Nominal Versus Real Change
As I noted here, and as he announced on his own site here, Brian Leiter has asked Berit Brogaard (Miami) to serve as a co-editor with him of the Philosophical Gourmet Report, along with another as of yet unnamed philosopher who is currently considering the offer.
Of course At this point this is nothing but a nominal change in the management of the PGR. One or two people have been convinced to lend their names to the header.
Additionally, this hardly constitutes a response to the letter from the board members, as it was a move initiated prior to its delivery. Relatedly, David Chalmers reports that 31 of the 54 board members have now signed that letter.
UPDATE: A few commenters have asked about evidence for the claim that the announced changes are merely nominal. All I can do at this point is remind readers that this blog is not known for its indulgence in unfounded speculation.
Of course this is nothing but a nominal change in the management of the PGR. One or two people have been convinced to lend their names to the header.
How do you know that? This is a serious, not rhetorical question. What’s your basis for the claim? Is it anything more than your speculation? If not, you should at least state that clearly. Maybe you’re right, but I’d be very interested in knowing why you think you know this.Report
I don’t think it’s fair to Berit Brogaard to construe her willingness to co-edit the PGR as merely ‘being convinced to lend her name’. We’ll have to hear more about what Brogaard’s editorial duties will be, but to insist that they’ll constitute only a nominal change is to (I think, unfoundedly) accept off that bat that Leiter’s involvement with the PGR must mean his ‘control’ of it. I’d expect there to be lot of logistical expertise that render’s Leiter’s work on the PGR difficult to dispense with, but I also expect that philosophers like Brogaard would exercise, and be expected to exercise, their autonomy and insight in guiding the PGR into its next stage.Report
So if Brian began making changes even before his Advisory Board made a push for change, then you count that as only “nominal” change because it is not a response to the board’s call for change?
And you’re therefore unsatisfied, even if it turns out (as it may or may not) that the changes he makes are changes that match what the advisory board has suggested? Odd.
I would have thought that would be “nominal change” one can believe in.Report
I have the utmost respect for Berit Brogaard and think she would do a very good job as co-editor of the PGR. I don’t know who else Leiter has asked, but I am confident that that person would be just as good.
However, the point is not the addition of other people to management of the PGR but removal of Leiter himself. With all due respect to the work he has done in creating it and making it more representative over the years, we have reached the point where his status as editor of a quasi-official ranking system indicates the philosophy community’s acceptance and toleration of the unacceptable behaviour that finds expression on his blog and in his emails.
Editorship of the PGR, like that of a major journal, should be seen as an honour. It is a position that assumes certain moral responsibilities, in particular, the moral responsibility not to abuse the influence it generates to further petty campaigns of vindictive retaliation. If the broader philosophy community believes that responsibility is being flouted, it has the right and duty to retract the honour that participation in the PGR bestows on its editor.
The events of the last few days have been a massive public humiliation for Leiter. I’m sorry it has come to this, especially since I have always found him pleasant and helpful in person. I also greatly admire his forthright and strident criticism of unacceptable injustices in academia, especially the recent Salaita scandal at UIUC. But it is one thing to speak truth to power, and quite another to bully, berate, and intimidate those colleagues who dare to have a different view about this or that matter.Report
Justin, your update states: “A few commenters have asked about evidence for the claim that the announced changes are merely nominal. All I can do at this point is remind readers that this blog is not known for its indulgence in unfounded speculation.”
Your initial post states: “Of course this is nothing but a nominal change in the management of the PGR.” The “of course” suggests it’s obvious, based on all information publicly available (through Leiter’s blog and the CHE article) that this is not a meaningful change. But your update now suggests that information you’re privy to shows there’s no real change going on here, perhaps just a Cambridge change. This means the point about change you’re making isn’t after all obvious to readers, unless it’s agreed what real change in this case requires.
Suppose we grant that change of some sort in the editorship of the PGR is needed. Will the only thing that suffices for real change be Leiter’s non-participation, as SCM states above? If so, we need to make this clear. But would that make the PGR a better document for the profession or only serve a need some people seem to have to bring BL down a peg or two?Report
I couldn’t agree more with SCM’s post. Brogaard is a welcome addition to PGR. That doesn’t nullify the need to *oust* Leiter altogether.Report
All I can do at this point is remind readers that this blog is not known for its indulgence in unfounded speculation.
I worry that you’re squandering that reputation. It seems like a pretty serious charge to make without some backing. Saying “no, really, trust me” isn’t backing. I’m sure you know that.Report
I guess I was naive yesterday….it seemed like such an exciting/hopeful day. We were all having pretty substantive and productive discussions of rankings in general and what should be done about PGR in particular. It felt like we might actually be able to thank Leiter for his service but move on to the next stage as a profession (whatever that is). Now it seems that won’t happen.
1. We heard about this new direction from the Chronicle, not from anywhere internal to the profession. So it seems a way to remind us that what we are all spending so many hours talking about on blogs doesn’t matter because Brian Leiter and one or two others will decide the fate of the PGR in the end.
2. Berit Brogaard has made some comments on public facebook posts that disturb me. (Not her own page, someone else’s, sorry can’t remember where.) I don’t know her and I really really want to give her the benefit of the doubt. But I worry that she thinks she is uniquely suited to this new role because she “isn’t afraid to tell Brian what she thinks”. (Not a direct quote-but I read her as expressing this attitude.) This worries me because it is missing the point. The point is not that we need someone tough enough to stand up to Leiter, the point is that his involvement in the PGR at all is problematic in light of his attempts to bully his perceived enemies, and his apparent interest in putting down certain departments. We don’t want to fight the bully, we want to change the structure that allowed the bully to exist in the first place. Right?Report
“… we have reached the point where his status as editor of a quasi-official ranking system indicates the philosophy community’s acceptance and toleration of the unacceptable behaviour that finds expression on his blog and in his emails”
No, we haven’t. I don’t see how anyone who has paid attention to the reaction to the events of the past few days could arrive at the conclusion that anyone in the philosophical community, regardless of what they think about BL’s role with the PGR, tolerates his recent behavior. Every commenter or blogger that has been even slightly favorable toward BL has fallen over themselves to point out that they do not condone the way he has acted. (Let me here do the same: I do not condone what he did, either.) Heck, even BL himself seems to grant in his recent self-defense posts that that some of his behavior was over the line.
It is entirely possible to think that BL’s recent behavior is unacceptable while at the same time thinking that he should continue to have at least some input into the ranking system that he personally invented and developed. It’s possible to support some things a person does while not supporting other things. Many people in the profession currently think this, and I don’t think they are thereby being inconsistent. So it’s not the case that by allowing Leiter to keep control of the PGR anyone is endorsing his recent behavior.
The reason for thinking that this is the case, I think, is supposed to be that it is precisely his power as editor of the PGR that BL is using to intimidate people. So the bullying and his position as editor are linked. But this just isn’t true. It’s not his power as editor of the PGR that is at play here. It strikes me that there are two reasons why one might be afraid of being on Leiter’s bad side: 1. Because he’s a lawyer, and might bring legal action against you, 2. Because he runs a widely read blog and might say harmful things about you and thereby hurt your reputation in the profession. These are very real concerns, but they aren’t concerns that are alleviated by removing BL from the editorial board of the PGR. Even if that happened, he would still be a lawyer and still blog on LeiterReports. If there were reason to think that he was, say, telling people ‘take down this blog post or I’ll drop your department in the rankings’ then obviously things would be different. But, to my knowledge, he’s done nothing of the sort. In fact, by all accounts he manages the PGR very ably and responsibly.Report
I take it that part of the problem with Leiter’s involvement with the PGR is that involves a conflict of interest. The PGR is supposed to be a fairly objective reputational survey, but that conflicts with Leiter’s aggressive, polemical, non-objective online personality. If this is part of the worry, then the problem will persist through the addition of co-editors. As an analogy, it is a conflict of interest for an advisor to serve as a journal referee her student’s work *even if* there is a second referee.Report
As a former student of Brit Brogaard’s, someone who worked closely with her for a year or so while getting my MA, I must say that I don’t think anyone who knows her would think that she was capable of “nominally” doing anything at all (with regard to the profession). If she agreed to co-edit, then she will co-edit. Brit never struck me as the type to be anyone’s sycophant. And, frankly, I think this blog owes her an apology for intimating anything to the contrary. Admittedly, I, like many, would like to see the PGR completely turned over to capable hands other than Leiter’s, perhaps in the hands of a committee of editors, but this IS certainly a good, and genuine, first step.Report
FWIW, this is exactly the attitude I’m worried about in my comment above. Brogaard being strong and independently minded is completely compatible with saying that her taking on the co-editor role is merely a nominal change. I really didn’t take Justin to be intimating what you think.Report
Thank you, Kristina.Report
FWIW, it is not ‘completely compatible’, if that means evidentially unrelated. It is in fact good evidence that she would not take that role nominally. Your credence for her taking on a nominal role should decrease considerably on learning something about her character. So, I’d add that this is the sort of attitude I’m worried about: the attitude that conflates q is consistent with p (true), with q is not good evidence against p (false).Report
But if the problems are BL’s activities outside the PGR, then having someone to police his behavior with the PGR doesn’t really change anything. I think possible conflicts of interest with PGR seem to be ju st one problem; the bigger problem is disciplining someone who many people feel has been cruel and immoral. He has tenure, and nothing he seems to have done is criminally proscribed, so what do you do to enforce normative standards of behavior and protect future victims? The civilized thing seems to be some level of ostracism, which the PGR boycott seems to be, and offering a co-editor to the PGR doesn’t really address that primary issue.Report
want to second Kristina and DC here. I know Berit as well. I have no doubt she would be an excellent editor of PGR. That’s *not* the issue. Brian Leiter’s continued involvement in PGR is.
I’m surprised that Leiter thinks that this move of bringing Berit in is going to work. the petition that’s circulated does *not* suggest that its signers will assist with PGR *if Brian has a co-editor.* The signers won’t work for PGR if Brian is involved.Report
I have no opinion about Brogaard’s personality or what she is capable of, nor did I express one in this post; as far as I know we have never met. My post was about what the prospective co-editors were asked to do.Report
The prospective co-editors were asked to be co-editors. Had you pointed out that the details of what that role will be are at this point unclear, then your post would have been only about what the “prospective co-editors were asked to do”. You instead claimed that the change is “*nothing* but a nominal change” [emphasis added] — where did you get the “information” that the change is “nothing” but “nominal”? You made that up didn’t you?Report
Fritz, please see my response to anon, below (12:22am).Report
I see. So your secret sources tell you that the arrangement has been worked out so that adding co-editors will be nothing but a nominal change.
My secret sources tell me that the details have not so far been worked out about the exact role of co-editors going forward.Report
Fritz, you are free to remain skeptical. I stand by my claims about what the prospective co-editors were asked to do. I currently do not have the resources to report on the future.Report
Thanks for giving me your kind permission to believe as I do. I didn’t realize I needed it, but maybe that’s because I don’t generally think that those who run popular professional blogs thereby have great power over me or others in the profession.
I’ve noticed recently that many other philosophers seem to believe that those who run popular professional blogs do have such power. So perhaps I should reconsider my own view of this matter.Report
Justin: I find the “currently” in your post alarming. Please note that APA guidelines state clearly that all uses of time travel in an institutional context require approval from an accredited philosopher of physics. Protecting the casual structure of reality is everyone’s responsibility.Report
Anon at 3:48:
With respect, we have reached the point where the community either indicates that it is not prepared to have Leiter as editor of the PGR or that it tolerates his abysmal behaviour.
You do not tolerate behaviour just by agreeing with it, or even by failing to criticise it. You tolerate it by making it clear that it has no consequence for how you are prepared to honour the person who engages in it. Toleration is allowing someone to behave in a certain way with impunity — it is much more than allowing someone to behave in a certain way without criticism.
All the criticism of all the philosophers in all the world is only just so much hot air if everything remains as it was at the end of the day. Leiter will be free to continue threatening people over email and excoriating colleagues (who have no effective ability to respond) on his blog. This must end.Report
I don’t think that the community really has a choice in whether Leiter edits the PGR. It’s not like a journal which is owned by a publisher who could install a new editor; he founded it. If he doesn’t want to give it up, no one else can make him. But they can, of course, refuse to participate in or pay attention to the PGR, and they can certainly create a credible alternative.Report
Dale, I took it that mass non-cooperation with the PGR under its present management would make it untenable for Leiter to continue. Of course, he could go back to ranking programs himself, but no one would take that, or him, seriously thereafter.Report
My mom worked for a department that had a known sexual offender in it. He did some good too. My mom’s colleagues did not agree with his behavior and often criticized it. But when outside complaints were made, the department failed to report them. Finally, when the faculty member retired, they made him emeritus. Whilst he is no longer teaching, he still has access to many of his old ‘resources.’Report
On the issue of crossover from Leiter Blog to PGR I offer this real life example. On July 3 on this blog I said that I was stepping down as a rater for the PGR. The proximate cause was Leiter’s treatment of Carolyn Dicey Jennings and Caroline Jennings (long before I had judged his treatment of Linda Alcoff, Simon Critchley, Rachel MacKinnon, and others as bullying). I had been a rater for a long time, perhaps since the beginning. BL, who I have never met, immediately emailed me. He asked me if I realized that on CJ’s ranking that BU had a better placement record than Duke and asked if I would prefer students go to Duke over BU? This was meant rhetorically, as if, in be true to your school fashion, I would shiver at the idea, and immediately so “No, of course, not. Wouldn’t it be horrible if a poor misguided student chose a lower ranked school over a higher ranked one.” Three points: 1. I in fact think that if BU has a better placement record than Duke, that students ought to know that and that ought to be taken into account when they decide where to go to grad school. 2. I, in fact, think it is obvious that in several areas where BU excels and we at Duke are thin or weak, students should choose BU over Duke, and 3. Most importantly, in terms of the present topic, if I had stayed on as an evaluator, I would have been the recipient as a ranker of an email from Leiter himself strongly expressing where he thinks two schools that are to be ranked stand. He didn’t say (to me) that either school was shit. QED.Report
Apologies. Errata: 1. Caroline Jenkins. 2. BL asked if I would prefer students to go to BU over Duke.
I should add the comments about BU, where Carolyn Jennings got her PHD (and I also did but long ago), and Duke where I teach were 100% gratuitous, irrelevant.Report
Can you please explain the deep significance of this? Surely it isn’t that you now know Brian’s view about how two schools are properly compared; every evaluator knows that Brian thinks that, say, NYU is to be ranked higher than Rice. It must be that you think that his having written it down in a private communication is a watershed. Please elaborate.Report
No deep significance. No watershed. A data point in the discussion of whether BL maintains neutrality in administering the PGR.Report
that is a very telling incident. thanks for sharing.Report
I agree with SCM wholeheartedly.
I also think that it was *already* made plenty clear in the board members’ letter, at least as related on this blog, that they were asking Leiter to relinquish all editorial control: “they now urge him to turn over the PGR to new management.” This is also plenty clear in the September Statement as well, now signed by over 300 philosophers, some of whom are very much “big names” in departments the PGR ranks very very favorably.
Given those considerations, Leiter’s appointment of co-editor(s?) is, frankly, weaksauce. He knows he’s clearly not doing what’s being requested, but he’s making this show — via the CHE and his own blog, not in consultation with any other professional philosophers as far as I know, which is exactly part of the problem — of bringing in “new blood,” as if he’s really meeting what is now an overwhelmingly large number of legitimate, reasonable, and respected critics halfway.
*This* is the sense in which the change is “nominal” — it’s not that anyone thinks Brogaard wouldn’t do a good job, it’s that this “change” is not actually a change of the thing under consideration at all, viz. Brian Leiter’s “management” position with the PGR.
I, too, felt hopeful yesterday as the discussion about possible alternatives or future methods of evaluation unfolded. Let’s not miss this opportunity by caving to Leiter’s so-called “response,” whether out of cowardice or just sheer exhaustion from dealing with this nonsense.Report
One further thought:
Regardless of what one thinks about BL’s behavior, whether or not it’s defensible, whether or not he’s somehow being unjustly persecuted, whether or not it should have any effect on his status re: the PGR, etc. — Regardless of all this, the sheer fact that so many philosophers have pledged not to participate in the PGR while BL runs it means that BL is not currently “doing a good job” running it. Even if every last one of the people who have signed the aforementioned statements is being unreasonable or unjust (a very unlikely scenario, to my mind), the fact that now a substantial portion of the profession will not participate — that fact alone — means that *for the good of the PGR* somebody else should take over.
Is BL bringing something important to the table that absolutely nobody else in the profession can possibly bring? Is there a reason that his editorial oversight is absolutely necessary for this project to continue (as his recent “poll” seemed to imply)? Is there something I’m missing here?Report
I’m not sure I understand the update to the original post.
It seems to imply that maybe there is more information than is currently released?
Perhaps, however, we need not even rely on such further information.
If BL is staying on as a co-editor, than unless he simultaneously announces rather drastic changes to the PGR (like the ones discussed here and elsewhere), then it seems fair to call this a nominal, cosmetic change, even if his co-editors are equal partners and robustly engaged with the process.Report
Also, what B. H. said.Report
The PGR started out pretty much as a subjective ranking project, but evolved into a more inclusive ranking project, but one could argue that it merely expanded subjective ranking into mutual self-congratulation bias. I’m an idiot about stats involving risks of collective self-selection of groups that were formed by an invitation process FWIW.
Still, there is no doubt that the PGR has had a huge influence on the profession for a multitude of reasons, some rational, some not. Leiter’s imprint on the face of professional philosophy today is indelible by any measure.
The fact that he evolved to some more stat-based methods is in his favor, though again I am incompetent to evaluate that overall. But I also agree that the overwhelming bulk of his posts have been informative, relevant, politically biased (but what *I* think is in the right direction), and measured in tone in most instances.
But certainly not all. There were some that were beyond cringe-worthy, and uncharitable by the most charitable reading of them.
And the coarse and belligerent private emails revealed a darker side of Leiter on the personal level. I could not have written such, and many must agree. I’m conflicted about the facts of the public disclosure of private emails. Taking the pulse of the profession about gender and bullying is one thing; is this the Watergate of professional philosophy? I can’t quite say that.
But. He is a mixed bag to say the least. His published work is very good. As the testimony of many attests, he is in person a congenial and helpful sort. I can say that he answers email from no-names like me (as does Berit Brogaard, whom I hold in highest regard by many measures personal and professional). He has published his father’s poems on the blog, for which he’s taken some horrible and blindly sarcastic criticism given his motives.
Can I defend him in every exchange that’s been outed? Of course not. Victims of his worst venom have my sympathy, because many were abjectly undeserved.
But we are dealing with the first-most-of-first-world problems, and we need to get perspective on that. Unless Leiter has produced actual and litigious harms involving first-amendment rights violations, then he is just a firebrand. And that means we need to focus on the professional utility of the PGR, and whether reforms or ouster is the best solution. Nothing else really matters. Personally I think Leiter deserves a role in the PGR given his tireless devotion to making it a real force in the profession with his moves to more objective methods. Perhaps others like Brogaard may improve on that.Report
I want to add my voice to those who have called for more neutrality from this blog. Obviously, the dailynous folks can do what they wish with this blog. However, it would be great if the field had a blog that stayed ‘above the fray’ as much as possible. There are plenty of occasions to weigh in — the field isn’t wanting for those. (And, to be honest, “All I can do at this point is remind readers that this blog is not known for its indulgence in unfounded speculation” isn’t saying much — so far, this blog isn’t known for much, and in recent days, it has seemed to be that this blog is known for being pretty editorial and partisan).)Report
Anon grad, thank you for your comment. I was conflicted about whether to make this post, but I thought I owed it to the many readers who are very concerned with these recent events to share with them information I had about this latest development. I don’t take that to be a move that compromises the “neutrality” of this blog. It may come off that way because I am unable to share with you the evidence for my claims, and my wording of the post was not as well-chosen as it could be, but I am not going to expose my sources for the sake of satisfying reader curiosity. You may appreciate that if one day you are a source. In the meanwhile, if you and other parties wish to remain skeptical about my claims, be my guest (though do ask yourself whether one would risk making false statements in this litigious environment).
Let me also register an objection to your characterization of Daily Nous as “pretty editorial and partisan” in recent days. Against that characterization, note that:
– I did not report on the release of the emails until after Brian Leiter made it a story by running a poll about the continuation of the PGR.
– My first post about the “fracas” was a set of jokes.
– My second (and main) post about the events, which followed shortly after the first one, was scrupulously neutral.
– My third post was merely an information link to the CHE article on the week’s events.
– Comments with a variety of opinions on these matters have been approved throughout the week.Report
Leiter wrote on his blog on Sept 23: “the PGR is a service to students, not to me. For me, it’s now nothing more than a headache–both because of all the time it takes, but because it opens me up to slimy attacks by unethical and unprofessional people. It would be in my self-interest to stop publishing the PGR, but it would not be in the interests of students or the profession.” If he meant this, then, unless he thinks PGR cannot be of service to students without Leiter as one of the editors, then it seems he should be happy to have PGR run by other people (ones he presumably helps appoint). Given the number of people who would not contribute to, or respect the results of, PGR if Leiter remains one of the editors, it is false that PGR is more of a service to students with Leiter as editor than without (at least assuming the new editors can do a good job, as surely they can).
So, repeating what I suggested in an earlier thread here, isn’t the optimizing compromise to have new leadership at PGR, perhaps delaying the process so that they can consider the sorts of changes suggested at various blogs.
Like many others, I would thank Brian for his long service to the profession in creating something that was much better than nothing (even if it had some flaws, some bad effects, and could probably be improved, etc.), that clearly has been a service to many students, and that clearly was a headache to him–one it would be in his self-interest to give up.Report
Well said, Eddy.Report
To the theme that the PGR is a service to the profession and to prospective graduate students — that is certainly not the case for anyone interested in pluralism and a variety of continental traditions. But this of course is patently obvious to everyone. The evaluators and the board do not represent a cross-section of the profession. To this, supporters of the PGR might say, but the evaluators and board represent those who do GOOD philosophy and not those who do that other nonsense.
I have a lot of background in statistics and survey research methodology (from studying public policy at Duke and later in working with Jim Fishkin of some deliberative polling projects). From the PGR’s very inception I have been a vocal critic of it — including the time that BL and I were both in the Texas philosophy department. My criticisms have always focused on the methodology. I think it is nearly impossible to set up a sound methodology for a reputation survey. That’s why I support creating a searchable database through PhilPapers or the APA (springing from its graduate guide) where students can get objective information.Report
I want to echo the sentiments of anon grad @ 9:29. Justin states:
“UPDATE: A few commenters have asked about evidence for the claim that the announced changes are merely nominal. All I can do at this point is remind readers that this blog is not known for its indulgence in unfounded speculation.”
It’s not clear to me that I should have confidence in the statement that this blog is not known for unfounded speculation, especially given the recent snarky posts that Justin has made. Although Justin has been more neutral than not, as he points out, this is a worrying trend in my eyes. I personally would much prefer DailyNous to avoid speculation in an editorializing way. As I noted on the fracas post, the reason that this blog is great because it provides the same, and additional, services as LeiterReports without the dividing commentary. More and more this blog seems to be moving away from that standard.Report
I like Justin’s (amusing) comments; I found his meaning clear and well-taken. I think it’s good to be aware of the absurdity of these philosophical explosions. They are serious, but they’re not _that_ important (in relation to, say, the conflict in Gaza).
However, if I were to make a suggestion, it would be to find some way to turn off threaded comments. It’s not clear where the most recent comments are, where to post a comment, etc. I prefer a numbered comments system like at Crooked Timber.Report
Thanks for the suggestion. I am of two minds about that. I agree it is harder to find the newer comments, on the other hand, sub threads are better contained and so some of the arguments are easier to follow. I would welcome others’ feedback on this.Report
My (mild) preference is to drop the subthreads. They’re better when reading the thread as a finished whole, but very unhelpful when it’s a continuing conversation.Report