Are We Being Chilled Or Should We Just Chill?

Are We Being Chilled Or Should We Just Chill?


In previous posts (here, here, and here) I have expressed some skepticism about the idea that academic liberty is on the decline. Yes, there are occasional stories of violations of academic liberty; Steven Salaita, whose job offer was rescinded, comes to mind. But we have to be careful here. A (defeasible) rule of thumb is that if you are hearing a lot about an event on the news or social media, it must not be that common (for if it were, then it wouldn’t be newsworthy). There’s also the availability heuristic to be on the lookout for, that is, “the tendency to judge the frequency or likelihood of an event by the ease with which relevant instances come to mind.” Also, let’s admit, it feels good to complain about stuff.

We should also pay attention to what is included in our understanding of the trends. With a long enough time-frame and a broad enough understanding of academic liberty, it is quite clear that the trend over, say, the past 100 years, is towards more and more kinds of people having both the liberty to become academics and the liberty to discuss a greater number of topics, including topics that had in the past been taboo or deemed not worthy of study. There was a dip during that period, of course—the Red Scare in the middle of the 20th century—and people should not forget that: especially those who casually use the word “McCarthyism” to describe today’s climate for academics.

All that said, I could be wrong. If I am, I want to know. And of course, even if I’m right, that isn’t to say that there are no serious attacks on academic liberty or that we shouldn’t be vigilant against them. (UPDATE: Along those lines, see this petition to get the Wisconsin Board of Regents to preserve clear tenure protections.)

But what would be helpful are examples. The examples would have to meet a few conditions. They must involve: (1) faculty at U.S. institutions of higher education  who have (2) suffered the loss of job, rescinding of a job offer, loss of professional autonomy (e.g., forced change of syllabus), or other institutional sanction (3) because of their expression of an idea in their capacity as academics (during teaching, research, other professional activities) or as citizens.

Note that condition 2 does not include “investigation.” As we have discussed elsewhere, there may indeed be problems with how some types of investigations take place, and various reforms may be required, but that is not the topic under discussion. An investigation is not the same thing as a sanction. (UPDATE: if specific measures taken during an investigation strike you as punitive, feel free to mention them.) As for condition 3, it would be helpful to be specific about what the idea is. I am sure there are some examples. But I do wonder how many.

Some readers may think this request for examples is beside the point. The problem, they might say, is that faculty are self-censoring out of fear, and so it would be no surprise if there weren’t a lot of examples. The climate for academic freedom is so chilly, they might say, that faculty are just not going to risk saying something that might get them into trouble with their schools, or the federal government, for that matter.

Let me say two things about this. First, if it turns out that there are very few actual examples of faculty being punished by their institutions for the expression of the ideas, then that finding—in conjunction with the widespread evidence of faculty openly expressing and defending all sorts of ideas—should give us some reason to think that the fear is misguided. Second, we should be on guard against a self-fulfilling prophecy. Reticence begets more reticence. If the worry is indeed that faculty are no longer comfortable expressing certain ideas in their research and teaching, this is not something that will be improved by faculty not expressing these ideas; it will just make it less and less comfortable to do. One might be inclined to tell these faculty: toughen up.

Or perhaps try to think about how to be skillful in presenting controversial ideas. Some of this is about understanding why what you’re saying is controversial, but some of it is about setting expectations. Consider this warning that Jason Brennan (Georgetown) puts on his syllabi:

You have the right to engage in reasoned disagreement with me without any penalty to your grade. I have the right to challenge any belief, ideology, worldview, or attitude you have, including those beliefs you hold sacred. Students likewise have this right against each other and me. Everyone has the right to express his or her views without fear of bullying or reprisal. The classroom and the university is a forum for the pursuit of truth. I intend for this class to aid in the pursuit of responsible ideology. Responsible ideology means putting in the hard work to be justified in one’s political views. It requires a synthesis of humanistic and social scientific methods. It requires that one understand and, in a sense, can “get inside the head” of views entirely foreign to one’s own. Finally, it requires that one experience and overcome, rather than flee from, serious intellectual discomfort.

That’s one way to do it. The post in which Brennan shares this is one in which he laments the infantilization of students and their calls for censorship, but the fact that he has had no complaints about his teaching suggests that the problems may not be as widespread or as deep as some fear. Perhaps they aren’t even correctly identified.

But, to the extent possible (clearly this is not comprehensive), let’s get some more information. I could be wrong. This post isn’t a bet; it’s a question.

 

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Matt Burstein
5 years ago

I’m interested to see where this discussion goes, but I have a clarificatory question: are we including (purported) cases where adjuncts have sought to unionize and found themselves suddenly not offered additional contracts? For example, something like what is alleged this case:

http://www.browardpalmbeach.com/news/adjunct-professor-sues-broward-college-for-retaliation-over-new-times-article-6992835Report

Lion Rampant
Lion Rampant
5 years ago

“Don’t worry about censorship”, says a major advocate of censorship.Report

Ronnie Hawkins
Ronnie Hawkins
5 years ago

I agree with you, Justin, that we HAVE the opportunity to discuss a wide range of topics in our academic positions, but I have not experienced many academics utilizing that opportunity. You seem to brush off the notion that people are self-censoring what they say out of fear; I would say it’s not so much a matter of conscious fearfulness, but rather an understanding of what is socially acceptable and not that is reinforced largely below the level of conscious awareness. People at an institution that is heavily engaged in genetic engineering, or nanotechnology, or military research, are not likely to discuss legitimate criticisms of these endeavors, not in the classroom, in their writings, or even in informal discussions with peers; they simply “know better.” Ditto with many people staffing medical schools today, if they are highly involved with the pharmaceutical industry, as is the case with about two thirds of them, according to Marcia Angell (http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2009/jan/15/drug-companies-doctorsa-story-of-corruption/); moreover, the incentive structure in research is set up in the wrong way to keep things honest,, according to Richard Horton (http://www.thelancet.com/pdfs/journals/lancet/PIIS0140-6736%2815%2960696-1.pdf). The range of what is acceptable to speak and even think about seems to have contracted with very little out-and-out coercion required, and actual truth-tellers are rare and often ostracized, socially if not administratively.

” If the worry is indeed that faculty are no longer comfortable expressing certain ideas in their research and teaching, this is not something that will be improved by faculty not expressing these ideas; it will just make it less and less comfortable to do. One might be inclined to tell these faculty: toughen up.” Yes indeed–dare we imagine how the landscape might change if the majority of faculty would show some spine?Report

Joe
Joe
5 years ago

“People at an institution that is heavily engaged in genetic engineering, or nanotechnology, or military research, are not likely to discuss legitimate criticisms of these endeavors, not in the classroom, in their writings, or even in informal discussions with peers; they simply “know better.”

Ronnie, I just looked up the top genetic engineering school in the country: according to one online source, it’s UCLA. I was then able to dig up four separate bioethics courses taught at UCLA in recent years. One is called “Biomedical Ethics”, and it features a whole section on eugenics, “The History of Eugenics, and Its Implications for Reproductive Medicine.” Another section “Discusses ethical debates over genetic testing and screening, gene selection or sex selection for human embryos, and designer babies.” And the syllabus contains Ishiguro, Kazuo. 2005, “Never Let Me Go” a gut-wrenching novel which portrays medical science gone completely mad.

This is why Justin is asking for actual examples. We need to know whether such claims are true, not whether they seem “likely” to certain people.Report

One
One
5 years ago

David Barnett was (1) faculty at a U.S. institution of higher education, who (2) suffered the loss of job or other institutional sanction (3) because of his expression of an idea in his capacity as an academics or citizen. (Namely, that ODH totally wrongly handled the accusation of rape leveled at a graduate student in his department when they lied about witness testimony.)Report

Anonymous
Anonymous
5 years ago

Ronnie Hawkins is right. Justin is asking the wrong question. The relevant question is not how many academics have been explicitly censored by explicit administrative sanctions [job loss, etc.]. The relevant question is how many academics *self-censor* as a result of fear of the mere *possibility* of administrative sanctions given the current public *environment* in academia [as illustrated by this entire Kipnis mess]. I have never been subject to administrative sanctions but I keep my trap shut and opinions to myself on controversial issues every single day of my life out of fear of professional reprisals on blogs, the internet, and elsewhere. *That’s* the manner in which discussion has been chilled.Report

David Wallace
David Wallace
5 years ago

I have to say that I’m not persuaded by the idea that investigations aren’t in themselves a problem. When someone is dragged through a multi-month process, possibly suspended from teaching during it, and very unsure of the result, eventual exoneration doesn’t eliminate the chilling effect. (And at least for high-profile cases, that seems common: some midlevel administrator brings the case but after months of churn and external pressure the university president or provost accepts the free-speech argument.)

But that having said, here are half a dozen cases that fit Justin’s criteria, all excerpted from Greg Lukianoff’s “Unlearning Liberty”:

In 2007, [Donald] Hindley, who had been a professor [at Brandeis] for nearly half a century, was found guilty of racial harassment for discussing the word “wetbacks” in his Latin American Politics course. He explained the origin of the word – it derives from immigrants crossing the Rio Grande – to criticize its use. For that, he was found guilty without a hearing and without even knowing the specific allegations against him. Professor Hindley was informed by Provost Marty Krauss in a caustic follow-up letter that “The University will not tolerate inappropriate, racial and discriminatory conduct by members of the Faculty”, and that Krauss was placing the assistant provost, Richard Silberman, as a monitor in Hindley’s class for however long Krauss thought it would take “to ensure that you do not engage in further violations of the nondiscrimination and harassment policy.” Finally, Krauss required Hindley to attend “anti-discrimination training” in which the trainer would “assess your ability to conduct classes without engaging in inappropriate, racial and discriminatory conduct.”

In the fall of 2002, an anonymous petition was circulated on [Shaw University] campus that criticised “the present atmosphere of contention and distrust of the Faculty and Staff… with regard to The Shaw University Board of Trustees, the Academic Administration and the sitting President.” On November 12 2002, Gale Isaacs, a professor at the university since 1986 and chair of the Department of Allied Health, admitted to being one of the authors of the resolution; she was immediately stripped of her appointments and on November 16 received a letter signed by the president of the university, Talbert O. Shaw, firing her explicitly for the resolution.

[Steven] Kirshnar [philosopher at SUNY Fredonia] wrote a biweekly column in the local … newspaper. In February 2006, he wrote two pieces, one titled “Are conservatives being shut out of the academy?” (he concluded it wasn’t totally clear that they were but thought it was a valuable question) and the other, perhaps more dangerously for a professor, “Against Affirmative Action at Fredonia. When he applied for promotion to full professor two months later, the response from the university president, Dennis L. Hefner, was remarkably blunt. He denied the promotion, citing Kershnar’s “deliberate and repeated public misrepresentation of campus policies and procedures…”

[In 2006] Walter Kehowski, a professor of mathematics at Glendale Community College in Arizona, was placed on forced administrative leave after emailing George Washington’s Thanksgiving address to the college district’s listserv.

Take the 2011 case at Gainsville State College (GSC) in Georgia involving a Confederate flag… superimposed over images of, among other things, a torch-wielding Ku Klux Klan member and a lynching [displayed at an exhibit, painted by art professor Stanley Bermudez]… After the Southern Heritage Alerts blog publicly criticized the painting as “despicable”… the school buckled under pressure and removed the painting.

Brooklyn College fired Kristofer Petersen-Overton, an adjunct instructor who was to have taught a course on Politics of the Middle East… [j]ust days earlier, Dov Hikind, a New York assemblyman, had complained about Petersen-Overton’s pro-Palestinian views.

FIRE’s “The Torch” blog has other more recent cases, though most involve students rather than faculty.Report

Anon
Anon
5 years ago

I feel really dirty linking to a David Brooks column, but his article “The Campus Crusaders” mentions a number of cases: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/06/02/opinion/david-brooks-the-campus-crusaders.html?rref=collection%2Fcolumn%2Fdavid-brooks&_r=0

I also can’t bring myself to closely read a David Brooks column, so I haven’t checked to see if his example cases are legit. But maybe someone with a stronger stomach can check them.Report

Aaron Garrett
Aaron Garrett
5 years ago

What about what happened to Dan Kaufman? I only know about it from the news but it sure sounds like he was grossly mistreated due to his exercise of his free speech in the form of a joke which was taken to be a threat “The suit alleges that Cowell began questioning Kaufman about his disability, and asked the professor whether he had ever attempted suicide. Next, Kaufman made a “philosopher’s joke” that would lead to him being banished from the Boulder campus, according to the lawsuit.”Kaufman assured Cowell that he would not try to kill himself or anyone else, including Cowell, ‘unless he was truly evil (or) had Hitler’s soul,'” Kaufman’s lawyers wrote in the complaint. Kaufman was informed of the campus exclusion order in early March 2014 after being led by police officers to a meeting with Provost Russ Moore.” (from the Boulder Daily Camera http://www.dailycamera.com/cu-news/ci_27625677/dan-kaufman-philosophy-prof-banished-from-campus-last)Report

Aaron Garrett
Aaron Garrett
5 years ago

As an aside I think your defeasible rule of thumb is as we say in Boston wicked defeasible. I hear about unarmed African-American men killed by the police in my Twitter feed constantly. Sadly, I do not think that implies it is a rare event.Report

Anonymous Phil
5 years ago

Censorship in all its forms is a bad idea. This is not a trendy position or an intellectually “complex” position. Yet, for all this, it is apparently true nonetheless.Report

Philippe Lemoine
Philippe Lemoine
5 years ago

The idea that investigations in themselves, even when the way in which they are conducted is not objectionable (which it certainly was in the case of the investigation against Kipnis, at least if what she wrote about the process of that investigation is true), are not problematic betrays a complete — though unfortunately widespread — misunderstanding of what is probably the most important way in which freedom of opinion is undermined in democratic societies.

In fact, the problem is that, by focusing exclusively on cases where someone was actually punished for the expression of his views, you not only exclude cases where one was investigated though ultimately cleared for expressing politically incorrect views, but also many other types of incidents that have the same kind of chilling effect on freedom of opinion. For instance, even if one is not investigated by one’s university for expressing views that some find objectionable, one may be prevented from teaching or from giving a talk by protests that disrupts one’s class/talk.

In democratic societies, legal or quasi-legal procedures of the sort that can be found in universities aren’t the main obstacle to freedom of opinion, social pressure — which can take a variety of forms — is. Thus, for something like freedom of opinion to exist in a university, it is essential that students be liberal enough so that, when one expresses a politically incorrect view, one can expect to be met with arguments but not to be subjected to arbitrary investigations or confronted by a crowd of hysterical students disrupting one’s class/talk.

Punishment is not the only, or even the most efficient, way in which freedom of opinion can be undermined. Tocqueville explained that very well almost 2 centuries ago: “The Inquisition has never been able to prevent a vast number of anti-religious books from circulating in Spain. The empire of the majority succeeds much better in the United States, since it actually removes the wish of publishing them. Unbelievers are to be met with in America, but, to say the truth, there is no public organ of infidelity. Attempts have been made by some governments to protect the morality of nations by prohibiting licentious books. In the United States no one is punished for this sort of works, but no one is induced to write them.” (Democracy in America, vol. 1, ch. 15)

The only thing I would like to add is that it needn’t even be the majority that exerts the kind of social pressure he describes. Provided that it is vocal enough and well-organized enough, a minority can, and often does, undermine freedom of opinion in much the same way. For instance, I have little doubt that — at least for the moment — most people in academia disagree with you on that issue, but they are in effect letting a minority of people scare them out of speaking their mind. So, I agree with you on at least one point, namely that such people — who I believe are the majority — should speak the fuck up. But don’t fool yourself into thinking that they have no reason to be afraid or that, if you were in their shoes, you wouldn’t probably do the same thing.Report

Matt Weiner
Matt Weiner
5 years ago

Hello Anon 13,
It looks like the Brooks column discusses two cases already on the table (Kipnis and Hindley) and one that doesn’t fit the criteria (Wendy Kaminer, who is not a faculty member, and in any case fails to describe any consequence that she suffered for dropping n-bombs on a public panel other than being subjected to speech she didn’t like, which is ironic).

I would take the case of Kimberly Theidon as a case where tenure denial may have been motivated by her advocacy for sexual harassment victims, and Norman Finkelstein and Mehrene Larudee’s tenure denials after Alan Dershowitz’s campaign against Finkelstein certainly were due to their advocacy on public issues. I don’t know if having your university write a letter distancing itself from you counts, but if it does, the University of Rhode Island did that to Erik Loomis over some vehement anti-NRA tweets.Report

Anon
Anon
5 years ago

Like a few of the other commenters, I think that social sanctions deserve some discussion, perhaps in a separate post if Justin is willing. Such sanctions have always been a part of life, but the internet magnifies their force.Report

Yet Another Anon Grad Student
Yet Another Anon Grad Student
5 years ago

The existence of the idea of legal precedent obviates the need for many cases. If only one case where a ruling in favor of censorship gets on the books that can easily have a large effect on the subsequent behavior of universities. (Of course, it would have to be a ruling in a civil suit filed against the university.) Fortunately, I think this is fairly unlikely to happen. In fact, I am rather dissapointed the Kipnis case didn’t go through to the point where it could come to the desk of the supreme court, which I suspect would have taken the opportunity to gleefully demolish the new interpretation of Title IX being pushed by the executive branch. (Though it would have obviously been bad for Kipnis. Needs of the many, etc.)Report

anon female grad student
anon female grad student
5 years ago

Title IX abuses are rarely going to make news, because everyone surrounding them may be afraid of further Title IX abuses, and also will be legitimately concerned about maintaining confidentiality. If I, for instance, knew of one at my own school, of a utterly absurd but nevertheless investigated Title IX retaliation claim, would I then go blogging about this abuse? Hardly, for that might “justify” another Title IX retaliation claim, this time against me. I don’t want to be expelled from my university.

More importantly, the case I have in mind is not my story to tell. Title IX cases often involve sensitive info for lots of people, and the publicity might be bad for people filing claims as well as the people they are filing claims against. What’s surprising and unique about the recent Kipnis case is that it unfolded publicly, and the sensitive details (about the original cases) were already public.

What struck a chord (for me, at least, and I imagine for others) about the recent case is that I could see it—indeed, I have seen it—happening at my own university, and I, at least, am concerned by this trend, and the support lent to it by many voices in philosophy.

But I suppose I am wrong that it is a trend. Events in the news should never concern us, since if it is being reported, it is an isolated and rare occurrence. (??)Report

Sensitive Susan
Sensitive Susan
5 years ago

You talk a lot about the plight of contingent faculty, non-tenured faculty, here. You say: “If the worry is indeed that faculty are no longer comfortable expressing certain ideas in their research and teaching, this is not something that will be improved by faculty not expressing these ideas; it will just make it less and less comfortable to do. One might be inclined to tell these faculty: toughen up. Or perhaps try to think about how to be skillful in presenting controversial ideas.” Contingent faculty seem like they are the most vulnerable in this situation. Do you think your advice might be construed as a tad condescending, given the fact they have devoted a ton of time, money and energy, not to mention the opportunity costs and risks, to becoming teachers? It seems to amount to this: don’t worry about it. Teach better. I suspect many people feel like there is a disconcerting assumption afoot: the customer, the student, is always right. Many conservative students don’t even want to listen to a criticism of an argument for the existence of god. You ever try to criticize libertarianism in a business ethics class? The ideas are offensive to the students. Don’t you think the possibility that these students are going to complain about that (or something unrelated) is going to have a chilling effect on what a contingent faculty member is going to talk about in class? If you think the possibility the student is going to start an investigation about that (or something unrelated), and every student who disagrees with you is going to do this until you’re gone isn’t going to alter what you cover or how you cover it, you might be wrong. Can you really tell contingent faculty to ‘toughen up’ in good conscience? Keep in mind, one day, we might all be contingent faculty!Report

David Velleman
David Velleman
5 years ago

“An investigation is not the same thing as a sanction.” If this means that an investigation is not the same thing as a punishment, then it is true by definition. If it means that an investigation is not a harm, then it is obviously false. Having to answer charges of wrongdoing is extremely costly in time and anxiety. What’s more, an acquittal never fully cancels the social stigma of being accused and investigated. When a jury declares a criminal defendant “innocent”, this verdict actually indicates no more than a failure of the prosecution to meet the standard of proof for a conviction, which is consistent with actual guilt, as the public well knows. So the cloud of suspicion still hangs over the defendant’s head, simply because the accusation was treated as worthy of investigation and trial. The same goes for the defendant in a university’s disciplinary procedure.
In short, premise (2) of this discussion is a red herring. Asking for cases of actual punishment draws attention away from the true costs of political correctness — which are the costs of social disapprobation. Read your J.S. Mill.Report

Philippe Lemoine
Philippe Lemoine
5 years ago

Justin, I of course wasn’t suggesting that people are afraid to disagree with you specifically, but they are certainly afraid to express publicly their disagreement with some opinions that you happen to share and they have good reasons to be, though — I agree — perhaps not as good as they often assume.

In any community, there are opinions that are not socially acceptable, so that people who express them have to bear the costs of social disapprobation. This kind of disapprobation takes a lot of forms, most of which have nothing to do with legal punishment, but the costs are nevertheless very real. It typically amounts to a more or less subtle kind of ostracism, which is very different from mere criticism.

One’s views can be criticized without one being made feel like one is morally repugnant for holding them and isn’t really a part of the community merely in virtue of the fact that one holds them. But that is exactly what happens when one expresses socially unacceptable opinions. Being subjected to such a thing is psychologically and socially a lot more costly then being criticized in the way philosophers usually criticize each other’s views.

For instance, it’s one thing to criticize Katie Roiphe because she argued that women should not drink as much as they do if they want to minimize the probability that they will be raped, but it’s another thing entirely to call her a “rape apologist”. That’s true even when you do so in the course of criticizing her arguments rationally, which typically people don’t even bother to do.

So, while I agree that people should more often speak their mind even when they face social disapprobation, that doesn’t mean that it’s not difficult to do so. If you apparently don’t see that, it is, I suspect, because you have rarely found yourself in a situation where you risk to face social disapprobation for what you think.Report

Note of Caution
Note of Caution
5 years ago

In response to the comment from ‘anon female grad student,’ I would be careful about generalizing from such cases, and I would be careful about even issuing judgement in a particular case you’re aware of if happened to be that you hadn’t heard both sides of the story. I know that I, for instance, once found myself involved in a retaliation complaint that did not come out in my favor (I hesitate to say that I filed it, because I actually requested mediation, but was informed that the only way of acting on my concern was to conduct a retaliation investigation), but the university mishandled it in an astonishing number of ways — ways that I had substantial evidence regarding, but, unfortunately, a completely misrepresentative narrative started spreading quickly. A narrative I could not correct, because I was following university policy by maintaining confidentiality.

So, I think it is worth reiterating Justin’s point about discussing concrete information (and it may also be worth pointing out that even if we discuss what we think is our knowledge of particular cases, discussing them even in vague terms may still be identifiable).Report

Tamler Sommers
5 years ago

Justin, having read your stuff, I think we share the same views on the larger issue. I’m frustrated by the same double standards regarding “chilling effects.” And I’m skeptical that academic liberty is on the decline at the vast majority of institutions in the U.S. There are a handful of go-to incidents that everyone refers to in their outraged op-eds. The most flagrant example of a fabricated controversy is the trigger warning debate. I dare anyone to try to find a trigger warnings column that doesn’t mention Oberlin or now Columbia. Or to find an article that gives any data whatsoever about their prevalence. (It’s all “I’ve talked to my academic friends and they say that….”) And for every troubling case of censored or sanctioned speech (which happens almost without exception and a rich private or flagship public U), there are thousands of cases where people feel absolutely free to express whatever views they want. Unless they’re total assholes, nobody gives it a second thought. I feel that way in my classes. And maybe I’m deluded, maybe nobody listens, but I haven’t received a single warning or complaint about our podcast (setting aside respectful dissent and the occasional weirdo on twitter.) And we certainly don’t censor ourselves or avoid controversial views. Now it’s true, we have tenure and would feel a little more wary if we didn’t. But so many of the complaints and claims about the chilling effect comes from tenured professors. And the celebrated outrages involve tenured professors as well.

All that said, I don’t share your position on the Kipnis case and was surprised when you posted it. A title IX investigation is not the same as getting trashed on social media or in columns by people who have no power over you–for reasons that are mentioned above. I’d like to think I would handle a trumped up investigation with aplomb, but I’m sure I’d be hugely worked up, stressed, indignant, talking to myself, pacing around my house until my family and even my dogs kicked me out. Whereas I coiuld shrug off a scathing Huffington Post piece or rumors of a facebook shaming crusade. So in my view, the Kipnis thing is definitely not a case of the system working. Again, I think it’s a rare exception, but it does merit being called out.Report

Matt Weiner
Matt Weiner
5 years ago

Doesn’t the point about social disapprobation cut both ways? It seems to me that it also counts as social disapprobation when a senior professor at your university writes a column for a national publication mocking you for filing a sexual assault complaint.Report

anon female grad student
anon female grad student
5 years ago

@Note of Caution, your point is well-taken, neither of us knows much about what the other person has experienced or knows. Which is why the case I am speaking of would not serve well as an example of Title IX abuses: I am not at liberty to speak of the case I was involved in, and you are (I assume) not at liberty to speak of the case you were involved in. It sounds like you were not served well by the process, and I know the investigation I am aware of caused a lot of distress for me and those I care about.

In contrast, the Kipnis case is entirely public, which is why it *is* a great example of Title IX abuses. To say that it’s an isolated case misses the fact that what makes it unique is its complete, public transparency and obvious (I think) absurdity, not the attitude of extreme sensitivity and victimhood which motivated the complaint, and motivates a lot of Title IX abuses, and motivates the “trigger warning” movement, and other things that end up compromising free speech.

Particular cases aside, I think we’ve all seen instances of this attitude, I feel I’ve been vilified as part of the problem when expressing skepticism about certain issues, or suggesting that some approach may not be the best way of solving a problem. That’s okay, I suppose, but it starts to get scary when not only is someone vilified, but an administrative apparatus is used as a cudgel to slam anyone who “contributes to a hostile environment” (read: says something that makes me angry, says something that makes me uncomfortable, says something that *could be* interpreted as sexist/racist/homophobic, etc.). We should all strive to make our departments wonderful, equitable, happy places. Instituting thought/speech police is decisively not the way to do this, as this will only create a climate of fear and paranoia.Report

anon female grad student
anon female grad student
5 years ago

@ Note of Caution, Sorry, one more thought, I don’t think I was really clear about it in my previous comment:

The call for concrete info doesn’t make sense in this context, since these sorts of things *almost always* involve sensitive info, which means people will be silenced by confidentiality concerns or their stories will be incomplete or possibly biased, as you yourself point out in your comment. Almost none of us are in a position to tell the full, or even partial, story. But a lot of us, myself included, take ourselves to have prima facie evidence that abuses are in fact going on.Report

David Velleman
David Velleman
5 years ago

@29: No, Matt, that’s not social disapprobation. It’s public criticism by a particular person, giving her name and citing her reasons (valid or not). Unlike social disapprobation, it provides an identifiable target for a response.Report

Levi Roth
Levi Roth
5 years ago

A further thought about investigations: One other effect of an investigation is that it says what is worth investigating; it says what is seen as potential grounds for punishment. A few months ago, here at UCLA, there were a few incidents (unrelated, as far as I know) where people distributed posters, flyers, and the like with some pretty ugly (but, as far as I could make out, constitutionally protected) messages. The student newspaper articles on these incidents all ended with some line about how “Campus police said they were investigating the incident.” As far as I know, nobody was ever punished in relation to one of these incidents, but the knowledge that they are treated as police matters might dissuade people from disseminating offensive views of their own.

Cases like this could be pushed further. Suppose Professor X is accused of saying that it’s permissible to bomb abortion clinics, or factory farms. The university investigates and finds that, no, she did not say that, so they don’t pursue sanctions. That there is no punishment in such a case would hardly reassure someone who *did* think that either of those things is permissible.Report

Alan White
5 years ago

As far as concern about academic freedom is relevant, I want to inject some forestry above a lot of this timber. There are significant and deep-pocketed interests, certainly ALEC and the Kochs among them, but including “education reform” groups and many others, who are effectively orchestrating at state levels the dismantlement of the shared governance power of tenured faculty and instilling a silencing fear in the ever increasing numbers of non-tenured faculty for their professional lives, such as they pitiably are. My state of Wisconsin is not just one gasping canary in the degradation of higher education, but one of a flock of such (MS, NC, FL, etc. etc.). I don’t mean to diminish the importance of the issues that are being debated here, but I’d argue that against the real and present dangers of the large-scale economic and political forces at work to undermine strong traditions of academic freedom, particularly in the areas of the liberal arts, these are concerns that must be put in their proper place.

I Just see now that you’ve inserted a link to a petition about the rapidly-changing situation here in Wisconsin; thanks for that Justin.Report

the Onion Man
the Onion Man
5 years ago

As a religious traditionalist with generally conservative political leanings, I can absolutely confirm that I (and academic friends who share those leanings) self-censor out of fear for my job security. I don’t have tenure, but I don’t believe for one second that tenure would protect me from the SJW mob if I were ever so foolish as to express my views in public, instead of behind a relatively anonymous internet handle.Report

anon grad student
anon grad student
5 years ago

As a liberal with little patience for identity politics but with a strong attachment to free speech and due process, I can also confirm that I self-censor out of fear for my job prospects. I think this fear is perfectly reasonable given the current climate in our profession and the academia at large.Report

Matt Weiner
Matt Weiner
5 years ago

David: What exactly do you mean by “social disapprobation” in this context? Or “political correctness,” for that matter? There are multiple ways of interpreting these terms, and I’m not sure exactly how the boundaries are to be drawn; for instance, would you take the Wendy Kaminer case above to be one where she suffered social disapprobation due to political correctness?Report

Anon7
Anon7
5 years ago

I agree with those who say that the investigation itself can be chilling. I’ve seen two cases firsthand where an accuser later withdrew their charges and admitted to lying, but the accusation and investigation in themselves severely damaged the reputations of the accused and created a quite chilly climate for everyone else. News of the initial charges and subsequent investigations spread more widely than news of the exonerations, as is quite often the case. Even years later I’ve heard new faculty who were not at the university during the events say about the accused, “I heard that Professor so-and-so was involved in some terrible scandal!” Both cases would fit criteria #3 because the motivating factor in the accusation was anger over some curriculum and hiring decisions, but they would fail criteria #2 because the examples ended with no formal sanction. I would argue though that the lesson most faculty members learned was to not speak about controversial subjects.Report

Philippe Lemoine
Philippe Lemoine
5 years ago

Matt Weiner, as far as I know, Kipnis didn’t organize a protest against a student because she filed a sexual assault complaint. In fact, among people who agree with Kipnis, nobody ever does that when they disagree with someone. They also don’t disrupt anyone’s talk/class because they disagree with what they have to say. They write articles in which they argue, sometimes in strong terms (as, in my view, they should), against their opponents. As David Velleman says, in doing so, they are providing them a target for a response of the same kind, which is how people should disagree in a liberal society. Finally, they don’t seek institutional punishment against people they disagree with for what they say, which is increasingly what people on the other side are trying to do.Report

Matt Weiner
Matt Weiner
5 years ago

“Kipnis didn’t organize a protest against a student because she filed a sexual assault complaint. In fact, among people who agree with Kipnis, nobody ever does that when they disagree with someone.”

I suppose it depends on how you define “agree with Kipnis,” but people certainly organize protests against women who have filed harassment/assault complaints with which they disagree. See the “Pretty Little Liar” campaign against Emma Sulkowicz, and outside academia, the harassment campaign against Adria Richards.

“They also don’t disrupt anyone’s talk/class because they disagree with what they have to say.”

Which incidents are you referring to specifically? Was a talk by Kipnis disrupted?

“They write articles in which they argue, sometimes in strong terms (as, in my view, they should), against their opponents. As David Velleman says, in doing so, they are providing them a target for a response of the same kind, which is how people should disagree in a liberal society.”

On your view, what other legitimate ways are there to respond to articles other than with articles? I’m not trying to set up a straw man here, but to some extent it seems as though you’re saying that organized protests are not a legitimate way to respond to articles in a liberal society. Or is it specifically protests that disrupt public speech, which again it’s not clear happened in this case?

“Finally, they don’t seek institutional punishment against people they disagree with for what they say, which is increasingly what people on the other side are trying to do.”

Filing frivolous Title IX cases is bad and no doubt causes a lot of stress and suffering to the person who is subject to it. Whether this is happening increasingly is something that requires argument (overbearing harassment cases have been a staple of fiction for decades–Kipnis mentions some books and there’s also Oleanna and The Horned Man–but those are fictional narratives).Report

Culture of Silence and Silencing
Culture of Silence and Silencing
5 years ago

The problem with the question we’re discussing here is that academic freedom presumes academic integrity. And when it comes to the handling of sexual harassment and assault, the academy’s modus operandi falls short of even the basic norms of integrity.

So, for example, the report by former FBI Director Freeh did a nice job of showing that Penn State actively silenced individuals who were concerned about child sex abuse allegations against Jerry Sandusky for fear of bad publicity, permitting Sandusky to continue to prey on children for more than a decade. Was this silencing (of academics) a violation of academic freedom?

The question is clearly misplaced. It was a violation of integrity — at best. Academic freedom — and free speech more generally — is predicated on the existence of a certain shared core of fundamental rights and values.

And lest we think that Sandusky is an extreme or isolated example, as any victim of sexual assault by a philosopher (and there are many) will tell you, there’s a similar kind of silencing that is alive and well among academic philosophers now, including some prominent feminist philosophers. Don’t ask, don’t tell. Because — well, you know, being sexually assaulted or sexually harassed is a stigma that could ruin your career.

And if you’re a university administrator and a faculty member has done something that might embarrass the university, wait until the hullabaloo has died down a bit, and then quickly and quietly give him (or her) a golden parachute — an attractive voluntary resignation or retirement package, with a non-disclosure agreement — and perhaps sweeten the deal by helping find a landing spot at another institution.

Non-disclosure agreements aren’t generally required for victims because — well, you know, being sexually assaulted is a stigma that could ruin your career. SHHH.Report

AnonGrad85
AnonGrad85
5 years ago

I’m inclined to agree with those who have emphasized that social disapprobation is also something worth considering here. For whatever it’s worth, here’s a relevant experience of mine: Back when I was a younger grad student and more naive about the climate in the profession, I posted on social media some intentionally provocative, politically unpopular views and questions. I was fairly used to doing this from undergrad, where the typical result was a somewhat heated, but also interesting and generally pretty civil discussion. And, to be fair, some of the responses I received in the more recent case were certainly in this spirit. But I also received an array of responses that were of a quite different nature: shock, outrage, viciously uncharitable misreadings, insults, and personal attacks. And then there was the ostracism. I became the subject of negative gossip in my department. I started to be invited to social gatherings less often. One of my colleagues, with whom I’d previously gotten along fairly well, has since refused to talk to me or acknowledge me in any way. While I still have good friends in my department and still manage to get along reasonably well with most of my colleagues, being openly on the unpopular side (or even merely insufficiently committed to the popular side) of certain sensitive political and philosophical issues has definitely caused my social standing to take a hit.

Given a social climate like this, a great deal of self-censorship by people with unpopular views wouldn’t be at all surprising.Report

David Wallace
David Wallace
5 years ago

Tamler Sommers writes

“The most flagrant example of a fabricated controversy is the trigger warning debate. I dare anyone to try to find a trigger warnings column that doesn’t mention Oberlin or now Columbia.”

Google “trigger warnings” -oberlin -columbia . You’ll find several pages of them. No doubt some of them link to those stories or mention them without naming the institution, but the first half-dozen I looked at were mostly about other cases.

(I mention this as much as a chance to teach people that you can exclude terms from a Google search as anything else.)Report

Tamler Sommers
5 years ago

Hey, come on! When you bring in empirical evidence, that has a chilling effect on my generalizations.Report

David Wallace
David Wallace
5 years ago

Are you retaliating against me for providing empirical evidence?Report

Matt Burstein
5 years ago

Challenge accepted! Here are my first page of results:

A section with 4 news clips, none of which were about specific cases — though I’ll confess that my favorite was an outlier:
“Bear spottings trigger warnings from DNR”.

In the search results proper:
3 different sites with definitions of the expression
4 think pieces with no specific examples
1 think piece with a mention of a petition at UCSB on its way to guiding the development of a trigger policy
1 guide to possible triggers
1 horror podcast’s policy on trigger warnings

So, I think I’m sympathetic to Tamler Sommers here.Report

ejrd
ejrd
5 years ago

I’ve lost the thread of the discussion. Are w accepting, denying, or questioning:

1. The reality and trauma of being triggered?
2. The use of trigger warnings as a morally permissible way of staving substantial student suffering?
3. The conception of a trigger?
4. The moral correctness of structuring one’s conversations in a class so as to provide ample warning for the most common triggers?

So far as I can tell, I’m completely convinced of the reality of triggers and don’t see them as an appropriate object of mockery (I find it quite distasteful actually). I also think, for some fairly basic other-regarding reasons, that trigger warnings are a kind of moral duty that we have. It costs me little to no effort to provide a trigger warning to my students for certain kinds of material and the potential trauma prevented matters far more than whatever discomfort I might feel at providing such a warning. Although I believe there is some room for us to discuss the very concept of a trigger, I find this to be a subject for which most philosophers are ill-suited (except for those of us with overlapping expertise in psychological issues or trauma studies). Even those of us who have personally experienced triggering in our own are not necessarily well-suited to wax philosophical about what triggers are or what a ‘genuine’ trigger ought to be. I should say that it’s clear, from the PTSD literature, that triggering is not mere offense and it’s uncharitable to construe it as such (it’s uncharitable for us to construe it that way and it’s uncharitable for students and university administration to construe it in that way).Report

Joe
Joe
5 years ago

I have to say, I’m very confused about the insertion of social ostracism into this debate. The question concerns academic liberty, which is threatened by institutional intervention, not by social ostracism. A completely ostracized person still has the legal and institutional right to say/post anything they want anywhere they want to say/post it. So long as they are not fired, fined, investigated or officially sanctioned for their speech, academic liberty is in full swing. Right?

The only red herring here involves the redirection of this discussion from academic liberty to complaining about the “true costs” of voicing unpopular opinions. Ladies and gentlemen, I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but social ostracism is an absolutely central moral practice within every human society, ever. When people think you’re a bad person, they don’t want to associate with you. If you’re anti-gay rights, for example, they’ll think of their gay family members and friends, realize you’re an enemy of their nearest and dearest, and resent you for it. When you go around questioning the awfulness of being raped, people who have been raped will not want to hang out with you. A patriotic soldier who watched friends die in combat will not want to associate with someone who burns the American flag. That is not injustice, folks, it is life as a human being.

Moreover, there is an extraordinary amount of bad faith in (a) wanting to have the freedom to write ‘unpopular’ or ‘controversial’ things, and (b) wanting people to *not* become provoked or upset by those things. “I want to be able to attack my ideological enemies, but I don’t want them to feel as though they are being attacked.” Huh?Report

the Onion Man
the Onion Man
5 years ago

Actually ejrd what is clear from “the PTSD literature” is that in the long run the only way to effectively deal with PTSD is via controlled exposure to traumatic stimuli. “Trigger warnings” are part of an avoidance strategy that does nothing but exacerbate the disorder.

It is also clear from “the PTSD literature” that there is not necessarily any obvious correlation between the trauma and the trigger. The classic example is soldiers being triggered by fireworks, but someone could also be triggered by a smell, or a certain pattern of color, that has no direct relationship to the trauma at all. So in addition to being counterproductive, “trigger warnings” are useless, since there is no way to account for the entire gamut of possible triggers, and no reason to expect that verbal or pictorial representations of trauma would be a trigger. In fact, people with actual clinical PTSD (as opposed to the special snowflakes) tend *not* to be triggered by mere words or pictures.

Disclaimer: once upon a time I was diagnosed with PTSD. I was beaten black and blue with a leather belt, nearly every day, for most of my childhood. I have never expected or demanded a “trigger warning” about anything, not even the smell of leather (which has “triggered” me in the past), and frankly find the concept insulting.Report

the Onion Man
the Onion Man
5 years ago

Joe, you’re either being disingenuous or obtuse. Laura Kipnis wasn’t simply ostracized for writing an unpopular essay, she was made the object of a nakedly political Title IX kangaroo court investigation. John McAdams isn’t simply being ostracized for writing an unpopular blog post, Marquette is actively trying to revoke his tenure status.Report

Vox
Vox
5 years ago

Vox has a relevant article, published today: http://www.vox.com/2015/6/3/8706323/college-professor-afraidReport

ejrd
ejrd
5 years ago

Hi Onion Man. My only claims about the literature in my post were about the reality of triggers and the difference between a trigger and offense. I stand by those claims. With regard to the rest of your post, as a fellow child-abuse victim, I agree with you that triggers are various and often unpredictable. I also think that neither of us can claim a right to speak for all victims of PTSD. Because many first-hand accounts of students in class speak to the issue of shutting down in class or discussion as a result of being triggered, I take those accounts seriously enough to think that I have a duty to prevent that when I reasonable can.

I agree with you that it would be impossible to account for all possible triggers. I didn’t call for that in my post however. As professors we have limited control over the olfactory features of our classrooms, as just one example. We do exercise far more control over what (and equally importantly over HOW) we discuss content in our classes. I stand by my contention that we have a moral obligation to be sensitive to those aspects under our control that are common triggers. Here are some examples that I don’t find insulting or unobjectionable:

*Indicating on my syllabus specific aspects of our course discussion relating to events that are common sources of trauma
*NOT using rape or child abuse casually in philosophical thought experiments where rape or child abuse or irrelevant to the subject at hand
*Remind students about specific triggering features the class before we watch a film (sexual violence, physical abuse, etc) and providing access to an alternative assignment for students who reach out to me

I don’t mean to insult you personally Onion Man. As I said, it sounds like you and I had a similar childhood in at least some relevant respects. I do stand by what I said in my earlier post. I think it’s mReport

ejrd
ejrd
5 years ago

*morally required of us to take steps to prevent triggering students for those things under which we have control.Report

the Onion Man
the Onion Man
5 years ago

Thank you for the kind and sensitive reply, Justin. Responding to your points in order:

1) Classroom discussion may not necessarily count as controlled exposure, but that’s beside the point. A professor is not a therapist. A classroom is not a therapist’s office. It is not the university’s job to provide controlled exposure (or any other kind of) therapy in the classroom. I am in favor of people being educated in classrooms, and I am in favor of people receiving therapy in therapists’ offices.

If you can’t attend a classroom discussion without breaking down, perhaps you should be in a therapist’s office instead of a university classroom. That goes double if you don’t actually have clinical PTSD.

2) That is a fair point. However, again, trigger warnings generally accomplish nothing for actual clinical PTSD patients. In fact, far from preventing harm, trigger warnings serve to increase harm, by facilitating avoidance, which is perhaps the primary psychiatric morbidity of clinical PTSD.

3) I am well aware that the plural of anecdote is not data. I merely brought up my own circumstance to stave off accusations of being insensitive or not understanding what people with PTSD have to deal with.Report

the Onion Man
the Onion Man
5 years ago

I understand that, but my point is that the line between “institutional reaction” and “social approbation” is thin and rapidly fading. The fact of the matter is that in 2015 a mob of twitter warriors can derail your career by *provoking* an institutional reaction, even if all you did was make an unpopular statement.

Laura Kipnis has tenure. Do you honestly think that if she didn’t, Northwestern would re-up her contract, even after having been cleared by the committee? (And yes, I understand that this also touches on the major problems with the employment structure of higher education).Report

the Onion Man
the Onion Man
5 years ago

For some reason the “Reply” button doesn’t seem to be working correctly for me. In any case the post above (12:00) was in reply to Justin’s comment at 11:41.Report

anon female grad student
anon female grad student
5 years ago

47/48 demonstrate, I think, what is concerning about a culture in which reasoned disagreement is becoming less of a reality. The reason I am concerned about trigger warnings is not trigger warnings in themselves, but that there is a widespread belief that some modes of speech are traumatizing (in a medically robust way) to students. Similarly, students (and professors) are so afraid of giving offense to each other, anytime a controversial topic comes up in class (or the hallway), the room falls silent and people get extremely tense.

I see this as a general cultural problem: when we confront an idea that we disagree with, we can either (a) engage rationally with that idea or (b) punish the people who accept that idea. (b) seems to me like it’s increasingly the go-to option. Punishment can take many forms, it can be outrage, ostracism, rumors, or a Title IX complaint. Maybe it’s wrong to frame this as a “free speech” issue, although it seems to become a free speech issue once the cost of speech is no longer merely social. But I don’t think it’s wrong to tie these things together, as two symptoms of an underlying problem: that disagreement is an indication that the other person is a monster, and so we don’t talk about the things we disagree about. We express anger, we protest, we end friendships, we frame the disagreement in terms of trauma and hostile environments, and file complaints.Report

Aeon J. Skoble
Aeon J. Skoble
5 years ago

I was just about to link to that. Very on-point. http://www.vox.com/2015/6/3/8706323/college-professor-afraidReport

AnonGrad85
AnonGrad85
5 years ago

This post is in response to Joe (#48).

“I have to say, I’m very confused about the insertion of social ostracism into this debate. The question concerns academic liberty, which is threatened by institutional intervention, not by social ostracism. A completely ostracized person still has the legal and institutional right to say/post anything they want anywhere they want to say/post it. So long as they are not fired, fined, investigated or officially sanctioned for their speech, academic liberty is in full swing. Right?”

While a lack of unreasonable institutional sanctions is necessary for academic liberty, it’s not sufficient. I’m curious what you’d say about the following example. Imagine a society in which speaking out *in favor of* gay rights brings no institutional sanctions, yet is so socially unacceptable that one can expect various harsh consequences imposed from outside, all the way up to having one’s house vandalized, one’s family threatened, or even being beaten or murdered oneself. It seems clear to me that all of this would diminish one’s academic liberty. One would not have the liberty to speak out in favor of gay rights in one’s capacity as an academic without fear of dire consequences. Whether they happen to be imposed by one’s employer is of secondary importance. Now imagine–to bring the example closer to the issue of ostracism–a society a bit like the one just sketched, but in which the consequences of speaking out in favor of gay rights are less dire. Rather than being murdered or having one’s family threatened, one can simply expect that one will be the subject of much negative gossip, that one will lose all of one’s friends, that just about everyone one knows will refuse to associate with one, etc. Now, clearly the harm to academic liberty is not *as* great as in the previous version of the case. But would it really be right to say that academic liberty is “in full swing” here? I’m doubtful. (Or at least, even if “academic liberty,” strictly speaking, is intact, there is another important kind of liberty, very close in spirit to academic liberty, that is still being reduced.) After all, one would still not have the liberty to speak out in favor of gay rights in one’s capacity as an academic without fear of consequences. That the consequences are less dire than being threatened, physically harmed, or murdered doesn’t mean that they’re insignificant. (Nor does the fact that people have the right to impose them–after all, people have the right to decide whom to be friends with–mean that they’re insignificant.) If we imagine, finally, a society in which speaking out in favor of gay rights doesn’t bring about any institutional *or* social harms, it seems to me that that is the society in which one is most free to speak out in favor of gay rights. To say that an academic is just as free to speak out in favor of gay rights in the second society as in this third society would seem silly.

“Ladies and gentlemen, I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but social ostracism is an absolutely central moral practice within every human society, ever.”

Is the implication we’re supposed to draw here that there’s nothing wrong with any instance of ostracism, ever? Or perhaps, somewhat more charitably, that there’s nothing wrong with ostracizing people for holding unpopular views? I’m curious what you’d say here about the society–a society not that all that different from some actual societies–in which people are ostracized for speaking out in favor of gay rights. Would you say, as you do of other instances of ostracism, “That is not injustice, folks, it is life as a human being”?

“Moreover, there is an extraordinary amount of bad faith in (a) wanting to have the freedom to write ‘unpopular’ or ‘controversial’ things, and (b) wanting people to *not* become provoked or upset by those things.”

What is wanted is for people to become provoked *into discussing an issue*, not into ostracizing the one who voices an unpopular view. Being able to discuss controversial issues without becoming upset or refusing to associate with people who disagree with you is basic maturity.

“‘I want to be able to attack my ideological enemies, but I don’t want them to feel as though they are being attacked.’ Huh?”

Though the two are often conflated, as you appear to have conflated them here, there’s an important distinction between attacking a certain view and attacking those who hold it. Incidentally, it is precisely this conflation that leads so many to be incapable of discussing controversial topics in a mature, respectful way with someone who disagrees with them.Report

Joe
Joe
5 years ago

Onion man: in the context of Justin’s careful post, it’s not clear why anyone should grant you the right to armchair-sociological claims about lines fading, etc . There are a lot of “it seems to me”s in these comments, which is deeply ironic given the content of Justin’s post. In any case, I think you and I actually agree: IF those lines are fading, defenders of academic liberty should certainly seek to have them re-drawn as boldly as they can. I definitely support those lines. It should never be the case that an army of Twitter warriors accomplishes anything more than bringing certain facts to the attention of an institution. All of this is perfectly consistent with distinguishing between social ostracism and institutional sanction. Ideally, Kipnis (or anyone else) can be loudly attacked in the most strenuous terms without being subject to institutional sanction or penalty for her speech. And the latter is what ought to concern us, not the former (let’s be honest, the amount of doublethink involved in defending free speech by trying to stop people from saying bad things about others truly strains the imagination).

Anongrad85: Sorry, there are just too many odd things in your long post for me to adequately respond. You (a) are deviating from the established terms of debate over academic freedom by moving completely away from the realm of institutional sanctions, (b) attributing to me views about ostracism which I did not express and do not hold, and (c) relying on a strange theory of personal identity whereby one’s identity is not partly constituted by one’s deeply held moral commitments, and (d) voicing a theory of “basic maturity” which is itself a substantive–and, I believe, deeply flawed–normative claim disguised as an obvious truth about civil discussion. I’m afraid I don’t have the time to sort through all of this right now in order to have the productive discussion that might result.Report

Philippe Lemoine
Philippe Lemoine
5 years ago

Apparently, I wasn’t clear enough in my last comment, so perhaps this will help explain what I was trying to say.

Matt, the point I’m trying to make is that although many critics of Kipnis would have us believe that what the students who protested against her, filed a complaint against her, etc. did nothing worse than what she herself did in writing her column, there is a fundamental difference between what she did and what the students did. I don’t even think it’s true that Kipnis mocked a student for having filed a sexual assault complaint, but in any case she certainly didn’t try to have anyone sanctioned by the university, unlike the students who criticized her.

I didn’t mean to suggest that Kipnis was prevented from giving a talk by protesters who disrupted it, since as far as I know nothing of the sort happened, at least not yet. I only brought that up because, when students do that kind of things, they often try to equate what they’re doing with what the speaker is doing by expressing views which they find offensive. I find it very alarming that even people who should know better are no longer willing to recognize the distinction between expressing opinions and trying to have someone punished because of what they say.

Now, I don’t want to be uncharitable and I don’t know if that’s what you meant, but you were clearly gesturing in that direction.Report

Philippe Lemoine
Philippe Lemoine
5 years ago

Joe, you are of course right that, to a certain extent, socially unacceptable speech inevitably results in social ostracism in any community. I’m sure there are even case where this kind of social ostracism is healthy. But, depending on how liberal-minded people in the community are, the cost of the social disapprobation one has to face when one expresses socially unacceptable views and the range of views that are considered socially unacceptable can vary a lot.

For instance, my father is transexual and I have a friend who holds views that I find completely stupid about transexuals, but it wouldn’t occur to me not to be his friend anymore just for that reason. I personally don’t even understand how anyone could have that kind of reaction, yet I know that it’s common, which I find very concerning. Students don’t have to be and sure as hell shouldn’t be encouraged to be illiberal cry-babies.

I think what people are trying to say here is that, as Tocqueville pointed out in the passage I quoted above, the legal protection of speech is not going to do much for the free exchange of ideas unless the cost of the social disapprobation that results from expressing controversial views is reasonable. I don’t think anyone here is arguing that expressing uncontroversial views should not result in any cost, but surely in any particular case, there is a point beyond which this cost becomes unreasonable and detrimental to the free exchange of ideas.Report

Geisteswissenschaftler
Geisteswissenschaftler
5 years ago

Joe, AnonGrad85 is not attributing to you any views about ostracism. (S)he’s trying to understand what your views are, which is, frankly, more respectful engagement than I think your first comment deserves. Since you’re so concerned to avoid “bad faith”, why don’t you do AnonGrad the courtesy of stating, clearly, what those views are. Thanks.Report

Philippe Lemoine
Philippe Lemoine
5 years ago

In my last comment, I of course meant to write “I don’t think anyone here is arguing that expressing *controversial* views should not result in any cost”, not “UNcontroversial” as I wrote by mistake.Report

anonymous
anonymous
5 years ago

Onion Man: do you think that Kipnis would have written/said what she did if she _didn’t_ have tenure? Tenure gives us the unusual privilege of being able to say things that are unpopular. It also comes with the unusual responsibility of refraining from using that privilege to harm others.Report

the Onion Man
the Onion Man
5 years ago

@anonymous #67:

Your point is somewhat unclear, but the answer to your question is no: I do not believe Kipnis would have dared publish either of her essays without the protection of tenure. That speaks to the chilling atmosphere already in effect, as does the fact that her status as tenured professor was no protection against being dragged into a kangaroo court on utterly ridiculous charges.

Second, and somewhat off topic, I fail to see what real or imagined “harm” could possibly have come from Kipnis’ characterization of the events in question. Ludlow maintains that his relationships were consensual, and neither the police nor the university committee were able to conclude otherwise–the internal investigation found him guilty of exploiting the power dynamics, but not of forcing the grad student in question (in particular) to have nonconsensual sex.

That doesn’t mean that the encounters in question *were* consensual, but it *does* mean that Kipnis rightly characterized the he said-she said nature of this dispute. On that note, one of the complainants’ op-ed in the Huffington Post was laughable, and kudos to literally all of the commenters for pointing out that her argument was essentially “I have this super-secret information”–that apparently she can’t reveal because survivor trigger rape culture–“and just trust me on this, but if you knew this super-secret information you would totally understand why we totes had to file a Title IX claim on Kipnis.” Which seems to be Justin’s stance as well.

Well, sorry, but anyone can allege that they have any super-secret information they want to. In the absence of evidence, it would be irresponsible and harmful to lend those allegations any credence.Report

Joe
Joe
5 years ago

Geisteswissenschaftler, sure. My view is that ostracism is often justified. Often, it isn’t. Any other view is plainly insane. It is almost incoherent to wholly oppose something that is a necessary feature of human society. it is also crazy to think that any form of ostracism is automatically justified, since it can have all kinds of nasty effects (as others have ably illustrated). It would take a book to sort through the complexities involved in drawing these lines. However, one type ofcase about which I have rather firm intuitions is this: it is absurd to require of a victim of gay-bashing that (s)he invite anti-gay advocates to his/her parties. Ditto for rape victims ans people who go around questioning the badness of rape.

And I’ll repeat: this issue is distinct from the issue of whIch policies universities ought to adopt. There are special reasons to protect academics from official censure and penalty. Previous comments are correct in pointing out that in special cases this line can get blurry, but it is still a line, and it is therefore evasive to change the subject In reply to Justin’s request.Report

Yet Another Anon Grad Student
Yet Another Anon Grad Student
5 years ago

Kipnis mentioned in her original article what Onion Man @49 mentioned above: that professors are not therapists and that it is unclear whether trigger warnings would even be an effective way to avoid causing trauma to people with PTSD. This has always been a significant part of the discussion of trigger warnings. Now, you may disagree with that analysis, but it is ultimately an empirical question as to whether issuing trigger warnings will be more effective than, say, accommodations through the university’s disability services. This question is continually ignored, and that the only legitimate option that is being presented is the labeling of objectionable material–which is inherently a form of censorship, regardless of the well-motivated reasoning behind it.Report