Leiter Responds: Immediate Departure “Unacceptable” (updated)


Brian Leiter has declared that the two of three options presented by the majority of the Philosophical Gourmet Report’s board members which included requests that he step down immediately are “unacceptable.” He explains that he has already put in a significant amount of work towards the production of the 2014 edition of the PGR so he as “at least co-edited” it. He adds:

“I have also informed the Board that I am still considering the third proposal, namely, proceeding with the 2014 PGR (with Brit Brogaard as co-editor) while simultaenously committing to turn over any future PGR to others.  I am also considering two other possibilities:  (4) proceeding with the 2014 PGR (again, obviously, with Brit as co-editor) and postponing any decisions about the future of the PGR until after the 2014 PGR and after the current controversy; or (5) simply discontinuing the PGR altogether.”

You can read the rest of the post here.

UPDATE: Leiter has updated his post with the text of the letters the PGR board sent him. Here is an excerpt from the second one:

In the interim we have had some discussion among board members of the various options.  The consensus of the board members we have talked to is that we should request that you either step down from the leadership now and relinquish control of the PGR, or at least that you make a commitment to doing so by a specific date in the near future (with the consensus being that something like January 2015 would be the latest appropriate date, though the details could be discussed).

At this point, 30 board members have endorsed this request. 

It is clear that the majority of the board thinks that the only solution is for you to step down.  Of course we recognize that the PGR as it stands is under your control and the decision is yours.  But we do urge that you follow the request of the board. 

The central point is that this controversy, whatever its merits, will seriously undermine our ability as a group to produce a legitmate ranking.  Over 500 people have already signed a statement committing them to boycotting the PGR if you are in control.  Many others who have not signed the statement are waiting to see what happens.  We think that any ranking produced in this circumstance will be seriously compromised, and that the authority of the PGR will be undermined.

The board’s request specifies that you step down from the leadership and relinquish control of the PGR, meaning there should be a leader or group of leaders without your playing a direct or an indirect controlling role (an advisory role would be fine).  Ideally this leader or group of leaders should be appointed by the board, and the board rather than any individual should retain ultimate control of the PGR.

There are various ways in which this might occur.  In a previous email we suggested the following options:

(a) You step down from the leadership now.
(b) We postpone the survey until 2015 while you (publicly or privately) commit to stepping down before the survey.
(c) You remain on as co-editor for a 2014 survey and publicly commit to stepping down as soon as the survey is completed.

Our view is that (a) would be best, (b) second best, and (c) third best.  Some board members have said to us that they would find (c) unacceptable.  It is clear that many philosophers (including some board members) would still boycott the PGR under this circumstance, and that serious damage would be done, though less damage than would occur without the public commitment.  Still, many board members say that (c) would be acceptable.

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grad
grad
7 years ago

He seems to be confusing (i) staying on for the 2014 survey with (ii) being given credit for previous work on the 2014 survey. But receiving credit for the 2014 survey is compatible with his stepping down immediately.Report

j/k
j/k
7 years ago

I don’t think it is obvious that he is confusing those things. I read him as claiming that he has done enough editorial work already that an accurate statement of who the editors are for the 2014 PGR would have to include him. In other words, there is no way to disassociate the 2014 PGR from him/his work, except by acting like that work didn’t happen. But Leiter is unwilling not to be given credit for the work he has done. That seems reasonable enough to me although I’m not so sure how it jives with Marxist ideology.Report

grad
grad
Reply to  j/k
7 years ago

“In other words, there is no way to disassociate the 2014 PGR from him/his work, except by acting like that work didn’t happen.”

False. Let it be run by other people, and when it’s published, mention that much of the early legwork was done by Leiter.Report

L13
L13
Reply to  grad
7 years ago

I doubt “much of the early legwork” is a fair summation of Leiter’s work so far, given that the project is definitely past the early stage.Report

anon
anon
7 years ago

Do we know what options #1 and #2 were? I don’t think we’ve ever seen the letter.Report

d.
d.
7 years ago

If the problem is with the impropriety of his retaining his position, but not with his work on the PGR itself, then there’s nothing incompatible with stepping down and getting proper recognition for the work already done. It wouldn’t address other concerns which I take very seriously, such as whether his actual work on the PGR has negatively impacted the validity of the PGR (if, indeed, “validity” is even applicable to a reputational survey built on snowball sampling). But as I understand it, he takes only the first position as worthy of consideration, and it’s the only concern raised in these communications from the Board, so I don’t see why he’d view them as incompatible.Report

Ole Koksvik
7 years ago

j/k, the point is he can be credited as reasonable, and still not have any further active involvement with the production of the report.Report

j/k
j/k
Reply to  Ole Koksvik
7 years ago

Ole, that is exactly my point. I guess it depends on what ‘departure’ means, but all I am claiming is that even if Leiter bowed out now, his handprints would still be all over the 2014 PGR, such that he should be listed as a co-editor. On the face of it this would not seem to be enough to satisfy people who are refusing to have anything to do with the PGR as long as Leiter is “involved”. In any case, I think we are in agreement, and maybe Leiter had not considered this option…it just wasn’t clear to me from his post that he hadn’t. (I know it isn’t an option that he explicitly discussed, but there are presumably many options he considered but did not explicitly discuss.)

Perhaps it is worth saying that in my opinion he should seriously consider the option of bowing out now while still being listed as a co-editor for the 2014 PGR.Report

anon grad student
anon grad student
7 years ago

Some past commenter(s) have pointed out that if there is no new PGR now, students will just use the 2011 one for this year’s cycle. This seems realistic. Since everything seems to be ready to go, why not go with option 3, make the 2014 PRG, so students have up to date information, and hand it over to others after that. If people think that any PGR only provides ‘bad’ info, they should recognize that students will use that same info anyways, only in addition it would be out of date if the current survey doesn’t get created.
Any alternative, like a different kind of ranking, or a comprehensive database, or the PGR under new management, will take some time to get going. All the while students (and others) will keep using the 2011 PGR. So there seems no practical benefit to not creating the current one (perhaps call it officially ‘The last Leiter-led PGR” or whatever).Report

Carolyn Dicey Jennings
Carolyn Dicey Jennings
7 years ago

That graduate students will not have good, centralized information for this year’s decision is true no matter what Brian decides. The PGR already had issues of bias (it was not representative of the profession in terms of gender, for example, http://www.newappsblog.com/2014/04/the-gourmet-ranking-and-women-philosophers.html, which is an issue that was raised 10 years ago, without adequate solution http://www.csulb.edu/~jvancamp/Female_Friendly.html). Now that 15% of faculty at the top-50 PGR departments, and nearly 600 philosophers total, have signed the September Statement (http://www.newappsblog.com/2014/09/the-september-statement-some-numbers.html), the bias issue only intensifies. (And note that women signed the September Statement in greater proportion, making the gender issue all the more prescient.) If you want to know why good, centralized information is not available, this is because the profession has not yet worked out what this would require. There are numerous questions about content, format, and governance that are only now being discussed openly. This doesn’t mean that philosophy is “bad”–this is a thorny topic! The APA Guide to Graduate Programs (http://www.apaonline.org/?page=gradguide) is a student’s best bet for this year’s decision, in my opinion, although it is incomplete and, due to its format, does not allow for easy comparison between programs. I would NOT recommend using the “placement ranking” as a guide (http://www.newappsblog.com/2014/07/job-placement-2011-2014-comparing-placement-rank-to-pgr-rank.html). As I say at that post, this was an exercise to demonstrate the limitations of the PGR as a tool for graduate students. The incorporation of placement data, along with other objective measures, into future guides for graduate students is something I would like to see. But we are not there yet. For now, I apologize to prospective graduate students that good information is not available. I could have done more to make this happen. (We all could have.) I think we will get there. But we are not there yet.Report

Eric
Eric
7 years ago

His latest post on the campaign is beginning to really make him sound like Reverend Parris. I’m wondering who gets accused of witchcraft soon to take the heat off of him…Report

Carolyn Dicey Jennings
Carolyn Dicey Jennings
7 years ago

I want to add that the APA Guide does not capture programs outside the United States and Canada, which is an issue. Links to similar guides to Australasia, the United Kingdom, and anglophone departments in Europe would be helpful, if anyone has them.Report

ck
ck
7 years ago

This is unfortunate. The PGR has now been totally discredited. Anyone retaining advisory relations with a Leiter-led PGR just looks bad in doing so. (But why haven’t more of Leiter’s advisers signed on to the letter sent by the other members of the advisory board? Do that many of our well-regarded colleagues really resist asking Leiter to step down? If so, why are they regarded (by Leiter? by us? by whom?) as ‘leading philosophers’? Where’s the leadership in that? Is our discipline really ‘led’ by people who would support a man who publicly belittles and berates his colleagues (and typically his younger female colleagues) whilst running the most widely-read advisory report on graduate programs? Do they really think this has nothing to do with philosophy’s astoundingly embarassing gender gap problem?) If Leiter drags down those of ‘his’ advisers willing to get sucked into the hole with him, then this will be very bad for the profession ultimately. Better for the profession is let Leiter drown himself: let him publish the PGR all by himself with total noncooperation. The letter from Richardson is right on the mark. Kudos to Jennings for your clear points here (and all your work elsewhere).Report

j/k
j/k
Reply to  ck
7 years ago

ck writes: “Is our discipline really ‘led’ by people who would support a man who publicly belittles and berates his colleagues (and typically his younger female colleagues) whilst running the most widely-read advisory report on graduate programs? Do they really think this has nothing to do with philosophy’s astoundingly embarassing gender gap problem?)”

Well, Leiter has *always* been a man who publicly belittles and berates his colleagues, and people still “supported” him. Of course, he mainly treated religious or conservative people that way. Do you think that explains the astoundingly skewed percentages of religious believers and conservatives in philosophy (relative to the general population)? Note too that the belittling and berating that people seem to be most worked up about was not public, until the belittled and berated made it so. (To be clear, I think it is wrong to belittle and berate people.)

In any case, for the record, I’m fine with other people aiming providing an alternative ranking system. (Or an alternative way of choosing grad programs, or whatever.) My concern is that I think the PGR is valuable, so I don’t want to see it torn down without a decent replacement. I also am having a bit of trouble understanding why everyone feels it is so urgent to put Leiter in his place, disassociate him with the PGR, etc. Is it really just that this time he has belittled and berated some of “us”, rather than “them”–one of the cool kids, rather than one of the conservative religious freaks? I hope not, but I do get that feeling sometimes…Report

Clement Loo
Clement Loo
Reply to  j/k
7 years ago

My sense it’s less that philosophers are more concerned with the treatment of other philosophers than other folks and more of an instance where people critical of Leiter or the PGR reached critical mass and now have the fora to publicly state their concerns.

For years people have in various places grumbled about how Leiter treated folks and people who thought that ordinal rankings such as the PGR are counterproductive for the field. It seems to me that the recent events, due to their salience given the prominence of the figures involved, and the increasing interconnectedness of professional philosophers on the internet through social media just presented folks with the opportunity and ability to collectively speak out.Report

Anon
Anon
Reply to  j/k
7 years ago

j/k is exactly right. Leiter has, for years, had a whole thread on his site called ‘Merciless rhetorical spankings of fanatics, villains, and ignoramuses’ that targets primarily political conservatives and religious people (both of whom, j/k rightly points out, are extremely underrepresented in philosophy relative to the general population), and no one has batted an eye at it. It wasn’t until he went after some feminists (with vitriol far less ‘merciless’ than what conservatives usually get from him) that the outcry began. The whole ‘this kind of discourse is unprofessional and unacceptable’ line is pure window dressing. People aren’t mad at Leiter because he said mean things, they’re mad because he said mean things about people who represent the political/social views that the majority of philosophers support. If he had threatened Michael Behe or Al Plantinga with legal action, even if he had actually brought it against them, under similar circumstances, no one would care. My guess is that everyone would be praising his ‘bravery’ for doing so.Report

an non
an non
7 years ago

Has anyone considered trying to get his advertisers to pull out from his website? Or is it a step too far to hit a philosopher in the pocket book?Report

Crimlaw
Crimlaw
7 years ago

If one thing that is meant by “bias” in the PGR is that its advisory board and set of evaluators are not representative of various populations then of course there is a whole lot of bias in the PGR. The PGR has, to my knowledge, not attempted to rank various things based on a representative sampling of opinions. For example, in none of the specialty rankings for areas I know well is the list of evaluators representative of the field as a whole. There seems to be a bias in the selection of evaluators towards well established scholars in the fields in line with the PGR’s attempt to survey expert opinion. One might, as some do, think that the identification of experts is problematic. One might, as some do, think that the resulting rankings are flawed because of this. In the areas I know well, I don’t see things in either of these ways, though I could be mistaken.

Here’s a concrete example. Here is the list of evaluators for Ancient Philosophy from the most recent PGR.
Rachel Barney, Hugh Benson, Jessica Berry, Christopher Bobonich, Tad Brennan, Victor Caston, Dan Devereux, David Ebrey, Gail Fine, Brad Inwood, Terence Irwin, Thomas Johanson, Lindsay Judson, Mohan Matthan, C.D.C. Reeve, David Sedley, Christopher Shields, Allan Silverman, Nicholas Smith, Katja Vogt.

I greatly value the collective judgment contained in the PGR about programs in Ancient Philosophy provided by this non-representative, in various ways, set of evaluators. I do not claim that the list of evaluators is perfect nor do I claim that the collective judgment from them contained in the report is perfect. I claim that the judgment provides valuable information to various parties including prospective students. There are far more PhD programs that proclaim themselves to be outstanding places for the study of ancient philosophy than the experts seem to think.
Some of those who would prefer to replace such assessments with non-evaluative information from departments about areas of research of faculty members and publication records seem to me to leave out the importance of judgments of quality. Others, I realize, think we should try to find better ways of measuring quality or that we should give up on trying. That’s a topic I might try to post something about later.Report

Carolyn Dicey Jennings
Carolyn Dicey Jennings
Reply to  Crimlaw
7 years ago

Noting the prominence of those names is insufficient–we need to know whether that precise group is best suited to judging the quality of ALL others who work within that area of specialization. There are multiple problems here. First, greatness does not necessarily correlate with the ability to perceive greatness, and may even conflict with it when we are talking about work that challenges the current standards of greatness. Second, group balance is important for consolidated opinions (look at the Supreme Court!), and noting the greatness of a group’s members is not enough to tell us whether the group as a whole is balanced. And what should be the measure of balance? The only non-circular measure that I can think of is that the balance of group qualities roughly lines up with the balance of group qualities in the profession as a whole, including gender and race/ethnic identity. (This, of course, assumes that greatness operates independently of gender and race/ethnic identity.)Report

anon p
anon p
Reply to  Carolyn Dicey Jennings
7 years ago

The previous commenter wasn’t simply noting the “prominence” of “names”: he was taking their prominence to correlate roughly with some subset of highly-respected expert opinion. This doesn’t seem all that different from attaching greater weight to letters of recommendation from such persons (except, as sometimes happens, when they’re known to render unreliable judgments). But maybe you object to that practice, too. If so, reputational surveys would be lesser among the profession’s problems–given that recommendation letters, for admissions and jobs, are having only greater influence as the ability to make talent and quality distinctions based on what’s on paper has become increasingly difficult, since far more candidates at all levels appear very well-qualified.Report

Carolyn Dicey Jennings
Carolyn Dicey Jennings
Reply to  anon p
7 years ago

As far as I know, letters of recommendation typically provide reasoned, qualitative assessment, rather than numerical valuations. Further, letters of recommendation are not typically consolidated. Imagine if each job candidate came with a number, and that number reflected the mean rating of a group of respected philosophers. Wouldn’t group makeup matter? Would you take the number as seriously as reasoned, qualitative assessment? If you found out that the locus of this group was a single philosopher (who selected some members of the group, who selected other members of the group, etc.), would that impact how much weight you gave that number? What if that single philosopher was vocal about which types of philosophy he or she particularly valued, and some job candidates worked within the less valued fields? What if you found out that this single philosopher attempted to prevent the existence of competing assessments, or your knowledge of these assessments? For lots of reasons, I think this case is different from that of letters of recommendation, which is clear from how fanciful these imaginings are forced to become. Does this mean that philosophers are perfectly rational with letters of recommendation? No. But we can get much closer to valuable information, even using the methodology of a reputational survey of experts, than the PGR has managed to do so far.Report

Crimlaw
Crimlaw
Reply to  Carolyn Dicey Jennings
7 years ago

Your point about letters of recommendation, and by analogy, to tenure letters, is well taken. The difference you point to seems important so I concede the point.
Fellowship applications to the major funding agencies for philosophers are, however, evaluated using numbers in just the way you mention. That’s my experience as a reviewer. The results of the funding cycles I have been involved with seem to work out quite well. Again, it’s not a perfect system, but it does get good results from what I can tell in the areas I am well qualified to assess.Report

anon p
anon p
Reply to  Carolyn Dicey Jennings
7 years ago

You might be somewhat inexperienced, or I somewhat cynical (after a decade+ of experience), about how letters of recommendation often work. They aren’t (at least in how they’re often received) closely analogous to tenure letters, which are far more about “reasoned, qualitative assessment” (but still often come down to yea, nay, or maybe). The strength of recs is often a function of (respected) prominence of (reliable) writer and the degree of seemingly informed praise (i.e., hype) or qualified enthusiasm.

Anyway, I wasn’t interested here in debate about the PGR versus other approaches to reporting/ranking–which is where you’re steering the discussion. So I’ll step aside.Report

Crimlaw
Crimlaw
Reply to  Carolyn Dicey Jennings
7 years ago

“we need to know whether that precise group is best suited to judging the quality of ALL others who work within that area of specialization” —

We would only need to know that this “precise” group is “best” suited for this purpose if we thought that only a perfect (or, the best) set of evaluators could make good judgments. If that were required then this is an easy discussion. That group of evaluators could be improved — add Julia Annas to it for one example.
Similarly, PGR panels do not evaluate the work of “ALL” who work in an area. They evaluate the area in question for each of the departments being evaluated in the survey, typically only those departments being evaluated in the overall survey.
The objections you list seem to me to point to possible imperfections in surveying expert opinion. Such possible imperfections don’t seem to prevent the PGR panels from coming up with quite plausible specialty rankings. Does it look different to you regarding the assessments of your specialty areas?
Relatedly, can I assume you make the same sorts of objections about “representative”-ness when soliciting tenure letter writers for colleagues who are up for promotion? When relying on expert panels for purposes of making recommendations about fellowship awards? And in so many other areas of the profession where expert opinion is surveyed and relied on quite explicitly? When I am involved in requesting promotion letters on colleagues I want recognized expert opinion, not representation of the profession, and this seems to have served me and my department quite well over the years. This doesn’t show that some other approach might not be even better. So among other things I’d welcome a comparison between the work of a PGR-like panel, chosen in an attempt to get a good though inevitably imperfect set of reviewers, with what a panel “representative” of everyone in the same field would come up with. It’s an empirical issue what such a panel would come up with. My point (do you dispute it?) is that the PGR specialty panels seem to do a very good job, at least in those subfields I am qualified to assess by virtue of my own professional training and standing.Report

Carolyn Dicey Jennings
Carolyn Dicey Jennings
Reply to  Crimlaw
7 years ago

“My point (do you dispute it?) is that the PGR specialty panels seem to do a very good job, at least in those subfields I am qualified to assess by virtue of my own professional training and standing.” On this–I think that if I were able to determine the rightness of the result on my own, I wouldn’t need to consolidate expert opinion in the first place.Report

Crimlaw
Crimlaw
Reply to  Carolyn Dicey Jennings
7 years ago

*You* wouldn’t need to consolidate the expert opinion if you were able to assess it well by yourself. But that consolidated opinion might well be quite useful (as PGR has been over the years) to *prospective students* who aren’t themselves able to judge what you or I or other experts might be able to judge about an area.Report

Carolyn Dicey Jennings
Carolyn Dicey Jennings
Reply to  Carolyn Dicey Jennings
7 years ago

“*You* wouldn’t need to consolidate the expert opinion if you were able to assess it well by yourself. But that consolidated opinion might well be quite useful (as PGR has been over the years) to *prospective students* who aren’t themselves able to judge what you or I or other experts might be able to judge about an area.”

My point was something like this: If an individual could judge the rightness of a particular collective survey, then one might as well just publish that individual’s opinion (or any single individual’s opinion who is deemed a competent judge). One might object that it is important that one has multiple names for the sake of appearances, but that the multiple experts only reproduce the same, unanimous opinion. I don’t think that sounds right. In any case, I think that multiple opinions are important and add something of value over and above the opinion of even one very good individual expert. With that perspective, to ask me if the result is right is akin to asking me whether the result of an election is right, based on my own political proclivities. I couldn’t possibly know, just because I am not a representative sample of voters/experts, but (at best!) only one voter/expert, with her own biases and preferences.Report

Carolyn Dicey Jennings
Carolyn Dicey Jennings
Reply to  Crimlaw
7 years ago

Follow-up: I don’t think we would need to be quite so concerned about group makeup if the sampling method used wasn’t known to lead to bias (and not bias of “the right kind”). I am not supposing that we always have to run these sorts of checks on group makeup. But these checks are necessary, I think, when we know that the sampling method is problematic. Gender balance is a relatively easy thing to check, and we have known for 10 years that the PGR falls short this type of balance (the evaluators were calculated to be 12% women in 2011). Other balances are harder to check, but we know from Kieran Healy’s data that continental philosophy is not well-represented in the sample. Here is another way to arrive at a sample of experts: allow every full-time professional philosopher to put forward 1 or more nominations. Select 500 names at random from the pool that have at least two (?) nominations.Report

Networked up
Networked up
7 years ago

One thing we learned from all this is that Carrie Jenkins has an incredibly powerful network. Maybe she should run the PGR, given that it’s main use is a guide to what the cool kids think.Report

anon
anon
7 years ago

good grief… Leiter clearly thinks that if he just holds tightly to the reins long enough, we’ll all forget about this and go away. He has profoundly misread the situation.

If I were a friend of Leiter’s (I’ve never met him), I would urge him *for his own sake* to step down immediately and spare himself further embarrassment. His actions are merely increasing hostility towards him. If he leaves now, he will leave with a ‘thanks’ from many in the discipline for what he *has* done. If he doesn’t accept one of the board’s first two options, I expect that the board members themselves will boycott PGR. And that they are some other group will quickly fill the vacuum of the in-that-case-defunct PGR. If it is true — as Leiter likes to claim — that the PGR is not a “one man show”, then it –or something functionally like it — should be able to easily continue without him.

I also want to second an early comment — that Brian is conflating *getting credit for* the work he’s done thus far on the new PGR and *continuing on with* PGR. I’m sure none of the board member’s have any qualms with Brian’s receiving credit for work done. this is willful misdirection on his part.Report

Mitchell Aboulafia
7 years ago

In one of their letters to Leiter the Board members say the following, “We think that for a majority of the profession, continuing the PGR under new management would be an option preferable both to the PGR continuing as is and to its ceasing entirely.” In all due respect, the assumption of the Board that continuing the PGR is better than the PGR ceasing is not something it is in a position to assert for a majority of the profession. We don’t know for certain what a majority of the profession thinks, and we certainly don’t know what an INFORMED majority of the profession would think after a public debate about a department ranking system and considered the alternatives. Those who have brought substantial evidence to bear about bias and methodological problems over the years have been able to gain little purchase on Leiter’s machine. This is not right, especially for philosophers who count being critical as a virtue. The opponents deserve a serious hearing. At the price of appearing to toot my own horn, I make a plea in my blog for more discussion and debate before we roll over and are presented with Leiter (again) or a Leiter lite ranking system as a fait accompli. http://upnight.com/2014/10/01/rank-and-yank-whats-next-for-the-philosophy-rankings-game/ For those opposed to rankings, there is a way that you can make yourselves heard, sign the October Statement. http://proteviblog.typepad.com/protevi/2014/10/the-october-statement-no-rankings-not-now-not-ever.htmlReport

FormerPhilStudent
FormerPhilStudent
7 years ago

I would like to point out that this is the first time there has ever been a robust discussion on the internet of the value of the PGR, and of rankings in general. This is the first time that more than a select few have been willing to publicly criticize the PGR, including bloggers who regularly write publicly about issues in the profession. Why? Because they know they can finally do so without the threat of being mocked on the blog most widely read by their professional peers. Even Leiter knows that now would be a terrible time to attack the credibility and intelligence of people who question the PGR, which is his usual MO.
It is no coincidence that this discussion has not happened until now. And the fact that a community of professional philosophers–people known to be critical thinkers above all else and champions of freedom of expression–could have allowed themselves to wind up in a situation such as the one that existed prior to it becoming “safe” to air grievances about the PGR, is so mind-bogglingly absurd that I’m at a loss for what else there is to say about it.Report

David Wallace
David Wallace
7 years ago

I am rather surprised at how this announcement is being received. (I speak as a non-supporter of the current campaigns so my surprise may reflect something I’m not understanding about them.)

Although in the wake of the September statement significant numbers of people have taken the opportunity to express scepticism about the PGR generally, the original statement as well as the main public critics of Leiter have been careful to stress that this is not about the PGR itself but about the supposed inappropriateness of Leiter continuing to run the PGR, given the undue influence that they believe it grants him and the way in which they believe he abuses that influence. Given that, the timing of this protest – immediately before the beginning of evaluation for the 2014 PGR, after all its preparatory work had been done – was always extremely unfortunate: this is about the worst time to disassociate Leiter from PGR without damaging PGR, and the time at which Leiter would be most likely to resist giving up PGR; conversely, about the best time to do it would be a couple of months later, immediately after the 2014 PGR was released and long before any preparations for the 2016 or 2017 PGR had begun. (I’m happy to believe the assurances that have been given that this campaign is neither an attempt to punish Leiter nor itself to do with PGR; I presume the timing is driven by other factors and is just coincidentally bad.)

But that being the case, Leiter’s “third proposal” looks pretty optimal for September-Statement people. The 2014 PGR is about to go out to evaluators and no-one (I think?) has suggested that Leiter twists their arms in the actual evaluation process, so Leiter’s supposed undue influence derives not from the fact that he’s about to produce the 2014 PGR, but from the fact that he will in due course produce future PGRs. Pushing for that third proposal allows Leiter to step down in good order, apparently satisfies the bulk of the PGR board, achieves the September Statement’s goals, and is minimally disruptive of the 2014 PGR. At least for those who maintain it’s about Leiter and not the PGR, what’s not to like?Report

Carolyn Dicey Jennings
Carolyn Dicey Jennings
Reply to  David Wallace
7 years ago

I can see your perspective, David. I think you are missing a crucial piece of the puzzle, which is that the action needs to be immediate for the sake of Carrie, among others. Carrie did not choose this timing. In fact, neither did I. I have been commenting on the above problems with the PGR since 2011 on Brian’s own blog: “I think a ranking system is useful and that lots of ranking problems are already being solved in the current system. I hope that those who are involved in the current system continue to think about changes directed toward accurately assessing the field, since that might preserve the good work already being done and prevent the need for a competing ranking system to satisfy those who are worried about some of these issues. October 21, 2011 at 05:02 PM.” I have long seen problems with the PGR, but hoped that insiders would attempt to fix them. When I went on the job market (in 2011) I was curious about the numbers, and so calculated them for my own sake. I soon realized that this work would be helpful to others. I sent it to Brian before anyone else, thinking that he might be able to incorporate placement data into the PGR, but Brian did not respond. Brian chose this summer to launch a tirade against my work. Carrie chose that moment to comment on the climate within philosophy, in general. Brian chose that moment to send emails to Carrie that were very damaging. Carrie tried to put that behind her, but the damaging content of those emails was made public by Brian very recently, further harming Carrie and her ability to work. Carrie is not the only one who has been harmed here, but the harm needs to be stopped now. There has been no attempt, as far as I know, to alleviate that harm. Brian posted to someone else’s Facebook an explanation of his side of the story, but has not, as far as I know, accepted that he was in the wrong with this behavior and that this behavior caused significant damage to others. He has certainly not apologized to me, despite my pointing out exactly why his language was harmful to me and to others and making clear that I only wanted him to alter the language to avoid that harm: http://www.newappsblog.com/2014/07/intelligence-as-a-criticism.html . The September Statement is an attempt, as I see it, to stop the harm as soon as possible. Allowing the 2014 PGR to continue would not honor that. As I say above, I don’t think losing the 2014 PGR is a great harm to students, due to the manifest problems with sampling, which have been pointed out for years without remedy. It is not the fault of the September Statement that these problems have been ignored. That the signers of the September Statement, for other reasons, refuse to take part in the PGR just means that those problems will become worse.Report

Carolyn Dicey Jennings
Carolyn Dicey Jennings
Reply to  David Wallace
7 years ago

Some edits, for clarity: “There has been no attempt, as far as I know, to alleviate that harm.” should be “There has been no attempt by Brian, as far as I know, to alleviate that harm.”

“Allowing the 2014 PGR to continue would not honor that.” should be “Allowing the 2014 PGR to continue as is would not honor that.”

And, in case this part isn’t clear, the worry is that the harms will escalate so long as Brian holds the reins to the PGR, as they have escalated over the past several months without remedy, despite requests for change that have been sent directly to Brian.Report

FormerPhilStudent
FormerPhilStudent
Reply to  David Wallace
7 years ago

I’m having a hard time seeing your perspective, David. I think it’s disingenuous to passively suggest that the timing of this was part of some sort of carefully orchestrated plot to undo the PGR, or that the impetus behind the September Statement was anything other than Brian Leiter’s egregious behavior and a wish to disassociate the profession from it. The only thing “unfortunate” about the timing is that something like this didn’t happen long ago, because his behavior has been egregious for awhile. Yes, there are people in the profession now criticizing the PGR who never did before. I just gave a reason (in my previous comment) why this might be happening now: because given the circumstances, Leiter is currently unable to wage his typical, shockingly out-of-proportion vendettas against anyone who dare say anything even slightly negative about the PGR in public. Anyone who has followed his blog for awhile knows that this is what happens, every time. Here is additional evidence for this claim: what Carolyn Dicey Jennings just told you about her own experience offering simple suggestions about possible improvements to the PGR. What she received from Leiter for her efforts was a withering critique, including insulting her intelligence, in public, on a blog, and not just any blog but the most widely-read blog in the profession, run by a man who also runs a Holy Grail of rankings that has real-world effects on all kinds of activities within the profession, as well as people’s livelihoods.
Can you see now why people might have hesitated to openly critique the PGR? Leiter goes out of his way to police what gets said about it, using his popular blog as a way to tightly control the narrative. Can you see how there might be a conflict of interest there? Frankly, it’s astounding to me that there are those in the profession who would *still* defend his editorship of the PGR. What else does he have to do? (We know now he is not above telling colleagues they work in “sh*t” departments, that alone should be reason enough to want to separate him from the PGR, if it is to have any legitimacy at all going forward.)Report

Felonius Screwtape
Felonius Screwtape
7 years ago

It seems at this point the goose is cooked; perhaps it has been for a while now. Hundreds of members of the profession representing a wide diversity of its specializations have expressed their displeasure in the PGR, including at least 15% of those faculty at pgr-ranked institutions, and this number grows daily. By scores, they have signed petitions refusing their complicity in any pgr-related exercise. They have said no to either (in September) BL and the PGR in various guises, or more radically (in October) to rankings of any sort in general. They overwhelmingly voted no to the continuation of the pgr in BL’s own polls. They include a majority of the Advisory Board of the PGR. One might wager that They now constitute a majority of the profession, silent no more. And so it would seem that fewer than half the members of the profession will view pgr2014 with anything other than suspicion and perhaps derision, and it will not have any professional legitimacy, except among those (mostly administrative types) who cling to the now discredited pretense that it does. Moreover, Nottingham has had the good sense to ask to withdraw from consideration, a request apparently denied by the editor. Perhaps if the “November Statement” were comprised of a similar request to withdraw from a majority of “ranked” departments–or, if not departments as a whole as in the case of Nottingham, then at least individual members–then perhaps the message would finally be received and the right decision made. Perhaps such “November Statement” should be the next organizational frontline.Report

anon p
anon p
Reply to  Felonius Screwtape
7 years ago

By your math, roughly 85% of “faculty at pgr-ranked institutions” haven’t signed protest statements. Maybe this means “the goose is cooked,” if medium rare is supposed to be good enough.Report

Felonius Screwtape
Felonius Screwtape
Reply to  anon p
7 years ago

yes but (a) that number will grow just as will the numbers of other signatories, and (b) those signatories from non-ranked institutions don’t count as any less valuable than signatories from ranked institutions, and when properly viewed as such, then (c) i’d wager that a majority of the profession overall is opposed. So, cooked to succulent perfection.Report

Truthy
Reply to  Felonius Screwtape
7 years ago

In the PGR logic the opinions of faculty at non-ranked institutions count for nothing.Report

Tom
Tom
7 years ago

I also do not get a sense of the goose being cooked from Leiter’s recent responses. It is difficult to interpret of course, but my sense is that Leiter believes that the ‘campaign’ against him is unfounded and irrational and that he should not succumb to what he calls a ‘cyber mob’. In the most recent statement, I got the vivid sense that he thinks of this as a ‘tempest in the teapot’, a kind of hysterical overreaction that is going to die out if enough time passes. (This is interpretation; he does not say this quite explicitly.) This would explain why he appears to sympathize most with the idea of postponing a decision about his involvement with PGR in the future even though, as is clear from the emails sent by the Advisory Board, it is clear that a majority of the advisory board deems this the least favorable option.Report

P
P
Reply to  Tom
7 years ago

I see no reason to believe Leiter will step down. And I see no reason to believe he will stop perpetrating against others. He has been, and continues to be, very open about his commitments on both matters. That being the case, there is only one question: Will the community he claims to serve continue to empower him?Report

Owen Flanagan
Owen Flanagan
7 years ago

In July I resigned from 5 Leiter panels.: General Ranking, Philosophy of Mind, Philosophy of Cognitive Science, Ethics, and Metaethics. Suppose, what is implausible, that I, and all the other panelists in these five groups, were selected by some reliable method, that we are experts, representative, etc. Well, now some significant number of us — at least 15% — have announced we will not cooperate. One might assume that we noncooperators are unrepresentative. We see tempests in teapots and such. Maybe we are more attuned to inclusiveness in the profession. If so, the remaining pools of evaluators are more representative of the cohorts more likely to recertify elites as such. How to correct that? Expand the pools and replace noncooperators. But from what pool? Some say that more young philosophers, women, and philosophers from underrepresented groups have signed the September and October statements than elders, men, etc.. This is yet another reason why any 2014 PGR would lack credibility.Report

Michael Dickson
Reply to  Owen Flanagan
7 years ago

This is exactly right. A previous commenter (j/k) says: “even if Leiter bowed out now, his handprints would still be all over the 2014 PGR”, but, oddly, also suggests that the 2014 report should proceed as planned. If the (or a) problem with the report lies in its being beholden in subtle (or not so subtle) ways to the interests of a non-representative minority, then bringing out the 2014 report as planned — regardless of what one thinks of the potential value of any such report — does the discipline a huge disservice by perpetuating the error.

To add to the point about the evaluators already being lined up, the decision about which departments even to include has apparently already also been made. (I speak as one who himself bowed out of the process long ago and never once lobbied for my department to be included, and as one, once he saw how it worked from the inside, became extremely skeptical of the whole business. Just so we’re clear.)Report

Crimlaw
Crimlaw
Reply to  Owen Flanagan
7 years ago

The PGR has never purported to be a “representative” poll of some kind. Certainly not in the beginning when the editor worked largely alone with occasional ad hoc consultations with those he viewed as experts on specific topics. And certainly not when the advisory board was formed and surveys became the method by which various rankings were constructed. Owen was selected as an evaluator for being an expert according to the person who nominated him – probably an advisory board member. He was not selected for being representative of anything. That’s not how the PGR works. The evaluators are listed explicitly and the information about how they are selected has been publicly available for a long time.
As I’ve said elsewhere, I think the advice given by the named evaluators about various areas is quite good even though the evaluators for the various are chosen for perceived expertise rather than as representing the profession as a whole in various ways.Report

Michael Dickson
Reply to  Crimlaw
7 years ago

“The PGR has never purported to be a “representative” poll of some kind.”

Right. And some people think that’s a problem. I made the point only conditionally (“If it is a problem…”)Report

Anon
Anon
7 years ago

Why not this solution: let him do and say what he wants to do and say on his own blog, and let him make a ranking system with the help of whoever is willing to help him? If people want to listen to him and pay attention to the PGR, then they can. If people think he’s biased and/or a blowhard, they’re free to ignore his blog and ignore/refuse to participate in the PGR. They’re even free to come up with a ranking system of their own, and publish it. In short, if you don’t like him, ignore him. The idea that, beyond this, you need to make sure that no one else listens to him, either, that he is no longer allowed to publish rankings, that you need to pressure advertisers into leaving his blog, is extremely petty and vindictive. Who is really the target of a campaign to ‘silence’ someone here?Report

Anonymouser
Anonymouser
Reply to  Anon
7 years ago

Brian, consider this: “Why not this solution: let Synthese do and say what they want to in their journals, and let them publish whatever papers they want with the help of whoever is willing to help them? If people want to read the journal, then they can. If people want to referee for them, they can. If people think they’re biased, they’re free to ignore it and not read the articles. They’re even free to publish a journal of their own. In short, if you don’t like it, ignore it. The idea that, beyond this, you need to make sure that no one else reads it, either, is extremely petty and vindictive. Who is really the target of a campaign to ‘silence’ someone here?”

Your call to boycott Synthese seems at odds with what you say here. And in the unlikely event that Anon isn’t Brian, then you should know that Brian clearly does not approve of what you say, as he has tried many times to “make sure that no one else listens to [someone]”. (http://leiterreports.typepad.com/blog/2011/04/synthese-editors-cave-in-to-pressure-from-the-intelligent-design-lobby.html)Report

L13
L13
Reply to  Anonymouser
7 years ago

I am neither Brian Leiter nor the person you’re responding to, but I agree with the latter.

I agree that Brian Leiter’s has enjoyed immense professional influence and the undue ability to ruin reputations for years, which is unacceptable. (I would also note that he has not enjoyed these privileges on the merit of his academic work, which might make them even harder to countenance, depending on your personal beliefs.) I agree that the philosophical profession needs to divest itself of the weight of his abusive rhetoric and dogmatic views. As it stands now–or as it stood until very recently–Brian Leiter holds unearned authority that allows him to censor and castigate weaker members of the profession at will; in fact he enables the very existence of a pseudo-survivalist hierarchy of power in the profession. Therefore, he poisons the spirit of collegiality and cooperation in which professional interactions between academics are supposed to be conducted.

However, I also agree with Anon above that the backlash against Leiter has been embarrassing, and at times seeks the same recourse as Leiter himself when he tries to discredit his opponents. I would have rejoiced if multiple philosophers and philosophy departments had opted out of Leiter’s popularity contest, including all the board members who signed the letter asking for his resignation, stripping him and his project of their unwarranted legitimacy. However, insisting on the survival of the PGR without Leiter is both unfair to Leiter as a person and an expression of support for the way he has ordered the philosophical profession over the years.

Lastly, the fact Leiter has behaved dishonourably toward junior members of the profession in no way excuses dishonourable behaviour toward him.Report

Anon
Anon
Reply to  Anonymouser
7 years ago

This is anon from 3:51. I am most certainly not Brian Leiter. I agree entirely with what you say about whole Synthese thing, and that Leiter has frequently acted similarly towards other targets. And, I think it’s petty and vindictive when he did/does that. Don’t you? Your comment suggests so, and seems to acknowledge that the current treatment of Leiter is relevantly analogous.

I hope it’s obvious to everyone that the fact that Leiter has behaved in irrational and unjust ways towards others doesn’t make it OK to act in irrational and unjust ways toward him, but I kind of doubt that that’s obvious to anyone anymore, or, if it is, that anyone cares. As Impartial below rightly points out, this whole thing is purely political at this point. And Anonymouser’s use of the ‘he did it first!’ argument makes me even more confident that the outcome of this whole ordeal will just be the replacement of an aggressive, biased ax-grinder at the forefront of the profession with a cabal of passive-aggressive, biased ax-grinders. Hooray for progress!Report

P
P
Reply to  Anon
7 years ago

Anon, I believe the September Statement answers the questions you raise. The issue is not the PGR (which is not to say that there aren’t legitimate issues to be had with the PGR). Nor is the issue that people don’t like Brian Leiter (many do!). Rather, the issue is that Leiter consistently conducts himself in ways that are damaging to the profession, and destructive of other people in the profession. Calling attention to this fact is neither petty, nor vindictive. Indeed, it is long overdue.Report

perpetuavix
Reply to  Anon
7 years ago

It seems like many people are forgetting that the PGR is meant to assist students who are interested in pursuing graduate study. Many students who look at the guide are in schools where there might not be many faculty who give them context (ie. tell them about the issues with the PGR, or even about its strengths). PGR isn’t useless, but it is entirely lacking in context. If another edition of it were to be posted, it would be pretty easy for a new batch of students to miss this entire controversy and accept the PGR as the ‘definitive’ source of ranking information in the discipline. The same issues exists for students using the 2011 edition, but at least they might recognize one limitation of the rankings (namely, that they’re not current).Report

Impartial
Impartial
7 years ago

Many people find it odd that all this furore was caused by the leak of BL’s email to CIJ. The point about “the hair that broke the camel’s back” seems ad hoc. It it disheartening to see the profession rise up only now that Leiter has made the mistake of going after an extremely well-connected philosopher, someone far less vulnerable than Leiter’s usual victims. And he didn’t even go public as he usually does. So what we have here is an arm-wrestling contest between two factions of the privileged stratum of the profession. Let’s not pretend this is about justice and inclusiveness.Report

Bill
Bill
Reply to  Impartial
7 years ago

I don’t know how many people were aware of Leiter’s habit of making legal threats against people who disagreed with him about professional matters before the emails to Professor Jenkins were made public but I certainly wasn’t. And I don’t know whether those who were aware of them hadn’t seen them documented in a way that made clear how over the top they were.

These two facts have certainly made a difference to my attitude: I think that this is an entirely different order of behavior from nasty comments on blogs (bad as these were). Under the circumstances, I’m surprised by the number of people alleging that the current criticisms are not being made in good faith; and since this point has been made a number of times, on a number of different blogs, I’m beginning to find it hard to think the accusations of lack of good faith are themselves made in good faith.Report

anon p
anon p
Reply to  Bill
7 years ago

If you’re inclined to believe that nearly everyone concerned about “lack of good faith” is acting in bad faith, maybe you haven’t been paying enough attention. Some non-signatories are reluctant to sign on to a campaign 1) selectively motivated, driven by “friends of X” — where X professionally is highly privileged and hardly vulnerable, subjected to unprofessional treatment that doesn’t appear seriously threatening; 2) when the motives of signatories, regardless of the stated aims of whatever addended “September Statement,” seem so multifarious as to call into question what one in effect would be signing on to.

Signatory activists have taken to trying to browbeat and shame non-signatories by insistently raising suspicions. Only misogynists, PGR diehards, Leiter fanfolks, complacent jerks, or wimps still intimidated by a derobed emperor could fail to understand and accept the obvious motivations and aims of signatory activists? Miss me, at least, with that.Report

P
P
Reply to  anon p
7 years ago

Re (1): (1) is false. The signatories of the Sept Statement are not all friends of CIJ. In addition, the idea the CIJ is invulnerable does not follow from the fact that she is privileged. Likewise, the idea that BL’s conduct cannot be reasonably taken as seriously threatening does not follow from the fact that CIJ is privileged, either.

Re (2): (2) is dubious also. Those who assert (2) appear to have profound insight into the motives of the (now 600+) signatories. But they have yet to provide any credible justification for their conclusions.

Re: signatory activism. I agree that there has been some signatory activism. But it does not follow from this that the September Statement is anything more, or less, than it presents itself as being. Activists or no activists, it is, and remains, a public call for concrete action in response to destructive behavior.Report

anon p
anon p
Reply to  P
7 years ago

1) No one has claimed or implied that all, or even most, of the ~600 signatories are “friends of X.” “Likewise,” no one has claimed or implied that conduct can’t be seriously threatening to a professionally privileged person: the claim has been that the conduct in question wasn’t seriously threatening, in its nature, to such a person. But if those distortions are somehow needed to defend the cause, have at them.
2) The claim that motives appear multifarious doesn’t depend on having “profound insight” into anything. All one has to do is read of–on philosophy blogs–the various charges, issues, clarifications, and aims surrounding the “September Statement” (thus, for example, the “October Statement”), including from signatories closely associated with the statement. In any case, the claim that motives appear multifarious implies nothing about whether all, some, or most of those motives are legitimate: the claim was that one might be confused about what, in effect, one was signing on to.

Some people are very reluctant in general to sign any petition, even when strongly sympathetic to a related cause, since they’re concerned about seeming to endorse whatever messages and messengers might be associated–especially when their own name by itself wouldn’t carry much weight. This reluctance doesn’t amount to generally casting aspersions against any petition’s signatories.

In this case, strident proponents seem determined to insist that the “September Statement” is obviously and always what “it presents itself as being,” addenda included–even as an insider has now acknowledged internal discussion about the wording, due to recognition that it could be read, not unreasonably, as endorsing the mission of the PGR, under different editorship.

Since you’re concerned about speculating about motives, maybe the shaming attempts–expressed through raising suspicions about bad faith among willful non-signatories–could occupy some of your attention. Regardless, the browbeating probably isn’t accomplishing much positive.Report

P
P
Reply to  P
7 years ago

I stand by what I said. anon p. I don’t recognize any of the commitments you’ve implicitly or explicitly ascribed to me. If you want to provide some verifiable substance to your disparaging remarks, I’m listening. Beyond that, you’ll find me remarkable unreceptive to Leiteresque tactics.Report

anon p
anon p
Reply to  P
7 years ago

From Feminist Philosophers
Jonathan Jenkins Ichikawa Says:
October 4, 2014 at 5:12 am
I was part of the discussion in which the September Statement language in question — the bit that has been read by some as suggesting that the ranking system is on the whole valuable — was drafted. The language is this:

“…With a different leadership structure, the benefits of the guide might be achieved without detriment to our colleague.”

The last sentence — the one at issue here — was a late addition to the statement. It was added in order to further emphasise that the statement did not constitute an objection to the PGR tout court, but only to emphasise that it was the strictly weaker objection to the PGR under Leiter’s control….

In retrospect, I do think that in our efforts to avoid giving the impression that the September Statement represented an anti-PGR stance, we may have inadvertently chosen wording that is suggestive of the opposite; reference to ‘the benefits’ of the PGR does seem to presuppose that there are benefits. This doesn’t entail that there are *net* benefits, but I do see that the sentence on the whole could easily be thought to carry the implicature that there are.”Report

P
P
Reply to  P
7 years ago

I’m aware of Jonathan’s statement. What do you take it to show? As I read it, the authors were concerned to ensure that the statement focused on the problem they intended to address (i.e., Leiter’s conduct) and not the problem they didn’t intend to address (the PGR, assuming the PGR is a problem).Report

Christopher Morris
Christopher Morris
7 years ago

Here and in other settings many people stress that the PGR is for students. It is, as were the early mimeographed versions several decades ago. But its value goes far beyond its service as a guidebook for students contemplating graduate study in analytical philosophy. I spend much of my time working with administrators in my large public research university, and on multiple occasions I have thanked the gods for the PGR. University administrators at most institutions want rankings, and they will use whatever is available (on the principle that any data is better than no data). For instance, our provost last year suggested that deans use the wretched National Research Council rankings for their reports on departments and other units. We may all have some complaints about the Leiter rankings, but in their absence department chairs would have to explain to their superiors why the opinions of the NRC or USNews are not to be taken seriously. That is not something I look forward to doing.Report

Rachel McKinnon
Rachel McKinnon
Reply to  Christopher Morris
7 years ago

Isn’t this same problem replicated for those who think that the PGR is unfair?Report