Students Object to Job Candidate for Offensive Views
Graduate students in a philosophy department somewhere in the English-speaking world did some online sleuthing about a job candidate for a position in their department, and learned that the candidate seems to hold views they find offensive. In particular, they found reports (including alleged quotes) that the candidate had expressed in online fora the view that homosexual acts and premarital sex are immoral. The candidate’s original postings on this matter were not found, and were presumed to have been deleted or made private.
At a meeting in advance of the candidate’s campus visit, the graduate students discussed the matter. Some students expressed the view that hiring the candidate would create a “hostile atmosphere” for gay and lesbian students. One proposal on the table was that the students boycott the candidate’s job talk. This proposal was rejected in favor of an alternative: writing the faculty to urge them to withdraw the candidate from consideration for the position. Some such notes have been sent, I am told; they include links to the relevant sites and say something along the following lines: “I am concerned about evidence showing that [the job candidate] has defended the view that homosexuality is immoral. If the candidate has in fact defended this view, I would not be comfortable having this person as a member of our community.” Not all of the graduate students support this initiative, I am told.
The above information comes to me via an anonymous source (who provided means by which to verify relevant details). The hiring process is still currently underway. I will not be naming the school nor the candidate. Please do not try to do so in the comments. Discussion of the issues here is welcome, particularly of whether the offensiveness of a job candidate’s views is an appropriate basis for rejecting the candidate. In the discussion, it may be useful to distinguish between the holding of these views, the arguments for these views, the expression of these views, and the behavior inspired by these views. If it helps, we can call the candidate with offensive views COV.
(Yes, I realize that offensiveness appears to be the topic of the month here at Daily Nous.)
The graduate students are acting inappropriately. The idea that merely holding the view that homosexual sex acts are immoral will create a hostile environment is ridiculous. Perhaps there is slightly more reason to think that someone who would post about his or her views on sexual morality would create a hostile environment, but it still strains credulity. There is a huge difference between holding and discussing a false view and creating a hostile environment based on the false view.
Further, were such considerations sufficient to justify dismissing a job candidate, who may hold his or her views based on sincere and richly reflective religious convictions, it would be impossible for almost any religiously conservative candidate to get a job in philosophy, Christian, Muslim or Jew. Do you believe the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church? Are you an orthodox Jew? Are you a traditional Muslim? Well, then the philosophy profession isn’t for you. Go home, bigot, or shut up about your views, lest you lose your job or never find one.Report
This is a particularly challenging question. It splits into two levels: 1) the right to hold unpopular opinions; 2) the right to reject people on the basis of an issue over which the individuals have no control (for example, ethnic background). Regarding the first of these, the individual is probably of a conservative religious background (could be Christian, Muslim, Jewish), and academia has tended to favor secular perspectives. This is a form of political correctness, and serves us poorly. I happen to have a personal (and politically correct) bias against fascists and authoritarians – should these strongly held biases be a basis for professional rejection? Regarding the second point, I believe it is fair to reject individuals who demonstrate racist, sexist, anti-religious, anti-ethnic biases. The key is that the person is acting to judge people on the basis of criteria they cannot change. Most of us believe that homosexuality, trans-gender identification, and the like, are inborn, not really changeable. The same is not, however, true of premarital sex. So I think a discussion of the basis of the COV’s positions should be in order. Is the bias against pre-marital sex, be it male-male, male-female, female-female? If so, do they allow for same-sex marriage, or do they have a blanket rejection of homosexuality? If the latter, I would personally disqualify them from candidacy for the position.Report
Philosophy is a domain of discourse: When ideas and thoughts are bad/deleterious/divisive, we deal with them by talking about them — we analyze them as well as contextualize them so that we may expose why it is the case that we should think the thoughts are bad. The same is true of thoughts we believe are good/useful/helpful.
This view is a philosophical stance, and I believe its to be taken seriously and dealt with dialogically.
I think that the move which made by these students aims to quiet these views through a form of censorship. Good philosophical practice necessitates dealing with these views and dialoging with them.Report
Let the candidate sink their own chances by trying to argue for the view that homosexuality is immoral in their job talk.Report
I think we should endorse the claim that holding and publicly promoting false views is evidence of lack of philosophical competence, with the caveat that being persuaded to change one’s mind about false views after having promoted and discussed them publicly should be deemed evidence FOR a candidate’s philosophical competence. (That is: I think we should both endorse and act on the claim that admitting error for previously held and promoted beliefs is extremely valuable.)
What’s more: if I’m wrong about this, and am not able to be persuaded by good evidence and reasons, then that should count against my own candidacy for relevant jobs. (Perhaps even it already has!) Note that I publish under my own name.Report
I suspect that offense is a red herring in most cases where it is discussed – as the language of this post and the responses demonstrate, there is a subjectivity to what is considered offensive that makes it seem very iffy to base much of anything on it. (After all, another group might find it offensive to say that homosexuality is morally permissible.) I am inclined to think that when offense (or the possibility of it) is seen as having potential moral significance – like in this case – it is not the purported offensiveness that is really relevant but something else. (Something like marginalization, which would explain why the offensiveness of condemning homosexuality is considered potentially morally significant, while the offense someone might feel at seeing two men kiss chastely in public is not.)
If this notion is correct, focusing on the offensiveness, rather than what may really be offering any “moral oomph” involved, may be misleading.Report
Thanks for bringing this issue to our attention, Justin, and for carefully focusing the discussion on the general issue rather than the particular case. I have two quick thoughts.
1. Some quite distinguished philosophers, including my colleague Michael Tooley, have defended the view that infanticide is morally permissible. I am pretty sure that this view strikes a large number of people as repugnant, offensive, deplorable, etc. Unless one thinks that people like Tooley (and Peter Singer) should not be viewed as suitable candidates in a philosophy job search, I think this is pretty good evidence that defending views widely considered to be offensive should not, by itself, count against a candidate.
2. This puts much more weight on the claim that the COV would contribute to a hostile environment. I do think that if there is reasonable evidence that a person will contribute to a hostile environment, then it is reasonable (perhaps obligatory) to count that against them (and perhaps decisively). However, the claim that a person holds the views attributed to COV strikes me as extremely weak evidence that COV would contribute to a hostile environment. Many philosophers, for example, believe that eating meat is immoral. They think that their carnivorous colleagues are engaging in seriously immoral behavior that they could very easily avoid at little if any cost. But while holding these views, they seem to be able to treat their carnivorous colleagues respectfully, professionally, etc. There are obviously differences between this case and the case of same-sex relationships, but I think the burden would be on those who would rule out a candidate for holding the view that same-sex relationships are immoral to show why holding that view would lead the candidate to treat others disrespectfully, unprofessionally, etc. while holding the view that eating meat is immoral does not lead philosophers who hold that view to treat others disrespectfully, unprofessionally. Absent an explanation that satisfactorily meets this challenge, I do not think that it would be appropriate to take COV’s views on these issues into account in making a hiring decision.Report
Anyone who follows Supreme Court appointment hearings might have the same thought that I had: COV is getting Borked!
I’m not sure whether or not the students’ behavior is appropriate. But whether it is appropriate or not, I expect this sort of thing (i.e., grad students looking out into the Internet for evidence about job applicants) to be more the norm than the exception. I imagine that current graduate students, armed with google, will be looking here, at Leiter, the other blogs, the reddit philosophy communities, etc. to see what they can learn about what job candidates are actually like. And I’m guessing they’ll see through the pseudonyms we’ve decided to use. (Hi classmates at my mid-range Leiterrific department!!) Current graduate students (and others on the job market) should probably take note: until you’re safely installed (and tenured), there are at least pro tanto, pragmatic reasons not to get involved in public debate or to conduct your public behavior conservatively and diplomatically.Report
So, here is the first thing that ought to be borne in mind: graduate students have next to zero power over the hiring process. As a graduate student, I was part of two hiring committees at two institutions where our lowest-ranked candidate was hired. The grads in this case are not “censoring” anyone, simply because they CANNOT “censor” anyone. This is a group that will be affected by the hire voicing their collective opinions to the faculty. They have every right in the world to express the opinion that the candidate’s views make him unfit for inclusion in the community. Ironically, to say otherwise IS to advocate censorship.
Second, the mere fact that the candidate’s views *may* be based on “sincere and richly reflective religious convictions” cannot decide the issue, since there are possible religious systems that recommend or forbid literally every form of behaviour. All the reflective equilibrium in the world can’t possibly qualify an adherent of the Nazi-NAMBLA religion for inclusion in our communities, right? So let’s not pretend that having one’s views anchored in a religious tradition gives them a single iota of credibility.Report
If anyone is from that department is reading: I’m super LGBTQ friendly and totally open to be recruited. My teaching brings all the students to the yard.Report
For me the most important questions would be whether there is evidence that the COV treats students or colleagues differently because of his/her views (contributing to a hostile environment, as David Boonin said above) or whether the nature of the OVs are such that students could never trust that they weren’t being treated differently. For instance, I could not in good conscience send an instructor who believes that the members of some race or gender are intellectually inferior into the classroom. Students from that group could never trust that this instructor would assess their work fairly. Without knowing more about the specifics, I don’t know how to answer these questions about the case at hand. And maybe they aren’t the only questions that need to be asked, although they’re where I would start.Report
If your institution requires ideological commitment to a set of particular, controversial issues in order for you to be a qualified to be there, then privatize your institution and draft a statement of faith detailing those ideological commitments. Otherwise, find better ways to insulate yourself from ideological diversity that won’t put you on the losing end of a lawsuit.Report
I agree! Things would be different if we’d have a hard time discerning which views are false and which are true. Luckily, this is not the case (especially in philosophy).Report
As someone who has openly argued against gay marriage online and has since changed my view, I hope I will not be denied a job for something I said years ago and but longer believe. People change their views. Hopefully philosophers do this often as new evidence comes in. So, even if you think the candidate should be denied a job for holding offensive moral views (which I don’t buy for a second for the reasons mentioned above), you still need really good evidence that this philosopher STILL holds his/her offensive moral views.Report
It is clear who is really creating the “hostile atmosphere” in that department.Report
“I think we should endorse the claim that holding and publicly promoting false views is evidence of lack of philosophical competence”!!
This can’t be true. There are philosophers of the highest competence who defend both sides of almost every issue: some of those philosophers must be defending false views. David Lewis held all sorts of false views (modal realism, if none other), but, um, I doubt there was anyone more competent than him.
I’d be interested in seeing if there is a good reply to Boonin’s comment. A good number of vegan philosophers I know are publicly strident about it. But *none* of the “conservative” philosophers* I know are publicly strident about it. Obviously, I don’t doubt that there are strident conservative philosophers, but our COV obviously isn’t one of them.
* I think this is generally true, but it is certainly true of those with conservative views about sex.Report
Without the benefit of seeing the alleged quotes, my reaction is “What is our profession coming to?”Report
I don’t understand the argument JDRox is making about Lewis. The following things seem perfectly consistent.
1. Lewis was an incredibly competent philosopher.
2. Lewis’s endorsement of modal realism was evidence against his competency.
They’re consistent because we have lots and lots of other evidence for Lewis’s philosophical competence. Indeed, even in _Plurality_, he offers sound arguments for lots of philosophically important claims. So that very book is evidence for his competency, even if we hold the falsity of its central thesis against him.
I don’t know what I think about whether endorsing false views is (some, defeasible) evidence against competency or not. But this isn’t a good objection to the view.Report
Oh, and Lewis’s own paper “Mill and Milquetoast” is worth reading on the connection between judgments about truth and judgments about philosophical competence. I don’t know if I agree with all of it, but it’s a useful way to think about the problem.Report
A couple thoughts:
1.) As Mark mentioned above, one thing worth considering when conducting google hunts is the date of the problematic posting(s). People do learn and change their minds, and we should be open to that possibility (if it’s plausible in the given case!). I think this is especially important for the generation of graduates going on the market now, since they were part of the internet explosion of the late nineties and early aughts, and may well have been too young to know much better when they posted (or at the beginning of their university/grad careers, etc.).
2.) I don’t know how it works there, but here, graduate students do get one vote in the hiring process, and we have a number of chances to offer feedback, including during the hiring meeting(s). I don’t know that I’m entirely comfortable with the idea of asking the department to remove a COV from the search outright (that seems bound to produce acrimony), but perhaps that’s because I feel that I can trust a sufficient majority of my department not to vote to hire such a candidate once such information was brought to light by graduate students, whatever the candidate’s other credentials.Report
One obvious problem here is that we have competing “hostile climates” at stake. What this case shows is that these graduate students think that anyone with an old fashioned sexual morality has no place in their department, and thus anyone who might have any marker of such beliefs (anyone of a certain religious persuasion, to take the most obvious example) is automatically suspect as a potential member of that department. That is not surprising (this is happening throughout the corporate world, and the university often takes that world as its model), but noteworthy nonetheless. It is noteworthy, because it assumes the following: believing in a certain sexual morality means that you think you think you ought to enforce this morality on others; believing certain things about a sexual orientation in the abstract means that you will act or think it appropriate to act in negative or unprofessional ways towards persons with that orientation here and now; LGBT persons want no professional ties with those who do not share their beliefs about LGBT issues, collegiality and even deep personal friendships depend upon a shared sexual morality or politics, etc. In my experience, including experience in departments that have vocal social conservatives and openly LGBT members alike (I have been in 3 such departments now), none of these assumptions have proven to be warranted (all of them are questionable independent of that experience).
I have argued that philosophers need to engage in better behaviors in professional contexts. This is very important to me, in large part to open up philosophy to under represented groups. So while I support norms of professional conduct, and expect colleagues to abide by them, I do not think we as a profession should have norms of right belief (that is, it should not be a condition of being a professional philosopher that you hold to certain moral or political beliefs–we should not enforce some kind of “orthodoxy” qua philosophers). For instance, I find Peter Singer’s views about disabled persons extremely offensive and morally wrong (I’m hardly alone here). But I would never consider censoring them, or not hiring someone just because she holds them or finds them plausible. I think this is compatible with my desire and commitment to having more disabled persons represented in philosophy.
Anyway, I am hopeful that such a view can be made to work out, and I believe it is necessary to preserve free speech, free inquiry, and pluralism as I understand them. But this is terribly complicated, and one sees that problems will immediately arise and have to be wrestled with, and I’m not going to attempt to do that here.Report
Peter Unger thinks people don’t exist. I think a case could be made that hiring people like him would create a very awkward and possibly offensive working environment.Report
Most of those commenting seem to have taken a very firm ‘intellectual freedom’ sort of line. It would be helpful to calibrate the strength of this view. Those who argued this way, would you please respond to the following? For these cases, hold fixed all facts of the actual COV case except replacing COV’s controversial views as follows:
DOV has advocated the view that interracial sexual relationships are morally wrong.
EOV has advocated the view that women should not hold positions of authority over men.
FOV has advocated the view that the forcible relocation of Native Americans in the 1800s was morally justified as a means to progress.
GOV has advocated the view that 1930s Nazi persecution of Jews (though not the Holocaust) was morally justified as a means to social stability.
Note that for the historical cases, the candidate is not making a relativistic claim of mitigation (‘that’s just how they thought back then…’) but is instead expressing his or her own present day view.
I am not claiming that these are all identical to the COV case. There are relevant differences. Rather, I am using these cases to calibrate. It would seem to me that an absolutist ‘intellectual freedom’ line ought to say that *none* of these are grounds for actions like those taken by the grad students in COV. If that is not your view, then what principle, short of the absolutist position, are you upholding instead?Report
The candidate shouldn’t be disqualified because he or she believes homosexuality is wrong. What then of the grad students’ concerns? If the person is hired, the department should have public discussions on the topic, and so show how the disagreement can be dealt with philosophically. This way both people who agree with the candidate and those who don’t can have a chance to express themselves about a matter that is deeply important; and in that process they can build a sense of community that otherwise might seem impossible to establish together.
Where will the time come from to have such public discussions in the department? Faculty do three things: teach, research, service. Public discussions aren’t teaching (no one is getting graded). They are not service either exactly, though they serve a big purpose. They are most like research in the sense of engaging publically with colleagues and having philosophical discussions. So some research time can be used to facilitate such discussions. From somewhere time has to be found to have these conversations publically in the department. Otherwise people’s experiences will get repressed, which will lead to seeing strong political actions as the only way to have one’s experiences recognized.Report
“I feel that I can trust a sufficient majority of my department not to vote to hire such a candidate once such information was brought to light by graduate students, whatever the candidate’s other credentials.”
Is this even legal?Report
Remind me not to work in a department that would not have hired Plato, Cicero, or Aquinas because of their views on sexual morality.Report
Here is how this case is being presented: The students “found reports (including alleged quotes) that the candidate had expressed in online fora the view that homosexual acts and premarital sex are immoral. The candidate’s original postings on this matter were not found, and were presumed to have been deleted or made private.” My first thought was that this hardly counts as evidence of anything. In what sense is this allusion to the candidates views at all reliable? Was the posting anonymous? Is there certainty that person alluded to is identical to the candidate (they might have the same name)? This is the internet, after all, complete with cyber-bullying. My second thought was that these sorts of responses to views that one disagrees with (perhaps even rightly) can end up impacting both academic freedom and free speech. It is increasingly important to preserve the freedom to express views with which one disagrees. What I prefer focusing on is differential treatment and insisting on what Jennifer Frey calls “norms of professional conduct”. Dale Miller raises a similar point.Report
I certainly agree that those claims are consistent. I do think there is a tension between them, however, at least if by “evidence” we mean “significant evidence that is not easily swamped”. And the claim that “holding and publicly promoting false views is evidence of lack of philosophical competence” is not really interesting or relevant unless we mean that. The drift of Miller’s comment seems to be that it is legitimate to oppose hiring COV, since it was discovered that COV held some false views, and holding false views is evidence of incompetence. If holding false views was only insubstantial evidence, or easily swamped evidence, of incompetence, his point would be irrelevant to this discussion. But maybe I’m missing something?
In any case, I myself think that almost all of Lewis’s (most famous) views are false–and in some cases obviously false–but I don’t think I have *any* evidence that Lewis “lacked philosophical competence”. But of course now I am not arguing, just sharing my feelings. But I do think a lot of people will share those feelings.Report
With all due respect, I think that the cases that you raise do more to obscure the issue than to illuminate it. The intuitions in all these cases that it would be problematic to hire such a person derives, I submit, from the fact that, given the way the world actually is, anyone who held these views would most likely be a seriously bigoted person.
It’s not impossible, however, to imagine that a completely decent person could hold any of these views (perhaps with the exception GOV) on the basis of philosophical argument. And in that case – viz. the case in which there is no reason to think that the person would treat people of color unfairly or advocate bigotry or whatever – it would be absolutely inappropriate to not hire him/her merely because one finds the view ‘offensive’ (whatever that means).Report
Well, I guess this means that I should stop applying to tenure-track positions in philosophy. Given that I have defended the view that homosexuality is *not* immoral online, a group of graduate students where I’m applying who think otherwise might find it “uncomfortable” if I bring my partner to social events, accuse me of creating a “hostile environment” by my very presence, and use one of the most visible platforms in the profession to undermine my candidacy before my on-campus visit even occurs.Report
Jennifer Frey @21
‘these graduate students think that anyone with an old fashioned sexual morality has no place in their department, and thus anyone who might have any marker of such beliefs (anyone of a certain religious persuasion, to take the most obvious example) is automatically suspect as a potential member of that department.’
While it may be true that these graduate students think this, I can’t see that the facts as reported by Justin license this conclusion. Could you say more about why you think they do?Report
Is refusing to hire someone because they have beliefs that are the official beliefs of a recognized religion, e.g. Roman Catholicism, that they belong to a form of discrimination on the basis of religion?Report
Bill: Here’s how Justin presents the case. Candidate X has written online (or allegedly wrote) that sex acts a, b, and c are morally wrong. The graduate students found these moral beliefs offensive. They also found that the fact that candidate X both holds and expresses these beliefs to be sufficient grounds for ruling him or her out as a member of the department (literally, candidate x is not qualified to be a member of the community for holding and expressing these moral beliefs about certain sex acts).
Surely it can’t be lost on anyone that some groups are more likely to hold that sex acts a, b, and c are morally wrong, including members of certain religions (catholics, muslims, orthodox jews, evangelical christians, and so on). You’d have to live in a cave not to know that the Catholic Church teaches that essentially non-procreative forms of sexual activity are immoral. So, if you think that believing and expressing this belief disqualifies you from professional philosophy, then you will find job candidates that identify as members of this religious group immediately suspect until you have evidence that the candidate deviates from orthodoxy on this matter.
This seems like a reasonable enough inference to me.Report
You are surely right that the grad students in question are not censoring someone, in the sense of directly exerting their power in order to punish a person for that person’s views. However, they do appear to be advocating for censorship, and that seems like it could be objectionable even if it is not itself an act of censorship. Compare with a parallel case in which grad students demand that a gay philosopher not be hired on account of their sexual orientation. Even though the grad students would not have direct power over the hiring process, such a demand seems objectionable. (And, importantly, it would be objectionable not merely because it expresses an objectionable attitude, but also because it promotes unjust behavior by the people who actually make the hiring decision.)
As for your claim that the students have every right to say what they have said, and that they should not be censored, you are again surely right – but who has suggested otherwise?Report
Just so no confusion creeps in, this comment (from JDRox, 2:59) is in response to Joshua Miller’s previous comment, not mine.Report
Responding to Anon @ 3:26pm:
I don’t understand your complaint about the cases – I don’t think you’ve raised an important distinction between them and the actual COV case. In my opinion, to borrow your words: “given the way the world actually is, anyone who held [the views of COV] would most likely be a seriously bigoted person”. That makes it parallel to the cases I’ve presented. The question, in the case of COV and my hypotheticals, is whether someone’s holding views that are correlated with serious bigotry can be a reason to hesitate to employ them. I am asking whether those who answer ‘no’ recognize any limitations on this answer, or whether they are absolutists about ‘intellectual freedom’.
Your answer to my question appears to be that you accept absolutism, provided that the candidate hold their views “on the basis of philosophical argument”. I wonder how we are to assess whether a person genuinely holds their views on such a basis. Is it enough that the person advance a set of claims, written in respectful academic prose, purportedly leading to the controversial conclusion? What if the argument in that set of claims is extremely unconvincing to anyone other than the author? Is that still “on the basis of philosophical argument”? If so, it would appear to be extremely easy for any trained philosopher to count as holding any horrible view whatsoever “on the basis of philosophical argument”. You may then be committed, if you accept absolutism about ‘intellectual freedom’ to accepting the candidacy of all my DOV-GOV and some far worse hypothetical candidates as well.Report
I think we should endorse the claim that holding and publicly promoting false views is evidence of lack of philosophical competence
I think this is a mistake. There’s a clear distinction between being what we might call philosophically (i) competent and (ii) sensible. The distinction is illustrated nicely by the following famous quote of Lewis:
Once the menu of well-worked-out theories is before us, philosophy is a matter of opinion. Is that to say that there is no truth to be had? Or that the truth is of our own making, and different ones of us can make it differently? Not at all! If you say flatly that there is no god, and I say that there are countless gods but none of them are our worldmates, then it may be that neither of us is making any mistake of method. We may each be bringing our opinions to equilibrium in the most careful possible way, taking account of all the arguments, distinctions, and counterexamples. But one of us, at least, is making a mistake of fact. Which one is wrong depends on what there is.
In these terms, roughly: being sensible is a matter of having true or plausible views; being competent is a matter of bringing one’s opinions to equilibrium in the most careful possible way, taking account of all the arguments, distinctions, and counterexamples. Surely we all know people who are competent but not sensible (I think Lewis himself is a perfect example).
Perhaps even if it’s conceded that sensibleness and competence are distinct virtues, the claim is that they’re nevertheless correlated. But I don’t know of any evidence for this.
The apt question about the candidate, as others have I think already explicitly and implicitly said, is whether they would discriminate and/or create a hostile work environment, especially (but not exclusively) with regard to those over whom the candidate, if hired, would have power.
The discussion to this point has proceeded on the presumption that the discovery was that the candidate has expressed the view that sex between persons of the same sex is immoral. While I believe it is, on the basis of first-person experience and reliable testimony, true as a rule of thumb that people who hold this belief tend to act badly towards persons who do have (or are presumed to have) sex of the sort the person regards as morally prohibited (in a way that, again merely rule of thumb, vegetarians do not so behave) I don’t think either of those rules of thumb constitute adequate reason for raising doubts about this person’s candidacy.
On the other hand, I also wonder whether the description of the case as having discovered that the candidate holds the view that “homosexual acts and premarital sex are immoral” captures what’s going on, or whether it was so described in an effort to vague-it-up, so as to prevent discovery of the particulars. I don’t in any way object to the effort, if that’s what’s happened– I neither have any idea, nor want any idea, of the particulars in the particular case at hand. But. There are many things I have read and heard–some in public fora– philosophers say about gay people, about the ways in which it is permissible to treat gay people (including professionally) that I would– unlike the ‘mere’ claim that “homosexual sex is immoral”– regard as serious prima facie grounds for wondering whether a person who avowed such views would be capable and in fact willing to abide by non-discrimination policies that include sexual orientation and gender identity. And I wonder whether there’s an effort being made to capture such remarks under the general characterization in the original post, in part because I find myself unwilling here to give specific examples precisely because (as outrageous as they are) I cannot see a way of doing so that would not identify particular person(s). Suppose that were the case. Suppose for instance (to take an example that is actually merely hypothetical, as far as I know) someone said, “of course we should watch out for those gay philosophers in the classroom–everybody knows that gay people are pedophiles”. If I discovered that a job candidate had said this, I would think this would at least warrant investigation of their past behavior (insofar as it is possible).Report
“You are surely right that the grad students in question are not censoring someone, in the sense of directly exerting their power in order to punish a person for that person’s views. However, they do appear to be advocating for censorship, and that seems like it could be objectionable even if it is not itself an act of censorship. ”
There is no legitimate definition of censorship according to which the grads are advocating for it. To take one example amongst many, here’s the wikipedia definition:
“Censorship is the suppression of speech, public communication or other information which may be considered objectionable, harmful, sensitive, politically incorrect or inconvenient as determined by governments, media outlets, authorities or other groups or institutions.”
But refusing to hire someone cannot legitimately be construed as suppression of their speech, right? What expressive capacity did the candidate have *before* the potential hire that they would then have *lost* as a result of not being hired? None. The grads are not advocating for censorship. They are advocating for non-inclusion in a community on the basis of perceived dangers to that community. Which is basically a ubiquitous feature of all human communities. If it is to be included under a (broadened) definition of censorship, then “censorship” becomes morally unobjectionable.Report
Some very religious persons are among the staunchest defenders of secularism and freedom of expression. Just because someone advocates for a religious viewpoint online is not adequate justification to bar them from a classroom, under the presumption that they would discriminate against those not of their religious persuasion. Likewise, someone could be an anti-religion advocate, and also be a great defender of secularism and the freedom of expression, including the freedom of religious expression. The question is how they would treat colleagues and students in a professional milieu. And, presumably, someone with a PhD has established a history regarding their treatment of colleagues and students in a professional milieu. We need not sleuth out their personal religious views on morality to determine this. In fact, it is probably a very poor indicator.Report
“But refusing to hire someone cannot legitimately be construed as suppression of their speech, right?”
As an absolute matter, no, it can absolutely be construed as suppression of their speech. In this case, it’s a little murky because we don’t know if it’s a public institution.
But I definitely think the frequent argument, rarely challenged, that hurt feelings are so profound a source of suffering that they should override open debate and remove free speech protection (and I use “free speech” in its broad meaning not limited to government suppression), is extremely problematic, especially in the vague “hostile atmosphere” form it usually takes.Report
Is the department part of a public or private institution? I ask only because in the wake of UIUC’s treatment of Salaita, many argued that even if UIUC wasn’t in violation of contractual obligations they had to Salaita, they (as a public institution) might have nevertheless violated his First Amendment rights by refusing to honor their offer of employment merely on the basis of his tweets. I am not a lawyer, but if the department in question is part of a public institution and they acquiesce to the graduate students’ call to withdraw consideration of the candidate on the basis of something that he allegedly wrote years before (particularly something that reflects his political or religious views), then is that not relevantly similar to some of the problematic aspects of the Salaita case? After all, in Rutan v. Republican Party, 497 U.S. 62 (1990)–one of the cases that Salaita supports seem to lean on–SCOTUS held that it is unconstitutional to base hiring decisions of low-level public employees on party affiliation and support. Presumably, the same is true for one’s (no doubt, wrong in this case) moral judgments concerning the permissibility of various sex acts.
Again, I’m not an expert on the legal intricacies of these issues, but on its face, it seems that the graduate students *might* (I emphasize “might” because I’m genuinely unsure) be advocating something illegal.Report
I don’t take Justin Coates to be actually asking for an answer to the question of whether the department is public or private, but just to be clear, please do not attempt to answer that question or provide any specifics about the case.Report
DC writes: “But I definitely think the frequent argument, rarely challenged, that hurt feelings are so profound a source of suffering that they should override open debate and remove free speech protection (and I use “free speech” in its broad meaning not limited to government suppression), is extremely problematic, especially in the vague “hostile atmosphere” form it usually takes.”
I think it is certainly true that sometimes arguments are made which use the harm of mere hurt feelings to argue for suppression of speech. But there’s harm in going too far in the other direction as well – speech alone can and does have documented harmful effects, particularly for minority groups (stereotype threat, for one). So the idea that we’re just talking about mere hurt feelings, rather than something more substantial (not necessarily what DC meant is true here, but some would certainly like to say so) runs the risk of ignoring real, morally meaningful harms involved.Report
Joe, let me amend my previous comment. It may or may not be censorship, and it may or may not be objectionable, for the faculty to withdraw their consideration of COV on the basis of COV’s statements. Be that as it may, my contention is that the grad students’ lack of power in the process does not isolate them from moral criticism. *If* it would be wrong for the faculty to withdraw their consideration, then the grad students are urging the faculty to do the wrong thing. Urging someone to do the wrong thing may not always be wrong, and it might not even be prima facie wrong. But it’s at least the sort of thing that could be wrong, so that – as my example of the anti-gay grad students shows – it is not enough to vindicate someone to show that they were merely urging a bad action, rather than performing it themselves.Report
Like anonymouslgbt said (#38), the apt question is whether they will discriminate, create a hostile work climate, or seriously, negatively impact the climate of the department and university. The mere holding of the view that homosexuality is immoral doesn’t guarantee that they’ll do those things. Does it make it more likely? Probably. How much more likely? I don’t know.
From the details of the case Justin gave in the original post, I just don’t think it makes sense to say much about whether the actions of the graduate students are justified or unjustified. I simply don’t know. If the graduate students are objecting to the mere fact that the candidate holds certain views, that doesn’t seem like a compelling reason not to hire the candidate. But maybe the graduate students have deeper objections (e.g., did the candidate go around hectoring gay people? did the candidate harass or otherwise condemn colleagues? if so, that’s a good reason not to hire).
A person above gave a good example of someone whose views shouldn’t disqualify him for a job. Here’s a good example that would form a contrast case: Germaine Greer and the speech she recently gave at Cambridge full of denial of the existence of transphobia, in addition to a history of trying to keep trans women from gaining status at universities (look it up, it’s quite awful). That’s a case where someone’s actions would seem to clearly make a climate more negative.Report
Without any further information on what the article calls “online sleuthing”, there is really no basis for any adequate assessment of what is going on here. Unless the candidate knowingly attached his or her full name to the statements in question, there is absolutely no basis for using such information in a search. If I was a member in that committee, I would argue that, as soon as the subjective expectation of privacy a candidate can reasonably have is compromised, the “evidence” in question is inadmissible as such. And if my dear colleagues had a different opinion, I would search redress through the appropriate channels.Report
Let me try to put this more clearly. The question on the table is whether it’s acceptable to not hire someone because they hold a view that is considered offensive. This is a different than the question of whether it’s acceptable to not hire someone because they are a bigot and therefore will be likely to engage in various forms of harmful behavior. What I am saying is that your cases are cases of the latter sort, where what’s at issue is the former sort. It is certainly true that someone might think that homosexuality is wrong (for religious reasons, for example) while nonetheless being a perfectly decent and respectful person to all the members of her department.Report
I don’t think the real issue here is about free speech or silencing. I think it’s a simple matter of justice. Suppose that COV is, in fact, the best candidate for the job, and that all the committee members recognize this, and that, absent this letter, COV would have been offered the job. Now that the letter has been sent, I think it’s *very* unlikely that COV will be offered the job, even if all the preceding is true. (What committee would want to bring someone into the department that the graduate students oppose so vocally? What a mess that would be!). If both of those things are true (and there’s a least a decent chance that they are), then a real injustice has been done here. Who knows if COV will ever get another shot at a job?Report
I am a bit confused as to why some people think it’s clear the graduate students are acting inappropriately. I really don’t think this is an easy case to judge without knowing exactly what it is they’re protesting. The views expressed seem under described (presumably to preserve anonymity). I know, for example, of philosophers who have argued for what I think are morally reprehensible views about women in the context of defending their views on sexuality. If my department were considering hiring them, I wouldn’t hesitate to object on that basis.Report
Suppose we grant the students’ note as something that justified not hiring COV. Would we, by the same logic grant that hiring committees would be engaged in reasonable due diligence when they asked on interviews “Have you ever (publicly) held view X, or Y, or Z, which some of our students find uncomfortable?”
(Kathryn, I know, for example of philosophers who have argued for what I think are morally reprehensible views about Palestine in the context of defending their views on Global Justice. If my department were considering hiring them, I wouldn’t hesitate to object on that basis. I am going to ask Steven Saliata if he would agree.)Report
Suppose the “view” is this:
“It ought to be permissible to fire a philosopher for being gay”
or how about:
“I think pregnant philosophers shouldn’t be tenured”
Does it count as viewpoint discrimination, Karl, to query a candidate about such a view as those? (let’s suppose that the views were signed, in public fora, with the philosophers name etc, so that there are no reasonable expectations of privacy at issue)Report
AJF: I think the point is precisely that it’s *not* the case, in the real world, that someone who holds that premarital or homosexual sex is morally wrong would ‘most likely be a seriously bigoted person.’ Literally millions of evangelicals, Catholics, Jews, and Muslims hold those moral views, and are not ‘seriously bigoted persons.’ The vast majority of them go to work everyday with people who they know have had premarital and/or homosexual sex, and manage to get along with them just fine.Report
I think it is very dangerous, in an academic context, to use the holding of certain positions, no matter how indefensible and even bigoted, as grounds for not hiring someone unless you have good evidence that the person has in fact discriminated against someone in their relevant professional role or roles. We all have some moral views that others in a democratic context might well think are beyond the pale. When we are right and those who think our views obnoxious wrong, we to a certain extent rely upon their forbearance, in according us the space in which we function. Sure, holding a stupid view is some evidence that someone’s judgement is clouded about some issue. I’m happy enough to think that holding certain views is a kind of bigotry. I do think that’s what’s up with such views about homosexuality. But if we start to say that people who have bigoted views cannot be considered for certain jobs – jobs in which arguing for often unpopular positions is part of the territory – we are going to be in a politically untenable position when we argue for important views that are minority views. There’s a kind of reciprocity here, across a great moral divide on some issues, where we accord each other the space to hold views which we vehemently disagree with. It becomes another thing if the views in fact lead to discriminating against people in one’s professional life. But that isn’t the issue as it has been represented here.Report
Karl, it appears your comment is sarcastic–apologies if I am reading it correctly but I find I am unable to come up with a more charitable interpretation. I would have thought it was evident that my point was that the devil is in the details, and thus, that your response to my comment is not actually a response to my comment. It’s one thing to hold sexist views, and another to hold that, e.g., it is a part of the natural order that women ought to always defer to the authority of men, that men have a moral obligation to view women as potential marital partners lest they dissociate your person from your essential reproductive capacities, that marital rape is conceptually incoherent, or that women ought to view sexual harassment as complimentary. Some sexist views will have an impact on one’s ability to teach women , and some will impact the safety of women who you have institutionalized power over and responsibilities to; some won’t. Likewise, opposition to the moral permissibility of same-sex marriage can come in a myriad of forms. There is not enough information in the post above to know which form the students objected to. Given the probability that a group of graduate students would at least be thoughtful, reasonable, and disinclined to antagonize their faculty, I do not think we are yet in a position to conclude that they acted inappropriately.Report
Mark– suppose you’re in a department, and you have verifiable information (say, a public statement) that a candidate has said that they think pregnant people shouldn’t be tenured. You have a junior colleague, up for tenure, whom you know (say, who has told you because of requests for parental leave) is now pregnant. The vote on this person’s tenure will be after the candidate is hired. Do you tell her, “well, that’s just the candidate’s view. The fact that candidate has said that they don’t think pregnant people should be tenured is no reason at all to think this person will vote against your tenure. No reason for us (the department) to take extra precautions. No reason at all to offer you any protection. To do so would be to discriminate against candidate”. ?Report
I fail to see the problem. In my own social circles and my working environment, there is a great plurality of moral/political viewpoints with xenophobic undertones. They range from orthodox Marxists to very conservative/evangelical Christian beliefs and right-wing/krypto-fascist views. Of course, I find some of these ideas mistaken or even repugnant. Does this make it impossible to work with these people, or have friendly bonds with them? No. Whether somebody is a good colleague and a good friend is determined by his/her character and not by his/her beliefs. (There may be a borderline when it comes to outright contempt for humans as the basis of one’s beliefs, e.g., national socialism, but I take it that those cases fall outside the scope of the discussion.)
It strikes me as a great achievement of Western societies that we (often) tolerate divergent viewpoints and give individuals the benefit of the doubt. Exclusion has to be based on actual misbehavior, not on suspicions. In the 1950s/60s/etc., Germany did not hire communists in public service. This included high school and university education. In the McCarthy United States, it was even worse. Today, we both believe that communism is a mistaken political ideology and that we did an injustice to the followers of that ideology by excluding them from public service. How do we make sure that we are not the McCarthys of the 21st century? Why do we want everybody to think like ourselves? For a discipline like philosophy, these questions must be especially pressing.
Note that in the Cold War, there were “good arguments” why children/students should not be taught by communists. The people advocating the ban were acting in good faith, in the desire to protect liberal Western democracies. Still, they were wrong.Report
C&P typo: “with xenophobic undertones” should stand after “krypto-fascist views”, not at the end of the second sentence.Report
Jan, my grandmother was a card-carrying communist during the McCarthy era. I am well aware of the danger of injustice in the political ideology underlying McCarthyism and the problematically coercive political power it employed. I also think that, again just for the sake of example since I don’t know what COV has said, that my desire to have a educational environment free from problematically coercive power may sometimes manifest, justifiedly, in the form of not wanting to have a professor who argues that in virtue of being a woman I have less of a right to autonomy, to participate in the work force, to pursue an education, and so on.Report
“In particular, they found reports (including alleged quotes) that the candidate had expressed in online fora the view that homosexual acts and premarital sex are immoral. The candidate’s original postings on this matter were not found, and were presumed to have been deleted or made private.”
I’ve had some recent experiences (outside the context of academic philosophy) with what I can only call a witch hunt against someone I greatly respect. Among other things, lots of people claim he said transphobic things I can’t even imagine him actually saying given other things I know about him. In certain communities everyone claims to know someone who knows someone who experienced this firsthand, but no matter how hard you dig, you will never, ever find a person who says “yes, I’m the person this actually happened to” or any real evidence such as a screenshot of it actually happening. This, I think it’s reasonably clear, is because the alleged events never occurred. Indeed, some of his accusers have been caught, in effect, roundabout-admitting they don’t believe this themselves. But that hasn’t stopped people from rather severely harassing him and his severely disabled girlfriend about it, with significant consequences for the latter.
Given that experience, I get to the phrase “The candidate’s original postings on this matter were not found” and stop dead. Like, I actually hear tires shriek or an LP needle scratch when I see a phrase like that. I’ve seen how easily such a claim can snowball even if nothing at all actually happened to justify it and am therefore inclined to take online hearsay as no evidence at all. I know of far, far too many people who are essentially con artists masquerading as activists, who are very good at pushing the buttons of well-meaning, earnest people such as I assume these grad students are, to take this at all seriously without further substantiation.Report
Consider ten candidates, who have made private statements implying the following:
Candidate A believes homosexual sex and premarital sex are immoral
Candidate B believes the 9/11 attacks are the fault of the West and were to a large extent morally justified
Candidate C believes severely disabled newborns should be euthanized
Candidate D believes organised religions are malevolent and ought not to have legally protected status
Candidate E believes that Islam is inherently hostile to women
Candidate F is a very strong supporter of the Palestinian cause in the Israel-Palestine conflict
Candidate G is a very strong supporter of the Israeli cause in the Israel-Palestine conflict
Candidate H believes in the rightness of revolution to overthrow the 1%
Candidate I believes it is culpably immoral not to give most of one’s income to the developing world
Candidate J believes the West should impose democracy and liberal values on the developing world through military force, and that the British Empire was a broadly good thing
I can easily think of significant academic figures who hold each of these ten views. And I can easily imagine scenarios in which a significant number of graduate students, or undergraduates, or faculty, who find the views of any one of the ten deeply offensive. (Two of the scenarios are actual.)
Then there seem to be three options:
a) In all of those cases, the views of the students should be disregarded unless there is evidence that the candidate’s actual behaviour towards students or colleagues violates professional norms: students have no right not to be offended.
b) In all those cases, the views of the students should be heeded: students ought reasonably to expect not to be in a space containing people who hold views they find profoundly offensive.
c) The views of the students should be heeded in some but not all cases: the dividing line is whether the candidate’s offensive view is in fact incorrect, or in fact objectively offensive, or somesuch.
View (a) is, to me, more or less the essence of a university. I find view (b) dystopian but actually, view (c) is in many ways worse. I haven’t got anything principled to say to someone who’s fine with (c) but I urge them to think about the pragmatics: an institution that takes a principled stand against rejecting candidates because of their private views is far better placed to resist malign external pressures than an institution which accepts the principle of so doing and just disagrees about the ethics of the particular view.Report
Sorry for the delay in responding. (I was in prison. Literally! 🙂 )
David Lewis is an interesting case here, since his “Elusive Knowledge” partly grounds some of what I want to say about truth-seeking in philosophy: the problem is that there’s a strong tendency in philosophy to destroy our subject matter. It seems everywhere you turn you see philosophers biting bullets and taking up outrageous positions just for the sake of the argument. And this is largely seen (as evidenced in this thread) as evidence of a kind of philosophical rigor or epistemic virtue: courageous contrarianism. “Here are the five most irrational beliefs I hold!”
Yet this is in tension, I think, with the defenses of anti-LGBT views that are rooted in religious traditions. It’s extremely patronizing to religious people, really, to assume that a *scholar* is incapable of questioning or challenging the orthodoxy of her faith. My religion can generate all sorts of claims about the world: it can say that because God promised that He would never destroy the world by flood, I can be sure that climate change will be arrested or will not lead to rising sea levels. It can say that because the word of God is inerrant, the only acceptable logic textbook is the Bible. It can say that homosexuality, obesity, drinking, smoking, prostitution, meat-eating, picking your nose, eating ice cream, working on Saturday, or driving on the left side of the road are immoral. But as philosophers we’re not just in the business of parroting those claims, nor in blithely defending the warrantedness of each and any belief from our religious tradition: we pick, choose, and evaluate. We defend carefully constructed error theories and religious anti-realisms and relativisms that make room for them.
So if someone has written an attack on the morality of homosexuality, we should be able to evaluate it for more than just its formal validity or the sparkling wit with which it is written. Truth, or at least truth-aptness or truth-sensitivity, ought to be a component of our evaluation. It seems relevant, here, that none of the commenters have actually risen to the defense of the claim the homosexuality is wrong: the best anyone can manage is to say (as Justice Thomas did in Lawrence v Texas), that though this is an uncommonly silly view, we are not empowered to censure it.Report
Sorry, that should have read “I can easily imagine scenarios in which a significant number of graduate students, or undergraduates, or faculty, who find the views of any one of the ten deeply offensive and on those grounds don’t want them hired.” (first para.)Report
I notice that some posters who seem to believe that the students are clearly in the right offer analogies in which a job candidate has made statements about how groups of people are to be treated. For instance, anonymousqueer offers a case in which “a candidate has said that they think pregnant people shouldn’t be tenured.” If COV has said that homosexuals or people who have pre-marital sex should not be tenured, then I agree that this should give a department pause. At the very least, this would indicate that COV doesn’t understand the tenure process, and it would be at least prima facie evidence that COV will engage in the sort of differential treatment that would create a hostile environment. But all most of us know about the case is what Justin has said, and nothing in his initial post suggests that COV said anything more than that he considers such behavior wrong.
Thinking about this case more last night, I realized that for me another red line would be if I discovered that COV had used slurs to refer to those whose sexual conduct s/he has condemned. Again, that incivility would be evidence that s/he would act in ways that would create a hostile environment.Report
I just want to remark a slide that has happened in the discussion. So far as I can tell, only two comments (my earlier one and Jeff Heikinnen’s) have noted the problematic epistemic position that any one involved in this case is to COV. The whole case is premised on speculation based on an internet post alluding to a currently non-existent internet post. Many comments have made an unwarranted slide to assuming that COV actually made comments there is little proof he actually made. Some comments have even asserted that COV did make comments. Certainly, an imagined scenario in which there is actual hard evidence that a candidate holds a view that same-sex sex is immoral raises interesting questions about how sharing moral beliefs does or ought to play a role in thinking about whom to hire as a colleague, and a teacher, and the discussion about how to think about drawing that line has been an interesting one. But I really do want to emphasize that this case was presented as a real one and not a theoretical one. And we are right in the middle of job season. Readers should not be confusing the imagined theoretical case that has framed much of the discussion with a real one that involves real people whose life can be seriously impacted by false speculation.
Perhaps the general way to make this point is to ask what evidential standards we ought to hold for knowing someone’s moral beliefs. And what is the relation between moral beliefs and character? For we all know that people say one thing and do another on a relatively frequent basis. (We think that that old saw applies to people preaching a duty and then fail to act in accordance with that duty, but I know plenty of people who talk as if irresponsibility is a virtue, but then can genuinely be counted on for support when needed.)Report
Yes, this is clearly right. The graduate students (using alleged quotes) are hardly in a position to judge the candidate’s views or likely behavior. We, with the highly stylized example, certainly can’t. For instance, we can’t know that COV actually said what is alleged. We can’t know if COV was entertaining an outlandish thought experiment. We can’t know if COV has changed hir views. We can’t know if COV is publicly promoting those views or merely commented on them in a GChat that was screenshot. We can’t know what kind of weight COV attaches to immorality. (Some folks say that homosexual and premarital sex are immoral in roughly the same way that gluttony or lying-for-convenience is immoral. Others call for criminal sanction.)
As such, it behooves us only to discuss general issues, and not this particular case.Report
It is worth noting that people who think that homosexual acts are wrong often think premarital sex is wrong, and perhaps that sex with contraception is wrong, non-medically motivated sterilization is wrong, and that oral sex is wrong, and so on. If COV discriminates against everyone who engages in these kinds of acts, then there aren’t many people left who COV will not discriminate against. Rather than assume some principle, like, ‘if S believes p is immoral, S will create a hostile environment for people who engage in p’, one should perhaps give COV the benefit of the doubt?
This is complicated by the fact that LGBT people have often experienced hostile environments and outright discrimination at the hands of those who hold those views, and so they may understandably be particularly wary of people who hold them. And, relatedly, the mere open expression of such views is often taken to constitute a hostile environment, in fact, it may simply constitute a hostile environment, since it may cause fear and alienation in LGBT students. (One’s expression of the belief that premarital sex is wrong will not create fear and alienation in students who do have premarital sex). So COV is not doing anything wrong in holding these views, and yet it may be prudent not to express them, since they know how they will be taken: as a prelude to outright discrimination. It is my experience that, for this reason, most people who hold these views do not express them publicly. Perhaps COV took down the online comments for this reason, comments he or she made in the folly of youth, before realizing how such statements can be taken. This is not just a charitable interpretation, it seems entirely plausible that this is the case.Report
“Perhaps the general way to make this point is to ask what evidential standards we ought to hold for knowing someone’s moral beliefs. ” I think if someone signs a public petition asserting x, especially if they sign several such, and acknowledge having signed it, and agitate for the implementation of that for which the petition is arguing and/or authored said petition, that is sufficient evidence –absent a quite wild defeating story– that they believe x.
And of course, I have no idea whether there’s anything like this going on in the case at stake in the op. (Fwiw, I took myself to be following Justin’s original admonition to not talk about this particular case, but about the general issues implicated in it)
Here are some things that I do know. I know that there are philosophers who have said virulently anti-gay things, including things about the ways in which it ought to be permissible to treat gay philosophers in our professional capacities (as, for instance, that it ought to be permissible to fire us for being gay), some of whom have said these things in public fora (multiple). I know people who have suffered greatly in their professional lives, and who still are suffering, at the hands of some of these anti-gay philosophers. And I have watched, time after time, with agony, as the epistemic bar for knowledge about another’s beliefs and dispositions is dramatically raised, and the moral bar for acceptable behavior dramatically lowered, to make space for these anti-gay philosophers at the cost of the gay philosophers over whom they have professional power.Report
I think it is extremely inappropriate for any of us to be discussing what is happening right now in an actual job search. Even if that were not generally true, it is even worse in this case because nobody discussing it knows what was actually said. Even the graduate students who came upon the comments do not know the context in which they were originally written. If people want to discuss the difficult issues involved in the abstract, that should be an entirely different conversation. In addition, since the number of graduate departments who are hiring is not enormous, and a lot of people with different motives and perspectives on the situation know where this is happening and who the person is, the odds that this information will travel to people who have no business knowing it are too high.Report
It’s not surprising that, as philosophers, the discussion has largely focused on the principles underlying considering a hire of someone who may hold offensive or false views. On that score, I think David Boonin and a few others arguing for similar positions are completely correct. But there is an important practical/procedural/legal aspect of the case that is important, and from that perspective, what the grad students are doing is misguided, and they are pressuring the search committee to do something that is imprudent and possibly legally actionable.
Let’s assume, for the sake of discussion, that this is happening at a public institution. Then it it almost certain that the job announcement includes a qualification along the lines of “demonstrates a commitment to fostering diversity”. That clause already takes care of someone who acts in ways incompatible with that, and would be enough to eliminate a candidate from a pool if he or she had supplied evidence to the fact. Presumably that wasn’t present in this case (again, assuming this is a public university). And the search committee will have had to justify their slate of campus visitor/finalists with HR/AA and their dean before any invitations were made. So now, an invitation has been made to the candidate, and if the search committee were to cancel the invitation, reasons would have to be given. Just about anything the search committee could offer after already getting approval for their list of finalists would clash with the previous justification given for including this person in the group. And very likely, HR would fail the search at this point (not least because it would have become obvious that people not on the search committee were influencing the conduct of the search). At my university, a conservative estimate of the cost of a search is around $50K. And many times when a search is failed, it is very difficult (given the usual budgetary and political challenges) to argue for a new search in the future; often that hard-won faculty line is lost to the department.
And what about the candidate, who will smell something off when the invitation is rescinded? He or she will certainly be warranted in thinking that there were some shenanigans going on, and will consider (quite rightly, if quixotically) taking legal action against the college or university.
And, as many posters have noted, all of this would have been the result of very weak evidence for an unjustified belief–that posting false or offensive posts implies that the poster would create a hostile and intolerant learning environment.Report
I can’t understand why, unless there was evidence that this candidate had actually discriminated against or otherwise harmed a queer person or a person who practiced pre-marital sex (which I would guess more than 99% of philosophers have), these grad students would be concerned. In my experience almost no philosophers who hold these views actively discriminate against queer folk. There are two philosophers in my department who openly hold such views, and they are two of the most kind, respectful people I know, and are on friendly terms with the queer people in my department, and are both very open to having honest discussions about their views and why they hold them. I think those who silently hold such views are often much more dangerous to the climate of a department than those who openly hold them–at least that has been the case in my department. Aside from personal anecdata, I just wanted to second David Wallace’s contribution to this thread.Report
In my experience, almost no philosophers who hold these views do not actively discriminate, in career endangering (never mind hostile environment) ways, against queer folk.Report
Anonymouslbgt, while I respect your judgment regarding your own experience, and while I have not been the victim of such discrimination (I’m not a member of the relevant class) and so in some sense am epistemically disadvantaged on this, I would like to say that my experience with philosophers who believe that homosexual behavior is immoral suggests that many of them do not discriminate against other philosophers nor do they seem to contribute to a hostile work environment. Often, I find that the philosophers who hold this view do so because of deep and broad religious commitments, among them norms of kindness, charity, and respect, which they exhibit, perhaps more strongly and equally, than many others.Report
It’s kind of annoying when philosophers make debates about real life issues into nerdy technical arguments with numbered premises and conclusions and words like “epistemic”. Regardless: some people seem to be suggesting this person should be denied a job on the basis that they hold a false belief. If this is true, and “x is morally wrong” is a false belief, then all expressivists should be denied jobs, because they believe it is false that “x is morally wrong” can be true or false.Report
anonymouslgbt–I don’t doubt that, but I still worry about the following thing: If I, qua queer person, have never experienced and have rarely heard of such discrimination on the part of people who hold such views (I can think of a few exceptions, but I also know a lot of people in philosophy who hold such views, so it is still a small percentage of those people), and you have experienced/heard of it quite a bit, then we should probably at least not immediately assume that a job candidate who holds such views is automatically going to create a hostile environment. Even if it is more likely that such a person creates a hostile environment based on their views, I still can’t think of any argument for not interviewing the person or seriously considering them as a candidate unless there was actual evidence of them doing so (again, there might be that in this case, as others have pointed out, the case is underdescribed). This strikes me as a case where unless some sort of near-universal-generalization holds, we should give the candidate the benefit of the doubt. I was mentioning my experience because I think it shows something about the near-universal-generalization not holding.Report
Anonymous grad student–first, some (relatively minor) points. You may have heard less precisely because you are a graduate student. I certainly had no idea into what kind of discriminatory world I was stepping when I was a graduate student, and neither did my (straight) advisors. Second, “hold such views”– ime, the content of “such views” makes a great deal of difference. The person who holds personal beliefs about the immorality of various sex acts and circumstances under which those acts do or might occur, where the prohibitions include sex acts engaged that are also engaged in by persons not of the same sex but regarded as prohibited when engaged in by persons of the same sex–they tend to be (anecdata) disagreeable, uncomfortable, not to be relied on to do the right thing when very bad things happen and so on. But in discriminatory likelihood , “such views” as those do not hold a candle to those whose “such views” include agitating against non-discrimination policies that include sexual orientation, objecting to marriage equality on ‘grounds’ rejected as false by every major psychological/psychiatric/pediatric and medical association (not the mere objecting to marriage equality, mind you, it is–as Kathryn suggested above, the purported ‘grounds’ which are the real tell here).
But in some ways, all of this is a side show. I didn’t, in my first post here, suggest that even if the candidate held “such views” as I regard to be strong prima facie grounds to worry about discriminatory conduct and the creation of a hostile work environment, their application should be tossed out. I suggested that an investigation–a very careful one, with no voting until everyone is satisfied that the investigation is adequate– into their past behavior is warranted. Perhaps also speaking directly with the candidate, making clear (should it be the case) that the university/college has a non-discrimination policy that the candidate would be expected to abide by should an offer be made, and being clear about what that entails. Certainly allowing concerned members to discuss the matter–perhaps in some mediated fashion- perhaps with the candidate themselves (iff the concerned parties are both brave enough and willing to do so), and should an offer be made to the candidate, figuring out concrete, practical and meaningful ways (not mere words) to protect lbgt members of the department from discriminatory conduct.Report
Eh, I’ve had similar experiences to anonymouslgbt. Justin, here’s an opportunity to “check your privilege.” You admit that you’re not in the relevant class. So maybe listen to those who are in the relevant class speak about our experiences with such people. We’re likely to pick up on microaggressions and forms of discrimination/harassment (or just poor behavior) that you won’t. We’re also better epistemically positioned to know the effects of various behavior and what actually creates hostility and toxic work environments.Report
anonqueertoday, in the comment you’re replying to, I say both that I’m not in the relevant class and that, as a result, I am “epistemically disadvantaged.” These qualifying remarks were meant to acknowledge that I may not be as well-situated as anonymouslgbt (and others) to comment on the extent of anti-gay discrimination by philosophers who believe that homosexual behavior is immoral; I may miss some things. That was me “checking my privilege,” or so I thought. Are you suggesting that I ought to have added an additional qualification or said something else?
The only direction you give in your comment is to “listen to those who are in the relevant class speak about our experiences with such people.” I thought that by posting and reading these comments I was doing just that. I thought that by saying to anonymouslgbt that I “respect your judgment regarding your own experience” I was explicitly indicating that I did not take my comment to cast doubt on her report of her experiences.
I did describe my experiences. Is that what you are objecting to? Certainly my doing so is compatible with listening to the experiences of others. That I am epistemically disadvantaged is not to say that I am epistemically *disqualified.* (It is not as if I am *incapable* of detecting anti-gay bias. I see a whole lot of it in the world.) The point of my qualifications was pretty much to say that, cet. par., it is reasonable to discount the value of my testimony, in comparison with the testimony of those in the relevant class. How much it should be discounted I don’t know, but 100% seems rather severe.
(Let me add that I consulted a couple of LGBT philosophers about my remarks before I posted them, because I was curious if my sense of things was completely off base. Perhaps we have all been lucky—a real possibility!—but they did not find my view incredible.)Report
there are plenty of days I’d give my right arm, and maybe a couple of toes, for a mere micro aggression (as opposed to the macro kind) 🙂Report
Also, what non-queer people will often brush off as “Come on, that’s no big deal” or “You’re totally overreacting,” or other gaslighting behavior can be very serious and harmful for the queer person affected by the behavior. Otherwise innocent-seeming comments can quickly undermine trust and create toxic work environments.Report
Does checking your privilege mean you shouldn’t express your own impression, possibly based on experiences with people you know well in real life, in a web forum targeted at all philosophers? I am open to the possibility that people with bigoted intellectual positions very rarely behave decently in real life, and your comments are making me more persuaded of that. But you would win people over more easily if you didn’t make them feel like they can’t speak freely themselves.Report
I am looking forward to the defense of looking up candidates’ voter registration records to see whether there is an R next to their names. For, after all, there is likely a positive statistical correlation between being a registered Republican and holding verboten views on sexual ethics. Even if we don’t want to rule their candidacies out outright, we might want to require them to undergo special questioning or philososplaining about professional conduct.Report
“We’re likely to pick up on microaggressions and forms of discrimination/harassment (or just poor behavior) that you won’t.”
I think it’s important to tread very carefully when relying on microaggression theory; “trust us, it’s there, if you can’t see it” is asking someone to completely abrogate their own judgment to your supposed authority. I agree that expressions of discrimination or the presence of those who consciously or even unconsciously communicate those expressions can rise to an unacceptable, sanctionable level. But it’s not a binary and they absolutely do not always rise to that level. Freedom of dissent is not such a meaningless thing that it should always be sacrificed to protect people’s sensibilities. And the discourse on where the legitimate boundaries for sanction are one that everyone is entitled to participate in.Report
I am something of a moral anti-realist (perhaps a better term is “lightweight realist”). Just to give the reader an idea, here is a rough summary of my current position: (1) moral properties are simply classes of actions and are thus abundant such that for any putative moral system, if that system is non-self-contradictory then its terms refer to some set of moral properties. (2) There is nothing within the structure of reality that makes one moral property more metaphysically privileged than another. (3) The variance in the meaning of normative-evaluative terms occurs at the metasemantic level rather than as some form of contextual variance, which is why people’s moral judgments are insensitive to such variance.
I think my position is fairly reasonable. I simply do not see what in the structure of reality could ground the truth of moral claims aside from social conventions. Nevertheless, I have found that many moral realists find my views deeply offensive. Moreover, they consistently argue that my views are downright dangerous or harmful, as they think the spread of such views will lead to immoral behavior. So the same reasoning expressed here can be applied directly to an argument that no moral anti-realists should be employed.
By the same token, I expect act-utilitarians to hold a similar position in regard to hiring Kantian deontologists. After all, they think the Kantian deontologists are morally inept and that their views are harmful.
Do we really want to start playing this game?Report
Reading through this discussion, the primary impression it leaves is how easy it is to impose idealistic conceptions of academia on uppity graduate students.
Since we seem to be in the mood for this kind of idealism, here’s a re-framing that might actually stimulate more thinking and less tut-tutting: How does one wall off considerations of “fit” from a candidate’s philosophical views? And by “fit” I am not referring to the courses the candidate is qualified to teach, but factors abstractly thought of under headings like “collegiality”, but that practically serve to allow rejection of candidates who seem like they would be jerks in faculty meetings. If the candidate has a philosophical argument for why it’s OK to act like a jerk, would that immunize them? And how would you know whether they have such a basis worked out?
The question of whether faculty on hiring committees actually worry about this when voting down people they don’t want to spend time with is left as an exercise for the reader.Report
“We’re likely to pick up on microaggressions and forms of discrimination/harassment (or just poor behavior) that you won’t.”
Notice that religious people in the profession can claim the exact same thing. Are you willing to let them be right about their claims of microaggression if you, yourself, are also not religious?Report
Dear Intolerant Graduate Students,
May I recommend reading Mill on liberty and Kant on academic freedom to supplement what may be serious gaps in your education in philosophy and (one might wish this were redundant) your moral development.Report
I suspect there are others, like me, who are hampered in this discussion in the following respect: I could give a series of examples that, barring explanations on the order of people being possessed by outer-space creatures, aren’t the least bit “micro”, but canonical examples of discrimination in action. But I can’t. Because it’s far too easy to discover the relevant parties. So, I ask sincerely: how are we to go forward? I don’t disbelieve Justin’s report that he, and the very lucky (and/or young?) lbgtq folks he knows have been spared discrimination professionally. That’s terrific. (not sarcastic). It’s not my experience, or the experience of most (albeit not all) queer folks I know. And folks who have had experiences like mine will, one might think understandably, not believe themselves in a position safe enough to describe them.
Perhaps it would be productive to return to a point where there was at least a little more agreement: the question at issue with regard to matters remotely in this territory has to be whether there is a reasonable basis for holding that a candidate will discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation, or create what (in legal criteria) would be recognizable as a hostile environment. I have before, and indicate now again, that I do not myself hold that a person’s regarding sex between persons of the same sex as immoral is sufficient evidence of that; not even sufficient evidence to warrant (by itself) a further look at the candidate. I am not, myself, invoking here anything about the falsity of that view (though I believe it false). So, here’s the question: is there literally anything a person could say, in a sufficiently public context so that there would be no violations of privacy in quoting it, that you think would warrant *any* actions (say, further investigation)? And are you willing to apply whatever standards you hold in this case to all other cases: including not only sexual orientation, race, and gender, but also religious affiliation? So, for instance, if the fact that a candidate has advocated for the view that it should be okay to fire a philosopher for being gay, is *no* reason to look into their past conduct with regard to queer folks, are you willing to say that there would be equally no reason to look into the past behavior of someone who publicly advocates (of whom I know none, in contrast) that being an Evangelical should be a permissible grounds on which to fire a philosopher?Report
Just to be clear, what I said was not that there was no such discrimination, but rather that “my experience with philosophers who believe that homosexual behavior is immoral suggests that many of them do not discriminate against other philosophers nor do they seem to contribute to a hostile work environment.”Report
I have the impression (but I could be wrong) that observant, traditional Muslims are underrepresented in Anglo-American academic philosophy. If those holding conservative sexual views were excluded from philosophy jobs, this group would be even more poorly represented. I am afraid that this would (1) hinder the Anglo-American philosophical community’s understanding of the philosophical worldview of observant Islam, and (2) be a barrier to dialogue between Anglo-American philosophy and the observant Muslim world.
This is not a full argument for or against any particular hiring practice, but, I think, an issue worth considering in this discussion.Report
anonymousqueer, has anyone endorsed the view that “the fact that a candidate has advocated for the view that it should be okay to fire a philosopher for being gay, is *no* reason to look into their past conduct with regard to queer folks”?Report
Everything is as Justin describes it. Some grad students send emails to the faculty saying “I think candidate may believe that homosexuality is immoral and because of that I’m not comfortable with us hiring candidate.”
Faculty Representative (FR): Thank you for your input, the climate for lgbt students is very important to us, we will take this under advisement.
The faculty deliberate. Maybe it turns out there is no solid evidence that candidate has the views. Maybe those views have nothing to do with their research or teaching interests. Maybe there is evidence in the candidate’s dossier that they are very good at engaging with queer students despite their personal views. Maybe their research is just so promising compared to the other candidates that the search committee wants to take a chance on them. Maybe the candidate is themselves lgbt. Whatever it is, the faculty decides to hire this person.
The FR says to the Graduate Students (GS): We decided to hire X. This was our reasoning (explain reasoning). We highly value your input and we are fully invested in your success. We urge you to welcome this new hire as you would anyone else but we have a plan in place to monitor the climate for students and we will be closely watching the issue. (Say what the plan is.)
GS: We understand your reasoning. We still have concerns but we feel valued.
The candidate comes to campus to start the job. As an intellectual activity everyone in the department reads a bunch of queer theory together and develops a shared vocabulary to discuss future issues. People may or may not change their views about sexual morality as a result but they are able to discuss the issues without marginalizing anyone or being heteronormative (or at least become open to being called out if they accidentally do something problematic in these ways). Everyone lives happily ever after and it turned out it was good those grad students voiced their concerns.Report
Justin. I know what you said. I’m saying that your saying that right there is a place to check your privilege. What matters is not so much your non-queer experiences of such people, but the experiences of such people by queer people. We’re reporting different experiences, quite possibly of the same people. Those people often behave differently around people they know to be queer, queer people are better epistemically positioned to even notice microaggressions (and not so micro aggressions), so on and so on.Report
Of course, but religious people aren’t persecuted the same way that queer people are (and especially by religious people). So it’s a false equivalency.Report
Here is an alternative fantasy. Everything is as Justin says. The faculty who receive the notes say: The fact that this candidate has views about sexual morality of this sort is not a reasonable basis for treating this candidate any differently than other candidates with distinctive moral views. The candidate gets the job. The candidate then engages with everyone in the department on issues of queer theory in whatever way and to whatever extent is mutually agreeable. In this version of the fantasy, the now-successful candidate, who really is wholly uninterested in pursuing these particular questions in the context of departmental life, does not pursue them at all, and is left to pursue the questions that he or she is interested in with whichever members of that department are also interested in those questions.Report
I am curious about a cousin of AJF’s question @23. AJF asks about how departments should response to candidates who hold views that go increasingly beyond the pale. I am interested in how departments should have responded to candidates who held those views at times when the consensus against them was still emerging–that is, when they were on their way out, but when they still had mainstream support.
For instance, suppose a job candidate in, say, the late 1940s had what at the time were moderate conservative views about race: he (in the context, we can say “he”) felt segregation was regrettable but necessary for the South, say, though he was glad to work in institutions with students of color and by all accounts was just as friendly and supportive, on average, as the white professors who were bitterly opposed to segregation. (Of course, like most white people at the time, much in his behavior would still count, from our perspective, as pretty damn racist.) When people at the department considering hiring him discovered his segregationist views, they were surprised.
So, should a department in the 1940s have treated a candidate’s moderate segregationist views as a conclusive reason not to hire him? I can think of arguments on both sides. Certainly, even many progressive people would have seen it as an attempt to enforce excessive ideological conformity. On the other hand, most (maybe virtually all) of the white people in the debate would have significantly underestimated the harm that hiring the candidate would do to students of color–the pedagogical relationships they could have the candidate would be significantly impaired (since his views in fact expressed deep disrespect toward them), and they should not have been expected to treat segregation as admitting of reasonable disagreement.
In any case, the answer isn’t obvious to me, and it’s also not obvious to me how analogous the historical case is to the present one. But I do think the similarities of the cases constitute a strong case for epistemic humility on the part of people (like me) who are not themselves queer.Report
I’m dismayed to see philosophy students reject a potential candidate as a faculty member due to their political beliefs. The student should look forward to engaging in a discussion with the candidate to find out why the person believes what they do. Did Socrates avoid talking with people with whom he disagreed? If so, he would have talked with very few people. I think that diversity of thought is very important for any college. To allow students, especially philosophy students, to be insulated in the college from thoughts with which they disagree is a liable to be disastrous, both for the students and for the faculty. Especially in philosophy, it is important to be exposed to ideas with which you may disagree, so you can test your own ideas and strengthen whatever arguments you have, or change your mind based on new evidence.
There is absolutely no reason why the faculty candidate would be liable to create a hostile environment just because their beliefs clash with some of the graduate students. How is this case any different from the Salaita case as U of I? Where is the outrage that philosophers have been showing over Salaita in this case?Report
I’m glad Anonyobvious brought this up, but dismayed that it’s gone unnoticed. It’s what I had in mind with my earlier comment:
Isn’t this really just an issue about perceived “fit” or “collegiality”? Faculty members regularly vote for and against job candidates based on these factors. Those of you on search committees regularly reject candidates for similar reasons. It’s not particularly fair, but it seems to be widely viewed as a legitimate way of choosing between highly qualified candidates. Candidates X and Y have very impressive dossiers, but X has some personal views that I find objectionable (or, as people elsewhere have said, X doesn’t drink, is awkward/weird, etc.), and that make me doubt X will make a great colleague. So I prefer candidate Y. Strikes me as basically the same thing, and no more or less objectionable.Report
I am simultaneously encouraged by the general opposition I see in this thread towards disqualifying job candidates on the basis of ideological disagreement, and discouraged by the assumptions generally granted by both sides and the kinds of beliefs that appear to be more generally considered “beyond the pale” for job candidates.
For example, Dale Miller says that he “could not in good conscience send an instructor who believes that the members of some race or gender are intellectually inferior into the classroom. Students from that group could never trust that this instructor would assess their work fairly.” In a 1984 survey of psychologists and other scientists involved in intelligence research, 45% of respondents said that in their opinion “the heritability of black-white differences in IQ” was a “product of genetic and environmental variation.” 15% said it was entirely environmental; the rest either declined to answer or said there was insufficient evidence. (Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_IQ_Controversy,_the_Media_and_Public_Policy_(book)#Synopsis. These are old numbers, but they’re still the best current estimate because the controversial nature of the subject has precluded more recent systematic investigation of expert opinion.) Unless I have misunderstood what Miller was proposing, it seems that he would bar this 45% from teaching.Report
Another thought occurs: it seems that it should be possible to test the assumption that COVs are more likely to mistreat or harm members of disadvantaged groups. We could look at the teaching evaluations of a large group of professors (perhaps separating out courses in which said controversial issues would naturally come up, like ethics classes, from others, to see if there is a difference), ask professors for their views on the controversial topics in question (anonymously, of course), and see if there is any correlation between offensive views and responses to questions like,
– “Does this professor respect all points of view?”
– “Does this professor treat students fairly?”
This doesn’t seem like a very difficult study to do. Harmful behavior by COVs might manifest itself in ways that does not come out on these teaching evaluation questions, of course, but this would at least be a first step towards getting some hard data.Report
Troy: You raise a fair point that I’ll have to think more about. There were a couple of actual cases lurking behind my comment, which I can’t discuss for reasons that are now familiar. One I only heard about; one I encountered myself. These cases involved, or seemed to involve, instructors who believed that African-American students would not be capable of doing first-rate work, at least not in the subject which the instructor was teaching. It seems clear to me that a person with such a view has no business in the classroom. But perhaps my initial wording of the criterion that ought to guide thinking about who can and can’t be trusted to evaluate students’ work fairly was inadequate.Report
@Grad Sockpuppet: The way current job searches are structured now, in public institutions, anyway, makes it completely impossible to base a hiring decision on “fit” or “collegiality”, as these were considerations that gave cover to discriminatory hiring practices. I’m sure you aren’t unaware of this. Maybe the faculty searches you have direct experience with have involved discussion of such considerations, but any search justifying a hire with such reasons at a public institution responsible to the law would be failed, without question. And perhaps this shows that what you’ve offered as a modus ponens is, in light of the facts, a modus tollens.Report
Thanks B @ 96, for expressing clearly something that I was unsuccessfully attempting to get across. I agree with your last paragraph, especially the qualifiers you’ve introduced.
I remain quite frustrated with much of this thread. I’d still like to hear what ‘intellectual freedom’ absolutists have to say about extreme cases. To take the simplest parallel case: suppose you have a job candidate who has publicly stated the view that interracial sexual relationships are morally wrong. (This was my DOV case.) Would you say about this candidate: ‘Well, we’ll need to go and find out how this candidate has treated students and colleagues of color in the past’? Would you say ‘So long as there is no evidence of actual mistreatment by DOV, then there is no reason DOV cannot teach students of color’? Would you dismiss claims *by* current students of color who say that they fear the environment that would be created by hiring DOV? (Would you mock them and condescendingly suggest that they brush up on their Mill?)
I think there are a few consistent ‘intellectual freedom’ absolutists who would say these things. But I really doubt that many people taking the intellectual freedom line here would say them. In that case, there must be something special about holding views that denigrate queer people. At the moment, in contemporary academia, it is still acceptable to denigrate queer people in a way that it is not acceptable to denigrate people of color. Perhaps that is the way it must be given contemporary political realities. But I wish we would just admit to the difference openly, rather than waving a flag of inconsistent intellectual freedom.Report
@Brandon Cooke: that’s stated too strongly. It’s completely impossible to *explicitly* base a hiring decision on “fit.” And even there, the only people to whom you can’t make it explicit are higher-ups. In my department there are several people, the ones with the most power in fact, who endorse the view that our criterion for hiring should be: “would you like to have a beer with this guy?” (Direct quote). They’re perfectly willing to say this out loud in search committee meetings. They’re a little more circumspect in department meetings. And then they hide it completely when talking to the dean and the aff action office. There are forms we have to fill out with “objective” rankings of the candidates on various dimensions, and I’ve been instructed to cook those numbers so they come out the right way to justify hiring the guy we want to have a beer with. Funny, we’ve had trouble hiring minorities of any kind. Anyway, what I’m saying is: let’s not pretend there’s some ideal merit-based, academic-freedom-upholding, hiring process that these crazy grad students are trying to subvert.Report
@ AJF: okay, I’ll bite. DOV=COV, as far as I’m concerned. (I hope I wouldn’t mock or condescend to objections by those who disagree, but that’s a different matter.)Report
So the proposal is, then, that an unethical and illegal rationale be co-opted for a possibly worthy aim? (I say “possibly” because it still has not been shown that defending bad or false positions means promoting a hostile learning environment.) And if “fit” is not a reason that can be supplied to the higher-ups, then how is it to be used in a situation such as this, where an invitation has already been made after (presumably) administrative approval?Report
91- I don’t know whether that’s what some mean to suggest; that’s partly why I asked. E.g.: 105, 74, 82, 87?Report
Brandon Cooke: I don’t think there’s really a proposal on the table. There are all sorts of proposals that could be made, depending on one’s perspective. For example:
o Grad students: Don’t be uppity, and especially don’t be uppity in public! To the extent you’ve let it get around what department is in question, we’ll make sure you look really lame!
o Hiring Faculty: Don’t disguise your hierarchy policing as idealism, it’s not plausible. Everyone knows you accord yourselves the liberties these students are being criticized for attempting to participate in. You’re annoyed because it’s your job to assess whether a candidate is a good fit, so students need to trust your assessment. You feel, perhaps rightly, that taking a disagreement like this public hurts more than it helps. But piling on just makes things even more public.
But I’m not sure what your last message implies is even accurate. Equalize for issues of sex and race, and I don’t believe there’s any legal requirement for “meritocracy”, especially when strictly limited to a single merit (e.g. research). If you’re interviewing two white males, and one has a better CV and acts “weird”, and the other has a worse CV and acts “not weird”, you can hire the latter over the former. “Weird” is not a legally protected status. Virtually no one is hired just to do research. The same is legally true when comparing, for example, a black woman to a white man. But in such cases, the level of scrutiny may be much higher, because there are other reasons the committee may prefer to hire the white man that would not be legal, and going into the court case with a “weird” defense doesn’t look good. Universities and colleges also want to portray themselves in an idealistic light, so they prefer book-cooking (which also has the advantage of pushing the responsibility down below the level of administrators). Is that great? No. But given that those books aren’t really written for anyone to read, it may only be significantly unethical when the underlying decision is itself unethical.
So is it unethical not to hire someone who acts “weird”? If the standard is meritocracy, probably. Even if “weird” is “sexist jerk”, for example, if the standard is research skill, and the sexist jerk does better research, then you should still hire him. And the same would go for “doesn’t bathe often enough”. But no one thinks this way, because there are other aspects of being a member of a faculty.
What I take to be the underlying tension in this conversation is that if some candidate had bad views about black people, he would almost certainly get a pocket veto from the hiring committee. And the same if he had strong views against a particular religion (as opposed to “all religions except X”). LGBT folks don’t have pocket veto protection in intellectual culture yet, and it turns out that makes all the difference.Report
Just to be clear about the book-cooking point: I am saying that if a department hired a great researcher who:
1) They just could not get along with, to the point where it interfered with the functioning of the department, or
2) Had some problem with teaching that penetrated above the level of the department (e.g. generated bad publicity)
It would be entirely expected if the Dean of Faculty invited the department chair on a stroll and asked “what the hell were thinking hiring this guy?” So it’s not like the hiring committee is putting a fast one over on the higher-ups by adjusting the “objective” scores. Everyone knows what’s going on.Report
I’m not sure I’m completely following your reply, but I am pretty sure that to some extent we’re talking past one another, because you seem to be discussing a different scenario then the one described in the OP. The relevant details of the OP, with implied events in parenthesis: finalists had been recommended (and approved by admin, so checked off by dean and HR/AA), then invited to campus for interviews. Grad students learned about one candidate’s unacceptable views, and asked/pressured/whatever the search committee to withdraw the invitation to the offensive candidate. My procedural points all spoke to the fact that *at this point*, having already made a successful case to the dean and HR/AA about their slate of finalists, retracting one invitation based on the grad students’ sleuthing would likely cause the search to be failed (it would where I live, anyway), and possibly open up the hiring institution to legal action from the offensive candidate, or maybe APA sanctioning. Nothing in any of this turns on assumptions, spurious or not, about meritocratic ideals. If the grad students really wanted to get their way, they could just see to it that the candidate had a really bad showing, instead of inserting themselves into the search process and forcing the search committee into a really awkward situation with admin and the candidate. But then, that wouldn’t be the spectacle that’s probably hoped for, would it?Report
I can see that, but it still leaves almost all of the comments above divorced from the actual issue. Both you and I are talking tactics at this point. The objection becomes not that the candidate should be hired regardless of this belief, but that the students aren’t trusting the system to scuttle it in the right way. So the talk about academic freedom just becomes talk about institutional appearances. You think that the students themselves are aware of how the underlying system works, but have chosen to go a different direction to generate publicity. Is that really so different on a substantive level?Report
Just to clarify my little piece of the dialectic: as I said in my initial post, I thought that the “principled” part of the issue had been ably covered by David Boonin and others. It struck me that the procedural aspect of this, which is pretty important as well, had gone completely undiscussed, and I wanted to bring those considerations into view. I do not endorse, and indeed reject, the idea that academic freedom talk reduces to institutional appearance talk. Some have that view; I do not. I’ve been around a while but I’m happy to say that I’m not yet nearly so cynical. I didn’t explicitly state an objection, but I think both on “principled” and on procedural grounds, what the grad students aim to do in this particular scenario is misguided and wrong. (Actually, I believe I did say this in my first post here.)
I don’t know whether the grad students understand how the system works. If they do, then they aren’t being very savvy, or they think their principled stance overrides any reason to think about the legitimate principles that might account for the way the search process is set up. In my experience many people have vague ideas about how searches work, but even being an interviewee many times does not reveal all of that half as much as sitting on or chairing a search. So again, it’s worthwhile to say a few things about how they work “under the hood”.Report
Sigh. That wasn’t what you said, Dale Miller. What you said was that you “could not in good conscience send an instructor who believes that the members of some race or gender are intellectually inferior into the classroom. Students from that group could never trust that this instructor would assess their work fairly.”
Which is obvious nonsense, and which is also quite different than what you said above. It’s conceivable that, for example, racial group A is, *on average*, less intelligent than racial group B, whether that’s due to genetics, epigenetics, prenatal influences, early childhood, or other things. It’s also almost certainly true that the variance in intelligence among women is lower than among men, so there are going to be fewer very smart women around (and presumably, fewer women capable of doing first rate work in philosophy). That doesn’t mean that there are *no* women, or for that matter *no* members of the less intelligent racial group, who are capable of doing first rate work. These are statistical statements about averages, not categorical statements about individuals.Report
Hi Hector: I didn’t claim to be restating my earlier post. Indeed, I agreed with Troy that my earlier post might have cast the net too widely. It sounds like you think you’ve racked up a point on a scoreboard somewhere, but in fact you’re only making point that I’ve already agreed might be correct and calls for further thought on my part.Report
Dale Miller: Thank you for your cordial reply. Your most recent two posts suggest to me that there may not be much disagreement between us. If the cases you mention are as you describe, they may indeed be cases where the professors in question should not be teaching. I think we (and Hector) agree that there is a difference between holding these kinds of views and affirming the statements I quoted. I would make a couple more related points. These may be implicit in what you and Hector have already said, but I think they are important enough to make explicit:
– Not only is there a difference between “statistical statements about averages” and “categorical statements about individuals” (as Hector rightly says), the former need not even provide evidence about the latter. This is because one’s students (say) are not a random sample from their respective populations. Students from all populations have to pass various bars to get into one’s class in the first place. And a student’s actual work in the classroom is much better evidence for their ability, motivation, etc. than any statistical data about the populations from which they come from. (This observation is relevant not only to teacher expectations of black students’ abilities, but to the widely endorsed claim in this thread that a candidate’s being a COV is evidence that he will mistreat disadvantaged students. The initial COV is not a random sample from the population of Americans who oppose same-sex marriage and premarital sex.)
– There is also a difference between empirical statements about traits like intelligence and moral or normative judgments about “superiority” or “inferiority.” I would never describe the view that intellectual capacities are differentially distributed among races for partly genetic reasons as a belief that (e.g.) black people are intellectually inferior to white people. Nor would most of the psychologists I mentioned; one searches in vain through the work of Charles Murray or Linda Gottfredson to find such language. So I do not take your initial description to necessarily encompass such scholars. I thought that you may have meant to describe such people because critics of these scholars do often use this normatively-loaded language to describe their views. (For example, this essay (http://www.nyu.edu/gsas/dept/philo/faculty/block/papers/Heritability.html) by a philosopher on the Bell Curve begins with the sentence: “According to The Bell Curve, Black Americans are genetically inferior to Whites.”) This is emblematic of much discussion of politically incorrect views in academia today: different positions are conflated to make one’s ideological opponents seem maximally offensive. One thing I would hope for in discussion of these issues is closer attention to these nuances. I take your acknowledgement that your initial description may have not been clear enough on who it includes to be progress in this direction.Report
Let me also weigh in on the question of “fit.” I actually think that considerations of fit, which encompass the ideological views held by candidates, are not entirely out of place. However, it seems to me that there are two very different kinds of cases.
The first kind of case is the one where the COV holds a controversial view in a subject they are focused on in their research or teaching. This would be the case with the original COV were they an applied ethicist, or with, say, a philosopher of biology who worked on race and intelligence and held the views we’ve discussed above. Here I think there at least pragmatic reasons to not hire candidates whose views strongly offend students for a simple reason: the COV is unlikely to find that department an intellectually welcoming environment. Were I the COV, I would rather be in a department in which students felt open to discussing these issues with COVs than one in which they felt that my defending controversial views would make them uncomfortable. I’m enough of an “intellectual freedom absolutist” to think that in an ideal world these students would be more open-minded. But we don’t live in an ideal world, and I (sincerely) recognize that in some cases this is a lot to ask of students (or faculty) who have deeply held views on these issues. Given this, I think such considerations are better brought out into the open than ignored.
The second kind of case, though, is one where the COV works primarily on unrelated areas: for instance, suppose that the original COV specializes in epistemology. In this case, inasmuch as their personal views are not going to be the focus of their research or teaching, barring COVs seems to me much more McCarthy-esque.Report
Troy, I appreciate your arguments but would like to propose close to to the opposite conclusion. One of the most important tests of academic freedom is whether it is extended even in cases where the ideas or conclusions are very unpopular, as long as the researchers are employing sound methods in good faith to arrive at their answers. Suppose that I am the philosopher of biology studying race and intelligence that you hypothesize about above. I have no personal opinion on this research subject yet; I simply find it interesting and important and want to come as close as possible to finding the truth. If I reach controversial conclusions based on my accurate analysis of carefully-gathered data, using methods generally agreed upon as legitimate in my field, then I most require the shield of academic freedom precisely when people would like to squelch my research or ensure that I remain unemployable because they don’t happen to agree with the conclusions. Those of us who don’t like the conclusions should separate our judgment of the quality of the research and researcher from the conclusions themselves. If we dislike the conclusions, we need to come up with better data, better explanations, or some reasonable account of a flaw in the research. Or we may have to accept conclusions we dislike.
I’m not excited about the possibility of shutting out those who have unpopular views unrelated to their research, either, but in theory I might be more suspicious of those cases insofar as they could involve amateur conclusions driven by an ideological interest or personal preference rather than expert examination of the best research. I would have to ask why the person reached that conclusion, and if a reasonable explanation was given, respect for academic freedom would prevail. In some cases the odds of providing a reasonable explanation are very slim, so it is very rare that our support of academic freedom is put to a radical test, but it could happen. I know at least a few people who tested my own tolerance for freedom in this way, but proved that they and their views deserved my full respect despite deep disagreement. Our collective commitment to this principle of tolerance is essential to the pursuit of truth.
Dale Miller may have meant something else when he said that he “could not in good conscience send an instructor who believes that the members of some race or gender are intellectually inferior into the classroom. Students from that group could never trust that this instructor would assess their work fairly,” but I would gladly adopt this claim as my own because I do not see how any of the evidence presently available about IQ or anything else (including any cited above in the comments) leads to the conclusion that members of some race or gender are “intellectually inferior”. As a result, I would be suspicious of anyone who drew such a sweeping and unsupported conclusion from the available evidence, and I would wonder what other motivations might have caused them to make this logical leap. Perhaps those who take this view have so limited an understanding of what constitutes intellectual aptitude that they equate it with IQ alone and then draw further weak conclusions based on conflicting evidence about IQ test results? I would suppose that instructors with these views either weren’t doing a very good job of reasoning from the evidence, in which case I’d prefer that a better thinker be in the classroom, or were being influenced by other assumptions or motives that would indeed make it difficult to trust their assessment of student work. However, if a prospective job candidate or any other colleague could walk me through a solid analysis of evidence or argument leading to the conclusion that one group or another was “intellectually inferior”, I would fully support that person’s academic freedom to pursue research in whatever direction the truth may lead. Indeed, I would be committed to revising my own views, at least provisionally, or suspending judgment pending further investigation into the matter.Report
Well look at it the other way. Would you have a problem hiring DOV if DOV was a Black separatist?
“To take the simplest parallel case: suppose you have a job candidate who has publicly stated the view that interracial sexual relationships are morally wrong. (This was my DOV case.) Would you say about this candidate: ‘Well, we’ll need to go and find out how this candidate has treated [white] students and colleagues in the past’? Would you say ‘So long as there is no evidence of actual mistreatment by DOV, then there is no reason DOV cannot teach [white] students’? Would you dismiss claims *by* current [white] students who say that they fear the environment that would be created by hiring DOV? (Would you mock them and condescendingly suggest that they brush up on their Mill?)
I do think that in this circumstance many students would be told to brush up on their Mill, and they should be.
What is considered to be the “correct” contemporary morality *will* change. What are we to do with those old dinosaurs who doubt the experiences reality of otherkin in 25 years? Just keep waiting for the always around the corner rash of philosopher retirements? No. Let people believe what they want; you are hiring a professional colleague, not a BFF.Report
This is a remarkably unchallenging question. The censorious students are acting improperly. Those who purport to model appropriate academic conduct for them should tell them so and explain why, but I fear that will not happen. If so, it is a measure of how far off the rails some portions of the academy have gone.Report
Philosophy Prof. Kurt Huber, along with students Sophie Scholl and others, accepted the virtual certainty of torture and death in order to oppose Nazi repression of the handicapped, Jews, homosexuals, Roma, et alia. They called themselves the White Rose, and they are the closest thing to moral heroes that academic Philosophy can claim in the last century. Would these graduate students risk the guillotine to defend Huber or Scholl? Not likely. Given Huber and Scholl’s Catholic morals, these graduate students would ban Huber and Scholl from American Academia.
If this situation has been correctly reported, it is simply (and utterly) shameful.Report
Those are salient points David. Still, there is an important difference I should think between philosophical positions such as infanticide and meat eating. Homosexuality is not a philosophical position. So a better example would be if, say, the COV did not believe that women should have an equal say in politics or marriage. Or that the nation should be segregated along racial or religious lines. What would you say then?
At this point, it’s not just being on the right side of history. That might have been the case had the COV been in question, say, twenty years ago. But holding those beliefs presently, given seeping court consensus, would seem to betray a seriously troubling bigotry–not against a mere philosophical position but against a gender identity. Isn’t there a significant difference here? And if one still believes that sexual orientation is a philosophical choice along the lines of vegetarianism or meat eating, that seems to betray a rather alarming level of ignorance that may compromise one’s judgment on myriad other topics.
Now if the COV held a religious position against gay marriage, this presents a further troubling problem, but I don’t see why one’s religion should give one license to argue for discriminatory policies along racial or gender lines.Report
I mean David Boonin.Report