celebrity revolving around one issue our news feeds. No, I am not referring to Angelina Jolie-Pitt’s appointment as Visiting Professor at the LSE, but rather the series of revelations relating to violence against women in academia and the celebrity-verse. First, on 20th May, Buzzfeed broke the story about two allegations against renowned Yale professor Thomas Pogge for sexual misconduct. Then, on 28th May, global news outlets reported that the Los Angeles Superior Court had issued Johnny Depp with a restraining order in response to his wife Amber Heard’s evidence of a history of domestic violence during their relationship. Finally, on 30th May, one of the world’s best-known feminist scholars, Sara Ahmed, resigned from her professorship at Goldsmiths University due to the institution’s failure to tackle sexual harassment. Brought side by side, three separate events speak volumes about how the obsession with male genius and creativity continues to sustain rape culture.
Sara Ahmed resigned from her post after trying for several years to get justice for a series of victims of sexual harassment at Goldsmiths University. Her discussion of the resignation is here. She has now written a powerful piece that discusses the ways that institutional efforts toward greater equality have come to be paperwork exercises. Worse yet:
Being good at writing documents become a competency that is also an obstacle for diversity work, as it means that the university gets judged as good because of the document….
So a problem can be reproduced by the appearance of having solved it. I mention this earlier work on diversity here and now for a reason. It helped me to make sense of a statement on Sexual Harassment published by the college on June 3rd in response to the attention given to the problem on social media (an attention that has something to do with an act of bringing to attention).
The statement refers to various activities as evidence of its credentials. One activity is Athena Swan: which has become reduced to a branding exercise (which is not to say that is all that it is) by being evoked in this way on a statement on sexual harassment. Another activity they reference is the conference on Sexual Harassment in Higher Education (SHHE) that took place in December 2015. The conference was organised by Anna Bull, Tiffany Page and Leila Whitley who were . They as organisers have just published an important and powerful response to the college’s statement. As they note: “It was because no one was else was willing to organise an event on sexual harassment that we took it upon ourselves. This has been a recurring theme during our time at Goldsmiths: the reliance on the labour and energy of students, rather than a concerted effort by the institution.”An event that was claimed as evidence of what the college was doing came about because of what the college was not doing.
This article is really a must-read for all of us who are working to make philosophy more equal, writing endless documents and protocols, organising workshops, etc.
The feminist academic Sara Ahmed has resigned from her post as a Professor of Race and Cultural Studies at Goldsmiths, University of London, in protest of the institution’s failure to address the sexual harassment of students. She has written an open letter about her resignation that deserves to be read widely: Sara Ahmed Speaking Out
In case you somehow missed it, please read:
Sara Ahmed Speaking Out
Sara Ahmed has resigned over Goldsmith’s handling of sexual harassment. An excerpt:
It is with sadness that I announce that I have resigned from my post at Goldsmiths. It is not the time to give a full account of how I came to this decision. In a previous post, I described some of the work we have been doing on sexual harassment within universities. Let me just say that I have resigned in protest against the failure to address the problem of sexual harassment. I have resigned because the costs of doing this work have been too high.
She will clearly be much missed. Here is a letter from some of her students. An excerpt:
We could not have asked for a better teacher and mentor.
We know that sometimes there are feminist reasons to leave institutions. We are sad to lose you, but we also know that this was a positive decision for you. We are looking forward to seeing where this departure leads you, and to reading what you write next.
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.
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.