Statement From Hypatia Board Regarding Tuvel Controversy


The following is a guest post* from the Board of Directors of Hypatia, the non-profit corporation that owns Hypatia: A Journal of Feminist Philosophy, in regards to the controversy surrounding the journal’s publication of “In Defense of Transracialism” by Rebecca Tuvel, an assistant professor of philosophy at Rhodes College.


Statement by the Board of Hypatia

This statement is written and signed by the Board of Directors of Hypatia, the non-profit corporation that owns Hypatia: A Journal of Feminist Philosophy: Elizabeth Anderson, Leslie Francis (Treasurer), Heidi Grasswick (Secretary), Miriam Solomon (President), and Lisa Tessman (Chair). Sally Scholz, who as Editor of the journal is an ex officio member of the Board, has already made a public statement.

During the last week of April, an open letter circulated, calling upon Hypatia to retract the publication of Rebecca Tuvel’s “In Defense of Transracialism,” on account of harms it allegedly caused to diverse groups, and in particular to trans people and people of color. The letter, with 830 signatures, was delivered to the Editor, the Associate Editorial Board, and the Advisory Board on the evening of May 2. Two days prior to the delivery of this letter the Associate Editors of Hypatia issued a statement, which was widely disseminated, posted on various personal sites, submitted to philosophy blogs, and eventually at the request of the Associate Editors, also posted on the Hypatia Facebook page on May 1. The statement apologized for the harms alleged to have been caused by Tuvel’s paper, and stated their opinion that “Clearly, the paper should not have been published, and we believe that the fault for this lies in the review process.”

The Board of Directors of Hypatia would like to clarify the nature of the controversy, since there are misrepresentations in the press and on social media. Further, we would like to articulate the principles we are committed to as we move forward beyond this controversy.

1. The Board acknowledges the intensity of experience and convictions around matters of intersectionality, especially in the world of academic philosophy, which has an egregious history of treatment of women of color feminists and feminists from other marginalized social positions. To those unfamiliar with the issues, outrage about a particular academic publication is often dismissed as nothing more than the censoriousness of hypersensitive groups. The objectionable features of the particular case, considered in isolation, seem too minor to outsiders to warrant the degree of outrage focused upon it. Such dismissal reflects ignorance of the cumulative history of marginalization, disrespect, and misrepresentation of oppressed groups. Usually, objections to a particular academic publication reflect the objectors’ knowledge of a history of grievances of which outsiders are unaware. It is difficult to assess how much of the outrage is properly directed at Hypatia, and how much at other public, academic, or philosophical institutions. Nevertheless, the Board would like to take this opportunity to learn from the expressed outrage. Hypatia has always held itself to a higher standard of inclusion than most other philosophy journals. During the years in which Sally Scholz has served as editor, it has continued to develop these commitments to diversity (including organizing a major conference on diversifying philosophy, the solicitation of special issues and clusters specifically focused on diversity, and the creation of podcasts and video interviews to make Hypatia articles more widely accessible). Going forward, with consultation amongst those who perform various roles for our organization, Hypatia will review its governance structure, procedures, and policies, aiming to continue to improve its inclusiveness and respect for marginalized voices in a manner consistent with the continuation of Hypatia as a scholarly enterprise committed to feminist values.

2. The Board affirms Hypatia’s commitment to pluralist inquiry, which is simultaneously a core feminist value and a core academic value. In this regard, it is especially important to respect scholars who work on a wide variety of topics and utilize a wide variety of methodologies.

3. The Board finds that the Associate Editors’ statement undermining the editorial decision was disseminated without adequate consultation with the Editor. Further consultation, if necessary, could have included other parts of the governing structure of Hypatia, such as the Advisory Board or the Board of Hypatia. The open letter could have been taken seriously without such precipitous action.

4. In response, the Board calls upon all those who wish to participate in Hypatia’s governing structure to commit themselves to playing their role in support of the journal, as this is required for the continuation of Hypatia as a scholarly enterprise. The continuation of Hypatia as a scholarly enterprise, its ability to foster feminist inquiry, and its academic reputation, depend on its respecting its contractual obligations, core principles of research ethics and norms of academic discourse, and consultation with all the arms of Hypatia’s governing body. Hypatia is bound by principles of publication ethics to stand by its editors, referees, and authors except in specific cases such as plagiarism and fraud. These principles have been thoughtfully designed to establish critical conditions for progress in inquiry.

5. The Board wishes to correct two misunderstandings that have appeared in the press and on social media:

A. Reports that the Associate Editors called for retraction of the article are incorrect. The Associate Editors did not and are not calling for retraction of the article.

B. Reports that the statement of the Associate Editors was made on behalf of Hypatia are incorrect. The Associate Editors wrote on their own behalf, and clearly identified the authorship of their statement. Hypatia has a complex governance structure, also including its Editor and Book Review Editor, an Editorial Board, an Advisory Board, and a Local Advisory Board. The Associate Editors, by themselves, cannot speak for Hypatia.

6. The Board stands behind the judgment of Hypatia’s Editor, Sally Scholz, concerning the publication of Professor Tuvel’s paper. On May 6, 2017, Professor Scholz released a statement to the Chronicle of Higher Education affirming that Professor Tuvel’s paper went through the usual double-masked peer review process and was accepted by the reviewers and by the Editor. We endorse her assessment that, barring discovery of misconduct or plagiarism, the decision to publish stands. We also approve her willingness to refer the matter to Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE).

The Board also recognizes Professor Tuvel for her work and condemns any ad hominem and personal attacks that may have been directed against her. As a scholarly publication, Hypatia supports our authors and appreciates their contributions to advancing understanding of contemporary social issues.

7. We regret the harms to current and prospective authors, editors, and peer reviewers of Hypatia that were created by this controversy. We are working hard to respond responsibly to this troubling and difficult controversy. We acknowledge the history and continuation of injustices around matters of intersectionality, and know that many of us have much to learn from those who have lived in and worked on intersections of marginalized racial and gender identities.

Hypatia, founded in 1986, will continue to be a journal committed to a diversity of methodologies, schools of thought, and perspectives in feminist philosophy. It will also continue to be a journal committed to the best practices of scholarly publication. We take the intensity of this controversy to be a testament to the importance of the issues that the journal discusses.

Elizabeth Anderson
Leslie Francis (Treasurer)
Heidi Grasswick (Secretary)
Miriam Solomon (President)
Lisa Tessman (Chair)

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Tom
Tom
3 years ago

Just a minor technical request: Could you include links to all the mentioned statements? Because I get confused over which was which…Report

Tom
Tom
Reply to  Justin Weinberg
3 years ago

Thanks.Report

Jason Brennan
Jason Brennan
3 years ago

” To those unfamiliar with the issues, outrage about a particular academic publication is often dismissed as nothing more than the censoriousness of hypersensitive groups. The objectionable features of the particular case, considered in isolation, seem too minor to outsiders to warrant the degree of outrage focused upon it. Such dismissal reflects ignorance of the cumulative history of marginalization, disrespect, and misrepresentation of oppressed groups.”

I like how they dismiss the criticisms of the Duvel witch hunt as being nothing more than uninformed dismissals. That’s some grade A bullshit right there, and I would know, since my high school had a dairy farm. Report

Grad Sockpuppet
Grad Sockpuppet
Reply to  Jason Brennan
3 years ago

Duvel is a (rather tasty) Belgian beer. Tuvel is the author in question.Report

Jason Brennan
Jason Brennan
Reply to  Grad Sockpuppet
3 years ago

This is like the fifteenth time I’ve made that mistake. And I don’t even like beer.Report

Matt
Reply to  Jason Brennan
3 years ago

And I don’t even like beer.

I’m really not sure how we can accept any judgments from a person who would say something like this out loud. Report

Paul Prescott
Reply to  Jason Brennan
3 years ago

I share Jason Brennan’s concerns. But the wording of the statement appears more careful than he allows. Saying that the issues are *often* dismissed as “nothing more than the censoriousness of hypersensitive groups” is compatible with (and appears to imply?) an acknowledgment that said criticisms represent more than merely uniformed dismissals.Report

fran ima
fran ima
Reply to  Jason Brennan
3 years ago

I agree with Paul Prescott, that Brennan seems to have misread the statement to read exactly the opposite of what it’s supposed to mean. It was pretty clear to me on reading it that the editors are saying that “such dismissal,” meaning “the censoriousness of hypersensitive groups,” “reflects ignorance of the cumulative history…”

In other words, and very clearly, the Editors are saying that it is WRONG to dismiss the criticisms as “censoriousness of hypersensitive groups.” Further, when you read the next 3 sentences, it is clear that the Editors do not dismiss the criticisms or the outrage, and consider it justified, but want to reflect on how much of it is due to Hypatia and this article, and “how much at other public, academic, or philosophical institutions.”

Unless you believe that this whole controversy is exclusively about Hypatia and that one article–which not even the 800 signatories of the original letter believed–the only way to read this is as endorsing and even expanding on the criticism and taking it seriously. Further, considering that they are re-examining every aspect of the acceptance and publication of this piece and their own governance structure, and submitting this specific issue to the proper ethical body, it’s really hard to imagine what would constitute taking the matter more seriously. Report

Jason Brennan
Jason Brennan
3 years ago

More substantively:

Why and how are the associate editors so confident that it’s because we don’t understand the background context, that we’re ignorant of cumulative history of marginalization, and so on?

Actually, if we’re going to play the epistemic privilege game, I’m all in. Sounds like a game I can win. Not only am I personally extremely well educated on the issues the editors bring up in the quotation above, but I am also an expert in political psychology and on how people use moralistic language for personal or group gain. Therefore, I am one of the select few people in a position to render an accurate judgment about whether the signatories acted badly or not.Report

Lisa Tessman
Lisa Tessman
Reply to  Jason Brennan
3 years ago

Please note that this statement is from the Board of Directors, not from the Associate Editors (whose previous statement we discuss). I think you might have assumed that the present statement is authored by the same people (the Associate Editors) who authored the previous statement.Report

Cindy Stark
Cindy Stark
Reply to  Lisa Tessman
3 years ago

I have avoided commenting on the Tuvel issue for many reasons. However, I do want to say something about this statement that is related to Jason’s point. First, I find the locution “play the epistemic privilege game” to be unhelpful because it sounds dismissive. There is genuine philosophical issue about matters of epistemic privilege and to call it a “game” is, IMO, disrespectful. My second point is that is I find the use of “outsiders” in the statement’s first point problematic. This is because part of what is at issue in the controversy (it seems to me) is precisely who counts as an epistemic insider or outsider. Are those who are political insiders (particularly members of economically and politically privileged groups) necessarily epistemic outsiders? If so, under what conditions (if any) can they contribute to philosophical discussion bearing upon the experience/circumstances of political outsiders? Etc. Etc. Yet, the statement seems to suggest that there is a pretty clear fact of the matter about who are insiders and who are outsiders.Report

DC
DC
Reply to  Cindy Stark
3 years ago

“There is genuine philosophical issue about matters of epistemic privilege”

Yes, there is. One of the fundamental flaws in both the open letter to Hypatia, and the Associate Editors, is they do not believe there is a “genuine philosophical issue.” They think the issue has been completely decided, that they are right and everyone else is wrong. If you (and I don’t mean you specifically, Cindy, I mean the generic you) want to promote some form of privileged standpoint epistemology, fine. But don’t you (again, general you) dare be arrogant enough to think that you are so obviously right that anyone not following your very precise viewpoint should not be allowed to make their argument. Report

Daniel Kaufman
Reply to  Cindy Stark
3 years ago

Cindy Stark:

That you haven’t figured out yet that whether something is disrespectful *to you* has nothing to do with whether it’s true or false is part of the problem.

I think most of the epistemic privilege talk is not only BS, but worse. It is cynical and manipulative BS. It is exactly what philosophy in the Socratic tradition should *not* be about. I could give any number of arguments for this. But the notion that somehow the issue is settled and thus, we just all have to buy into it, or else be deemed “disrespectful” is not philosophy, but rather, demagoguery.

One of the things that I’m hoping this fiasco will do is convince our profession — or at least the majority of it — that this path we’ve gone down, into non-philosophical, programmatic, partisan identity politics has been a catastrophic mistake. The fact that so few philosophers seem willing to accept all the excuses and rationalizations being offered by those who want to hold on to this corrupt paradigm, in the Hypatia affair, gives me hope that the partisans have gone a proverbial bridge too far. We will have to see how it all shakes out.Report

Cindy Stark
Cindy Stark
Reply to  Daniel Kaufman
3 years ago

What I claimed is disrespectful is referring to the question of epistemic privilege as a “game”. I did not state a view about the truth or falsity of claims about epistemic privilege. However, I do believe that the question of epistemic privilege should not be dismissed as not a genuine philosophical issue. Report

Daniel Kaufman
Reply to  Cindy Stark
3 years ago

That it may be a rhetorical exercise and thus, a game, is part of what taking it as a genuine philosophical issue *is*. When something is treated as a genuine philosophical issue, every potential line of criticism is considered. If philosophers can argue that moral utterances themselves are a form of rhetoric, then certainly philosophers can argue that claims of epistemic privilege are rhetorical.Report

Cindy Stark
Cindy Stark
Reply to  Cindy Stark
3 years ago

I did not see Jason as *making an argument* that claims of epistemic privilege are rhetorical. I agree, that if he had made such an argument, he would have been treating the issue of epistemic privilege as a genuine philosophical issue.Report

Hector Pefo
Hector Pefo
Reply to  Jason Brennan
3 years ago

They didn’t say that all or most dismissals are based on ignorance, but that people not in the know might naturally be dismissive, which probably implicates that some significant portion of dismissals are conceived in ignorance. I don’t think it’s all that unclear. It’s compatible with thinking that many defenses of Tuvel and criticisms of her critics are just fine.Report

Ophelia Benson
3 years ago

That’s a shockingly tepid defense of Tuvel, which they all but withdraw as soon as they make it.Report

Udo Schuklenk
Udo Schuklenk
3 years ago

Point 6 is all that matters from an editorial perspective. Those who actually have a say in the production of the journal are clear that authors can expect procedural justice as well as professional editorial decisions even when the internets get excited and signatures are collected. Marks the difference between being a professional journal and some other kind of outfit.That’s the only thing that should matter to prospective authors and reviewers. Report

Hey Nonny Mouse
Hey Nonny Mouse
Reply to  Udo Schuklenk
3 years ago

Unless the reviewers happen to share the view of the letter signatories that such a paper should not be published, for the reasons the letter signatories gave. If the paper had been rejected at the peer-review stage for such reasons, that would have been even worse. It would be good for Hypatia to make a statement about what are and are not considered acceptable reasons for rejecting papers.Report

Hey Nonny Mouse
Hey Nonny Mouse
3 years ago

Since Tuval was the only person wronged in this case, I would have liked Hypatia to say more about our responsibilities to other philosophers, especially those we disagree with on issues we feel passionately about. It is good that Hypatia “condemns any ad hominem and personal attacks that may have been directed against her” though the use of the word “may” is unfortunate, as though it isn’t clear that there have been any such attacks. A statement rejecting ad hominem and personal attacks in philosophy in general would have been most welcome.Report

Professor Plum
Professor Plum
3 years ago

Well, if that’s the best the defense of free inquiry that the board can muster up, I won’t be submitting to or refereeing for Hypatia in the future.

Feminist philosophy itself has been harmed by this whole debacle, and I for one think that is regrettable, and it makes me angry that Hypatia and its associate editors had a role to play in that.

But for those of you who think this case reveals some problem unique to feminist philosophy, I encourage you to look around academia more broadly. Increasingly, there is a tendency toward group-think and hostility toward those who don’t defend The Party Line in all corners of academia. This is evident in restrictive comment policies on academic blogs, in the narrow range of issues covered in our journals, in who gets invited to campus talks, in who gets offered jobs, in what grad students are encouraged to research, and on and on.

The Hypatia case was especially egregious and embarrassing becacuse, let’s face it, Tuvel was basically toeing the party line (i.e., she was obviously an “ally” to those who count), but she still got attacked because she didn’t signal her allyship in *quite* the right way. But philosophers, and academics more generally, should have the freedom to defend unpopular, perhaps even loathsome, ideas in print. Without that kind of freedom, there really isn’t any point to this enterprise. Report

Qrst
Qrst
Reply to  Professor Plum
3 years ago

A question for Professor Plum as well as anyone else who may care to answer. In your opinion, which feminist philosophy journals have survived this debacle? The editors, at least Brennan and MacLachlan, of Feminist Philosophy Quarterly fully supported the open letter calling for retraction of the Tuvel article. Walters, the editor of Signs, was against it. Admittedly, I’m not sure how either of these public statements reflect current editorial practices at these two journals. But I’d be interested to hear your thoughts.Report

Sikander
Sikander
3 years ago

I think this is a great statement, and I’m especially glad that Hypatia is standing by Scholz and Tuvel. My only issue is with point 7, because it’s not entirely clear what sorts of harms they’re considering. The ambiguity makes me worry that they might be saying that Tuvel’s article was itself harmful, which I disagree with.Report

Shelley Tremain
Shelley Tremain
3 years ago

The Board of Directors of Hypatia wrote: “In response, the Board calls upon all those who wish to participate in Hypatia’s governing structure to commit themselves to playing their role in support of the journal, as this is required for the continuation of Hypatia as a scholarly enterprise.” [Point #4]

Thank you very much for the invitation. I would be happy to participate in the governing structure of Hypatia. I hereby make a commitment to support the journal in its role as a scholarly enterprise. I have published five items on disability in Hypatia and over thirty books and articles on disability overall. Since disabled philosophers and disabled feminist philosophers of disability especially are currently underrepresented in the discipline and profession and in particular on every one of the journal’s boards, including its Editorial, Associate Editor, and Advisory Boards, and Board of Directors, I would be happy to serve in any capacity of Hypatia’s governing structure. Furthermore, since disabled feminist philosophers of disability are underrepresented in the departments of every one of the members of the Board of Directors, and the departments of every one of the Associate Editors, Advisory Board members, and members of the Editorial Board, I would in addition be happy to take up a faculty position in any of these departments.Report

Barry
Barry
3 years ago

It’s about time the journal stood up for Professor Tuvel. In the old days, before digital media and before user groups allowed someone to write and distribute a letter and gain 800 plus signatures in a matter of days, and before the pressure of blogs and the like appeared to require a response in hours from the Journal, the paper version of the journal would have arrived on my desk. I might have read the article in a week or so after arrival given the interesting title and subject matter. If I were one of those who found the article troubling (and I am not one of those who find it troubling), I may have eventually gotten around to penning a “Rejoinder” and sending it to the Journal to be published. Back in the 70s and 80s it was usually quite entertaining to see these academic point and counterpoints play out in journals. And what we would have (after months) is a body of work — an article, letters to the editor, rejoinders and maybe even a counter article or academic criticism of the article — that would be a reasoned debate. Now we have an off the cuff “open letter” signed by 800 people — many who say that they have not read the article — and an associate editorial board responding to an internet firestorm.

I long for the old days, where people actually debated ideas. The action by the Journal was cowardly responding to mob violence. Academics should not behave this way — those who wrote the letter, those who signed it and certainly not the board of associate editors. I appreciate the Journal’s Board issuing this statement. Report

Larry Cahoone
Larry Cahoone
3 years ago

Note that the first and by far the longest point from the Board seems to be this: Anyone who thinks that the “outrage” against Tuvel’s article was excessive is ignorant and dismissive. That outrage was justified, and we validate it. Maybe it was directed at the wrong target (like our journal); just in case it wasn’t wrong, we will learn from the outrage by reforming our procedures.But the main thing is we want you to know that we are on the side of those who were so immediately angry they wanted to mob together to destroy someone for using the wrong words.Report

Lena
Lena
3 years ago

Who among us would really feel that if we had written a paper that had received such a scathing response from senior representatives of a journal that we had truly been apologised to by the organisation? Who would feel satisfied, appreciated, protected, even vindicated? Who would feel that they had our back? I can’t say that I would. I can’t believe that anyone with any power or standing in the profession would either. But Tuvel does not have that so it seems that Hypatia for all its fine words about giving voice to the oppressed as a group do not feel that they have any reason to give it to a wronged but ultimately probably powerless individual. While the statement does distance itself from the form in which the Associate Editors acted, it does not distance itself from their intentions and by going out of its way to learn from their unauthorised actions seems to suggest that in future no such article like Tuvel’s would be considered. For my part as a person of colour I feel marginalised by their actions not protected (which is mildly patronising) or empowered. It is evident that Hypatia’s constituency does include a high proportion of people who signed or supported the Open Letter and the Associate Editors’ response. They are its power base. In the end the institution and corporation will always side with them against the lone victims. (Incidentally, had the first point of the letter been made in isolation as a general statement of principles, I’d wholeheartedly agree. It makes very important points. In this context it has a very different and less sincere slant.)Report

Hector J
Hector J
3 years ago

It’s too bad we will never get to see your response in a world where some brave few didn’t stand up for Tuval. I read this and I don’t know what you really feel, I only know what you feel you’re supposed to say in this situation. The first response, from your Associate editors? That is something I believe. They meant that.Report

uggioso
uggioso
3 years ago

I would like to raise a possibility regarding the second point (i.e., “2. The Board affirms Hypatia’s commitment to pluralist inquiry, which is simultaneously a core feminist value and a core academic value.”)

Could it be that the soul-searching inquiry needed within Hypatia and within interdisciplinary ventures more generally, is what to do when different disciplines employ methodologies that actually conflict?

Analytic philosophers know very well what can happen when all of the questions in so-called logical space are permitted to be asked. We know what happened to Socrates. We recall that under communism, many philosophy departments were closed or curtailed. I doubt that I am alone in finding it far easier to communicate with mathematicians and physicists than with colleagues from certain other humanities departments. I doubt I am alone in having had experiences such as the following. After a talk given by someone from cultural studies, I raised what took to be an obvious and serious objection. The speaker’s response led to my next question: “Is there any expectation in your field that you consider the possibility that your claims might be wrong?” He told me that no, there was no such expectation. When I explained that in my discipline, there was such an expectation, one that I took to be very important, a minor uproar ensued, in which I was informed that no such expectation could be legitimate, since the discipline was not a science.

If one discipline, notably analytic philosophy, requires its authors to consider whether and how their claims might be wrong, and if another discipline prohibits that, at least with respect to certain core claims, how could interdisciplinary inquiry proceed? Intellectual integrity would seem to require that the method encouraging all possibilities and questions to be permissible override. Otherwise, it would seem that to protect its own intellectual integrity, analytic philosophy would do better to withdraw from the interdisciplinary venture.
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Eric Odgaard
Eric Odgaard
3 years ago

Can anyone explain the outrageous omission in this official statement? As Jesse Singal pointed out in the NYMag piece on this situation, the statement from the associate editors was originally posted by Cressida Heyes on her personal FB page; we must therefore conclude that Heyes was either the author, co-author, or a strong supporter of the statement (for which authorship is otherwise cloaked in anonymity). This is a serious ethics violation, because Heyes is both on the associate editorial board AND one of the authors criticized in Tuvel’s paper. As long as this conflict of interest is allowed to stand (and Heyes is still listed on their Associate Editor Board as of this morning), the reputation of Hypatia will continue to be smeared.Report