Should the Philosophical Gourmet Report Continue? (Several Updates Added)


Brian Leiter (Chicago), who created and organizes a reputational survey of philosophy graduate programs known as the Philosophical Gourmet Report, is asking whether he should continue producing it. He opened a poll on the matter on his blog Tuesday evening, twice stopping and replacing the poll with new versions. The current poll is accessible through a link at the end of a post at his site, here. (As of 9:20am EST, September 25, the “no” vote is winning 1851 – 1201.)

The current polling follows the publication by Sally Haslanger (MIT) and David Velleman (NYU) of several emails Leiter sent in which he calls other philosophers “sanctimonious assholes,” refers to someone’s employer as a “shit department,” and warns a correspondent that “If my e-mails to you ‘get around,’ rest assured that other things will get around.” Haslanger and Velleman preface the emails with the following:

We are concerned about a pattern of emails sent by the editor of the Philosophical Gourmet Report to individuals whom he apparently perceives as critics. We hope that colleagues will report any steps by the author to carry out his threat that “things will get around”.

Leiter responded to the publication of these emails in a post which contained the initial poll and its replacement. In the post Leiter claims to supply the needed context for understanding his emails. More context is provided here. For some additional perspective, see this.

UPDATE: Several readers and a commenter have informed me of this statement (see UPDATE 4, below), signed by a number of philosophers. It reads, in part:

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

UPDATE 2: A reader informs me of this site, which summarizes the aforementioned emails and describes other events possibly related to the current controversy.

UPDATE 3: Commentary Elsewhere:
Do we need rankings at all?
• A report by philosophy grad students?
• The public face of philosophy in light of controversies like this.
More on the emails to Jenkins.
• Jonathan Jenkins Ichikawa comments here.
• On whether the PGR should continue to be a “one man show.”
• What kind of information do prospective graduate students need?
• Brian Weatherson would like a plurality of rankings (as would I).
• The connection between departmental rankings and student evaluations of professors.
• Maybe the problem is the combination of the blogging and the ranking.
A case for rankings.

UPDATE 4: The original site for the statement about declining to participate in the PGR appears to be down. A new version of it is here. SUB-UPDATE: The original site appears to be back up.

UPDATE 5: David Chalmers writes:

Over the past day or so, 24 members of the advisory board of the Philosophical Gourmet Report have signed a letter saying that they value the extraordinary service that Leiter has provided with the PGR, and that they now urge him to turn over the PGR to new management. The letter (drafted by David Chalmers, Jonathan Schaffer, Susanna Siegel, and Jason Stanley) has been delivered to Brian Leiter, who received it with good grace. We are in the process of collecting more signatures, and will soon make the letter public.

UPDATE 6: [Since the post previously referred to here has been taken down, I have removed the contents of this update.]

UPDATE 7: David Velleman writes:

Now that the cyber-storm has somewhat abated, I want to say a two things about the Statement of Concern that Sally Haslanger and I posted a few days ago. (Sally is traveling and we have not consulted recently, so I speak here only for myself.)

First, about the publication of private emails. The emails we published contained serious and credible threats aimed at silencing the recipients. Such threats are not protected either by academic freedom or by confidentiality. The target of these threats may have no means of self-protection other than to expose them, and therefore cannot be obligated to suffer them in silence. If she responds that “insulting and threatening emails” may “get around”, she is merely threatening to exercise her right of self-defense against prior, far more serious threats. To deny her the right to make this counter-threat would be to further empower a bully. His response that “other things will get around” has no similar justification.

Second, about the aim of our statement. In publishing our statement we had no agenda other than to express our concern about a pattern of emails sent by the editor of the Philosophical Gourmet Report. We mentioned the Report only because it is the original source of the power that the writer used to intimidate the recipients.

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