Should You Continue To Teach The Work of Sexual Harassers?


Thomas Pogge, whose alleged extracurricular activities, including sexual harassment, have been the subject of numerous posts here, is having his own place in the curriculum questioned. Pogge retains, for now, a prestigious named professorship at Yale. An article at Inside Higher Ed this morning discusses whether professors who believe he has acted at least problematically unprofessionally (of which there are many) should take matters into their own hands. 

The article notes the offer of academic assistance to current and recent students of Pogge’s as an example of such action. Also, there are those who say that they won’t participate in academic events planned to include him. A good chunk of the article concerns whether professors should stop teaching Pogge’s work. Yet it is not clear how much of controversy there is over this. Of the philosophy professors interviewed for the article, only James Sterba (Notre Dame) is quoted as possibly suggesting that Pogge’s behavior is a good enough reason for not teaching his work (I say “possibly” because Sterba seems to think this because Pogge’s work isn’t sufficiently important). (Sterba’s comments were the subject of discussion in a post at Leiter Reports last month.)

I could see how, if you were on the fence about whether to teach Pogge, the allegations of sexual harassment could reasonably push you off. After all, there is no shortage of written material by others on global justice, Rawls, and other topics he has written on. But if you had already judged his work to be worth teaching, I don’t think these allegations give you reason to remove his work from your syllabi. This is not for evidentiary concerns, but because doing so would be, as I’m quoted in the IHE article saying, antiphilosophical.

The whole article is here.

I am surprised that there hasn’t been more discussion of how academics should treat Yale University in regards to how it has handled the allegations of sexual harassment, including Pogge’s hiring, its attempt to buy the silence of Fernanda Lopez Aguilar, its failure to hear the complaints of some of Pogge’s alleged victims, and so on.

 

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Dale Miller
5 years ago

I may in the future face a slightly different question. I’ve taught a course in which I used two anthologies that Pogge (co-)edited. If I were to teach the course again, I’d have to decide whether I wanted to put (a small sum of) money in his pocket.Report

Avi Z.
Avi Z.
5 years ago

I didn’t teach anything by Pogge before, and I would refrain from doing so at this point for purely pedagogical reasons. If students became aware of the scandal surrounding him, this would be a distraction that simply isn’t worth the trouble. This is especially the case when the victims of the bad behaviour are themselves students to whom one’s own students might easily relate and when the events are so recent. That said, I do not think it would be right to exclude Pogge from conferences, publications, or other professional activities as some kind of vigilante ‘punishment’ for his behaviour.
I should add that Beauvoir and Sartre might be similarly problematic except that their crimes occurred so long ago and in such a different cultural context (than the U.S. where I teach) that it would only make them seem more cool and exotic for students. Yes, the emphasis on pedagogical effect results in a double standard. I would also teach the Marquis de Sade if his writings were an important part of a particular syllabus.Report

Matt Weiner
Matt Weiner
Reply to  Avi Z.
5 years ago

Without addressing the other points, I’m surprised that you say that it would not be right to exclude Pogge from conferences–surely, if a conference organizer thinks that the accusations against Pogge are more likely than not true, it is only prudent not to invite him to conferences so as to avoid exposing other conference attendees to the risk of being harassed by him.

To use an analogy someone mentioned below, whether or not I would hang a painting by Caravaggio in my gallery were he still alive, I certainly wouldn’t invite him to the painting workshop at my tennis club.Report

Hey Nonny Mouse
Hey Nonny Mouse
5 years ago

If you think your students would best be served by Pogge, then use Pogge’s work. The chances that an will ever hear about the scandal if you don’t tell them are almost nil, so the worry that they will be put of philosophy seems misplaced. A grad student might learn about it, but a grad student should be responsible enough to evaluate a philosopher’s work objectively. Nor does it seem to me that we should worry if a little extra money winds up in Pogge’s pocket. Refusing to see that happen looks like a symbolic gesture to express our feelings rather than a means to fight sexual harassment.Report

Fernanda
Fernanda
Reply to  Hey Nonny Mouse
5 years ago

“If students became aware of the scandal surrounding him, this would be a distraction that simply isn’t worth the trouble.” – if it helps, this isn’t a scandal. This is the truth.Report

Fernanda
Fernanda
Reply to  Fernanda
5 years ago

Also, as a survivor, I confess, that i do think that it is worth the “trouble”, as you decided to call it.Report

Hey Nonny Mouse
Hey Nonny Mouse
Reply to  Fernanda
5 years ago

That it is a scandal does’t mean that it isn’t real. Also, I didn’t say what you quote me as saying and didn’t use the word “trouble” at all.Report

Hey Nonny Mouse
Hey Nonny Mouse
Reply to  Fernanda
5 years ago

In retrospect, I think you meant to reply to Avi Z. above.Report

Fernanda
Fernanda
Reply to  Hey Nonny Mouse
5 years ago

Yep! My bad. Sorry – it was meant for Avi.Report

Mathieu Doucet
Mathieu Doucet
Reply to  Hey Nonny Mouse
5 years ago

” The chances that an will ever hear about the scandal if you don’t tell them are almost nil, so the worry that they will be put of philosophy seems misplaced. ”
The chances are a lot higher than ‘nil’, and in a large-ish class the chances that at least *some* students will hear about it are probably a lot closer to ‘fairly certain’ than ‘nil.’
Students google things. If you google “Thomas Pogge”, 7 of the first 10 links are about sexual harassment, and an 8th (the wikipedia entry) mentions it. So any students who even googles his name in order help write a paper or study for a test (or find the reading, or whatever) is going to learn about it.Report

Dave Ripley
5 years ago

For some harassers, being highly-regarded within the discipline is part of how they harass. This prestige can be used as part of quid pro quo harassment, since well-respected philosophers have the ability to use that respect to help their students. Or it can be used as part of threatened or actual retaliation for reporting the harassment. These harassers abuse their prestige in order to harass.
Harassers’ prestige can mean that the harassed are more frequently reminded of their harassment, since the “big names” are more usual topics of conversation than others. And harassers can use their prestige to avoid consequences for their harassment, perhaps losing one job only to be “snatched up” by a place like Yale, happy to increase their own prestige.

To teach someone’s work typically has the effect of raising their prestige. When this prestige will be abused, or when it will have bad effects, we have some reason to avoid contributing to it. I think this gives us, in many cases, pro tanto reason not to teach the work of sexual harassers.Report

Postdoc
Postdoc
Reply to  Dave Ripley
5 years ago

Yes, this is exactly right.Report

Jane
Jane
Reply to  Dave Ripley
5 years ago

Dave Ripley, you say that the prestige of well-respected philosophers have the ability to use their prestige in the profession “as part of threatened or actual retaliation for reporting the harassment. These harassers abuse their prestige in order to harass.”

In looking over the famous cases of alleged sexual harassment in the profession over the past five years — Pogge, Ludlow, McGinn — we see in all cases that the alleged harassers started with the highest prestige in the profession. And yet, this prestige was in all these cases utterly useless in rallying any support or credibility in the face of those alleging the harassment. The former friends and supporters of the alleged harassers in the profession were tripping over each other to fly away from their former friends the minute the allegations came out.

In other words, what we have seen repeatedly and ubiquitously over the past five years is that no matter how high your prestige may be, a single public allegation of sexual harassment is sufficient to utterly destroy your reputation and support and (at least so far — the Pogge case is not yet decided) your career. And well over 99.9% of the profession — literally that high — will jump on the alleged harasser even harder for trying to use his (former) prestige to discredit the claims. The one in a thousand philosophers who will counsel caution in accepting the allegations, meanwhile, will be publicly smeared and spurned for taking the side of the formerly prestigious philosophers.

For those reasons, your argument seems flawed.Report

Kenny Easwaran
Reply to  Dave Ripley
5 years ago

It seems to me that in all of these cases, the prestige that was relevant was built slowly over decades by the harasser. However, once the allegations were made public, it’s not clear to me that the slight boost to continued prestige of continued classroom reading plays a significant role in their continue ability to harass. I would say that the considerations you raise give us very good reason to avoid teaching the work of people who one personally knows to be misusing their power (as many people probably knew or suspected for McGinn, Ludlow, and Pogge), but would have less force once the wrongdoing is already made public. Of course, that earlier phase, when this sort of treatment would be most effective, is also a phase at which one should probably be doing a lot more to try to bring attention to the problem, rather than just engaging in this slight act of resistance.Report

Suzy Killmister
Suzy Killmister
5 years ago

I regularly teach undergraduate courses on human rights, so this question is one I’ve grappled with quite a lot over the past couple of years. The position I’ve settled into is to teach Pogge’s work when it’s relevant (and since it’s so heavily cited, his name is almost certainly going to come up, even if I don’t set his work as readings). But I now explicitly tell students that he’s facing sexual harassment charges. I figure this has two beneficial upshots. On the one hand, it at least partially undercuts worries I have about increasing his prestige (as Dave notes above). And on the other hand, it gives a heads up to students who potentially have a future in the area of human rights, and so might come across him professionally.Report

TD
TD
5 years ago

Like Justin, I’m a bit baffled by how close the controversy has stuck to Pogge himself. Pogge was able to sexually harass students because he had the conscious, active, legal and financial support of Yale University. The administration attempted to hush up and pay off his victims in order to keep him on faculty. If Yale hadn’t done this for him, he wouldn’t have been able to get away with it for as long as he did. What’s the appropriate sanction for Yale?

There is also the matter of Pogge’s colleagues, both in his subfield and in his department. Is it the least bit plausible, to anyone who’s ever been in an academic workplace, that nobody knew about this until the public allegations were made? How did the people close to Pogge try to stop his behaviour before the open letter? Did they confront him? Raise their concerns with the administration? Warn or check up on his advisees?

I’ve heard the term “open secret” thrown around in relation to this case. Seems it was open to the people least likely to be harmed by Pogge, i.e. tenured professors with six-figure salaries at prestigious institutions. Not so open to his victims. So, what’s the difference between this open secret and a plain old secret–one you chose to keep for a sexual predator?Report

DoubleA
DoubleA
5 years ago

Should we also not teach the work of the philosophers at Columbia who wrist slapped Pogge or the folks at Yale who didn’t bother to investigate his past?Report

Jörg Volbers
5 years ago

Looking at that debate from Germany, it kind of strikes me as odd. I don’t see any point in somehow “avoiding” Pogge’s works, or even anthologies edited by him, just because he does not seem to be morally immaculate. Should we then not read Heidegger anymore? What about Kant’s racism, does that invalidate his views? The whole thing even looks more absurd if we consider that the discipline we are talking about is practical philosophy. Cases like Pogge (or Heidegger) illustrate that any living person is not a monolithic block which we can either accept or reject as a whole. There are traits and actions which we should condemn, but then there are other traits and actions, which demand another attitude. And why should the injust not be an expert in justice? Moral judgment is a complicated thing. We should still continue judging, and I do not want to excuse anything he has done. But while it is wrong to withhold this “dark side” of his life to students when discussing him, it is equally wrong to identifiy him (or his work, or his anthologies) solely with this side.

So yes, why not teach his views if they are worth while, and why not discuss at the same time that these views did not prevent him (or do not seem to have prevented him) from doing this or that. That’s how life is.Report

Postdoc
Postdoc
Reply to  Jörg Volbers
5 years ago

I don’t and won’t teach or engage with the work of known, living harassers, at least not if their work is inessential, i.e., if there is other work I might rely on for a particular role instead.

Kant and Heidegger are dead, so my teaching their work would not signal to students that I think known sexual harassers in our discipline should be valorized and treated as normal parts of our profession. My students won’t have the misfortune of being groped by Kant at a conference or assaulted by Heidegger in a hotel room, nor will their peers receive this treatment. Not to mention that Kant and Heidegger have made much more essential contributions than the current harassers, which makes the decision all the easier.

If the discipline was made up of a dozen philosophers, and they were all known harassers, I would probably teach their work, since my only alternative would be to teach the dead folks’ work. But there are thousands of active philosophers these days, the vast majority of whom are not serial harassers. Our work will not suffer to ignore the very tiny majority who do serially harass. And we won’t risk signaling to our students that the discipline belongs to their (actual or potential) harassers, and not to them.Report

Dolphin
Dolphin
5 years ago

I have inside information about what people at Yale knew about Pogge when he was hired and his relationships with Yale students afterwards (I have to remain anonymous but Justin can easily confirm how I have this information and indicate that I am a reliable source).
There was no “open secret” about Pogge. When Pogge was hired at Yale, most people were unaware of his predatory behavior at Columbia. After he was hired, this did not change.
Some people might have known, but if there were such people they did not share this information widely, least of all with their colleagues – faculty, graduate students, and administrative staff – in the philosophy department.
Before people blame the Yale department, and especially before they blame specific members of that department, they should try to get some specific information.Report

Phoenix, son of Amyntor
Phoenix, son of Amyntor
Reply to  Dolphin
5 years ago

Thank you for your comment and I trust in your veracity. I do think we can have your point about Yale’s *department* and still pursue Justin’s question about Yale *University*. In particular, I am thinking of the information emerging about Yale’s Title IX as well as about the selection committee (Benhabib’s stunning “Everybody slips once” and also “There is a culture of male discretion and ‘boys will be boys.’”). So, while it is wholly plausible that many individual professors in Yale’s department were in the dark, I think Justin is right that we should be discussing “how academics should treat Yale University in regards to how it has handled the allegations of sexual harassment…”Report

JDB
JDB
5 years ago

Suppose we decided not to teach or professionally engage with the work of sexual harassers. Realistically, how much work that we teach, and professionally engage with, might this exclude?Report

Jane
Jane
5 years ago

Just to be clear: if this has to do with Pogge, which it seems it does, then the question is instead “Should we continue to teach the work of ALLEGED sexual harassers?” And that is a very different question. I hope readers of this blog, like all philosophers and indeed all adults and adolescents, know the difference between someone who has done something and someone who is alleged to have done that thing.Report

JT
JT
Reply to  Jane
5 years ago

This again? I agree that is an important distinction to keep in mind, but I also hope that everyone here realises that an allegation may well be true even if it has never been affirmed in a court of law and that third parties can have knowledge of the truth of an allegation even if it is unproven in that context (and even if the admissible evidence is insufficient for a legal finding of guilt).Report

Crimlaw
Crimlaw
Reply to  JT
5 years ago

As you surely also know, but do not bother to point out, allegations can also be false even when third parties claim to have knowledge of their truth. Allegations can even be false when there is a legal or formal finding of proof.

Which is it in the Pogge case? I for one do not know.Report

JT
JT
Reply to  Crimlaw
5 years ago

Yes, those are possibilities as well. However, it should be clear that my point can be made without mentioning them–a point that is also consistent with your admission of ignorance on Pogge’s guilt. In any case, I’m not at all interested in rehashing the issue, if that is what you’re after.Report

Doc F Emeritus
Doc F Emeritus
5 years ago

I agree with the article’s comment that if you judge his work to be worthy of teaching, then keep it on your syllabus. One’s philosophical works and one’s private life are not the same. Neitzsche’s mental issues do not negate the importance of his writings, which need to be acknowledged. The same applies here — that someone is less than laudable as a person, is no indication that they are not making worthwhile contributions to their fields.

Should we decry Caravaggio’s paintings because he was accused, and probably did, kill someone??? They are separate issues and categories. His paintings stand alone, as should Pogge’s philosophical works.Report

M
M
Reply to  Doc F Emeritus
5 years ago

I’m not sure why heaving mental health issues would make someone less laudable as a person.Report

Ed
Ed
5 years ago

To those who keep raising Heidegger, Kant’, Neitzsche and similar – are Pogge’s contributions as important and influential? Can someone working that field give an honest assessment of that harm of not including his work or only summarizing its key points?Report