Benhabib on Pogge (Updated with Clarification from Benhabib)
The German newspaper, Zeit, has an article on the recent allegations of sexual harassment and other unprofessional behavior against Thomas Pogge. In it, Seyla Benhabib, Pogge’s colleague in Yale’s Department of Political Science, is reported as calling for Yale to act.
She says the material now in the public domain reveals Pogge’s “shockingly poor judgment.” She adds that he ought to go on leave from his position as “he is not able to teach at this time.” If doesn’t decide on his own to go, then, she says, Yale should put him on administrative leave until the matters are settled.
The article, which is in German, is not officially online, but has been posted and roughly translated here. Contrary to the translation there, Benhabib is not calling for Pogge’s resignation. Rather, as she clarified in an email, she is suggesting he go on administrative leave.
UPDATE 1: Here’s a scan of the hard copy of the original article (click image below for larger size):
UPDATE 2 (7/10/16): Seyla Benhabib writes:
I have been following some of the discussion on your blog concerning Pogge and I am now sending you the correspondence with the German journalist – Anna-Lena Scholz. Since my German knowledge is quite excellent, there is no need for people to keep spinning their wheels about what I said or meant.
I said “it is morally the appropriate thing to do for Pogge” to step back from his position until the “juristischer Fall,” meaning the Title IX complaint is resolved. I drew a distinction between what would be the “morally appropriate” thing to do and the “legal” case – which has not been resolved and is a complaint against Yale violating Titles IX and VII, not against Pogge himself. But it may have consequences for Pogge’s appointment at Yale.
I am sending you this because, unfortunately, the July 8th article in the NY Times did not publish my call for Pogge to take an administrative leave, thus making it seem as if I was accepting that nothing could be done. I had sent a version of the passage below in English to Noah Remnick, the author of the article.
Seyla Benhabib sagte der ZEIT, dass Pogge sich verantworten müsse. Als Kollegin habe sie Gerüchte über ihn lange zurückgehalten. Das nun öffentlich gemachte Material zeige aber, dass Pogge „erschreckend schlechtes Urteilsvermögen und Charakterschwäche in seinem übergriffigen Umgang mit Studentinnen und jungen Kolleginnen“ habe. Moralisch geboten sei es, so Benhabib, „von seinem Posten in Yale zurückzutreten, bis der juristische Fall geklärt ist. Die Universität Yale sollte ihn darum bitten, sofern er diesen Schritt nicht freiwillig anbietet. Zur Lehre ist er derzeit pädagogisch nicht in der Lage.“
Talking to DIE ZEIT, Seyla Benhabib said Pogge had to take responsibility. As a colleague, she had withheld rumours about him for a long time. The material now open to the public, however, showed Pogge’s “appallingly bad judgment and weakness of character in his predatory dealings with female students and younger colleagues.” The morally correct thing to do would be, said Benhabib, “to request an administrative leave from Yale until the legal case is resolved. Yale University should request him to do so if Pogge does not take this step voluntarily. He is not pedagogically fit to continue teaching at this point.”
The article also contains this passage: “Als Kollegin habe sie [Benhabib] den Gerüchten über ihn [Pogge] lange keinen Glauben geschenkt.” This translates roughly as: “Being Pogge’s colleague, Benhabib didn’t believe the rumors about him for a long time.” (The above translation garbles the passage almost beyond comprehension.) Benhabib’s honesty is refreshing here, but her admission also points to an explanation of how these kinds of cases happen over and over again: Although we usually have excellent reasons to believe these kinds of rumors, the perpetrator’s colleagues, who are among the best positioned to stop the relevant behavior, will often ignore them so as not to rock the departmental boat.Report
To be fair, survivor from Honduras and her partner did tell Seyla Benhabib and her husband, Jim Sleeper, about this incident in 2010. Their response was that survivor was not ready to go to press, and that Judith Resnick’s advice was to read into the “release” seriously.Report
Dear Daily Nous Team,
in your eMail you say that that Benhabib weren’t calling for Pogge’s resignation in the original German article. It says
“Moralisch geboten sei es, so Benhabib, dass Pogge »von seinem Posten in Yale zurücktritt, bis der juristische Fall geklärt ist”
, which translates to “dadada… resigns from his post at Yale”. But then this is followed by “until the legal case is settled”.
That is a rather odd choice of words in German, since “zurücktreten” carries a whiff of definitiveness. But as I understand “resign”, in English, precludes the possibility of return even more strongly.
So she what is meant is sort of a temporary leave or resignation with the possibility of return, if that makes any sense at all. As I said, it is not perfectly clear in German either.Report
Yes—an “administrative leave,” as she said in reply to an email I sent her seeking clarification.Report
For weeks now, there’s been one article after another bringing up Pogge. There seems to be no merit in their publication, other than to continually drag his name through the mud.
The guy’s alleged transgressions are already well known. This seems to be an extended exercise in moral signalling, in stomping down on the back of someone’s head as he already lies in the mud, bringing up the topic again and again whenever people are bored of it so that nobody ever forgets how horrible Pogge is. We get it. And yet, it doesn’t stop.
Now we’ve read an article translated from German that discusses the old facts yet again. Is that enough, editors of Daily Nous? Can we move on?
I’m all for open discussions of sexual harassment policies. I just don’t see the merit in running down particular individuals or exulting in their shame.Report
Jane, I appreciate your comment. To be honest, I was on the fence about posting this article.
It seemed possibly newsworthy that a colleague of Pogge’s was calling for his resignation, which is what the initial translation said. And the newsworthiness of that is not aligned with a particular position on Pogge’s innocence (e.g., defenders of Pogge might think its newsworthiness comes from what they think is the outrageousness of such a permanent punishment being suggested before certain investigative and judicial procedures have run their course).
Once I learned via an email from her that Benhabib had *not* called for Pogge’s resignation, contrary to the only extant English translation of a document that was being circulated on social media and discussed by Wikipedia editors, I thought I had *more* of a reason to make this post. I could see a false idea emerging—“even Pogge’s colleagues are calling for his resignation, or for Yale to force him to resign”—and it seemed important correct that.
I am indeed concerned about posting pieces that seem to be just “piling on,” but it is not always an easy call to determine when that is happening.Report
Thanks for the reply. I guess I don’t see the significance of publishing it. At that standard, any news story or editorial about Pogge would be worth publishing. But I’m glad to hear that you have the concern about piling on. It’s really getting out of control. This is not in any way to defend Pogge or what he seems to have done, but even wrongdoers don’t deserve to be mercilessly run down and publicly shamed like this.
On that point, I see the recent statement about Pogge as serving very little purpose other than to engage in piling on. In my humble opinion, a clearly worded statement making some interesting point about sexual harassment in general, not mentioning the name of a specific person, would have been much better.Report
The natural consequences of his actions are public shaming and exile, among other official forms of retributive justice. It is not permissible to continue to insulate a sexual criminal from those natural consequences, which academia has done for decades in this particular case and many others.
The well-being of survivors must be the primary concern. If their abuse narrative is nothing more than a sensational “story du jour” that has become tiresome rather than a tool to bring actual justice, survivors are further devalued and harmed. The purpose of continued publication of this case is to ensure that this man no longer escapes justice.
Thank you, Justin, for continuing to write about this case and the topic of sexual assaults within our discipline.Report
Thanks for your reply. You talk of retributive justice. But please let’s not forget that, even if we accept that as a desideratum (which I don’t — I’m interested in preventing social harms, not avenging people for them), retributive justice must be administered judiciously. There must be balance. There is such a thing as too much shaming. If this were brought before a judge or some proper committee, stock could be taken of what Pogge did in fact do and what sort of shaming, exile, etc. are appropriate. But that’s not the sort of thing that can be administered properly by a crowd of people who just have the attitude “Not much seems to have been done yet, and it seems to me that he’s guilty as charged, so I’ll add this much shaming to the mix.” That is not retributive justice, but just chaotic mob retribution.
I find your comment about the well-being of survivors being your primary concern to be puzzling. Yes, we should look after the well-being of anyone who survived sexual harassment at the hands of Pogge or anyone else. But how does repeatedly linking to editorials about Pogge help them? They would already know to avoid him, as does everyone else at this point. And the credibility of their story does not become any stronger merely by publishing editorials by other people who read the same accounts we have already read. It’s not as though there are people out there defending Pogge’s right to sexually harass people.
Some have suggested that there is reason to believe that Yale or Columbia were remiss in their duty to properly vet Pogge or investigate the allegations against him. If there is good evidence that that is the case, then that is of general interest. Why don’t we talk about the broader issue of what those universities ought to have done, instead? We could have good and intelligent discussions about that.
I’m dismayed, in general, that many strands of feminism appear to be turning away from the most successful days of the movement, when we were fighting for social change and discussing the big issues. Instead, we seem to have gone down the rabbit hole of social media and to be fixated on the shaming of particular individuals. But that’s not only unjust and tawdry: it’s ineffective. Individuals come and go. What matters are policies and general understanding. The most important ends of social change are at best tangentially related to the shaming and humiliation of individuals.Report
Hi Jane. Is this sort of shaming of Bill Cosby too much, too?: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/02/08/naked-bill-cosby-statue_n_6632932.html. You need to check your privilege before you cry “pile on.”Report
Sea Cucumber, do you know me personally? I don’t believe you do. So whence this talk about my privilege? Why don’t you check your own privilege, if that’s what you’re into?
As I was saying in my last post, I lament the fact that some branches of feminism seem to be devolving from a movement aimed at social change to a movement aimed at attacking particular people. This ‘check your privilege’ ad hominem motif, when inflicted on other people in order to silence their views, is a case in point. I know it’s trendy to say such things, but I find them very unhelpful.Report
Well yes keeping it in the news is important because no action has been taken against a man who has admitted to writing letters for women whose only qualification is being attractive to him. He has also admitted to sharing a room and sleeping in the lap of a former student who he then hired.Report
Jane, to your point (“Now we’ve read an article translated from German that discusses the old facts yet again. Is that enough, editors of Daily Nous? Can we move on?”), and actually all the rest of it, this is not a matter of “piling things on” – this is a matter of a grave injustice (actually, several) have been piling up over the years, in some cases over almost three decades ago. This is not something that one simply moves on from, and that neither I – nor I hope – witnesses and observers WILL move on from. This must be fixed.Report
CORRECTED: Jane, to your point (“Now we’ve read an article translated from German that discusses the old facts yet again. Is that enough, editors of Daily Nous? Can we move on?”), and actually all the rest of it, I need to remind you, I think, that this is not a matter of “piling things on.” This is a matter of a grave injustice having been committed against one human being (actually, several). It is the names of survivors that have been piling up over the years, precisely because nobody wanted the truth out. This is not something that one simply moves on from, and that neither I – nor I hope – witnesses and observers WILL move on from. This must be fixed.Report
Important question: is the “administrative leave” Benhabib proposes of the paid or unpaid variety? If the former, it amounts to a sabbatical. If the latter, there will likely be legal and contractual barriers to imposing such on Pogge; you can’t ordinarily just stop paying a tenured faculty member without extensive legal or quasi-judicial procedure.Report
To runtownexpress: She said Pogge should remove himself from teaching temporarily as the ethical thing to do. I agree.Report