Statement From Hypatia Board Regarding Tuvel Controversy


The following is a guest post* from the Board of Directors of Hypatia, the non-profit corporation that owns Hypatia: A Journal of Feminist Philosophy, in regards to the controversy surrounding the journal’s publication of “In Defense of Transracialism” by Rebecca Tuvel, an assistant professor of philosophy at Rhodes College.


Statement by the Board of Hypatia

This statement is written and signed by the Board of Directors of Hypatia, the non-profit corporation that owns Hypatia: A Journal of Feminist Philosophy: Elizabeth Anderson, Leslie Francis (Treasurer), Heidi Grasswick (Secretary), Miriam Solomon (President), and Lisa Tessman (Chair). Sally Scholz, who as Editor of the journal is an ex officio member of the Board, has already made a public statement.

During the last week of April, an open letter circulated, calling upon Hypatia to retract the publication of Rebecca Tuvel’s “In Defense of Transracialism,” on account of harms it allegedly caused to diverse groups, and in particular to trans people and people of color. The letter, with 830 signatures, was delivered to the Editor, the Associate Editorial Board, and the Advisory Board on the evening of May 2. Two days prior to the delivery of this letter the Associate Editors of Hypatia issued a statement, which was widely disseminated, posted on various personal sites, submitted to philosophy blogs, and eventually at the request of the Associate Editors, also posted on the Hypatia Facebook page on May 1. The statement apologized for the harms alleged to have been caused by Tuvel’s paper, and stated their opinion that “Clearly, the paper should not have been published, and we believe that the fault for this lies in the review process.”

The Board of Directors of Hypatia would like to clarify the nature of the controversy, since there are misrepresentations in the press and on social media. Further, we would like to articulate the principles we are committed to as we move forward beyond this controversy.

1. The Board acknowledges the intensity of experience and convictions around matters of intersectionality, especially in the world of academic philosophy, which has an egregious history of treatment of women of color feminists and feminists from other marginalized social positions. To those unfamiliar with the issues, outrage about a particular academic publication is often dismissed as nothing more than the censoriousness of hypersensitive groups. The objectionable features of the particular case, considered in isolation, seem too minor to outsiders to warrant the degree of outrage focused upon it. Such dismissal reflects ignorance of the cumulative history of marginalization, disrespect, and misrepresentation of oppressed groups. Usually, objections to a particular academic publication reflect the objectors’ knowledge of a history of grievances of which outsiders are unaware. It is difficult to assess how much of the outrage is properly directed at Hypatia, and how much at other public, academic, or philosophical institutions. Nevertheless, the Board would like to take this opportunity to learn from the expressed outrage. Hypatia has always held itself to a higher standard of inclusion than most other philosophy journals. During the years in which Sally Scholz has served as editor, it has continued to develop these commitments to diversity (including organizing a major conference on diversifying philosophy, the solicitation of special issues and clusters specifically focused on diversity, and the creation of podcasts and video interviews to make Hypatia articles more widely accessible). Going forward, with consultation amongst those who perform various roles for our organization, Hypatia will review its governance structure, procedures, and policies, aiming to continue to improve its inclusiveness and respect for marginalized voices in a manner consistent with the continuation of Hypatia as a scholarly enterprise committed to feminist values.

2. The Board affirms Hypatia’s commitment to pluralist inquiry, which is simultaneously a core feminist value and a core academic value. In this regard, it is especially important to respect scholars who work on a wide variety of topics and utilize a wide variety of methodologies.

3. The Board finds that the Associate Editors’ statement undermining the editorial decision was disseminated without adequate consultation with the Editor. Further consultation, if necessary, could have included other parts of the governing structure of Hypatia, such as the Advisory Board or the Board of Hypatia. The open letter could have been taken seriously without such precipitous action.

4. In response, the Board calls upon all those who wish to participate in Hypatia’s governing structure to commit themselves to playing their role in support of the journal, as this is required for the continuation of Hypatia as a scholarly enterprise. The continuation of Hypatia as a scholarly enterprise, its ability to foster feminist inquiry, and its academic reputation, depend on its respecting its contractual obligations, core principles of research ethics and norms of academic discourse, and consultation with all the arms of Hypatia’s governing body. Hypatia is bound by principles of publication ethics to stand by its editors, referees, and authors except in specific cases such as plagiarism and fraud. These principles have been thoughtfully designed to establish critical conditions for progress in inquiry.

5. The Board wishes to correct two misunderstandings that have appeared in the press and on social media:

A. Reports that the Associate Editors called for retraction of the article are incorrect. The Associate Editors did not and are not calling for retraction of the article.

B. Reports that the statement of the Associate Editors was made on behalf of Hypatia are incorrect. The Associate Editors wrote on their own behalf, and clearly identified the authorship of their statement. Hypatia has a complex governance structure, also including its Editor and Book Review Editor, an Editorial Board, an Advisory Board, and a Local Advisory Board. The Associate Editors, by themselves, cannot speak for Hypatia.

6. The Board stands behind the judgment of Hypatia’s Editor, Sally Scholz, concerning the publication of Professor Tuvel’s paper. On May 6, 2017, Professor Scholz released a statement to the Chronicle of Higher Education affirming that Professor Tuvel’s paper went through the usual double-masked peer review process and was accepted by the reviewers and by the Editor. We endorse her assessment that, barring discovery of misconduct or plagiarism, the decision to publish stands. We also approve her willingness to refer the matter to Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE).

The Board also recognizes Professor Tuvel for her work and condemns any ad hominem and personal attacks that may have been directed against her. As a scholarly publication, Hypatia supports our authors and appreciates their contributions to advancing understanding of contemporary social issues.

7. We regret the harms to current and prospective authors, editors, and peer reviewers of Hypatia that were created by this controversy. We are working hard to respond responsibly to this troubling and difficult controversy. We acknowledge the history and continuation of injustices around matters of intersectionality, and know that many of us have much to learn from those who have lived in and worked on intersections of marginalized racial and gender identities.

Hypatia, founded in 1986, will continue to be a journal committed to a diversity of methodologies, schools of thought, and perspectives in feminist philosophy. It will also continue to be a journal committed to the best practices of scholarly publication. We take the intensity of this controversy to be a testament to the importance of the issues that the journal discusses.

Elizabeth Anderson
Leslie Francis (Treasurer)
Heidi Grasswick (Secretary)
Miriam Solomon (President)
Lisa Tessman (Chair)

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