Banning the Guilty?

Banning the Guilty?


A philosophy professor who wishes to remain anonymous writes in with the following question:

If a member of the philosophical profession has been found to have violated his or her institution’s sexual harassment and/or sexual assault policies (especially more than once), should there be any restrictions on his or her future participation in professional events, such as being a speaker at meetings of the American Philosophical Association, serving as a member of committees of national organizations, and so on?

The question is motivated by a concern to make professional meetings safer for victims (so they can attend without fear of having to confront their harasser or assailant). As far as I know, the APA does not have any policy on this, and I don’t know if any of the other philosophical societies do. Thoughts?

I’d appreciate it if we could refrain from using real-world examples from the profession’s recent history in this discussion. I’d also appreciate those who favor such a policy specifying what they have in mind. What kinds of restrictions would it impose? On whom and for what? For how long? etc.

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Anon faculty
6 years ago

Though I’m sure it comes from a good place, that’s a deeply disturbing question. Consider an exactly analogous question: should repeat criminals be banned from working after they serve their prison terms? Should those convicted up shoplifting multiple times be banned from all stores for life? Of course not.Report

PhD Student
PhD Student
6 years ago

I would hardly consider those situations to be analogous – particularly when the post specifically states that the question is motivated specifically by a concern for victims. Sexual harassment or assault is not at all similar to theft, and the question is not about refusing to employ them but instead about involving them in professional community activities.

Perhaps a better analogy would be a person who had engaged in racially motivated harassment or assault?Report

Rosa Terlazzo
Rosa Terlazzo
6 years ago

Without at the moment weighing in on the question in the post, I’d suggest that the two cases Anon faculty offers above are *not* exactly analogous to the proposal in the post. Getting a job after being convicted of multiple crimes does not generally involve standing in a position of power over particular victims of their crimes, or requiring the victims of their crimes to be in close contact with the criminal in order to advance their own careers. We can of course disagree about how much of a moral difference this makes, but it seems obvious to me that it makes at least some. Similarly, being banned from acting in some ways in a professional organization is not analogous to being banned from all stores for life – it might be more analogous to being banned from ever working for stores owned by that company again (while perhaps still being allowed to shop, work at other stores, etc). And I confess that I don’t see anything particularly wrong with that kind of scenario.Report

JDRox
JDRox
6 years ago

Presumably banning repeat shoplifters from stores would be motivated out of a concern for the victims of shoplifting.Report

Will Behun
Will Behun
6 years ago

I’m glad this was phrased as a question because it is something that requires a great deal of consideration. On the one hand, creating an environment in which everyone has an opportunity to present their work and participate in the community free from the fear of harassment, assault, or other forms of victimization ought to be a goal for the profession as a whole and event organizers in particular. Preventing known predators from participating or participating in certain ways may well be a means to that end and is worthy of consideration.

On the other hand, we need to weigh this against the extent to which preventing people from participating in professional events is a career death sentence, which goes beyond the reasonable sanction for bad actions in most cases. We also have to consider that people do change, and someone who violates a sexual harassment code is not somehow essentially “a harasser”. Being caught out could conceivably be a catalyst for personal change. Therefore a time limit might be part of the discussion.

Opening up the discussion and considering some reasonable sanctions may well be an important step forward in assuring that conferences and other events are environments in which the best of the profession can flourish.Report

B
B
6 years ago

Apologies if this detracts a bit from the question, but I just want to point out that regardless of one’s stance on the official policy, one can have a personal policy. For example, I decided last year that I will not attend talks or buy books from those who have been officially found guilty of sexually harassment, nor those about whom I have heard a first-hand account from a victim. Thinking that it’s not the profession’s place to ban those people is perfectly consistent with thinking that it’s my place to refuse to tacitly condone them.Report

Jan Dowell
Jan Dowell
6 years ago

This post offers an interesting proposal, one I haven’t thought much about myself and would be interested in hearing others’ thoughts on. The grounds for a proposal might not be punitive, as the first commentator assumes, but pro-active. Keep in mind that a determination that someone has violated his institution’s own policies is a determination that that individual has behaved in ways incompatible with that institution’s educational mission. It is part of the mission of the APA to foster constructive exchange between philosophers. The presence of a known harasser undermines the ability of the APA to promote such exchanges at its meetings.
Let’s assume that this is the grounds for the proposal under consideration. I’m now interested in hearing from those who agree that the APA has an interest in and is permitted to create fair attendance policies that promote its mission. What I would be interested in knowing is what a policy that best did this would look like. Off the top of my head, there are three choice points:
1. Who should the APA target in this policy? Should the APA seek to impose a ban only on those found to have violated their institution’s policy more than once? Or is one violation sufficient to trigger some sort of ban? Are there institutional policies against other sorts of non-sexual abuse the known violation of which should trigger the ban?
2. What should the duration of the ban be? A ban for one year? Five years?
3. How might the APA enforce such a ban? The APA might simply ban violators that it knows about from registering. That would at least prevent them from attending the smokers. Off the top of my head, a further option would be to give volunteers a list of those banned. Such volunteers would be tasked with asking those banned to leave, if they are discovered attending sessions.
Adopting any version of such a proposal would be quite a departure from the APA’s current practice. For this reason, an initial reaction might be that such a proposal is “too extreme”. But I invite those who have this reaction to think about the many victims of such individuals in our profession and the importance to them of being able to attend APA meetings without running into the very individuals who have not only violated their university’s policies, but violated policies in place to protect members of that university community. These violations involve behaving in ways that often seriously undermine the heath and ability to concentrate of victims. The outright rejection of such a policy as “too extreme” or “unfair to violators” is, in effect, to assume that the APA has more of an interest in the participation of those who have acted in ways contrary to the constructive exchange of philosophical ideas than it does in the participation of those who are the victims of the former’s behavior. That’s the choice. I don’t know whether the APA can feasibly adopt such a policy or what a best such policy would look like. But I do know that we must not, in our deliberations about this policy, ever lose sight of the victim, her well-being, and what, given the APA’s mission, it is reasonable for her to expect as a member of the APA’s philosophical community.Report

Anon
Anon
6 years ago

I take it that the first commentator’s thought is that our legal system is supposed to work by specifying some definite punishment for wrongdoing. It would be wrong for private citizens to heap additional punishments on top of the official punishment.

Moreover, the criminal/shoplifting cases don’t seem as disanalogous to me as others suggested. The idea behind the ban is supposed to be something like this: Professor X has been found guilty of sexual harassment of students/colleagues A, B, and C. An official body has already punished X for this. Given these facts, do we ban X from participating in future professional events, even assuming that none of A, B, and C will be present? That seems to me analogous to asking whether, given that Z has robbed stores 1, 2, and 3, we ban Z from all other stores.

It seems to me that if we answer that question affirmatively, we’re engaged in some form of vigilante justice.Report

David Wallace
David Wallace
6 years ago

I don’t have settled views on the actual question, but contra the suggestion in (1), there are analogous situations elsewhere. Anyone in an accounting department who’s been convicted of theft in breach of trust (embezzlement, etc) will never work in a financial role again, even after they’ve served whatever prison term (if any) is due.Report

David Sobel
David Sobel
6 years ago

I wonder about enforcement mechanisms. But I would think that, setting aside enforcement issues, the APA saying that those found guilty of sexually harassing by an appropriate body are unwelcome at APA events for a period of time after such a finding would make the APA a more welcoming place for the victims of the person found guilty.Report

Plouffe
Plouffe
6 years ago

“The outright rejection of such a policy as “too extreme” or “unfair to violators” is, in effect, to assume that the APA has more of an interest in the participation of those who have acted in ways contrary to the constructive exchange of philosophical ideas than it does in the participation of those who are the victims of the former’s behavior. That’s the choice.”

No, it is not. To frame the issue outright as simply a choice between supporting victims and supporting violators is unhelpful. If this is the only choice we have, the question then becomes not “Should we have a banning policy?” but rather, “How severe should the banning policy be?” Has the issue already been settled because Jan Dowell has stated an exclusive disjunction?Report

Christopher Gauker
Christopher Gauker
6 years ago

I acknowledge that not only governments have the right and the capacity to set up court-like entities that determine wrongdoing and mete out punishments. Universities and businesses have those too. But I think it is very obvious that an organization like the APA cannot be entrusted with such a responsibility or take on that burden. I cannot imagine how the committee might be appropriately selected, and it would not command authority. Contentious decisions in universities do not cause universities to break up and disband, because the employees have a strong motive to hang on. A few contentious decisions in the APA, already in a very fragile state, could destroy it.Report

G
G
6 years ago

Most people would agree that serial rapists should be put on the sex offender registry, but fewer agree that people caught for things like public urination or being an 18-year-old who’s sexually active with a 16-year-old (whose parents find out and file with PD) should be on the same registry.

People of the latter types have been put on sex offender registries, which is what happens when you have a system that doesn’t take degrees of wrongdoing into account. Such a system creates a new set of victims.

Using whether or not someone broke his/her own institution’s policies seems problematic, as different institutions have different policies. You’d need one set of rules for everyone, and then someone (or some group) to determine whether a person who had violated one university’s policies had indeed also violated the group’s policies. (I’m thinking of Canadian immigration officers looking at criminal records. The person’s own country has already done the investigation and conviction, and Canada then determines how that matches up with its own laws, and from that, the suitable length of time for the person to be banned.)Report

gopher
gopher
6 years ago

Jan Dowell writes,

Keep in mind that a determination that someone has violated his institution’s own policies is a determination that that individual has behaved in ways incompatible with that institution’s educational mission. It is part of the mission of the APA to foster constructive exchange between philosophers. The presence of a known harasser undermines the ability of the APA to promote such exchanges at its meetings.

But the determination is very, very far from producing knowledge, so someone determined to have violated his institution’s policies is not thereby a known harasser.

I hope we will not forget how low the standards are now for a determination of sexual harassment.Report

Joe
Joe
6 years ago

@AnonFaculty: “Consider an exactly analogous question: … Should those convicted up shoplifting multiple times be banned from all stores for life?”

I hope you are able to step back and consider what could possibly lead someone to think that the situations are “exactly analogous”. It is arguments like this that make some of us worry about our profession. I could probably list 5 or 6 relevant disanalogies, but the most obvious is that shoplifting doesn’t ruin another person’s life. The thing about intentionally ruining another person’s life–in contrast to reducing Wal-Mart’s quarterly profit margin by 0.00000013%–is that it tends to come along with heavy sanctions. For reasons that no-one should have to spell out.

If there were a shoplifter who was (somehow) literally going around and sinking whole corporations or outlets, then yes, that harm would probably justify some kind of ban on the part of the stores or corporations in question, because people’s lives would be ruined. Right?Report

Kathryn Pogin
Kathryn Pogin
6 years ago

Gopher, I am confused by this sentence in your comment: “I hope we will not forget how low the standards are now for a determination of sexual harassment.”

How low, precisely, are they? Do you have first hand knowledge of low standards across campuses? Second hand? I’m hoping that you don’t merely mean the preponderance of the evidence standard that’s used in accordance with OCR guidance, because given the nature of harassment and assault, there is generally little evidence that one could ever produce. As such, a preponderance of the evidence standard surely cannot be “very, very far from producing knowledge.” Well, I suppose it could if you’re a skeptic. But then everything would be. So I take it that’s not what you meant. And that’s of course not to mention how inconsistent university practices often are with OCR guidance, or how those standards are actually implemented.

As to the original question, thank you to whoever sent it in; I think it’s an excellent one. I’m not quite sure how to answer except to say that I think it would be deeply troubling if collectively as a profession we were comfortable with granting professional honors to someone known to have committed assault, or someone who is known to be a serial harasser–of course, not only because participating in conferences is a privilege, but also on account of the disregard for the safety of others it would suggest. Of course there are questions about who is known to be such things and who is it who knows, which is why I think the suggestion about who has been found to have violated their university’s own harassment or assault policies is an interesting one.Report

David Sobel
David Sobel
6 years ago

Chris,
As I understand it the suggestion was not for the APA to set up court-like entities to determine wrongdoing but rather to take into account the findings of other
appropriate bodies who have made such determinations.Report

Axel Mueller
Axel Mueller
6 years ago

Independent of the legal consequences their misbehavior may have brought for them already, hooligans get banned from watching further football matches, bar-brawlers get banned from bars, athletes who used doping get banned from participation in competitions until they are certified to be clean, doctors who make unprofessional mistakes get de-certified… There are actually a lot of fitting analogies for what is implicitly proposed in the question. What they all seem to me to have in common is the existence of social practices with rules of conduct and integrity that are constitutive for making those practices’ goals equally attainable for everyone involved without taking any unfair risks. As such rules, they constitute something like the practices’ standards of integrity (yes, going to bars DOES require integrity). I think this has been beutifully put by Janice Dowell. Taking a cue from these analogies, I find it also helpful to think of this in terms of timed suspensions, like in sports and (I assume) contingent on some sort of guarantee for those affected by the potential threats. I also think we should look at the matter taking the APA to be a professional organization with self-control functions like, e.g., medical associations and other professional organizations. If so, then the reasoning is this: if someone did infringe regulations against sexual harassment somewhere in academia, and if we as philosophers believe that sexual harassment is an infraction of our professional rules of conduct and integrity, then there is indeed (as one poster, albeit critically, remarked) no question whether, but only how we follow up on these commitments. Trying to roll back the question to the “whether” part seems to me equivalent to doubting whether sexual harassment within the profession is an infraction of professional integrity. I think most would agree that yes, it is, indeed, and no, no question about the whether. I think this also helps deflating some of the unease some have expressed towards the victims-idiom (which I admit to also not always finding helpful, though not in this case, where it made transparently a valid point). We’re talking about our duties as professional philosophers who are in charge of maintaining the integrity of their collective search for the truth against infractions of universal, fair and uninhibited access. These aren’t optional, or person-relative, or ponderable or negotiable features of the practice but concern the essentials of possibly attaining the goals set to the practice. All this being said, I am as clueless about implementation as I am certain that the APA (and other comparable professional self-monitoring bodies) should be able to follow up on infractions of the integrity of the social conditions of knowledge-production. One element in the puzzle seems to me to push universities to true compliance with Clery-Act equivalents because otherwise needed information will be available only as rumor. As long as not every case of sexual harassment is a matter of legal actions, there are no per se public records.Report

Non-skeptic
Non-skeptic
6 years ago

I would have thought there is some room between accepting general skepticism and thinking that merely meeting a preponderance of the evidence standard produces knowledge.Report

Kathryn Pogin
Kathryn Pogin
6 years ago

Non-skeptic, note that I didn’t say otherwise. What I did say was that “given the nature of harassment and assault, there is generally little evidence that one could ever produce. As such, a preponderance of the evidence standard surely cannot be ‘very, very far from producing knowledge.'”Report

Jonathan Ichikawa
6 years ago

I can’t resist the epistemologist-call. I think that Non-skeptic has to be right that the fact that the preponderance of the evidence supports P isn’t very close to establishing knowledge of P. Even if, as Kathryn Pogin sensibly says, that’s often the best we can do, the implication isn’t that knowledge ends up requiring a very low bar; the implication is that we may sometimes not be very close to knowing whether someone is actually guilty of misconduct.

But we can have evidence that makes it pretty likely that he did. And acting on such evidence—by, for instance, declining to invite people to join a committee where they’d be in close contact with potentially vulnerable people—doesn’t seem obviously unreasonable, even absent knowledge that they are guilty of misconduct. (If the evidence makes it 60% likely that my car is going to explode, I’m not going to get in—even though I’m “very, very far” from knowing that my car will explode.)

(I’m not saying I’d support such a ban. I’m undecided. It seems like a hard question. I’m just here for the epistemology.)Report

JDRox
JDRox
6 years ago

“a preponderance of the evidence standard surely cannot be “very, very far from producing knowledge.” Well, I suppose it could if you’re a skeptic.” Am I missing something? I thought a preponderance of evidence was *obviously* very far from producing knowledge. An otherwise healthy young smoker has a preponderance of evidence for the claim, ‘if I smoke, I won’t get lung cancer’. But obviously such smokers don’t know that, if they smoke, they won’t get lung cancer.Report

?
?
6 years ago

Pogin says, “…disregard for the safety of others it would suggest…”

Is the suggestion that people are unsafe at a conference where there is someone who has in the past committed harassment, and that conference organizers are disregarding everyone’s safety by allowing those people to attend? This almost seems like a reductio of itself. Sports arenas, concert venues, churches, and movie theaters allow people who have committed sexual harassment to attend. Are they disregarding everyone’s safety? Should people who have committed sexual harassment not be allowed to ever be around anyone ever?Report

Kathryn Pogin
Kathryn Pogin
6 years ago

I take it we all recognize this, but again, there is logical space between each of the following: ‘very close to producing knowledge’, ‘producing knowledge’, and ‘very, very, far from producing knowledge’; and again, my claim was not about the preponderance of the evidence standard, but rather about the preponderance of the evidence standard in conjunction with the nature of what it is being evidenced.

But I’m not particularly troubled with regard to the matter at hand if others disagree with me about this because (in addition to the fact that this particular portion of my comment was intended as a reply to gopher, rather than a reply to the question in the post, as indicated by the last paragraph of my comment) Jonathan is right that we can act on evidence even when we fail to have knowledge.

As to the question by ?, I’ll just note first that conferences are organized to construct interaction between the attendees and that is a relevant difference from some of the other examples given, second, that sports arenas concert venues, churches, and movie theaters, do often have policies preventing those who have repeatedly (or severely) disturbed other patrons in the past from coming on the premises again, and lastly, that I was particularly concerned with cases where one is known to be a serial harasser or to have committed sexual assault.Report

Rebecca Kukla
Rebecca Kukla
6 years ago

I am pretty leery of a formal ban because I can’t imagine how we would encode good standards or enforce it. But given what an incredible abundance of philosophical talent is out there, why oh why would you reward someone we have very good reason to think is a harasser with conference invitations and the like, thereby putting many other prospective attendees in an uncomfortable position? Is there really anyone so unbelievably nonfungible that you absolutely must have THAT PERSON at your conference, whatever the cost to others? Just today I decided not to submit something to a conference that looked otherwise fun and up my alley, because I really was not up for hanging out in close quarters for several days with a certain member of the profession whose dangerously uncomfortable behavior is now very public. (Justin, I don’t take this as violating your rules, as – sadly – that doesn’t narrow things down enough to identify anyone in particular.) So there’s one person whose contribution they lost with their choice, fwiw. My motives weren’t punitive – it just sounded stressful and unpleasant to deal with. Why go there? Unless one is trying to make a rather creepy point, I just don’t see the value in selecting such people to include and showcase, and I see substantial disvalue.Report

Anony
Anony
6 years ago

Why stop at people found guilty of sexual harassment? Why not extend the ban to people guilty of drunk driving, possession of drugs, simple assault, public drunkenness? Any single one of those things may put vulnerable people at risk. We might also consider a sort of morality clause–alcoholics, people with questionable views re race or gender, drug addicts, etc. all of those could put vulnerable people at risk. If, for example, one grew up with an alcoholic parent–simply being around an alcoholic Could be traumatizing. In regards to convicted criminals, why would the profession want to reward people convicted of actual crimes with professional accolades–regardless of what the crime is?Report