Leiter to Step Down from PGR / The New Consensus

Leiter to Step Down from PGR / The New Consensus


Brian Leiter (Chicago) announced that he will be stepping down as editor of the Philosophical Gourmet Report (PGR), a highly influential reputational ranking of philosophy Ph.D. programs he created in 1989 while he was a graduate student, and which has been published on the Internet since 1996. The 2014-15 edition of the PGR will be officially co-edited by Leiter and Berit Brogaard (Miami), after which Leiter will move from editor to advisory board member and Brogaard, who was selected for the editor’s position by Leiter, will take over. From a post at his blog:

“The Advisory Board and I have agreed on the following statement regarding the plan for the PGR: The 2014-15 PGR will proceed as planned, with Berit Brogaard joining Brian Leiter as co-editor and taking over responsibility for the surveys and the compilation of results, with assistance as needed from Brian and the Advisory Board.  At the conclusion of the 2014-15 PGR, Brian will step down as an editor of the PGR and join the Advisory Board.  Berit will take over as editor until such time as a co-editor can be appointed to assist with future iterations of the report.  After 2014, Berit will have ultimate decision-making authority over the PGR.  Upon completion of the 2014-15 PGR, Berit will appoint a small advisory transition committee that she will consult on possible improvement, both substantive and operational, in the PGR going forward.”

Leiter’s agreement to resign from the editorship was negotiated with the PGR’s advisory board after a majority of the board, in a letter drafted by David Chalmers (NYU), Jonathan Schaffer (Rutgers), Susanna Siegel (Harvard), and Jason Stanley (Yale), requested that he turn over the rankings to new management. This letter was delivered to Leiter shortly after the posting of what has come to be called the “September Statement,” an open letter from philosophers “declining to volunteer our services to the PGR while it is under the control of Brian Leiter.” The September Statement currently has over 620 signatures.

The September Statement begins by referencing an email Leiter sent Carrie Ichikawa Jenkins (UBC) containing “derogatory and intimidating remarks,” including telling her she comes off as a “sanctimonious asshole.” Jenkins and Leiter had had no email correspondence prior to this message. The occasion for Leiter’s remarks were the publication on Jenkins’ blog of personal resolutions of hers regarding the respectful treatment of other philosophers. Though the resolutions contained no mention of Leiter nor any threats, Leiter accused Jenkins of having “issued… threats aimed at me on your blog” in his email, which was posted on a website as part of a “Statement of Concern” by Sally Haslanger (MIT) and David Velleman (NYU). (See previous coverage of some of these and related events here, here, and here.)

Jenkins’ posting of her resolutions followed a series of exchanges between Leiter and Carolyn Dicey Jennings (UC Merced). Jennings had been developing a way of assessing philosophy Ph.D. programs by job placement record as an additional source of information for prospective graduate students (see here). As I detailed in a previous post,  Leiter responded on his blog, Leiter Reports, by calling her work “nonsense” characterized by “perverse ingenuity” and insinuated that she is not “smart enough” to be a philosopher. He added that her refusal to remove her analysis from the internet raises “a serious question about her judgment.” When questions were raised about the appropriateness of these remarks, Leiter updated his post to indicate that she was one of many “fools” worthy of criticism. A few months prior he had used the widely-read platform of his blog to call another young philosopher, Rachel V. McKinnon (College of Charleston), “singularly unhinged” and “crazy,” and to refer to her comments as demonstrating “stupidity.” Around the same time, Leiter had sent emails to a former student he knew from his days at the University of Texas, Noelle McAfee (Emory), calling her “a disgrace” and threatening that “If my e-mails to you ‘get around,’ rest assured that other things will get around. I am tired of your sick nonsense. You are lucky to have any academic job, let alone a job at a nominally serious university.” And so on. And that was just 2014. 

We have been observing behavior like the above from Leiter for over a decade. Why was he so rarely called on it by other philosophers? Why did so many of these events have to take place in order for the profession to finally take the action it has taken recently? Different answers have been bandied about. Some of his previous targets have been advocates of views unpopular with philosophers, and perhaps could not find a sufficient number of sufficiently powerful allies. Some philosophers disapproved of his outbursts but did not want to cross him for fear of being excoriated on his widely-read blog. Some were worried that their departments’ standing in the PGR rankings would be jeopardized if Leiter turned against them. Some considered Leiter a torchbearer for high standards, or the right politics, or for a kind of anti-elitism particularly embodied in the first years of the PGR. And some may have just enjoyed the show (from the bleachers, of course).

Whatever the reasons, things are now changing. Over the past couple of years, philosophers have witnessed the emergence of a new consensus—one that rejects acquiescence to abuses of power in philosophy, one that seeks to overturn rather than turn away from the profession’s problems, one that seeks to support rather than silence the vulnerable. At the same time, the consensus reinforces two very traditional pillars of philosophical practice: first, it recognizes that criticism is the currency with which philosophers pay respect to one another while insults are just cheap counterfeits, and second, that we should go wherever the arguments and inquiries take us, putting aside philosophical prejudices and erasing boundaries if need be.

The new consensus did not emerge by magic, nor is it complete. There are still many with legitimate personal and structural complaints about our profession. Progress has been, and will continue to be, the result of courageous and creative persons struggling against complacency and convention. We are lucky to have such people among us, and we are lucky to be a part of this exciting slice of the history of philosophy.

I think we should be appreciative of the hard work and countless hours that Brian Leiter has put into both the PGR and Leiter Reports over the years. Both have been, and may continue to be, valuable resources for the profession. In his post, Leiter says he was influenced by the suggestion “that it’s just not appropriate for an editor of a professional journal or a professional ranking to also be an outspoken polemicist and critic as well.” Since, as he says, he values his right to express himself “in ways some others may find offensive,” then it seems that the current result may be a win for all involved.


UPDATE: Leigh M. Johnson, who has been archiving many of the recent articles and documents related to the events described (here),  has created an interactive timeline of the past month’s developments here.

Related: “Should the Philosophical Gourmet Report Continue?“, “Insults and Obnoxiousness

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wow
wow
7 years ago

I appreciate your moderate tone here, Justin, but I have to be honest: when I read BL was going to remain on the advisory board a wave of disappointment passed over me.

How could the members of the advisory board who voted for this be so tone deaf?? Don’t they appreciate what a divisive figure he is, and how much he embarrasses the profession and damages the climate in philosophy through the abusive criticisms on his blog?

To my mind, this shows that we need a fresh start and a new alternative to the PGR, just as DailyNous has proved to be a highly successful alternative to Leiter Reports.

Let’s hope some new group has the courage to stand up.Report

Chronic
Chronic
Reply to  wow
7 years ago

@wow: Because this was more of an elite coup than a popular revolution, it will be important to maintain the PGR infrastructure intact. It serves the winning faction of the elite very well, provided it can be steered properly, which will indeed be an important result of this successful campaign against Leiter.Report

BALurker
BALurker
7 years ago

His tone suggests that he *still* does not get itReport

grad student
grad student
7 years ago

I’m glad Leiter will no longer be involved in the PGR: it’s an improvement (though real questions remain about the methodology and goals of the Report). However, like BALurker, I don’t think Leiter recognizes that the things he has said to other philosophers are merely cheap counterfeits of real criticism. He still thinks he was hounded from his position by an “irrational mob”. I think a real win would involve Leiter and his allies recognizing that he has acted in inappropriate ways that go beyond, as he suggests via the email he posted, merely failing to be polite.Report

SCM
SCM
Reply to  grad student
7 years ago

It is no longer important what BL gets or does not get. We should measure a win in terms of what kind of practices now become possible in the discipline, not in terms of what BL may or may not appreciate as inappropriate.Report

grad student
grad student
Reply to  SCM
7 years ago

That’s a good point. However, my worry is that there are still so many people in the discipline who view this event as the sad victory of the “politeness police”, and if that’s the case, then I wonder how much progress we’ve made. But step by step, I guess.Report

SCM
SCM
Reply to  grad student
7 years ago

Yes, step by step and eyes on the prize.Report

Radical
Radical
7 years ago

So the new consensus is about tone, about abolishing insults and all that. Good. But what are we going to do about the other issues with the PGR pointed out here and elsewhere? Take the recent DN thread on speaking invitations to PGR evaluators. Take the debate on pedigree and elitism. Ousting Leiter may well give the PGR a legitimacy it does not deserve.Report

MItchell Aboulafia
MItchell Aboulafia
Reply to  Radical
7 years ago

This is the result I expected. Leiter’s not actually giving up the PGR. His vision remains intact, his involvement will continue–don’t doubt it will remain substantial–and the deeper and more troubling questions about a rankings system are bypassed. We need a genuine debate, not just about the PGR and Leiter, but about the serious negative impacts that rankings have on individuals and the profession. Please let’s not lose this opportunity to carry on the discussion. There are alternatives to rankings that are not only more just, but would be more helpful to prospective graduate students and job candidates. Let’s at least debate the issue before we accept this Friday News Drop as a done deal. Here is my humble plea from a week or so ago. http://upnight.com/2014/10/01/rank-and-yank-whats-next-for-the-philosophy-rankings-game/ I also offer an alternative on the same site.Report

Anon
Anon
Reply to  MItchell Aboulafia
7 years ago

It strikes me as a strange thing about the Leiter-debate how easily many move on from “Leiter is unacceptable in that position” to “The PGR is an unacceptable thing” or even “any sort of ranking is unacceptable”. What is even more strange is the kind of pressure for quick results I feel here, especially in these kind of blog comments. A good opportunity, in my eyes, for discussing rankings and the PGR, would be a situation in which one was able to write approvingly about rankings without being deemed someone who approves of Leiter’s behaviour.Report

Mitchell Aboulafia
Reply to  Anon
7 years ago

I urge you and others who support rankings to write about why and to do so in public forums. I also urge you and others to engage in person in public debates as well (assuming people feel comfortable doing so because of tenure). I am asking for a real debate. Many of us have had concerns about rankings long before the present situation with Leiter. From this vantage point, the situation with Leiter has opened up an opportunity for discussion. I certainly would not assume that anyone who supports rankings supported Leiter’s behavior. I am worried that people will think that because Leiter is (sort of, kind of, maybe partially) stepping down, the problem has been solved.Report

Bottom 50 Leiter Prof
Bottom 50 Leiter Prof
7 years ago

This is terrific news and a terrific first step. But like Radical and Wow, I hope this inspires us to consider some other alternatives to the PGR.Report

grad
grad
7 years ago

“What follows are now my own reflections on recent events and an explanation of my reasons for endorsing this plan of action. I speak here for myself, obviously, and no one else…. [But here is what an anonymous board member has to say]: __________.”Report

Chris Frey
7 years ago

If I understand things correctly (and I may not), membership in the advisory board is not voted upon by members of the advisory board. When they depart, they can nominate replacements. But advisory board membership is the sole discretion of the editor(s). So does this mean that the new editors could kick BL out? Or would his position as “owner” of the PGR prevent this from happening?Report

anon
anon
7 years ago

Justin, the blog’s been great, but this sort of sanctimonious hubris is exactly what a lot of us are trying to get away from by coming over here. Could we just keep it to the news and keep the editorializing to a minimum?Report

anon*
anon*
Reply to  anon
7 years ago

Yes, omg Justin. Please just spend lots and lots of your time voluntarily providing us news without ever venturing to offer your (calm, reasonable, kindly stated) opinion on things. Anything else is sanctimonious hubris.

Dance, blogging monkey, dance!Report

Ligurio
Ligurio
Reply to  anon*
7 years ago

“calm, reasonable, kindly stated”……

Do you really think that these adjectives are accurate descriptors of the following? I don’t.

Over the past couple of years, philosophers have witnessed the emergence of a new consensus—one that rejects acquiescence to abuses of power in philosophy, one that seeks to overturn rather than turn away from the profession’s problems, one that seeks to support rather than silence the vulnerable. At the same time, the consensus reinforces two very traditional pillars of philosophical practice: first, it recognizes that criticism is the currency with which philosophers pay respect to one another while insults are just cheap counterfeits, and second, that we should go wherever the arguments and inquiries take us, putting aside philosophical prejudices and erasing boundaries if need be.Report

grad student
grad student
Reply to  Ligurio
7 years ago

I do actually think that that quote is a good example of a calm, reasonable, kindly stated view. Being calm, reasonable, and kind does not mean that you never offer an opinion on things, nor does it mean that you’re never “negative” about things. You can assess a situation and make judgments about people in a calm, reasonable, and kindly stated way.Report

Another skeptic
Another skeptic
Reply to  anon*
7 years ago

@ anon: actually, Justin has a fair amount to gain, financially, from the blog. In fact, probably more so if he opines less, by the look of today’s comments.Report

Anon Grad
Anon Grad
Reply to  anon
7 years ago

Recent events have led me to suspect that I do not actually understand what “sanctimonious” means. It appears that it consists of expressing a view whose content includes some claim(s) about the way we ought to treat each other in this discipline. See also “moralizing,” perhaps…Report

Rachel McKinnon
Rachel McKinnon
Reply to  Anon Grad
7 years ago

I similarly seem to fail to grasp what people mean by terms such as “moralistic.” They seem to mean, “Makes normative claims about behaviour.” And they say it as though it’s a bad thing. Tell me, I wish they would, when did normative ethics stop being part of what philosophers do?Report

StephenG
StephenG
Reply to  anon
7 years ago

I don’t find this post to be anything but a fair summary of events followed by some hopeful views about what might come next.Report

Komal
Komal
7 years ago

This is great news. I hope that people see that this is not about politeness or even tone, but about basic respect for people’s boundaries and their dignity. What Leiter did was more than just take a harsh or combative tone: he engaged in abusive behaviour for which he should have been universally censured from the start.Report

Anonymous Coward
Anonymous Coward
7 years ago

This strikes me as another tactic for Professor Leiter to retain control over PGR behind the scenes while the storm blows over. If the board accepts this diversionary tactic – and it seems that it has – then he will be back in the driver’s seat when the opposition becomes less focused and organized.Report

Ole Koksvik
7 years ago

I’m sorry to say, I agree with anon just above. I’d like to add, please don’t post letters from anonymous writers. I always distrusted it at Professor Leiter’s blog, it’s no better here.Report

Mitchell Aboulafia
7 years ago

I think that it should be noted that the person Leiter choose to succeed him, Berit Brogaard (Miami), to my knowledge never signed the September Statement and has yet to explain why she didn’t. This lack of transparency only heightens my concern that those running this show have no intention of engaging the profession as a whole in a genuine dialog about rankings. (The Board is acting as if it can speak for the profession on the question of rankings. Has one Board member even been willing to step forward and debate the merits of a rankings system? I mean publicly with opponents, not with each other.)Report

Another skeptic
Another skeptic
Reply to  Mitchell Aboulafia
7 years ago

Abulafia is right about Brogaard. I would also like to remind the readers of the circumstances that led to Brogaard’s departure from New Apps. She suspected a grad students of suck-puppeteering on her blog posts, and so she tried to get him expelled from his program. One can see why Leiter would think she’s a kindred spirit.Report

Sarah Pollard
Sarah Pollard
Reply to  Mitchell Aboulafia
7 years ago

Why should any person be required to offer an explanation for why they did not sign a statement? Isn’t the clear implication that she didn’t sign it because she didn’t agree with it? I am a law professor and not in the philosophy community, so I find many aspects of this whole story confusing. If Brian Leiter has offended so many and, if indeed the idea of ranking philosophy programs is so offensive, who cares who runs the PGR? If enough people refuse to cooperate with the program, then won’t it die a natural death? So many people signed the September Statement, it doesn’t seem that philosophers have the same collective action problems that law professors do, even though we pretty deeply hate the U.S. News rankings of our programs. But if the PGR was Brian’s idea (and presumably his property), the idea that somehow the broader community now owns the PGR and can boot him because his behavior is intolerable….that’s just a really strange concept for a lawyer to understand.Report

StephenG
StephenG
Reply to  Sarah Pollard
7 years ago

You are probably correct that, from a strictly legalistic “ownership” standpoint, Mr. Leiter probably could have fired the entire PGR board rather than accede to their request that he step down. However, such a “Saturday Night Massacre” would have created even more controversy for Mr. Leiter academically and could possibly have signaled the end of the PGR as the prestigious ranking organization it is.

As for Mitchell Aboulafia’s point, that if this is to be interpreted as a real change in the PRG management why did not Mr. Leiter’s successor express his disagreement with Mr. Leiter’s conduct (either by signing the September Statement or through a separate explanation)? I think the question a fair one although it does not have an obvious answer.

Last, your assumption that every PhD teaching philosopher who failed to sign the September Statement simply disagreed with it is fallacious. I can think of several reasons why a philosopher who found the conduct referenced in the September Statement to be intolerable nevertheless decided not to publicly say so – fear of reprisal being only one. The members of the PGR board, by signing their own, separate letter urging Mr. Leiter to step aside, hardly expressed their approval of Mr. Leiter’s behavior.Report

Captain Sensible
Captain Sensible
7 years ago

2.54 nailed it. And who is this ‘we’? No one defends sending rude emails. But the quasi-stalanist group think too common in the internet is certainly not a welcome development.Report

Anon Grad
Anon Grad
Reply to  Captain Sensible
7 years ago

If endorsing and defending basic levels of respect and professional behavior in the discipline counts as “quasi-stalinist groupthink,” sign me up, comrades.Report

Captain Sensible
Captain Sensible
Reply to  Anon Grad
7 years ago

Sure – sign on if you want to. I was objecting to the ‘We’ presumption.Report

grad student
grad student
Reply to  Captain Sensible
7 years ago

I’m not sure why saying something along the lines of “we have made progress here and hope to move forward in a more productive way”, as Justin has done, is really that presumptuous.Report

Captain Sensible
Captain Sensible
Reply to  grad student
7 years ago

See 17 aboveReport

grad student
grad student
Reply to  Captain Sensible
7 years ago

H’mm. See my reply to 17. Is it really so presumptuous to say that “we” condemn Leiter’s behaviour? That’s a depressing thought. In fact, it leads me back to comment 4, and also comment 6.Report

SCM
SCM
7 years ago

“Tell no lies, claim no easy victories” granted, but I think people should not let their residual suspicions obscure what is a massive step forward for the profession. Why is it massive? Precisely because it is a step forward, one that would have seemed utterly impossible just a month ago. Now we get to have a proper discussion about what to do about the PGR, what to do about the climate for women, what to do about the adjunctification of the profession, what to do about non-academic opportunities, etc. The easiest way to scuttle those endeavours is to remain above them, safely bubble-wrapped in defeatism. Have some confidence and take pleasure in bringing a new atmosphere to the discipline, one where we do not get bogged down in or repulsed by mud-slinging and vilification.Report

Ligurio
Ligurio
7 years ago

“Whatever the reasons, things are now changing.”

I take this as an admission that you are unsure of what the “reasons” behind the change are.
Is that right, or am I over-interpreting? (I ask because the tone of the remainder of the paragraph seems unduly triumphalist, given that it begins with a statement of skepticism.) Or do you think that *whatever* the “reasons” behind the “change” are, the rest of your paragraph still follows?

I’m genuinely interested. One of the reasons I’m not so joyful about this whole change is because I am honestly skeptical about the “reasons” that motivate it.Report

Another skeptic
Another skeptic
Reply to  Ligurio
7 years ago

See, even here doubts abound. Yet we are meant to think that the whole profession is jubilating, or at least that it should be. The fact is that the overwhelming majority of the profession is unhappy about the elite’s rule (rule by journal-editorship, by biased refereeing, by pedigree-driven hiring, etc.). The issue of whether or not we have a vociferous and vindictive narcissist at the helm or not is a minor one, in the scheme of things.Report

Calculator
7 years ago

Is it uncivil to point out that Prof. Weinberg stands to gain financially from the marginalization of Prof. Leiter? Someone estimated Leiter Reports’s ad revenue at about $40,000/year.Report

SCM
SCM
Reply to  Calculator
7 years ago

I do not see how it could possibly be uncivil or dismissed as a petty concern born of a base mind. It might be very healthy for JW to post an annual account of the income from advertisers and the expensives involved in keeping the blog afloat. Readers of the blog could then hold him accountable at the APA and demand he use his profits to buy us each half a glass of wine and a packet of peanuts.Report

StephenG
StephenG
Reply to  Calculator
7 years ago

How could ad revenue lost from Leiter’s blog or blogs (if any ad revenue there be to lose) translate into a financial gain for another blog? Your comment is not “uncivil” it is simply nonsensical.Report

Senior Prof at non-PhD granting program
Senior Prof at non-PhD granting program
7 years ago

I would encourage those who remain interested in the matter of rankings in Philosophy to do two things:
(1) take advantage of the newly opened space to develop alternative models. Any ranking system will have flaws, but having a set of competing (and different) alternatives can be a good thing.
(2) until such alternatives emerge, keep a watchful eye for what happens regarding the transition: “a small advisory transition committee that she will consult on possible improvement, both substantive and operational, in the PGR going forward.” There is, I suspect, a real consensus that something needs to change, but it is unclear whether there is consensus as to how it ought to change.Report

Rachel McKinnon
Rachel McKinnon

And I encourage others not to viciously attack those putting forward alternatives to the PGR. That was partly (only partly) what was so ugly about Leiter’s treatment of Jennings. It’s one thing to call for alternative proposals for gathering data and perhaps rankings of departments (yay!); it’s quite another to treat any such proposal with derision (boo!).Report

Another skeptic
Another skeptic
7 years ago

The small elite that masterminded the SS may come to regret the way in which they stirred up unrest among the philosophical peasantry.Report

James Goetsch
James Goetsch
7 years ago

I find the idea of any self-selecting elite group to draw up the criteria to rank the profession as absurd, and embarrassing that professional philosophers have been so eager to to buy into it. It seems to me to go along with all the other requirements to quantify outcomes, etc., we have been forced into by accreditation authorities and so forth, as if it is a given that if we can put a number on a phenomenon we have the reality of it. And another aspect of this is, as “another skeptic” said above, that “The fact is that the overwhelming majority of the profession is unhappy about the elite’s rule (rule by journal-editorship, by biased refereeing, by pedigree-driven hiring, etc.). The issue of whether or not we have a vociferous and vindictive narcissist at the helm or not is a minor one, in the scheme of things.” Let’s work on more important things (like professional journals being placed outside the grip of the publishing companies and the elites among us they co-opt, or alternatives to merely given some ranking to a department based on criteria a small group–or even a large one–draws up as a way to help our students decide where to study. Why not a plurality of insights into departments? Is the only criteria for excellence in philosophy so clear to everyone? Perhaps we should slow down and think about.Report

Anonymous
Anonymous
7 years ago

I welcome the developments on the Leiter front, but I would like to second 2:54’s plea to please “keep the editorializing to a minimum” on this blog. Or if you must, could you have it appear on some separate page so that those of us who are just interested in getting the news of the profession can get it without being subjected to the commentary/opinions/soapbox-speeches of a single person (or even a committee of people)? The injection of Leiter’s views on his blog has long been my complaint about Leiter Reports as a news source, and I was hoping (naively?) that DailyNous would avoid the pitfalls of Leiter Reports.Report

Noelle McAfee
Noelle McAfee
Reply to  Anonymous
7 years ago

I have to disagree with the notion of narrowing down what the Daily Nous is. Sure it’s important to get some straight news, but it is also important to have an open venue for discussion and disagreement and to get a sense of what people in the profession are thinking without worries about getting shot down. This has seemed to be a very good place for that. On that score, I think the Philosophy Metablog is okay–lots of free for all but most everyone posts anonymously and some take refuge in that to act like 13-year-old boys. Still I think that is refreshing too. Both are better alternatives to the Leiter Report which, by god, I will never go to again. I do hope Justin will occasionally peek in to let us know if there is anything to report, such as the recent non-resignation of bleiter’s that amounts to a zero response to the concerns of the September Statement.Report

Anonymous
7 years ago

Aboulafia, above: “Berit Brogaard (Miami), to my knowledge never signed the September Statement and has yet to explain why she didn’t.”

In the long run, I think this sort of attitude—and the presumption it embodies—is as pernicious as Leiter’s jerkish behavior. Brogaard doesn’t owe you or anyone else an explanation for not signing some online petition.Report

Mitchell Aboulafia
7 years ago

Anonymous# 41, I honestly don’t understand how you can possibly compare my request for transparency with Leiter’s behavior. BB said that she would explain why she didn’t sign the Statement, but didn’t want to do so now (as of a few days ago). I have seen this in writing! As a private person, I would never expect an explanation from her. But since she is the person who will (supposedly) be in control of the PGR, yes, I do think she should publicly explain why she decided not to sign. This is no small matter. What did she disagree with in the September Statement that made her not sign? And if she didn’t disagree with anything, then I have to assume she didn’t sign for political reasons, that is, she wanted the position as co-editor enough not to sign. This is also no small matter. When you take on a public role of this sort, especially in circumstances of this kind, those whose lives may be affected should have access to as much information about the public figure, as related to the public position, as possible.Report

p
p
7 years ago

M. Aboulafia: the editorship of PGR is not an elected office, nor an office associated with a professional organization (such as the APA), nor a commercial product. It is the result of one guy’s voluntary (online/blog) efforts who managed to elicit bunch of other people for help in order to provide service to prospective graduate students (as well as rattles some cages in the process). It is public in the sense in which any blog is public – because it is online and accessible. You can ignore it and your life will not be changed. Just like in any other such blog (or whatever), the editor/author (Leiter or Broogard) do not owe any explanation of signing or not signing some statement by bunch of self-appointed representatives of a whole profession to anybody. And it is a small matter – unless you’re engaged in a lot of navel-gazing (there are far more serious things going on in the world, academia, or even philosophy).

I should say that insofar as PGR has helped a lot of students (I know that certain people do not give a damn about some students from abroad or people coming from small colleges in the south but, alas not all of us were privilliged to study at fancy expensive places), I am surprised at the lack of thanks to Leiter. Nobody else that I can think of (Heck or Velleman or Protevi or any others) have devoted anywhere as much time and effort to help prospective gradate students or current grad students who were not their own to navigate the world of graduate studies in what is not almost two decades (if I am not mistaken). I think CDJ received more thanks and support for her rather modest and not quite successful efforts than Leiter.Report

Anonymous
Anonymous
Reply to  p
7 years ago

p writes: “the editorship of PGR is not an elected office, …, nor a commercial product.”

The PGR is in fact a commercial product, but be that as it may, some of the complaints about the current structure are precisely that its editorship is not elected or in any other way accountable to the people affected by the PGR.Report

John Schwenkler
7 years ago

Hi Justin, I love your editorializing — please keep it up! But I do want to say that the comments on this post, and several other recent ones, have gotten very far from the spirit of your very excellent comments policy, which is among the things that drew many of us here in the first place. I understand that these are heated issues, and appreciate why you’re allowing people to voice their opinions, but I hope the kind of snark and nastiness shown in the comments here won’t become a trend.Report

Mark Lance
Mark Lance
7 years ago

A few responses here:
to the anon who spoke of moving from criticizing Leiter to criticizing the PGR. Of course no one has done that. there have been arguments about ranking since rankings began. Don’t make a straw-man of this. Many of us think that data can be made available, but that putting it in the form of overall rankings has a pernicious effect on the program. Some of us also think that this is worse when run by a single person who is also abusive to many in the profession, but no one infers the former from the latter.
As for all this criticism of Justin. First, to echo several above, the terms ‘sanctimonious’ and ‘moralizing’ seem to me to have no linguistic function other than to mark that someone is making a moral claim about something that the speaker would rather have go unexamined. THus, one should simply ignore such talk. And this idea that one somehow has to read this, can’t get the news here without reading the editorializing: are we really supposed to respond to that as if it is a serious comment?
Finally, has PGR helped a lot of students P? That is not something we all agree on. (Also, your points would go over better without the completely undefended claim that people who disagrees with you dislikes foreigners.) There is no doubt that some people think that they are helped by consulting this. But as Chris Gauker mentioned on another thread, many people think they are helped by consulting horoscopes as well. there is plenty of room for disagreement about whether they really have been.Report

anon
7 years ago

“to the anon who spoke of moving from criticizing Leiter to criticizing the PGR. Of course no one has done that.”

To the contrary, that’s exactly what happened. It is clear that the current sequence of events was propelled by a coalition that successfully united people motivated by a personal dislike of Leiter, people angry about bullying of women in the profession, people who have a long-standing dislike of the PGR specifically as a ranking device, and people who dislike rankings altogether. Obviously some people fall into all three categories, but not everyone. Independently none of these groups had the power to move against either the PGR or Leiter. Because the PGR represents the *collective* judgment of powerful elements in the field, criticism of it has long smacked (at the low-status end) of sour grapes, and (at the high-status end) of nostalgia for a return to a private old-boy network. But Leiter’s latest string of obnxious actions created an opportunity to move against both him and the PGR, and that’s what’s happened.

The difficulty is that this coalition is intrinsically fragile. The internal differences in status and motivation are real. Now that the deal has been brokered, I expect non-elites who think these events will lead to a general renunciation of rankings are going to be disappointed, as most of their elite friends desert them. Less powerful people will find themselves back in their earlier sour-grapes position. Those at elite schools who profess to hate rankings will either shut up completely, or continue to issue content-free “calls” for some newer more multidimensional or more inclusive ranking or rating assessment. They will not do any actual work to make that happen, however, but instead leave it to lower-status others. In the meantime we may be treated to the sight of people holding named chairs at elite schools assuring us that they care nothing for status or have a multifaceted view of ranking.

Finally, the majority of field insiders will return to their own status quo ante. They believe the PGR a more or less accurate representation of field status (because they participate in it), but they felt compelled to join the move against Leiter because his bullying made their position intolerable. They successfully acted to save the PGR at the cost of sacrificing Leiter’s long-term participation. Their main potential difficulty is whether Brogaard or other new editors will step up and do the actual work required to produce the rankings. (The effort required to produce them is consistently underestimated.) If no one does then the anti-ranking group may win by default in the end, and we will be back to the old informal and non-public status order, with excluded groups still solidly on the outside.Report

SCM
SCM
Reply to  anon
7 years ago

… and then we’ll all die and be forgotten, the sun will burn out, the universe will collapse, and nothing will ever again come to any good.

This is a step in a long process. There’s lots more work to be done. Don’t be despondent or cynical because not everything fluffy and wonderful has been achieved in one month.Report

Shea
Shea
7 years ago

I have two points to make. First, I have some concerns about what exactly counts as an insult. Part of the major argument against Leiter, as I understand it, is that he accused people in vulnerable positions of stupidity for making (what was in his mind) mistakes. This is taken as an abuse of his power as someone who holds some sway over the field because of the influence of his blog and his position as editor of the PGR. The case in question is particularly problematic because the victim was being criticized for her accumulation of data that could be used to create a relevant alternative to the PGR.

(Side note: I am ignoring his email to Prof. Jenkins because it was sent in private correspondence and the threat issued was vague threat of litigation conditional on Jenkin’s future behavior. This is something anyone can do regardless of their position in the field, so it would seem to comprise a separate issue. Of course, it may be an abuse of Leiter’s power with regard to the fact that he has access to legal resources. But that would still be a distinct issue from his abuse of power as a public figure. This is not to say that that separate issue is not still a serious one; it simply seems irrelevant to accusations that Leiter abuses his power as a public figure. It is not clear to me that we must actively sanction people for threatening others with litigation. It is certainly nasty and I don’t approve of it on a personal level, but it is presumably a legal right (although it might not be in the case of malicious prosecution). However, I am open to hearing objections on this point.)

My worry concerns where we should draw the line regarding what counts as an unacceptable insult. First, an accusation of intellectual dishonesty seems to me to be just as serious and damaging an insult as an accusation of stupidity. The same goes for accusations of confusion. But sometimes philosophers are intellectually dishonest or confused. I think it would be bad for the field if philosophers were forbidden from pointing out when they think someone is being dishonest (e.g., that they are deliberately equivocating or being deliberately obscure). This is in part because a continued respectful dialogue with someone who is intellectually dishonest can be damaging. (For instance, whenever an intellectual figure attempts to debate a creationist it seems to only lend credibility to the creationist’s position.) But it would appear that the relevant criteria for what made Leiter’s diatribes unacceptable will apply equally to any accusation of dishonesty or confusion. Leiter’s detractors have repeatedly made the point that it is not the impolite tone of Leiter’s rhetoric that is problematic, but the fact that his accusations could harm those people in vulnerable positions. Any accusation of dishonesty or confusion seems to pass this test. If we are to have some form of speech code, I think it is necessary that we get very clear on our criteria concerning what is and is not acceptable.

My second point concerns methodological worries about the PGR and reputational rankings in general. I think reputational rankings would be alright if the survey data was collected by a large organization like the APA so that it would include more evaluators from different programs, and if it was then presented alongside other data such as citation and placement records. A reputational ranking is perfectly fine, so long as it is labeled as reputational and presented alongside other data like citations per department and placement record. Indeed, I think presenting the results of a reputational survey alongside the results of other objective criteria would allow us to think critically about how we perceive the field. I think the APA is in the best position to attempt to collect this data. The idea that the APA is not in the business of producing rankings is nothing but a cop-out. This would only make sense if the only option was for the APA to produce one monolithic ranking that was based on a single narrow set of criteria that is supposed to capture the supposedly univocal sense in which one department is “better” than another. But this is clearly not the only option on the table. Moreover, the collection of data and the analysis of data are two separate activities. The APA can perform the former task while leaving the latter to third parties.

(On a final side note, I think the claim that Leiter has or is liable to personally abuse his power as editor has very little merit. I have not seen any evidence supporting this claim beyond idle speculation.)Report

Bill
Bill
7 years ago

Why do so many people think it’s less bad for Leiter to have threatened Professor Jenkins in email than it would have been to do so ‘in public’? If someone makes a threat against you in public, you have some level of protection against it: people who are aware if it can say they’ve got your back, and so on.

I understand that there are people who think it’s wrong to make the contents of emails sent to one public. (Leiter’s own actions, as recounted on his blog, suggest he’s not one of them, incidentally.) I disagree. But even if one does think this, it’s no reason for thinking the threat is less bad. Why someone wrongly revealing the existence of a bad action make that bad action less bad?

I come back to this because so many of the people who purport not to see what all the fuss is about want to ignore or discount the legal threats. Obviously, the CHE story, which doesn’t mention them explains why people think they can get away with this, but there’s no excuse at this point, for anyone who’s been following the story to pretend they didn’t happen.

It all seems a bit like saying:’If we ignore all the bad behavior that Leiter is alleged to have engaged in (all of which is, of course, completely legal) there’s no evidence that he’s anything other than an exemplary character. So why are we persecuting this apparently exemplary character.’Report

Necessary and Sufficient Conditions
Necessary and Sufficient Conditions
7 years ago

Shea: Saying that someone with whom one is engaged in a disagreement works in “a shit department” strikes me as an unacceptable insult from someone who has established himself as #1 official ranker of departments on behalf of our profession. What do you think?Report

StephenG
StephenG

Most striking to me is the level of self-righteous hypocrisy. I cannot even begin to wrap my mind around how the same man could concurrently publicly denounce another law professor (Paul Campos) for (alleged) “blackmail” and “criminal intimidation” for (Mr. Leiter claimed) threatening to “out” unspecified embarrassing information if Mr. Leiter made good on his threat to “out” the names of pseudonymous commenters at the Faculty Lounge, and author emails to colleagues such as “If my e-mails to you ‘get around,’ rest assured that other things will get around.”

And yet, many subject to Mr. Leiter’s gratuitous attacks maintained their dignity, as exemplified by this elegantly written blog post authored by Terence Blake: http://terenceblake.wordpress.com/2014/10/06/open-letter-to-brian-Mr. Leiter-from-one-just-a-guy-with-a-blog-to-another/Report

Shea
Shea

Well, it certainly isn’t nice. But we’re considering some form of unofficial speech code, so by “unacceptable” I mean that it deserves some form of sanction. The question is whether it does in fact deserve some form of sanction and what this sanction should be. I certainly think it’s reasonable to publicly chastise him for it, though that isn’t much of a sanction. If he said this on his blog, I think perhaps an appropriate response might be to boycott his blog until he issued an apology to Prof. Jenkins and Emory. But if I recall correctly he said that in a private email, which makes it less than clear that it constitutes an abuse of his power as a public figure. His threat about things getting around if other things get around seems more serious insofar as it does seem to imply that he is willing to use his publicity as an intimidation tactic. It is a threat conditional on someone releasing private documents, but since those documents themselves contained other (legal) threats made by Leiter, I can definitely see how the treat that “other things will get around” constitutes an abuse of his power as a public figure. I think there’s much more merit to this sort of claim than the complaint that he said that someone works in a shit department. So… I guess I just convinced myself that there is some merit to using his correspondence with Prof. Jenkins as evidence that he is willing to abuse his position as a public figure, though not simply because he said nasty things.

As I said above, I think legal threats constitute a separate (but no less pressing) issue. If anything, I would take legal threats to be more serious, but I’m also unsure about how appropriate it is to sanction people for making them. My thoughts on the issue are divided. I think that the fact that Leiter issued legal threats specifically to people who had been challenging the PGR might be more of a reason to demand that he step down as editor than the fact that he said nasty things about these people. But again, it’s a tough issue. After all, sometimes people DO engage in slander or libel, and I can see an argument that it would be the duty of the editor to try to defend the PGR against such things. If we are to sanction people for issuing legal threats, we should at the very minimum make sure that we have very good evidence that the threats are malicious (in the sense that they have no legal merit and are clearly intended to be an intimidation tactic). I don’t think the relative prestige of the people involved in these legal disputes is a prima facie relevant factor. If anything, economic status seems more relevant. However, I’m not a lawyer and I am not familiar enough with what has been said by either parties in this case to really make an argument one way or another. I’m just making a general observation.

At any rate, I’m not concerned with defending nasty speech on a moral level. I am not at all convinced that as a community we have a duty to attempt to actively sanction the actions of colleagues that we find morally impermissible. The very fact that there is strong disagreement about what is and isn’t morally permissible should count as a good argument against this practice. (Full disclosure: I lean heavily towards anti-realism in metaethics.) I just think that we should be very careful about what sort of sanctions we push for. For instance, when, if ever, would it be appropriate to call for a university to fire someone because of what they have said? I think it would be very bad for the field if we allowed these sorts of witch-hunts. I think that if it ever is appropriate for the academic community to try to push for someone to be fired, it would only be in cases in which an individual has clearly and consistently violated the methodological standards of the field in his or her research. For instance, if a scientist had been shown to falsify data on multiple occasions I think it would be perfectly reasonable for the scientific community to pressure her university to fire her. Preserving the methodological soundness of the field seems to be a clear duty of the academic community. (And yes, I’m aware that no one has called for Leiter to be fired. My point is a general one: we should get clear on what sanctions are acceptable if we are to have any sort of speech code.) Alternatively, boycotting someone’s blog because of what they have said seems like a much, much more reasonable sanction. Boycotting the PGR seems a little less reasonable than boycotting a blog, but I think it could still be a legitimate sanction if we had the right sort of evidence.

On this last point, I don’t think it’s wise to treat the call for Leiter to step down as editor as a personal sanction against Leiter from a purely dialectical standpoint. I still don’t think there’s any decent evidence that Leiter would abuse his power as editor by deliberately fudging results. Part of the rationale for boycotting the PGR, according to certain people, was the fact that Leiter’s position as editor put him in a position of power that he then abused, and that calling for him to step down would be a way of reducing that power. But it seems like boycotting his blog would have made a lot more sense if this was really the goal. Moreover, I suspect a lot of people who signed the SS did not do so because they wanted to sanction Leiter, but rather because of broader pragmatic concerns about preserving the status of the PGR by avoiding the appearance of impropriety. So perhaps it is misleading to treat the SS as strong evidence that there is a new consensus about sanctioning people for saying unacceptable things. I think a couple people throughout this thread have already touched on this point.Report

StephenG
StephenG
Reply to  Shea
7 years ago

Even if you could regulate speech in academia, is it a good idea? Unless the speaker crosses the line into the illegal (such as for example a Title IX violation), probably not.

However, simply because it is lawful to engage in certain speech does not mean that it is wise to do so, especially if: 1. you are a public figure concerned with your professional reputation and/or historical legacy; and/or 2. virtually all of the peers in your profession have tacitly vested you with decision making power and what you are about to say is incompatible with the qualities that your peers deem to be the minimum necessary for their continued trust. In such cases, as here, the unchecked exercise of your right of free expression is likely to collide with the realities of politics and public opinion.

Regarding the general civility discussion, different professions have different standards of civility.

Nevertheless, is not the mere fact that this discussion is taking place sufficient to cause philosophers to consider revising that email or blog post and/or to consider not publishing it at all?

In contrast, these discussions have been ongoing in my profession – law – for decades, and if anything my profession was less civil when I retired last year than ten or twenty years ago. This may be part of your perceived problem, since the academic in question hails from the traditions of law as well as philosophy.Report

Bill
Bill
Reply to  Shea
6 years ago

‘sometimes people DO engage in slander or libel’.

Do you think that Jenkins and/or McAfee were engaged in slander or libel? If not, how is the fact that it’s *sometimes* appropriate to issue threats of legal action show that it’s wrong to sanction someone for issuing these threats in this situation.

(We don’t think the fact that it’s sometimes ok for cops to shoot people to be sufficient to establish that Darren Wilson shouldn’t be sanctioned for shooting Mike Brown. At least, I hope we don’t.)Report

Shea
Shea
Reply to  Bill
6 years ago

“Do you think that Jenkins and/or McAfee were engaged in slander or libel? If not, how is the fact that it’s *sometimes* appropriate to issue threats of legal action show that it’s wrong to sanction someone for issuing these threats in this situation.”

I’ll simply quote what I said originally at the end of the paragraph that you quoted:

“However, I’m not a lawyer and I am not familiar enough with what has been said by either parties in this case to really make an argument one way or another. I’m just making a general observation.”

I’m not sure how you managed to interpret me as somehow claiming that it was wrong to sanction Leiter in this situation when I explicitly stated that this wasn’t my intent. What I was saying is that we need to establish principled general rules about when threats of litigation are or are not sanctionable before we start making judgments about specific cases. I even put forward a possible heuristic we might use: “If we are to sanction people for issuing legal threats, we should at the very minimum make sure that we have very good evidence that the threats are malicious (in the sense that they have no legal merit and are clearly intended to be an intimidation tactic).” If we accept that we should sanction people under these circumstances and it turns out that Leiter’s threats meet these criteria, then it would be alright to sanction him in this scenario.Report

Eric Bishop
Eric Bishop
7 years ago

I support Brian Leiter. I thought I just ought to register that. Now, carry on…Report