An Open Letter of Support (guest post)

The following guest post* is an open letter from John Greco (St. Louis University), Don Howard and Michael Rea (University of Notre Dame), Jonathan Kvanvig (Baylor University), and Mark Murphy (Georgetown University).

 An Open Letter of Support

What follows is a statement of support for people in our profession who are suffering various trials either as victims of harassment or as supporters of victims.  We who are signing this statement are under no illusions about the magnitude of this particular act of support.  It is a very small thing to do, and we recognize that the moral sentiments and concern we voice here are shared by many in our profession—indeed, that they are so much a part of common decency that many will wonder why we would compose an open letter in order to express them. But we have good reason to think that our making this sort of public statement would, from the perspective of victims and many of their supporters, be better than our silently believing the things that we affirm here.

Two weeks ago, the philosophy graduate students at Northwestern University published an open letter to the philosophical community regarding practical and ethical concerns raised by a professor litigating against an alleged graduate student victim. A week later, an undergraduate student was sued as well.  Now, there are two female faculty members, at two different philosophy departments, named in legal action regarding their responses to student complaints of Title IX violations.

For those within our discipline who have been subject to sexual misconduct, witnessing these events unfold is surely painful. For those concerned for the protection of victims and the responsibilities of faculty to respond to misconduct, it is a source of genuine concern. Given that we will not be able to treat women justly until harassment and assault are no longer tolerated among us, they may be wondering whether we can create a culture in which those who have been victimized, or those with professional responsibilities to respond to allegations of discrimination, are able to safely come forward without fear of retaliation or of being subject to undue public scrutiny. We share these concerns.

We are thankful to those who have spent a significant amount of their time and energy making philosophy a more inclusive space, as well as to those who are working to support victims. However, we recognize that if the progress they have made is not to be lost, rights to report concerns of sexual misconduct and retaliation must be protected, and that protecting these rights has to be a community effort.

As things currently stand, there are very substantial professional and personal risks associated with addressing sexual misconduct either informally or through formal university channels—including, as we have now seen, the risk of being sued for defamation. Moreover, these risks accrue not only to victims but to those who try to support them in seeking to have their grievances addressed. Unsurprisingly, many victims have felt as if they have no recourse, many who might otherwise have supported them have remained silent; and the culture of silence understandably contributes to the impression that there are really very few within our profession who are much concerned either about the prevalence of sexual misconduct within our discipline or about the risks associated with seeking to have it addressed.

We write, therefore, to say publicly that these developments are lamentable, to voice our support of rights to report concerns of misconduct, and to ask the philosophical community to join with us in supporting both the victims of sexual misconduct who have the courage to file a formal report, and the faculty who provide them with support.

John Greco, St. Louis University
Don Howard, University of Notre Dame
Jonathan Kvanvig, Baylor University
Mark Murphy, Georgetown University
Michael Rea, University of Notre Dame

UPDATE: The following are names of persons who have explicitly asked to be added as signatories of this letter.

Mitchell Aboulafia, Manhattan College
Michael Bergmann, Purdue University
Teresa Blankmeyer Burke, Gallaudet University
Ingo Brigandt, University of Alberta
Ross Cameron, University of Virginia
Mason Cash, University of Central Florida
Aron Edidin, New College of Florida
Simon Evnine, University of Miami
Filippo Ferrari, University of Aberdeen
Kristina Gehrman, University of Tennessee Knoxville
Cody Gilmore, University of California Davis
Heidi Howkins Lockwood, Southern Connecticut State University
Catherine Hundleby, University of Windsor
Catherine Kemp, John Jay College, CUNY
Ole Koksvik, University of Bergen
Trenton Merricks, University of Virginia
Axel Mueller, Northwestern University
Mark Nelson, Westmont College
John Protevi, LSU
Susan Schneider, University of Connecticut
John Schwenkler, FSU
Matthew Silverstein, NYU Abu Dhabi
David Sobel, Syracuse University
Janet D. Stemwedel, San José State University
Eleonore Stump, St. Louis University
Candace Vogler, University of Chicago
Matt Weiner, University of Vermont   

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