The American Philosophical Association (APA) has released a statement on bullying and harassment:
The American Philosophical Association appreciates the work of philosophers who bring their philosophical expertise to the public by way of op-ed essays, public forums, teach-ins, and other venues. We see this increased public engagement by philosophers as important to the health of the profession and to the well-being of our community.
Recently several authors of high-profile public essays have been subjected to vilification, racist and/or sexist verbal abuse, and outright threats of bodily harm. In the past few weeks, Professor George Yancy, in response to his essay “Dear White America” (New York Times, 24 Dec. 2015), has received harassing emails, phone calls, and letters containing racist slurs and threats of violence. This is one very egregious example of bullying and harassment that philosophers who speak out publicly endure, and there are many more, often taking racist, sexist, homophobic, and/or ableist forms.
Philosophers are gadflies, at least some of the time, and we must support those who take intellectual, ethical, and social risks in their work, including their public presentations. Bullying and harassment that target a person’s race, gender, class, sexual orientation or other status are especially abhorrent. We unequivocally condemn such behavior and stand in solidarity with our members who are subjected to this deplorable and discriminatory abuse.
Abusive speech directed at philosophers is not limited to responses by the public to published op-eds. A look at some of the anonymous philosophy blogs also reveals a host of examples of abusive speech by philosophers directed against other philosophers. Disagreement is fine and is not the issue. But bullying and ad hominem harassment of philosophers by other philosophers undermines civil disagreement and discourse and has no place in our community. Attacks that focus on a philosopher’s race, gender, or other status are unacceptable and in violation of the APA Statement on Nondiscrimination. We call upon any member who has engaged in such behaviors in the past to cease and desist.
The APA condemns the activities of those who seek to silence philosophers through bullying, abusive speech, intimidation, or threats of violence. We also call upon our membership to speak out against such attacks, whether from within the academy or from the public sphere.
UPDATE (2/15/16): Inside Higher Ed has an article about the statement, including quotes from Amy Ferrer, Brian Leiter, Jennifer Saul, George Yancy, a Daily Nous commenter, and me. One excerpt:
“Some philosophers are worried they will be personally attacked elsewhere on the Internet, and so refrain from speaking out,” he said. “The stronger this worry, the fewer people speak out, and each who does is more likely to be a target.” In turn, he said, this pattern “increases the perceived cost to speaking up, and so the cycle of intimidation continues, choking discussion. It is a classic collective action problem. Weinberg added that he did not view the APA as trying to restrict speech, and that it couldn’t really do so if it tried. Rather, Weinberg said he viewed the APA statement as “calling for more speech,” in encouraging members to speak out against bullying. “We need to encourage a community of robust public disagreement, so that the voicing of unpopular or risky or offensive views is so common that the prospect of personal attack for expressing them is widely distributed, and felt less by each person,” he said.