Kathleen Stock Resigns from Sussex
Kathleen Stock has resigned from her position as professor of philosophy at the University of Sussex.Dr. Stock announced her resignation on Twitter: “Sad to announce I’m leaving @SussexUni… This has been a very difficult few years, but the leadership’s approach more recently has been admirable and decent. I hope that other institutions in similar situations can learn from this.”
University of Sussex Vice Chancellor Adam Tickell announced Stock’s resignation on the university’s website, writing “We had hoped that Professor Stock would feel able to return to work, and we would have supported her to do so. She has decided that recent events have meant that this will not be possible, and we respect and understand that decision” and that the university will “reflect on Professor Stock’s experiences and it will form part of how the University learns from this and moves forwards.”
Students had recently been protesting Stock’s employment at Sussex owing to her views regarding transgender women.
For further information see this article in The Guardian.
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Edited to add: In addition to the usual comments policy, I ask commenters on this post to use their real names (first and last) if their comment includes what could reasonably be perceived as claims critical of Stock or other named individuals (including other named commenters). (I understand there’s some ambiguity here; please try to honor this request in the spirit it was intended.) Also, please refrain from engaging on first-order issues regarding transgender identity.
UPDATE (11/1/21, 7:55am): Comments on this post are closed.
So we need more women in philosophy, but fewer women who hold contentious positions?
Since philosophy, like other disciplines, is inherently contentious (arguing and all that stuff), it sounds to me like this woman has been shafted for doing what we say we need more women doing in philosophy.Report
This strikes me as a lot like the Boghossian case at PSU. In fact, it seems like we just have a new trope in academia: a few students get upset at a professor for espousing a controversial position, the university doesn’t budge from its pro-academic freedom stance, the professor gains good deal of clout and maybe a book deal, and then makes a big deal of resigning because of the “woke mob.” No academic should be fired for holding controversial opinions, but, in both the case of Prof. Stock and Prof. Boghossian, they resigned! It seems to me that both Stock and Boghossian cared more about scoring points in the culture war, than participating in reasoned debate.Report
I think you’re understating a few things. Stock did not have the ire of just ‘a few’ students; she has been vilified by thousands of people both on- and off-line. Relatedly, I do not believe Stock has ‘made a big deal’ out of resigning. She has simply announced it.
But for the analogy–I think it falls apart. PSU cannot be fairly described as not budging from a pro-academic freedom stance. I cannot speak knowledgably about Sussex here, but its letter suggests a different stance.
Finally, there are choices and there are forced choices. When someone feels physically unsafe and is psychologically tormented by threats and vilification, ‘resignation’ is merely a euphemism.Report
You missed the bit where she was advised by the police to stay away from campus due to safety concerns.Report
I’ve seen some people expressing skepticism that her safety really was threatened in any serious way. But how many people walk away from a tenured position? What would it take for you to think that’s the best decision? Let alone someone who has been taking controversial stances publicly for years, and taking flak for it. That should be enough to make us think the atmosphere was quite hostile. Certainly it must have exceeded the threshold for “hostile atmosphere” that we ordinarily would find concerning. I don’t see how anyone who cares about the state of the discipline could shrug this off as no big deal, just one voluntary decision. Either we care about fostering a positive climate in philosophy or we don’t.Report
Caleb, you write “It seems to me that both Stock and Boghossian cared more about scoring points in the culture war, than participating in reasoned debate.” This seems like an extremely odd thing to say about Stock, or perhaps just really out of touch, whatever you think of her views (ie even if you think it’s morally abhorrent etc) – it seems she has spent most of her professional and personal time over the past few years engaging in *continual* debate about these topics through publications, social media, public engagement, involvement in UK politics, etc etc.Report
Justin, you should insist that people post under their real, full names. We know Stock’s name, and since people will no doubt speculate as to her motives (already have) in ways that may affect her reputation and have already impacted her livelihood, it’s only fair that people should be willing to use their real, full names.Report
That’s a reasonable suggestion, Moti. I’ve added a note to the post asking commenters to “use their real names (first and last) if their comment includes what could reasonably be perceived as claims critical of Stock or other named individuals.”Report
Kathleen will no doubt thrive outside of academia. Any serious philosopher, however, should feel deep embarrassment and shame at how Kathleen has been treated by the profession, if I may speak with such generality. Her decision comes after many years of personal abuse, ostracisation, attempted blacklisting, wilful misrepresentation, and defamation, and that is just from philosophers, never mind the ‘protesters’. Three factors stand out. First, a good deal of male philosophers appear to have outsourced their morals and good sense to what the local feminist philosopher thinks. She, so the male thinks, claims that being a woman is something to do with self-identity; she won’t tell you what that means, but if you question it, you are a bigot who is literally killing people. Little wonder most stay quiet. Secondly, there have been many public denouncements from philosophers and others for all the foul things Kathleen has said. I can’t discover what these things are, although I am sure she has regrets. She is, at any rate, free to call people idiots and trample over sensitivities. Don’t invite her to your next party, but you don’t need to organise against her. Thirdly, the whole background to this sorry saga is the thought that philosophy needs to be more inclusive. Unfortunately, that does not extend to class. Kathleen has consistently put underprivileged women and girls at the forefront of her thinking, to which the relevant sections of the Equality Act, pertaining to sex-based exemptions, relate (for US readers, the UK has complex legislature concerning sex and gender; Kathleen has always defended the legal status quo, which protects ‘gender reassignment’). It is no surprise that the painfully middle-class academics who have hounded Kathleen have been so puddled. They can’t see beyond their class privilege even when a woman is being stamped on in front of them. If I may be excused a joke: a liberal feminist philosopher once saved Kathleen’s life. She came across her in a cap park being set upon. She shouted out: ‘I think she has had enough boys’.Report
I go into great detail on this here.
This is false—her book is very clear, for example, that she opposes trans people being protected from intentional misgendering in the workplace, as they currently are.Report
(1) Your exhaustive and exhausting excavation of Kathleen‘s Twitter account reveals nothing. Given the provocation, she has behaved rather saintly.
(2) That is simply false on three counts. Firstly, UK law does not cover ‘misgendering’. This is often misunderstood. Look at the EAT ruling on Forstater case. Secondly, the Equality Act does not cover ‘identity’’, still less pronoun use. Thirdly and consistently with UK law, KS says only that misgendering ought to be proscribed.Report
John, you said that you “can’t discover” all the foul things Stock has said. So Peterson linked you to her own thorough account of them. Then you say that this work “reveals nothing”. Okie dokie. ‘Can’t discover’ too often standing in for ‘no interest in discovering’.Report
No. I have read the catalogue previously. It contains nothing offensive or false to anyone rational, although I appreciate that that is a high bar.Report
“Nothing offensive … to anyone rational” I could potentially see someone thinking, though I don’t agree. “Nothing false” seems to require you to already be gender-critical, and further to think being gender-critical is the only possible reasonable view, to buy it.Report
Well, I had in mind CP’s catalogue of crime. On the wider issue, GC is the default position. You need an argument to move from it, not outrage or pseudoscience. There might be some such argument.Report
I think we should avoid talking about whether GC is the default position because (1) I suspect that discussion would wind up with one of us violating the comment policy’s prohibition on first-order issues of transgender identity, and (2) because I am highly suspicious of the concept of a “default position” in general.Report
GC is default as the null hypothesis. One has to find evidence of gender beyond the statistical mess of personality and culture.Report
I’m also skeptical that “null hypothesis” has more than a pragmatic meaning.
More to the point, I don’t think one understands the GC position if all they think it is is “gender doesn’t exist.” For one, no, gender-critical people don’t believe that. They believe, at least superficially, that gender shouldn’t exist – they’re professed abolitionists about gender (as are many trans-inclusive people, I should note: https://thingofthings.wordpress.com/2014/11/25/trans-positive-gender-abolitionism-is-totally-possible-yes-it-is/).
(Personally, my opinion is that the GC movement more seems to insist that someone’s gender – whether they are recognized as a man or a woman and have their social roles organized in virtue of that – ought to be aligned strictly with someone’s sex in the great majority of contexts, at least until we abolish gender).
Gender identity, perhaps, is something many gender-critical people are skeptical of existing. Not definitionally, of course. So are some trans-inclusive people, preferring to talk merely about the pursuit of gender reassignment or cross-gender living or gender dysphoria or such.
What is clearly distinctive of the gender critical view, to my understanding, is that the rights of female-sexed persons conflicts with the rights of male-sexed persons who live as women (and potentially vice-versa), and because of that social privileges reserved for men and women should usually be allocated on the basis of what biological sex someone is – rather than what they live as. Say what you will about this view, but it’s very clearly not a “null hypothesis” or “default position” in any sense, and requires its own arguments to be held.
I’m gonna make a promise to myself now not to reply to future responses to this particular conversation. Feel free to reply yourself, but I worry I’m skating too close to the rules as it is and should probably back off myself.Report
To be sure, there is much complexity. I wasn’t meaning to suggest that GC is df. equivalent to abolitionism; indeed, KS herself is not an abolitionist. My point, rather, was that central to all GC-y positions is a sharp distinction between sex and gender, the latter rooted in biology, the former some more or less contingent mess (the more and the less often matters, of course). This counts as default insofar as it is what is expected given biology and the mix of sociality and human psychology. We would need to find evidence for gender, for, in particular anything psychologically robust that can dissociate from biology and sociality. This is not to take sides, only to lay out the issue. There are a bunch of concomitant political issues, but that are variable. At any rate, one could be GC and think that for MOST, but NOT ALL purposes, TWs count as Ws.Report
Context matters. It is not a sensitive thing to say, but you would need to root out the context – not that I am asking you too. Offence should be rare, not an MO.Report
John, like Olivia I also don’t agree that there is “nothing offensive” in Stock’s statements. For example, though I loathe to repeat it, I find Stock calling gender-affirming surgery “self-mutilation” offensive. You might not. But I think we shouldn’t so easily suggest that people disagreeing with us stems from irrationality.Report
To illustrate the kind of regard for reality Professor Collins is operating with when he says the essay identifies nothing false “to anyone rational,” some excerpts:
And the kind of sense of decency he is working with, when he says it identifies nothing offensive “to anyone rational”:
I find the way Stock and her allies frequently refer to critical engagement as “provocation” disturbing! You don’t agree that denialism about violence faced by trans women and accusing strangers of having a sexual fetish because they’re trans women is objectionable, ok, but can we please stop lying about whether Stock’s critics have been clear about what we think is? We have.
Stock’s position is
Constantly misgendering a trans coworker of course can create a intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment. Trans people are currently protected against this. Stock thinks they shouldn’t be.Report
What you quote is perfectly consistent with what I said regarding the legal situation. The Forstater ruling does NOT say that misgendering is an offence; rather, the ruling simply says that the defence of GC beliefs does not countermand the EA. The EA, however, doesn’t protect identity. So, of course, one can harass by misgendering, but that is not at issue. As regards Stock, again, her words are perfectly consistent with the law. Misgendering as such is not proscribed, either in the EA, – again, which does not protect identity – or by the Forstater ruling.Report
Sometimes less is more. The way to refute someone is to quote with context, and then show that all reasonable construals are false. Kathleen and others were gracious enough to respond to your avalanche.Report
Just remarkable how quickly the complaint changes from “they can’t point to the supposedly foul thing she’s said” to “you pointed to too many supposedly foul things she’s said.”Report
‘ought not to be’, of course.Report
I‘m just frankly wondering Dailynous how to seriously discuss her resignation (and the events preceding and causing it) if one ought to entirely refrain from discussing transgender identity…Report
Careful, for here you approach the holy of holies.Report
I take it from your cynic tone that you kinda misunderstood my concern and that you’re wrongly believing that we’re fighting on the same front here.Report
I don’t know if we agree or not, but it’s irrelevant to my comment and to my (yes, cynical) meaning.Report
It isn’t irrelevant insofar at least as I wanted to take the distance from it necessary not to be ascribed or associated with whatever is responsible for that cynism. 😉Report
Fair enough. I withdraw any implication of agreement with you or shared cynicism. 😊Report
The thing I think is missing from this post, and from DN’s previous post on Kathleen Stock, is that what is alleged isn’t just that people have protested against Stock, but that their actions amount to unlawful harassment.
Both the UK and US acknowledge that persistent hostile verbal behavior to an individual can constitute harassment and that harassment, when it reaches the level to be unlawful, is not a protected speech act. In the US the criterion recognized by the courts is that “the conduct is severe or pervasive enough to create a work environment that a reasonable person would consider intimidating, hostile, or abusive”; I’m less sure about UK law but I believe it’s similar in broad outline.
(The basic principle is also fairly intuitive: if one shifts the valence, and imagines a student (‘Kathy’) who accuses a popular frat leader of rape, then a one-off protest where protestors shout ‘Kathy is a whore’ is at least arguably an act of free speech, however reprehensible; if they keep it up, it starts to become an act aimed at harassment and intimidation, not a speech act.)
It is of course never possible to know for sure, given how distorted media reporting can be, but it looks at least prima facie pretty plausible that the threshold for unlawful harassment has been met and exceeded in Stock’s case. And the fact that she’s actually resigned is further (defeasible) evidence for this. Certainly, many cases of supposed malfeasance have been discussed in the philosophy blogosphere on the assumption that they were true and on less evidence. At the least it looks plausible enough that it would not be irresponsible to consider the consequences were it to be true.
So: at least highly plausibly, the highest-profile advocate of the so-called ‘gender-critical’ viewpoint in Anglosphere academia has resigned her job after a sustained campaign of unlawful harassment. I draw two tentative conclusions:
1) This looks like a severe, even shocking, violation of academic freedom in its own terms, whether or not you think broader ‘cancel culture’ worries are overblown. In an earlier discussion on Daily Nous (https://dailynous.com/2020/07/09/illusion-agreement-debate-intolerance/), I suggested (and Justin Weinberg agreed) that people who think cancel culture isn’t that serious or prevalent an issue would do themselves a favor by unequivocally calling out actual cases of academic-freedom violations when they occur, even while arguing that they’re rare. I invite Justin, and others, to do so now.
2) As I note, Stock is probably the single UK/US academic most clearly identified with the gender-critical movement (or the trans-exclusionary movement if you prefer Justin’s term; my point doesn’t turn on how we label it). That she has (again: plausibly, defeasibly) quit her job partly as a result of coordinated and unlawful harassment seems rather to undermine the broader case against ‘cancel culture’ mattering. If 500 academics were making broadly-similar arguments at a broadly-similar level of visibility, and one of them gets targeted in this way, *maybe* you can argue that it’s not common enough to worry about. (I don’t agree, but I see the structure of the argument.) But if the mob comes for the most visible proponent of view X, it does rather support the inference that if you become a sufficiently visible proponent of view X, they’ll come for you too. I don’t believe skeptics of cancel culture argue in bad faith, so I invite them to consider the significance of this case for their thesis.Report
“This looks like a severe, even shocking, violation of academic freedom in its own terms…”
This is puzzling. What looks like the violation of academic freedom? Who’s guilty of the violation? Those who unlawfully harrased? Are you suggesting they coerced her to resign, and their coercion is the violation?Report
Sorry, that was a bit gnomic on reflection. Yes: I’m suggesting that (there is reasonable evidence that) those harassing Stock made her job sufficiently unpleasant and difficult as to force her to resign. As for who’s guilty of it: well, the harassers, definitely; possibly other institutional actors and individuals at various points who had obligations to try to prevent this and didn’t adequately do so. But I meant it more abstractly: a situation in which what an academic says leads to a sustained campaign of harassment against them is a situation where academic freedom isn’t being protected.
(There’s obviously a bit of a gray area between robust speech and harassment – and I’m on record as thinking that the Open Letter criticizing her OBE, for instance, was procedurally-legitimate politics – but I think there’s quite good reason to think that a lot of the way she has been treated on campus was way over the line, though it’s always difficult to be completely sure of the reporting in cases like this.)Report
Thanks for your response. The parenthetical at its beginning makes your claim more plausible. I’m glad you added it.
Regarding harassers: Making it unpleasant and difficult for someone to act in accord with a right isn’t necessarily to violate or deny the right. This holds even if the agents’ actions amount to illegal harassment. Whether their actions violated or denied Stock’s right rests on whether their actions forced the resignation. And this rests on Stock’s psychologal state when she resigned. We don’t know enough about her state, I’d bet.
“[A] situation in which what an academic says leads to a sustained campaign of harassment against them is a situation where academic freedom isn’t being protected.”
I guess you mean “adequately protected.” Still, I’m not sure I agree. Academic freedom does appear to be threatened. But even things adequately protected can be threatened. To say it isn’t protected seems a bit sensational.Report
if the right is a legal employment right, harassment does violate the right whether by superiors, colleagues, inferiors, or customers. At least in the US.Report
No, it would depend on the nature of the actions making it unpleasant and difficult.Report
Yes, but as far as I can tell, in the US, the inquiry as to unpleasant and difficult is objective, in that you do not need an inquiry into the employee’s psychological experience. Instead, you consider whether a reasonable person would have been pushed by the harassment to quit. Eg, https://www.law.cornell.edu/wex/constructive_discharge.
(I am not your lawyer, I am not Kathleen Stock’s lawyer, and I am armed only with now out of date experience and Google.)Report
I think there’s been a misunderstanding. Perhaps it began with J. Bogart. I’m not sure. I haven’t said that illegal harassment doesn’t necessarily violate legal rights. Nor have I said that for any right, making it unpleasant and difficult to act in accord with the right doesn’t necessarily violate the right. What I said was that it’s not the case that for any right, making it unpleasant and difficult to act in accord with the right necessarily violates the right. Nothing that has been said is contrary to this.
Perhaps you or J. Bogart believe that the law you cite applies in this particular resignation. Perhaps it does. How does that relate to academic freedom and the rights it generates?Report
“Adequately protected”, yes. It’s also possible that ‘violation’ isn’t exactly the right word to describe a situation where someone is harassed into resignation – I was writing in relative haste- but I don’t think the argument turns too much on that. Thanks for the response in any case.Report
I think the reason people are skeptical of the claims of harassment needs to be said: Stock has repeatedly claimed she was “harassed,” “defamed,” etc. by things that straightforwardly did not constitute harassment or defamation, and has in fact appeared to weaponize these accusations to try to shut down critical engagement.Report
In fairness I should probably elaborate. One of the few specific examples that Dr. Stock has offered of what she takes to be mistreatment is this:
Janice Turner in the Sunday Times:
“That an art historian who’d sat next to Stock at the last university open day tweeted support for her bullies [the student protesters] was no surprise. Two years ago when she was asked to give a lecture, graduate students organised a simultaneous talk to denounce her. ‘Forty faculty attended,’ she says. ‘I was very upset. I cancelled my lecture and went off sick with a breakdown.’ Through two years of threats, Stock has had no support from the University and College Union. Some union officers have sided with her tormentors.”
BBC’s The World Tonight:
BBC: She obviously says that latterly, the university has been supportive, and their statement clearly suggests support, but you are suggesting that they have been complicit in allowing her to be ostracized in the way that she had been in the last few years?
Selina Todd: Yes, absolutely. Kathleen has made complaints. I mean, this is all in the public domain. There was a recent New Statesman piece, which pointed out that Kathleen’s managers have been sending emails suggesting that her views are not ones that should be tolerated. She was due to give a seminar in her department, a rival seminar was set up so that a trans rights activist could speak at the same time, basically denouncing her. This kind of thing has gone on and on. And the fact is that bullies do not stop if they are given leeway.
The talk in question is mine; I am another academic philosopher—a grad student—not a “trans rights activist.” It was an academic talk about the role of academics in the gender critical movement. It was not a talk “denouncing” her, and was not individually focused on her. It is extremely unfortunate that Stock was apparently so distressed by it. But organizing alternative talks is a classic means of objecting to what someone is doing while respecting their academic freedom, and this is just what being engaged in an extremely controversial issue while academic freedom is operating well looks like. There is simply no way for a university to protect Stock from being upset by this kind of criticism without infringing on the academic freedom of others’—in this case, mine and the student organizers. My impression is that she did attempt to get the university to stop me from speaking; she has certainly publicly suggested that they should have.
It is very natural to approach someone’s grievances by looking for the real meat of the matter, and sort of forgetting things they say that actually don’t seem like a big deal. But I think—this is a general principle—it is actually extremely important to notice, and take seriously, when people present other people straightforwardly exercising their own rights as grievous wrongs against them that should not have been allowed.Report
Please correct me if I have the dates wrong, but Christa, I believe you delivered the talk on Friday, March 25, 2021, and Kathleen Stock did not speak publicly about it until July 28, 2021. I have been watching for two years as people in our profession built this bizarre caricature of who Kathleen is, portraying her as a monster, and as someone who exaggerates what happens to her for attention (hence, people are skeptical that she was even threatened). But waiting four months to even speak about the talk you gave is not the behavior of a histrionic person. If anything, she appears to have underplayed what happened, rather than overplayed it.Report
Genuinely no idea why the fact that she waited four months before publicly revealing she doesn’t think her critics should be allowed to speak is supposed to be redeeming. You have no basis for saying “she appears to have underplayed what happened.” Please stop making claims about me based on your imagination, as you have been asked before.
The student organizers were warned to familiarize themselves with the university’s conduct regulations, in particular that they were required to “demonstrate respect for faculty.” They were given the impression that they would be held responsible for anything I said. They were explicitly told it couldn’t be an “anti-Kathleen” talk. I was VERY concerned about getting them into trouble, so I reframed the talk from the gender critical movement in philosophy to the gender critical movement in academia so I’d have more high profile examples besides Dr. Stock. I expect someone was in attendance to report back on whether it was objectionably “anti-Kathleen.” It unambiguously wasn’t. No grievances were raised about the actual content of the talk.
This is pretty straightforward incursion on academic freedom. Professor Stock appears to think she was scandalously wronged by the university not doing more to prevent me from speaking, and is using it as one of few specific examples of her supposed mistreatment. I know, Molly, that you agree that I shouldn’t have been allowed to speak, but I hope others who seriously care about academic freedom rather than just being dedicated to promoting Dr. Stock’s politics might feel differently. It’s pretty straightforward what having principles here would look like.Report
Just one point of clarification–Christa, correct me if I’m wrong: I believe the talk in question, perhaps according to the emails announcing it (?), originally included in its title something about “anti-trans philosophy,” and it was clear to all that the talk was planned to conflict with a planned talk of Stock’s. There is no problem per se with scheduling a talk to conflict with another talk. But “anti-trans” is not equivalent to “gender critical,” unless we’re willing to beg a central question, so it seems to me you may be leaving some pertinent details out.
To be clear, I think you had then and have now and forever every right to speak wherever you wish, and that people have the right to invite you. But it’s misleading, I believe, to claim that what Kathleen was objecting to was simply your speaking, per se, or even speaking on gender critical feminism.Report
I should also say that even if you had delivered a talk titled “Why Stock’s Gender-Critical Femimism is Transphobic,” I would support your right to do so. And I wouldn’t judge that, alone, to constitute bullying or harassment. Perhaps I disagree with Stock here–I don’t know whether she thinks it was objectionable on it’s own or due it it’s being just one part of a years-long pattern.
My point here is just that we need to be very clear and accurate, given the circumstances (i.e., Stock having resigned). A talk described at one point as being about”anti-trans” philosophy (again, correct me if I got this fact wrong) should not be described as a talk about the much less normatively loaded topic of “gender-critical feminism.”Report
I don’t understand what you think is misleading. I think the gender critical movement is clearly anti-trans, I didn’t expect that position to need clarifying. The talk was about the gender critical movement in particular and not other kinds of anti-trans thought or politics. (What you’re referring to was never the title, just a description sent out by the organizers, if you think these details are somehow critical.) It is certainly true that I have a “years-long pattern” of engagement on this issue, as is normally the case for people giving talks.Report
I know you think the gender critical movement is anti-trans, but that’s the conclusion of an argument, not a premise.
What I believe to be misleading is your characterizing the talk solely in terms of it’s covering the “gender-critical movement,” when it was described as being about “anti trans philosophy,”–which description was available to Stock–and scheduled specifically to conflict with a talk of Stock’s, and understood by the organizers at Sussex to be directly relevant to–a response to–Stock’s views and work (perhaps among other people’s views as well).
Again, I support your right to speak your mind, though I disagree strongly with your views on these matters.Report
This is extremely piddling.Report
Easy to say when it’s not your job.Report
(1) “I know, Molly, that you agree that I shouldn’t have been allowed to speak… .” How could you know such a thing? I have never said that you shouldn’t have been allowed to speak, and that’s not my view.
(2) But even if it were my view, my objection to your being given a platform would not be what you say is a “pretty straightforward incursion on academic freedom,” if your objection to Stock’s being given a platform is not an incursion on academic freedom. Report
I took it to follow from the fact that Stock thinks I should have been stopped from speaking, and you think that her response was “if anything, an underreaction.” When I said “This is pretty straightforward incursion on academic freedom,” “this” referred to people at Sussex’s intervention to constrain the content of the talk, which I had just described. Report
Christa, could you please give us a quote from Stock in which she claims that you “should have been stopped from speaking” when you were simply trying to contribute to the discussion of the issue and not trying to defame or denounce her, run her out of a job, etc.?
So far, as I understand it, what you have presented us is a second-hand account that she said (four months after a talk you gave) that she found it upsetting that you had given a talk that was, to her mind at least, meant as a denunciation of her.
I don’t know what the talk was, so I have no opinion on whether your aim was to denounce her or not. But saying that one was upset by a talk that happened four months ago doesn’t seem to be at all on a par with organizing a sustained, on-campus campaign to get someone fired from her position. I for one think that your case needs much more support.Report
(3) “Please stop making claims about me based on your imagination, as you have been asked before.”
My claim that “she appears to have underplayed what happened” is a claim about Kathleen Stock, not a claim about you. Please remind me about any other instances in which I have made claims about you based on my imagination; I’m having trouble recalling such instances, and I don’t actually recall your having asked me to refrain from making such claims.Report
Molly, you were specifically asked—by others, not by me—to stop making baseless claims about the talk after you claimed the the topic was, bizarrely, “how awful Stock was”.Report
I find this amusing. What are the chances that your talk would be scheduled at the same time as hers? And a talk on that topic, no less? Yet we’re supposed to believe that this was
“unambiguously” not anti-Kathleen? Maybe the content of the talk wasn’t, explicitly, but the entire set up seems to be. To be clear, I don’t think anyone’s academic freedom is at stake here, but you should admit that this is obnoxious. It’s not just Stock objecting to the fact that you gave some talk somewhere, minding your own business. Of course she probably would comment on this. And if we take the idea of microaggressions at all seriously, then it seems to me that a number of obnoxious incidents like this really could add up to a hostile environment for Stock, independently of whether any criminal activity took place.Report
“organizing alternative talks is a classic means of objecting to what someone is doing while respecting their academic freedom”
literally my first post!Report
That doesn’t contradict what I just said.Report
Spencer, Christa’s point is that she was up front about it being intentional counter-scheduling. That isn’t a threat to academic freedom, it’s just a thing that people do sometimes. Go re-read Christa’s first two comments again, and notice that your “gotcha” is something she was pointing out explicitly.Report
“To be clear, I don’t think anyone’s academic freedom is at stake here…”Report
I was thrown by your suggestion that lots of events like that might constitute a “hostile environment” since the context of this discussion is about Stock being harassed or not? I guess I don’t know what point you are trying to make, but I guess your main point is that Christa’s talk was no threat to Stock’s academic freedom, and that you wanted to highlight some things Christa had already said about her talk!Report
It appears that my last reply wasn’t approved. Oh well. I’ll say one last thing and it will be my last comment here.
Just imagine how thing would look if right wingers employed similar tactics against a leftwing prof for holding left wing views. Really pause and imagine how you would react to that. I’d like to think that I would condemn it in the same terms, but who know, I’m biased like everybody else.
I strongly suspect that some of the people who are minimizing this would be using terms like “hostile environment” in that hypothetical. And by the way, it might not be a hypothetical for long. I’m sure that there are right wing extremists who are taking notice of the efficacy of this flavor of “direct action.”Report
I don’t know why Kathleen has resigned and what her plans for the future are. Maybe she has just had enough. But it’s a very sad day for Philosophy. The zealots celebrate their victory. “Ding dong, the witch is dead,” they cry, jubilant, because a brave, clear-headed and fair-minded woman, a true philosopher, has been successfully pressured into quitting her post. Shame on all those who have contributed to this outcome, including all those so-called philosophers who signed the open letter “concerning transphobia in Philosophy” in January this year.Report
I don’t think that the open letter contributed to this outcome significantly. The letter – I didn’t sign it, but I know people in my department who did – explicitly called for respecting her academic freedom in this matter (as it should have). It simply objected to her being honored for what amounts to political reasons having to do with her gender-critical views, on the basis that those views are wrong and harmful. I think if you meaningfully want to defend free speech and academic freedom, that includes the freedom to criticize others for how they use their speech in an online open letter.Report
Kathleen has been honoured for her “services to higher education”. The open letter objects to this on the grounds that her discourse contribute to various harms that trans people are supposedly subjected to in our society, “serving to restrict access to life-saving medical treatments, encourage the harassment of gender-non-conforming people, and otherwise reinforce the patriarchal status quo.” Without providing any evidence whatsoever, the signatories accuse Stock of engaging in “transphobic fear mongering” instead of “valuable scholarship” and of “using their academic status to further gender oppression” . This is not “criticism” and not an exercise of “academic freedom” because there is nothing academic about this letter. It is clearly defamatory, and the professed belief in academic freedom is disingenuous given how maliciously someone who has made use of it is being attacked in this instance. As to how significantly this letter has contributed to Stock’s resignation, I don’t know. But it must be very tough to be viciously attacked by hundreds of colleagues in this manner. Are you sure that this couldn’t happen to you? Perhaps because you would never say or write anything that could be construed as “wrong and harmful”?Report
Spot on! That letter was an intellectual and moral disgrace. It shows the level of venality that it is only defended by dissembling. Who on earth did these people think they were, targeting a colleague with unsubstantiated accusations?Report
It is really dangerous to adopt a rule where something only counts as an exercise of academic freedom if it passes someone’s content-based assessment for being ‘academic’. (Stock’s own critics have argued that her writing on gender is unacademic.)Report
Well, it seems to me, David, that there is a difference between ‘freedom of speech’ and ‘academic freedom’. Academic freedom is the right to pursue knowledge and understanding through research, finding evidence, and providing arguments. When I slur someone, I may be exercising my freedom of speech, but I am not exercising academic freedom. That is the difference between Stock and her accusers. She does provide arguments, and she does so in good faith. Those who attack her often don’t. And that letter is a good example of that practice. But I get your point.Report
I think the point is that academic freedom includes the freedom of academics to speak out on areas of public concern, and that protecting that freedom requires a general principle that “extramural speech”, to use the US term, is protected. A narrower principle, e.g. that only ‘academic’ public speech is protected, would be too easily abused and wouldn’t offer a sufficiently robust shield. (e.g., some of Stock’s critics dispute the claim that she’s arguing in good faith.)
That said, in these public-facing contexts I’m not sure the gap between academic freedom and general freedom of speech is that wide. (And UK law instructs universities to protect both.)Report
I can’t help but feel like there’s a double standard you’re applying here because you sympathize with Professor Stock’s* views here and not the views of the participants. I think saying that someone’s position is transphobic is indeed a form of criticism: it is to say that her views she’s defended as part of her political activism (not even as part of her academic research, note) are wrong and harmful. That is criticism, whether you like it or not. Sharp criticism, yes, but criticism.
I take it you’re applying stricter standards here. What would count as criticism protected by academic freedom? Would it be something, maybe, devoid of any negative normative terms used to describe someone else’s view? If so, then the objection seems to be to tone and not to content (but it’s not like the letter seeps hatred, just opposition – unless you’re already looking for the hatred, I suppose). But I doubt we should base what counts as protected by academic freedom and what doesn’t on the tone, and in any case many of the most relevant of Professor Stock’s writings (her twitter posts, to be fair, more than her longform works) will become non-academic under that view. So is it something else that pushes the letter from academic to non-academic?
I am not at all confident that such a thing couldn’t happen to me. I know I hold controversial views on some political topics that could be cause for sharp criticism from the most progressive corners of the profession. But I would welcome sharp criticism as another expression of academic freedom, if it did not attempt to take mine away, which the letter categorically does not.
(*NB: I feel a little weird about calling her Kathleen, since I don’t know her personally and she is a senior academic. Sorry if this comes off a tad formal.)Report
Does anyone have practical suggestions about what those of us who are want to protect academic freedom should do?Report
Back in March, I considered a hypothetical quite like what happened at Sussex:
I made an observation about how such events relate to efforts to protect and promote academic freedom:
I then made a suggestion in light of this:
You can read the full post and many criticisms of it here.Report
I tried to start a discussion of what can be done in the classroom here. I’m curious if others think this is part of the solution (it wouldn’t be sufficient to address the things that have happened to Prof. Stock, obviously, but I think it’s part of how we can use our positions to impart understanding of the value of both free expression and inclusion).Report
“Were the efforts to defend academic freedom combined with a demonstration of an understanding of the students’ substantive complaint, maybe even a sympathetic understanding of it, that might counter their feelings of dismissal or disrespect. It might reduce the extent to which the students take those opposing their remedy to be ideological enemies, or ignorant, and might lower the risk that they come to see academic freedom as the problem…”
While it is difficult to disagree in general with the idea that dialogue works best if one demonstrates sympathetic understanding and respect, the point here seems to obscure the situation at hand. Those feeling offense here were not seeking understanding or dialogue or debate. They wanted erasure and expulsion. And sadly, they won. If the situation were reversed and a trans professor were harrassed for their nonconventional views and run out of town we would be all up in arms.
Imagine a christian or christian community being ‘offended’ by the teaching or writings of an evolutionary biologist and protesting and wanting him/her writings banned and her fired from the school she works at. Should we blame them for not being sufficiently apologetic or sympathetic? This likely has happened somewhere in our country. The current case is as objectionable as that one is. Report
This is basically the response I and a number of others had to Justin’s proposal in the discussion he links to; I still think it’s correct, though there were some interesting points raised in the discussion. (It’s actually quite a good discussion, worth reading if you haven’t already.)Report
Brilliant, Leslie Glazer.Report
 Support the work of the Academic Freedom Alliance (AFA) and of The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) and, usually, the AAUP.
 Defend robust academic freedom in public fora (large and small, real and virtual), even for those whose work/speech you find misguided or offensive. This can be difficult in the current climate but I think it helps others stand up if they see that they are not alone.Report
Worth noting that the (I think great) organizations listed here are US. In the UK, I’m out of date and others certainly know more, but my suggestions would be
(i) if you’re in UCU, support academic freedom motions (UCU seems to be having internal schisms about this);
(ii) if you’re a U.K.-based philosopher or legal academic, there are what seem to be good open letters in support of Stock to sign;
(iii) depending on your assessment of your university’s politics, maybe write to your V-C;
(iv) depending on your reading of current U.K. politics, maybe write to your MP.Report
Veronica Ivy (formerly “Rachel McKinnon”), one of the most outspoken participants in the closest thing philosophy has to the US’s “culture war”, resigned her academic position.
Kathleen Stock, one of the most outspoken participants in the closest thing philosophy has to the US’s “culture war”, resigned her academic position.
Maybe the lesson here has less to do with academic freedom than it does the exhausting effects of being an outspoken participant in a culture war.Report
That isn’t the conclusion that I’d draw. A lot of their exhaustion is self-inflicted.Report
Hang on a minute. Let’s compare the two cases.
Veronica Ivy quit and tweeted about it, publicly posting a performance review that was encouraging in some ways but called Ivy out for failing to engage in any of the expected service or even attending a single department meeting or other event.
Kathleen Stock resigned after an anonymous group of activists harassed her to the point where the police advised her to install cameras at her own home for safety, and to only travel around her campus with a bodyguard. Members of this mob also put up posters across campus calling for Stock to be sacked.
As far as I know, there was no such sustained campaign against Ivy, or even any campaign at all. If Ivy had been attacked and harassed for holding the ‘wrong’ views, the comparison would be helpful; but I don’t know how it helps us draw a conclusion here.
Also, what is this conclusion here? That academics should not be outspoken participants in culture wars? If you apply that moral fairly to _both_ sides, then it seems that anyone working on social justice issues should also fall silent or at least refrain from taking any public position on such matters. Your principle would then lead to a far greater silencing of the social justice left than to any of its critics on the left or right. Or do you mean to recommend that only the critics of these movements silence themselves?Report
This is a terrible story for Stock and the people close to her. But for every Kathleen Stock, there are countless others we never hear about who lack her prominence and daring and who are cowed or pushed out of their jobs in silence and shame. And for all those people, there are many others who learn the prudential lesson and resolve not to go anywhere near any such topics (or, more often, to make public declarations on the ‘preferred’ side of such issues). As others have said here, the harm to philosophy as a whole, and to public discourse on this topic and untold topics to come, is vast.
Whatever one thinks of Stock’s views and arguments, she has the integrity to make what she must have known would be a sacrifice of her own tranquility by refusing to back down. It was a sacrifice of her own interests for something greater: for the defense of robust and open discourse, which it is our job as philosophers to support.
I hope that her sacrifice will not be in vain. At least, I hope that the harassment she had to deal with for arguing her side of the case will help put an end to the strange denialism that has continued to weaken the attention we really ought to give to the threats to intellectual liberalism, particularly in the academy.
True, acknowledging that this is going on doesn’t settle everything. There are still some painfully short-sighted people who will say, “Well, she got a number of people quite angry at her, saying what she did, and I don’t much agree with her views anyway, so good riddance to her. I’m sure that, now that the campaign to harass her out of a job has succeeded, the mob will go home and stop bothering people, and those of us who survived can just go back to work.” Yes, there really seem to be people among us so dull as to think that this will be the result, and that the mob won’t just be strengthened and emboldened with each purging, and who won’t understand that the next step of that mob is always to catch whoever is slowest at running from them in whatever direction they designate next. There is no safety from these people — less and less of it, actually — so long as we accept the harassment of our colleagues as business as usual. What side of which issue we find ourselves on is irrelevant. A mobbing of any one of us has to be seen as a threat against us all, or else mobbing will become a winning strategy (much easier and more exhilarating than reasoning things through, after all) and we all lose both as individuals and as keepers of the philosophical flame.
Then there are others who see the threat and welcome it, looking forward to the day when the mob, finding more and more arcane grounds for destroying people (as they must when we all run like cowards from whatever views or practices they shake their weapons at), turns on them, too. Better that they should be turned in to the Thought Police by their own children for saying ‘Down with Big Brother’ in their sleep, they think, than that their Thoughtcrimes should put the Party in jeopardy.
Such people exist in the profession. But I can’t believe that they constitute a sizable majority. Most of us are, I presume, awake, reflective, and non-fanatical. The question for us, then, is: how have things got to this point, and what shall we do about it?
I see that the second question is already being addressed elsewhere on this page, so I’ll take the first a little further. Why was this allowed to happen? Where were the professional organizations that should have rushed in and put pressure on the university to deal with this quickly and vigorously? That things were allowed to go so far is scandalous.
I realize that this took place in the UK, outside of the APA’s jurisdiction; but I can’t imagine that the APA would have done much about this if it had happened in the US. Similar things can, and I strongly suspect will, happen on this side of the Atlantic before long. What we need is a professional organization that we can trust to protect the academic freedom of all of us. When half the conversation cannot be heard because it’s intimidated into silence, the rest of that conversation becomes unreliable, and the institutions that are entrusted to examine and judge become mere tools for groupthink and propaganda. Without strong interlocutors, our own work becomes useless. But where was the outcry and action from professional organizations in Stock’s case all these years?
And how have we in the United States got to the point where our professional organizations, far from protecting academic freedom for us all, seem to largely pursue the same sociopolitical policies as our employers?Report
Justin raises a good question: if Kathleen Stock had been at a US university, would the APA have spoken out in her defence? If she had been at a Canadian university, would the CPA spoken out? I have little confidence that either organization would have done so but would be glad to be proven wrong.Report
I actually brought this up at a Heads of Department meeting of the British Philosophical Association last week, but they weren’t interested to pursue this and make a statement. I had the impression that there is too much fear to cause offence.Report
That is disheartening.Report
That is appalling to hear, Michael. I think people in the UK should take this up with their HoDs. I will.Report
Since it seems that the APA, the CPA, and the BPA are too afraid to do one of the main things we presumably ought to expect them to do — that is, stand up for their members and for the integrity and interests of the discipline as a whole — then it seems we need some other approaches here.
1. First thing: we need a serious and robust organization that will do something in cases like this. As I suggested before, when a campaign of harassment like this succeeds, the mob of harassers tends to become emboldened in going after other targets, and other would-be mobs start to get ideas. We need a professional organization that will take this sort of thing very seriously, and — most important — that universities will fear at least as much as a mob. Most high-level university bureaucrats seem to care little if at all about the integrity of academic inquiry, and therefore tend to find it an easy choice when the threat on one side is bad press at the hands of a loud mob and no PR disaster seems to loom if they enable or even join the mob in its harassment of its intended victim. For cases where the administration only recognizes the authority of power, we need professional organizations that will threaten to hit the universities where it hurts them if they don’t stand up for their faculty when they do their jobs. A professional organization doesn’t need to take a stand on substantive issues like the Gender Recognition Act, nor should it. Its message should be a simple one: discrimination against any member of the academic community on the basis of his or her viewpoint is unacceptable and will not be tolerated. The threat of a statement from a professional organization denouncing colleges and universities that allow this sort of harassment, sent to the mass media if the institution will not comply, would presumably go some way to keeping these bad actors within the administration in line.
Joel Pust mentions two excellent organizations: the Academic Freedom Alliance and the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education. It would be best for us philosophers to have a professional association that can be counted on to stand up for us. If the APA (or CPA or BPA) won’t provide that, then it seems it’s time either to vote in new people or form a new professional association that will do its job properly. While we work on bringing that about, it seems best for us to support and join the more general organizations of the kind Pust mentions, and possibly some others. We now know that appealing to the personal integrity of administrators tends to do nothing to protect our academic freedom. Having at our back some serious organizations who would bring bad publicity and possibly a lawsuit against any employers who enable or support harassers against us can give us more security in properly doing our jobs. And if enough of us join and administrators come to see that the harassing mobs aren’t the only ones in the game with some teeth, they might just remember their duties of maintaining academic freedom and the safety of the faculty.
2. Perhaps another tack could involve a stronger demand for viewpoint diversity in conferences, anthologies, panels, and departments. Stock seems to have become the target of harassment because of her views on the UK’s Gender Recognition Act. The British public and intellectuals presumably have a clear interest in hearing the rights and wrongs of the GRA hashed out by philosophically informed people who have taken the time to study it. But the whole point of the process is to see how the ideas on both sides fare against the opposition. If we allow one side of the debate to be harassed into silence or even out of a job, then what remains is no longer a proper dialectical process and bears none of the special status it claims for itself. The views and arguments of the other side, now robbed of the refining help of any opposition, will quickly and inevitably weaken, and it’s not clear why they should be presumed to have any philosophical merit at all. If we take this seriously, we should stop attending one-sided panels or conferences, and *stop allowing contributions to one-sided debates to count as serious academic work*. If enough of us, as individuals and department members, could put such a norm in place, those who wish to argue in print *for* such things as the GRA would need to have a Kathleen Stock around in order for their work to be counted as having any merit. Setting up professional norms and expectations like this would force philosophers with socially dominant views to feel the importance of their most robust interlocutors, and help bring us back to healthy dialectical practices. The more of us who vote with our feet on these things and explain the reasons, and the more who question the philosophical merits of courses or reading groups that consider only one side of the issues they engage with, the less vulnerable our discipline will be to ideological triumph by harassment and intimidation.
That’s a start!Report
The APA in fact fired an grad student editor of their blog for too strongly criticizing Stock, so if you think “defending academic freedom” means “shutting down criticism of senior academics,” you should have confidence.Report
It’s par for the course in philosophy that we should criticize each other’s positions and arguments. If a grad student was fired from his position (which didn’t seem to happen) or *removed from a position hosting a blog* for arguing against Stock’s views or objecting to her arguments in philosophically legitimate ways, then that is wrong and I oppose it.
On the other hand, attacking *members of the profession* rather than their views, or smearing people as a way of trying to undermine support for their views or arguments, is just bad practice. If the person you have in mind couldn’t keep things on a professional level and degraded the level of discussion by making personal attacks against a colleague in a context that was meant to be philosophical, then that’s quite different.Report
It is a comforting idea that we can separate discussions of ideas from discussions of people, but it is somewhat utopian and the distinction is not always straightforward to make.
Some philosophers may think of themselves as austerely debating ideas, but the people whose lives are directly affected by these ideas might feel attacked as people. Moreso if these philosophers are also engaged in direct political advocacy with the purpose of worsening (at least subjectively) these same people’s lives.
From the political sphere, we are also familiar with demands for consequences on a personal level. Say, calls for resignation of public figures in response to a real or perceived moral failure.
I do believe that this is in part the reason why there is so much vitriol here. Both “sides” think that their personal existences are directly affected by the political advocacy of their opponents, whereas both “sides” also think of themselves as just doing theory that does not deserve the personalised counteradvocacy of their opponent.
Stock’s critics have claimed to have responded academically to her ideas. Stock has claimed that these responses are themselves personal attacks. Who is right?
We will have a difference of opinions which “side” is more (or at all) engaged in honest scholarship. But a simple call for “just attacking views” is something that everybody and nobody will agree on.Report
The distinction seems fairly straightforward to me. I don’t find Justin Kalef’s analogy helpful, so here is an analogy that I like better. Suppose a philosopher argues that the Christian God, if it existed, must necessarily be an evil God who acts on morally unsound motives. Many Christians may understandably be deeply offended by this argument. It may feel to them like a kick in the guts that denies a fundamental aspect of who they are (the creation of a benevolent God). But this is no reason against any philosopher making this argument. As Justin says, those who are offended by the argument are free to ignore it and work on other topics, and if they find it unconscionable to be in a discipline that would allow such arguments then philosophy is not really for them.
Now suppose that the philosopher who argues that the Christian God is evil is responding to critics and that she personally attacks one of her critics calling them a fool and a coward who only makes the arguments they do because they are scared to face up to reality. This attack is unacceptable and runs contrary to the professional norms on how philosopher should conduct themselves in arguments.
So far, so good. But the more difficult case that is sometimes brought up is the following. Suppose that, rather than attacking any individual personally, the “God is evil” philosopher instead argues as follows: “Given that I have established my conclusion against my critics, I now want to speculate on why people who oppose my thesis are motivated to argue for this false claim. The best account of their motives is that they have an irrational fear…”. Where does this kind of argument stand? I think there are a few points to make here:
(1) Professional norms will be violated if unnecessary emotively-loaded language is used. There is a difference between “they possess an irrational fear” and “they are cowards and a fools”.
(2) Professional norms will be violated if the thesis is targeted at a specific group of critics as opposed to any one in the abstract who holds a particular position. Thus there is a different between “the five people who have written critical replies to my argument are motivated by …” and “the behavior of people who use arguments of this kind to oppose this particular thesis is best explained as being motivated by …”
(3) In many/most cases of this kind, the question of what motives people to oppose a certain thesis is an empirical, psychological question, and not a philosophical question. Therefore, although academic speculation on the relevant motives is acceptable in principle, a philosopher giving empirically uninformed argument for a claim which they lack the professional expertise to adequately assess will be violating the relevant professional norms.
(4) In making arguments about the motives of critics, it is important to make it clear that the argument is not intended as an ad hominem and that the argument does not beg the question about the more controversial claim under dispute. On the second, there is a difference between “The critics conclusion is false, therefore their motive is probably …” and “Assuming that the critics conclusion is false, their motive is best explained as ..”. On the first, a statement like “That this motive may best explain their actions, on the assumption that their conclusion is false, is no reason for actually doubting the plausibility of their argument for that conclusion”.
Given these points, I can see some narrow circumstances in which this kind of argument to the motivation of critics is acceptable. It would have to avoid emotively-loaded language, only refer to those in the abstract holding a certain position, be an appropriate target for a philosophical argument (as opposed to solely a matter for empirical psychology), avoid any question begging of the broader thesis under contention, and be clearly presented as not an ad hominem. Even when these conditions are met, I think that it is often pragmatically a bad idea for philosophers to make arguments about what might be motivating their critics. But at least in principle, such arguments can be acceptable when the relevant conditions are met.Report
Members of the profession themselves often deserve to be criticized, not merely their views. It is difficult to lay down general principles for when personal criticism is appropriate. And reasonable people will disagree about reasonable principles. It is probably best to prepare to be criticized at any time and public place than to incessantly insist that others subscribe to your view of what’s appropriate.Report
There’s an important point here that I don’t think receives adequate attention. These comments underscore it.
We who make our careers in academia are like lawyers who argue for or against certain views. The important thing is to do so with integrity and by following the right rules. We need the critics on the other side to make what we do legitimate.
Imagine that Smith and Jones are lawyers who often cross swords in the courtroom. Smith is a prosecutor and Jones is a defense attorney. Both their contributions are needed for the legal process to be fair. They may argue forcefully against one another, but it is not part of proper courtroom practice for them to defame one another as part of the giving of their arguments. If either tries that, the judge should rightly stop them from doing that.
Now, what if Jones says, “Smith keeps trying to show that these accused people are guilty. That is not only wrong, but it is personally harmful to me. The mere claim that they are guilty is an assault on my very existence as a human being. Therefore, Smith must be barred from entering the courtroom, and we must have the rest of the trials without anyone from the prosecutor’s office present”?
Well, that would simply show that Jones doesn’t have the first clue about how the law works. If Jones can’t handle hearing the things that Smith has to say in support of the accused people being guilty, then Jones shouldn’t be forced to: Jones is welcome to give up law or work on other sorts of cases instead. But the whole point of the trial is to have a fair hearing of both sides of the issues in question. Without the prosecution’s arguments and evidence, or without the defense’s arguments and evidence, the court becomes a joke, and its rulings become pointless. Again: to fail to understand this is to fail to understand the entire purpose of the legal process.
Does that mean that Jones never has a basis for complaining about Smith? No: it is possible that, *quite apart from* the fact that Smith makes legal arguments that Jones objects to, Smith has done something deeply unprofessional. In that case, Jones may present evidence of Smith’s wrongdoing to the appropriate authority. But that is not a move within the freedom granted to lawyers by the courts in order to argue their cases. It’s something else.
Similarly, if Stock had done something unprofessional, then the evidence could be brought to a relevant authority who could make the determination on whether to hold a fair hearing on Stock’s alleged misconduct. But presenting that evidence to the relevant authority is not part of the special freedom of inquiry that is particular to academia.
Conversely, people who try to shut down what Stock says on the issue because they are deeply upset by the view that their ideas or self-image might be called into question, or that they might be uncomfortable thereby just show that they either don’t understand the purpose of academic inquiry, or that they don’t think that these issues fall under the purview of academic inquiry (in which case they owe us an explanation of why they shouldn’t, and they thereby also rob anything on the other side of the issues of any academic justification, which would be awfully destructive to their own ends).
Philosophy is not for everyone, but there is plenty of room within philosophy to discuss the things one is interested in debating while avoiding discussions one is not interested in debating. If some people are so constituted that they cannot, even with effort, handle staying in philosophy so long as there are others in the discipline whose philosophical views they find deeply unacceptable, and we decide that the thing to do is to cater to those people by throwing out whomever they point their fingers at, I don’t see how anyone could miss the looming disaster we would thereby invite.Report
“There’s an important point here that I don’t think receives adequate attention. These comments underscore it.”
You’ve replied to your own comment. Are your own comments under discussion here? If not, then whose are?Report
With respect, I don’t think that this analogy does much to respond to either me or Jen, since it is evident that both sides believe that the other has significantly violated the norms of how we as philosophers have debates.
To stick to your simile:
Smith, the prosecutor, makes his opening statement and Jones, the defense attorney, responds.
Smith claims that Jones’s response is itself constituting misconduct, as he takes it to be an attack on him personally. Jones, for his part, claims that Smith’s claim is itself constituting misconduct. Jones’s and his “team” claim that this misconduct demonstrates that Smith must recuse himself.
In a proper courtroom there would be mechanisms to settle this matter (in particular the presiding judge). Insofar as philosophy has similar mechanisms, by opinion on the practicing philosophers and their collective effort to uphold the norms, the judges are split on the issue.Report
In line with your legal analogy, here’s a claim to adjudicate: philosophy attracts foolish knuckleheads who should be asked to leave the profession. Suppose I provide some evidence: I cite some of your commentary, and add that it often is unclear and incorrectly attributes views to people. I then argue that your behavior tends to demonstrate that you are foolish, unworthy of any serious person’s attention, and should be asked to leave the profession. I then do the same with others. Would I thereby have shown that I don’t have the first clue about how philosophy works, because I criticize members of the profession in providing my argument? Would it be appropriate to criticize you and the others in such a scenario? And would you be so upset by this that you try to shut down what I am saying?Report
Jen, you write: “In line with your legal analogy, here’s a claim to adjudicate: philosophy attracts foolish knuckleheads who should be asked to leave the profession. Suppose I provide some evidence: I cite some of your commentary, and add that it often is unclear and incorrectly attributes views to people. I then argue that your behavior tends to demonstrate that you are foolish, unworthy of any serious person’s attention, and should be asked to leave the profession. I then do the same with others. Would I thereby have shown that I don’t have the first clue about how philosophy works?”
Well, let’s start with the sort of claims you’d then be defending. It begins with a sociological one (‘Philosophy attracts foolish knuckleheads’) and then moves on to one about academic policy (‘they should be asked to leave the profession’). It seems doubtful that these are properly philosophical, especially the first one; moreover, the ‘foolish knuckleheads claim’ and the support given for it are high on empty rhetoric and low on any apparent intellectual value. It’s hard to see what genuinely academic issue you’d be supporting there.
But your question is whether you’d thereby have shown that you don’t have the first clue about how philosophy works. I don’t think so, but I never said anything like that. What I said, quite clearly (though I acknowledge your indication that you have a hard time making out what I’m saying), was that people who think it’s legitimate to try to throw their interlocutors out of the profession on the grounds that they find their interlocutors’ views deeply objectionable don’t understand the nature or purpose of academic inquiry.
What you said has nothing to do with this and, I’m afraid, it misses the point entirely.Report
“But your question is whether you’d thereby have shown that you don’t have the first clue about how philosophy works. I don’t think so, but I never said anything like that.”
It looks as if you have trouble understanding your own writing. After writing of Jones’s criticizing Smith’s behavior and of his advocating for Smith’s being barred from the courtroom in an attempt to practice law, you wrote: “Well, that would simply show that Jones doesn’t have the first clue about how the law works.”Report
Jen, it would show that because courtroom law fundamentally depends on both sides being allowed in to present their cases without hindrance. Anyone who argued that one side shouldn’t be able to present its case because that itself was objectionable would, indeed, fail to understand even the rudiments of courtroom practice.
I may choose to continue this discussion with you if you stop your smart-alecky comments (like ‘it looks as if you have trouble understanding your own writing’). They may make you feel masterful, but they have quite a different effect on at least some others. If you want the benefit of further responses, please clean up your act.Report
“What I said, quite clearly (though I acknowledge your indication that you have a hard time making out what I’m saying), was…”
My “smart-aleky” comment was simply to point out the obvious, like your comment in the quotation above.Report
Contrary to what you say, what I said doesn’t entirely miss the point. Your point concerns the propriety of criticizing members of the profession and advocating for people to leave the profession. So does my hypothetical scenario and the questions that followed.
And you still haven’t answered my question. Would my criticizing you and advocating for you to leave the profession be appropriate in the hypothetical scenario I described?Report
Asked and answered.Report
I don’t understand.Report
I think he is making a law joke. It is an objection that your question has been answered. Overruled.Report
Only an intellectual coward would advocate for his or her interlocutors to leave the profession on the grounds that the opposing view they hold is psychologically intolerable to him or her.
Moreover, going about things in that bullying sort of way betrays a lack of basic comprehension of the philosophical or, more broadly, academic enterprise. That enterprise rests on people responding to opposing ideas with arguments and evidence, not with character assassination.
Even in extreme cases where someone can no longer be trusted to hold an academic position, I’d be opposed to drumming the person out of conversations in which he or she were willing to offer arguments and evidence. If Hannibal Lecter or Adolf Hitler were imprisoned and wanted to engage in philosophical reasoning with others, I’d be in favor of it. That’s vastly more extreme than anything being discussed here, but perhaps it will help make clear how little I think remarks about an interlocutor’s character are relevant.
It is always much easier to give vent to personal antagonism and throw mud at people than to think things through and reason carefully. Those who lack the ability to think carefully will be particularly drawn to the character-assassination-and-banishment move partly for this reason: they may feel they can’t do any better. But that is not philosophy, and it is antithetical to philosophy.
So, no, I don’t think that criticizing someone and trying to get him or her drummed out of the profession and conversation is appropriate in the case you mention or in nearly all other cases where the target is willing to argue rather than throw mud. I think it is a sign of bad character and weak devotion to philosophy.
And with that, I will probably end this philosophical exchange. Others are of course welcome to continue engaging with you if they choose to.Report
You wrote: “The important thing is to do so with integrity and by following the right rules. We need the critics on the other side to make what we do legitimate.”
If X person refuses to submit and publish in academic journals and instead mostly or solely publishes in Medium articles and rants on Twitter, are they following the right rules? For one, publishing in Medium or other non-academic venues/presses means the academic has freed themself from the burdens of peer-review in which academics are expected to do if they want to publish scholarly works.
The Journal of Controversial Ideas exists and allows academics to publish pseudonymously, so one cannot argue that academics are being prevented from submitting or publishing controversial ideas at the peer-review stage.Report
As I see it, it’s entirely appropriate for academics to comment publicly on matters of popular concern in which they take an interest.
If you don’t think that that is true, then no academics should have made any public claims about, say, the ‘bathroom bills’, immigration reform, gay marriage, etc. We would be living in a very different world if there were such a norm.
Moreover, when they do that, I think we all generally agree (don’t we?) that the university should never permit students and others to try to drive them out of their jobs for saying these things. For instance, a number of academics spoke publicly in favor of gay marriage when it was a contested issue twenty years ago. I think we all agree that, if some people were deeply offended by that and held that those views threatened the very existence of an essentially sacred institution, and therefore threatened the pro-gay-marriage professors and called upon them to be sacked, the university ought to have stood strongly against this. I take it we all agree, as well, that the rest of the philosophical community would have owed it to them to stand up for their ability to speak freely, also. The same goes here.
Perhaps your idea is that academics may only make public statements about matters they have also argued for in peer-reviewed academic journals. That seems to be a strange constraint, and I doubt it was generally followed by those who have spoken out about abortion, gay marriage, the Black Lives Matter organization, etc. But beyond that, it seems a tall order. True, there is *one* noteworthy journal that has so far had a single edition and will probably have another in a year or two, and perhaps one or two articles there will cover trans issues. Meanwhile, those on the other side from Stock have countless opportunities for publication. Such a proposal would make one’s ability to speak publicly as an academic a hostage to sociopolitical trends within academia. I don’t think that’s good for anyone over the long term.Report
You didn’t quite answer my question. I said refused to publish their arguments in academic journals. I don’t have anything against private accounts like Medium or Twitter per se. I don’t think it should be illegal to publish some arguments/commentary in non-academic venues.
But is it abiding by the “right rules” if an academic mostly or solely publishes their research/arguments in non-academic places like Medium?Report
Hi, Evan. I don’t know what to make of your “refused to publish their arguments in academic journals.” Do you mean that the journals offer to publish the arguments but the people in question say that they are unwilling to have them published there?
I’m in favor of open discussion of issues of genuine public interest, especially on general issues. This doesn’t generally include gossipy things like ‘Is Joe Blow an asshole?’, which don’t generally strike me as the sorts of things we ought to spend a lot of time discussing (if Joe Blow is really terrible, then maybe something should be done about that; but I tend to think we’re better off settling those things in more private settings).
I don’t mind all that much whether someone has or hasn’t published things in academic journals, for the reasons I’ve already given.Report
Stock has published in academic journals, and on topics relevant to the current one. She has a paper on sexual orientation that argues for the view that sexual orientation is directed at sex characteristics rather than something else, like the gender someone says they are.
Incredibly, some people deny this.
She’s also published on sexual objectification.Report
But if an academic publishes in non-academic places we should be extra critical/cautious since many or most people don’t know how to interpret and assess data or certain empirical claims. Nor does every public reader know about the literature on the topic that the author significantly failed (intentionally or unintentionally) to engage with.
I do think we have some responsibility to inform the public about the problems/cons of reading non-academic/non-peer-reviewed articles.Report
Is there some reason why that problem is more salient in the case of Stock’s writing than it is in the case of academics writing about climate change, the pandemic, the Trump presidency, racial injustice, abortion, and so on?Report
I never mentioned Stock. Though she is one amongst many who published a lot in non-academic venues on a particular topic. It could be applied to any academic. To be fair to other non-philosophy academics, they probably don’t know that they could actually publish a social argument about x topic in an academic journal.
For example, Dorian Abbot’s recent argument about education could have been submitted in the Journal of Philosophy of Education or something similar. He could have also benefitted from the rich literature on philosophy of education that already engaged with and criticized his position. But I’m assuming he doesn’t know it exists.
And this is why I think it’s important to raise awareness of the literature and journals of certain topics that exist so that academics or others won’t keep making the same mistakes. This is similar to Daniel Dennett’s take on the value of philosophy. Maybe I just know too much.
Interesting, Evan; but I’m not sure I see where you’re going with all this. Is your conclusion that it’s defensible for Stock to have been treated as she was because of where she chose to discuss what she discussed? I don’t see how any of what you said gets us there. Or is your point simply that the world would be a better place if people knew that they could publish things in more academic journals than they might presume? That seems pretty innocuous, but I’m not sure how it relates to the topic.Report
I realize that you had your reasons for not allowing comments on your October 8 post, but it feels so futile now to say anything at all. The time to speak up was earlier.Report
It is depressing and embarassing how many of the commentators here seem to take at fact value Stock’s claims that it is her intellectual views and not her actions, specifically her treatment of students, that underlay the calls for disciplinary action against her. Grace Lavery (Berkeley English Prof) has documented some of the most prominent cases from the last 2-3 years on twitter if this is news to you.
Moreover, there seems to be a remarkable lack of concern for the academic freedom of people other than Stock. Students asserting, and arguing for, the view that Stock’s claims about trans people are transphobic are engaging in academic speech, but apparently when they do it it is harassment. Stock has repeatedly complained that another philosopher giving a talk in which they criticised gender critical views was “bullying” her. Academic freedom for me but not for thee seems to be her modus operandus.
Anyone who cares about academic freedom for everyone, rather than seeing it as a perk priviledged senior scholars get to use to avoid being critcised, might check out https://www.academicfreedomforall.com/Report
“Moreover, there seems to be a remarkable lack of concern for the academic freedom of people other than Stock. Students asserting, and arguing for, the view that Stock’s claims about trans people are transphobic are engaging in academic speech, but apparently when they do it it is harassment.”
Right, because if someone refers to harassment in this case, they must be talking about academic speech, not merely the actual harassment.Report
The next sentence was important, I think.Report
The sentence you quote makes an addition to the objects of criticism that Wyatt’s first sentence picks out.Report
It is not simply Stock claiming that “it is her intellectual views and not her actions, specifically her treatment of students, that underlay the calls for disciplinary action against her.” It is also Grace Lavery making exactly the same claims.
Here is a direct quote from Grace Lavery on Twitter: “[S]tudents considered two aspects of Prof. Stock’s conduct grounds for protest: first, her trusteeship of the LGB Alliance, and second her signature to the Women’s Declaration of Sex-Based Rights.”
I have read Lavery’s thread about interactions between Stock and these students (most of whom do not appear to be students of Kathleen Stock, herself). I grant that this is something Lavery thinks is important. But it is not something that the students calling for Stock’s dismissal appealed to.Report
Exactly right, Molly. If you read the letter the protesters wrote, which I’ve attached (or tried to attach) it’s easy to see they don’t merely voice objections to Stock’s being a trustee of a group and, moreover, they don’t mention the Women’s Declaration of Sex-Based Rights (which really is worth reading) at all. This isn’t the first time Lavery has advanced claims that aren’t exactly true.Report
Here’s what I take to be the straightforward view on the academic freedom issue, Nicole Wyatt. And it’s the view that I hold. Anyone within academia should be free to argue for or against the Gender Recognition Act, and doing either one of these things should not be grounds for calls for someone to be fired, or for harassment, etc.
Now, you say that Stock’s practice was, in effect, “Academic freedom for me, but not for thee.” I take it that you’re saying that, just as some people harassed and threatened Stock and tried to get her de-platform and drive her out of her job, Stock in turn harassed and threatened other people and tried to drive them out of their own jobs and silence them.
Is that what you’re saying? If so, could you please provide evidence to support these claims? If not, then I’m not sure what the hypocrisy is meant to be.Report
What I was saying was that over a number of years, numerous people responded to Stock’s views by offering philosophical criticism of them, or by offering political criticism (e.g. saying xyz is likely to create a climate in which others feel licensed to harass trans people), or yes, by calling her a bigot, and Stock has responded by claiming harassment and claiming that they are trying to get her to shut up and/or trying to get her fired.
For example, when Talia Bettcher wrote an extensive article critiquing Stock’s own writings on trans issues — that is, when Bettcher engaged philosophically with Stock — Stock described it as “a collection of words whose function is to induce shame in the target and thereby stop up her mouth” (here).
She repeatedly accused people of defaming her, has encouraged other people to dogpile on her opponents on social media, and she has complained to peoples’ employers about their criticisms of her ideas, calling it harassment and bullying.
She is simply not a credible reporter given her track record of calling scholarly criticism harassment. And given her past treatment of others, the Sussex student claim of a hostile learning enviroment is prima facie credible. Her resignation of course ensures that no university inquiry will take place.Report
“She has complained to peoples’ employers about their criticisms of her ideas, calling it harassment and bullying.”
If simply accusing someone of harassment and bullying, itself, constitutes harassment and bullying (or constitutes silencing someone or trying to drive them out of their job, which is what Justin was asking for an example of), then there is a lot of harassment and bullying happening here. Specifically, I think we would have to accept all of these claims:
(1) The students who claimed that Kathleen created a hostile learning environment at Sussex were, by committing that very act, harassing and bullying her (or silencing her, or trying to drive her out of her job).
(2) Kathleen’s alleged act of complaining to “people’s employers” about harassment and bullying itself constituted harassment and bullying (or silencing, or trying to drive people out of their jobs).
(3) Your comment here on the Daily Nous constitutes an act of harassment and bullying of Kathleen (or silencing, or trying to drive her out of her job).
I don’t think we should accept any of those claims, to be honest. We should probably require a stronger sufficient condition for harassment/bullying/silencing/trying to drive someone out of their job.Report
And of course a normal and natural consequence of academic speech is that the police advise you not to appear on campus without a bodyguard and to install cameras at your home. Happens all the time, just part of everyday academic speech.Report
Police will give you advice depending on what you tell them about the problem you are having. This does nothing to verify that your perception of your problem has a basis in reality.Report
So what do you suppose precipitated the resignation?Report
It does seem somewhat relevant that the campaigners themselves (or at least, anonymous voices claiming to speak for them, and not gainsaid by others) seem to think Stock’s resignation means that their campaign has succeeded. It’s fairly difficult to make sense of that unless they themselves think they forced her out or contributed to doing so – it doesn’t seem likely that they think they persuaded her of their case on the merits.Report
Stock said her career at Sussex was “effectively ended” by the Sussex UCU’s statement condemning transphobia, saying they did not agree with calls for a worker to be summarily fired and opposed all forms of bullying, harassment, and intimidation of staff, and calling for an investigation into institutional transphobia at Sussex. I find it hard to interpret what she meant but that, but the statement was certainly not a death threat.Report
I’m not sure that’s right. If you tell the police that you are in danger, they’ll ask for the evidence, and then give advice based on their assessment of that evidence, not yours. You could flat-out lie about the evidence (if you’re willing to risk a conviction for wasting police time, which is a criminal offense in the UK) but I don’t think you can just draw unreasonable conclusions from the evidence and then get the police to advise you on the basis of those conclusions,Report
David: All I’m saying is that when you go to the police saying you feel threatened they’ll tell you to avoid the location where the threat might manifest. They’ll do that prior to any investigation they might conduct into the facts.
The advice in itself has no epistemic value. It’s not about lying or making a false report. You may feel genuinely threatened and receive this advice regardless of whether you are in danger.
Perhaps there are further facts that were available to the police. I don’t know. But by itself their mere involvement shows very little.
Spencer: not my place to say in any detail. It is clear that what ‘precipitated’ the resignation was a severe distress felt by Professor Stock. But again, this is not in itself indicative of unlawful behavior by anyone.Report
Hypothesis 1: Stock resigned because of a lot of nastiness on the part of her critics, which *at least* amounts to a hostile environment, and maybe criminal harassment.
Hypothesis 2: Stock is a fragile person and she resigned to avoid basically run-of-the-mill criticism.
Hypothesis 3: Stock resigned in order to be a culture war martyr and set herself up for a great gig as a professional transphobe outside of the academy.
Are there any other possibilities we need consider?
I’d say that the fact that Stock has taken substantial heat for a long time without resigning makes 2 unlikely. My priors for 3 are very low (how many people would walk away from a tenured position for such a stunt?) And by now no one should be surprised to hear about intolerance on the part of self-styled “trans rights activists.” So 1 looks pretty damn plausible from where I sit. Certainly plausible enough to render concerns about it reasonable.Report
I try to be careful to respect the spirit of Justin’s real name policy, so I am not making any judgements about anyone’s conduct or character. I am responding to arguments that in certain situations there is evidence for wrongdoing. But if Justin disagrees, I will be happy to see this deleted.
For the record, I am not using my name, since I am much more scared of the club of old tenured professors ganging up on junior people like me than of any supposed cabal of young scholars with the mysterious power to bully tenured chairs out of their jobs. Here too I mean to criticize nobody in particular, certainly nobody in this thread.
Finally, I agree with something Christa Peterson said on Twitter yesterday. It would be an impossible (and insane) standard of academic freedom, if someone who agitates politically in a way that some people find bigoted should be protected from being called bigoted, no matter how much being called bigoted might be hurtful to them. Again, I do not mean to claim that this is a true description of the current situation.Report
You are assuming that people are actually morally outraged or even think KS is a bigot. I see little evidence for that.Report
I thought it is a given that some people consider her a bigot, based on the opposition she faces.Report
I am pretty sceptical, to be honest. I think it is more a case of people seeking to drive KS out by feigning outrage, and the bar for being a bigot is so low, I really don’t even know what ‘bigot’ means. One of the genuine difficulties I have on this topic is that I consider the other ‘side’ to be non-serious. I just don’t believe anything they say. My evidence for this is the ‘open letters’ riddled with falsehoods and inconsistency and the inability of anyone to offer a non-smeary response to KS. This is not to say that KS is right about anything, but I take the outrage with a pinch of salt.Report
Fair enough. I take it to be a given that this is what either “side” says about the other, including the parts about the obvious falsehoods in open letters and other published documents.
I do wonder what the motivation would be to invest so much energy into feigning outrage with the goal of driving out Stock (as we can surely agree has been invested) if not out of some kind of genuinely felt moral conviction.Report
Well, sure, both ‘sides’ accuse the other, but the accusations are not equally credible. In the UK, at least, the response to the proposed legal changes grew out of the left, not the right, and many of the leading GC feminists are solidly of the left (eg., Selina Todd is probably the best writer on class in the UK, and from a working class background). We are supposed to think that such people are bigots in a very selective manner. It is simply bizarre. Personally, I am a long-term member of the Labour Party here and campaigned for Corbyn over many years (knocking on doors, speaking to normal people). Suddenly, I am some hateful bigot because I think male rapists shouldn’t be housed in female prisons? Further, I can make sense of what GC people say. I honestly haven’t a clue what the other ‘side’ mean; indeed, they seem to speak and think in a catechism. People cannot explain basic claims without falling into blather. I just can’t take it seriously. Worse, outside of academia, everyone thinks it is BS.Report
I empathise with this very strongly, John (if I may). Fights among the left are often the most vitriolic and I have also found myself (to my bafflement) called a bigot at such regrettable occasions.
It is difficult to respond to your stance here without going into first-order issues regarding trans identities, or to directly criticise someone. That trans-inclusive scholars have produced nothing but gibberish is not something I would agree with. Christa herself has put something on the table that even if you think it unreasonable, is surely intelligible. But I am straying into the first-order.
Perhaps the following will do.
”Male rapists in female prisons” sounds like a horrifying prospect, but it sounds no less horrifying to house women-identifying people in male prisons. Each side chooses their horror.
The idea that someone can be a bigot selectively does not strike me as absurd. I have known committed and decorated labour advocates, who could be shockingly homophobic or xenophobic. I hope you believe me that I mean this in absolutely no way to be about you, sincerely.
I still would be interested to learn what you think are the reasons people might have to agitate against Stock, if not genuine moral conviction. Honestly, this possibility has not even occurred to me yet. Again, I am sincere, not trying to score points.Report
No problem. I take your point that selective bigotry is not absurd, but where it occurs there is an explanation, often rooted in traditional prejudices. I am old enough to remember racism and homophobia as just a default across the whole of UK society, regardless of political affiliations. But with ‘transphobia’, I just don’t get where this is supposed to come from in people otherwise free of any other bigotry. I know this from my own case and that of friends. On the last point, I think if people find themselves doing nasty things, they confect a moral justification or outrage. As Chomsky has often noted, imperial powers never simply claimed might is right; they concoct a story of doing good. Indeed, being able to be nasty while presenting as moral is very attractive to a certain kind of person. I would, for example, never dream of letting any disagreement on this issue affect my professional conduct towards a colleague, which is baseline morality. But I know as a matter of fact that Kathleen has suffered all kinds of ‘backroom’ moves; indeed, I consider the ‘open letters’ to be an explicit form of something more general. So, y’know, if people are acting in a nasty way, but claim moral outrage, question the outrage, not the nastiness.Report
Thanks, I understand your perspective better now.
So the idea is that the students demanding Stock’s firing were acting out of some sort of moral panic? I guess this is a possibility, but I also know some level-headed trans people in the UK who perceive her as a real threat, and I have no reason to believe them caught up in something nefarious. Not all of them condone the calls to have her fired, however.
Regarding transphobia, perhaps consider why people would be homophobic? Tradition is an easy answer, but traditions come from somewhere.
There is some scholarship suggesting that male homophobia emerges as a re-affirmation of the homophobe’s own masculinity. The homosexual man highlights the potential for “feminine” expression in the homophobe’s own gender. This is a threat to the homophobe’s masculinity and to affirm his own masculinity, this expression must be rejected, violently.
It is not, in my opinion, far fetched to think that the possibility of *transitioning* between genders is an even more severe threat that must be rejected even more violently, even if one has overcome homophobia.
Or, to put this more vaguely, people who have arranged it with themselves to be comfortable among gay people might still feel that uncomfortable itch towards trans people. Again, emphatically, I don’t mean this to be about you.Report
On the Market, you say:
Isn’t this conceding one of the main point in this debate to the “gender critical feminists”? Maybe I have misunderstood this aspect of the debate, but I thought that part of Stock’s point when she initially opposed the changes to the GRA was that there was a clash of rights between transwomen and women who are not trans and that there needs to be an open public debate where the interests of each side receive a fair hearing–meaning that the potential harms claimed for each group are fully considered, critically scrutinized, and carefully weighed up. And wasn’t the main response from “trans rights activists” to reject this framing of the debate and insist that there is no clash of rights, that the interests of trans people automatically win in this debate, and that anyone who thinks otherwise is a transphobic bigot.
I take very seriously the potential harms to trans people in these public policy decisions, my own judgment is that in many of these “clash of rights” contexts (e.g., bathrooms) their rights and interest will override any opposing rights and interests. But just because I have that judgement after considering some of the claims from different sides does not mean that it is correct. So, I have always thought that there must be a properly conducted debate on how to resolve this clash of rights, even though I expect that on many of these issues the interests of trans people will win out. What I have found unacceptable is the attempt to prevent this debate from even happening and to insist that no serious case can be made of potential harms to non-trans women, and to label any who disagree as transphobic bigots.Report
John put to me what he takes to be an obvious moral truth that supports his view. I responded with what I took to be an obvious moral truth that he should be conceding against his view.
”Each side chooses their horror” meaning that both sides claim to have obvious moral truths on their side.
I did not mean it to concede the point that there is a conflict of rights, hence my qualification “sounds like”. I would have segued into the empirical imbalance (one horror being reality and another a diffuse fear), had he taken up this point.Report
John, you should probably take a step back from engaging if you simultaneously maintain that everyone who endorses a certain position is lying about it, and you don’t even know what they would mean by endorsing it, and you think they are all just out to smear a person when they endorse it, but you are confident that they are merely feigning their position. That just suggests that you are probably misreading something about the position in question. For example a simpler solution in this case would be that at least some of the people genuinely believe the thing which is a negative assessment, and that’s why they have a negative view of the person. Perhaps opening yourself to that possibility will allow you to understand what it means to call someone a bigot?Report
Feigned outrage internalized becomes real soon enough.Report
I also agree with this (i.e. ‘On The Market’s ‘finally’). I hope in general we can agree that
(1) no-one has an academic-freedom right not to be called offensive or hurtful things, whether or not fairly, and being called hurtful or offensive things on a given occasion does not, in itself, demonstrate harassment;
(2) equally, actual harassment does happen and ‘free speech’ or ‘academic freedom’ is not an automatic defense against accusations of harassment.
(I’m also tempted to add: we have learned from other contexts – notably sexual harassment – that a sufficiently large number of individually-trivial-sounding incidents, each individually protected by freedom of speech, can add up to a hostile workplace environment.)
As usual, all this is without prejudice to the particular case. I’ve already said that I find the media reports and other bits of anecdotal evidence make at least a plausible case that we’re dealing with harassment and not protected speech here, but I don’t have anything particularly insightful to say to persuade anyone who disagrees.Report
David, I am happy to agree with you on all these points. In less fraught circumstances I’d be delighted to discuss the particulars of the case in front of us with you as well.
Perhaps I can add that I find the UK media reports to be significantly biased, given the little information that I possess through more private channels.Report
Sorry Spencer, I meant to respond to David with my previous comment.
Yours, I indeed cannot respond to without violating the real name policy. I will leave it at the remark that I take the current situation to be sufficiently opaque to not make clear judgements about how morally horrified we should be.Report
David – I don’t know the law here, but yes. I know of women, for example, who have complained to police of being harassed (by male philosophy academics!) and have been written off because “he seemed like a nice guy who just cared about them”. It makes me want to weep. So, ahem, it doesn’t seem the take anyone’s claims at face value.
(Of course, for all we know KS could have misled the police in this case, and they could have been wrong. But the campaigners stated their campaign publicly, and it received widespread online attention, so the idea that this worry would have “no basis in reality” seems a stretch. ANY campaign founded with anger against an individual, however righteously or rightfully, that receives open internet attention, where it’s a matter of public knowledge where the target works, invites danger. Pretty obviously.)Report
Ignore my posts responding to this person. I read too quickly.Report
Probably worth noting that multiple third party gender critical people filed false police reports claiming Stock was being harassed, stalked, receiving death threats, targeted with hate crimes (they tweeted about it) so this is not just a matter of what Stock herself told them.Report
They admitted in tweets that they made false reports to the police? Can you refer us to any of these tweets, please? Sounds illegal to me.Report
This seems to show that they reported hate crimes to the police. Were those reports false? Did they believe they were false? I don’t see any evidence of that.
You say at the end that “If they knew the identity of any of the protestors, they would presumably be spamming the police with the same false reports of harassment, threats, stalking, hate crimes, but accusing that specific person. This is serious.” Well, it would be serious if they did the things you speculate that they would do under your counterfactual. But I don’t yet see evidence that they made false reports, let alone that they did so knowingly.Report
Nicole, I think it’s dishonest or unaware to think that those objecting to what has happened only care about it for the sake of Stock herself. I am deeply troubled and saddened about what has happened, and it’s not primarily out of sympathy for Stock (although I think if anyone asks themselves honestly what it must have been like they would see it must have been pretty awful, although depending on your views you might think that’s deserved). I do not agree with all of Stock’s views, nor how she has sometimes expressed them on social media (where things get nasty on all “sides”). But I think some of the issues she discusses are important and reasonable things to discuss and question. And, as a junior academic, I’m too afraid of the social and even professional punishment and vilification I might receive for even suggesting they are important and reasonable things to discuss to include my name on this post. And no, I don’t think I’m being histrionic or unrealistic here – I think even if you think Stock’s views are abhorrent you have to be honest with yourself about what the current climate is like regarding discussions of gender. You have to be living under a rock or just be dishonest not to see that, I think. And, setting that aside, as a woman in philosophy I am absolutely heartbroken that the current culture war seems to be primarily taking down more women (cis and trans, gay and straight and other – again, not just Stock). So no, I don’t think all of these comments are about privileging the rights of a senior academic over the speech of others, including students.Report
Nicole Wyatt writes: “Moreover, there seems to be a remarkable lack of concern for the academic freedom of people other than Stock. Students asserting, and arguing for, the view that Stock’s claims about trans people are transphobic are engaging in academic speech, but apparently when they do it it is harassment.”
Let’s be clear, academics have ‘academic freedom’: the right (and duty?) to do research and publicly ‘profess’ (that’s where the word ‘Professor’ comes from) the results of their research. Students have free speech rights (introducing the term ‘academic speech’ for students muddies the waters) – but they are not academics (unless they teach and/or publish).
‘Antiterfsussex [https://www.instagram.com/p/CVlRyn3gcrs/] are an anonymos group of students who claim that Stock’s view are transphobic and that her presence on campus makes them ‘feel unsafe’. And they demanded that Stock be fired. They are not professing scholarly views, based on research, as academics do, they are merely exercising their right to free speech. “One of the campaign leaders said that activists did not want to reveal their identities for fear of opening themselves up to abuse or potential defamation claims.” [https://archive.md/sIk8b#selection-947.138-949.107] So it is misleading to equate what they say with stating one’s scholarly views = academic freedom.
Furthermore, it is not part of academic freedom to demand that another scholar be fired. I also don’t recall many scholars donning balaclavas when giving papers and setting off smoke bombs.
Interestingly, Stock doesn’t try to shut down debate or demand that her detractors be fired. Strange, isn’t it?Report
I’m sad to see Professor Stock go, on pure academic freedom grounds. I myself am – and, to respect the comments policy, this is meant to give context and not incite a discussion – very trans-inclusionary and find Stock wrong on almost everything when it comes to her gender-critical views. But I don’t like the idea that enough harassment can force an academic to resign, no matter what their views may be. That sucks, and reflects badly on philosophy.Report
Thank you for this contribution. I think you’re exactly right here.Report
One of the things I find most striking about this discussion is the very high degree of confidence that many philosophers have that they know what happened, largely based on press reports by journalists sympathetic to one side of the dispute. At some point in the past three years or so, there was a dispute around trans rights at my own institution. I only found out about it at all (and I’m not poorly connected) because of a petition that was given publicity at Leiter reports, signed by leading “gender critical” feminists calling, iirc, for disciplinary action to be taken to uphold free speech. There was a counter-petition from the other side. Many prominent people signed the first, and when I questioned one of them she told me that there was no serious dispute about the facts. When I tried to find out about these facts, though, I was unable to. Clearly, the signatories had super-powers that I lack. Perhaps the same is true of some of the philosopher signatories of open letters in the current furore.Report
Call me naive, but my default mode is to believe people when they say they are being harassed – unless there is a strong reason to doubt this. However, in this case, I haven’t seen any counter evidence, but mostly attempts to downplay and tu quoque arguments. At the same time, I do not standardly expect to be presented with evidence for transgressions or harassment. But I tend to think that, if the police gets involved and people resign etc, this already is evidence of sorts.Report
But this isn’t even a case of having to trust a self-described victim of harassment. It’s not as though the people who targeted Stock acted behind closed doors. Many of the news stories about the Stock affair include pictures of signs that have been put up across the university calling for Stock to be sacked. There are images and videos of masked figures on Stock’s campus, holding up signs and chanting chants that call for her to be fired. Here’s one example: Masked mob demand trans row professor is sacked in campus protest | Daily Mail Online
The main group that coordinated the campaign against Stock is called ‘Anti TERF Sussex’. According to that group’s mission statement, it was formed with the intention of getting Stock fired. It has a social media presence that anyone can check out. Other activist groups gave them support in trying to force Stock out of their jobs. Here’s a tweet from one such group, with a helpful image: Reclaim Pride Frighton on Twitter: “Our sticker looking great alongside a sticker from the Anti-TERF-Sussex group. We give them our complete solidarity. https://t.co/4ZKQgCiZJz” / Twitter
The Head of the Equality and Human Rights Commission in the UK called the attacks on Stock ‘disgraceful’ after that commission undertook an investigation into them.
Maybe this is a vast right-wing hoax, and the mob of students who organized themselves to harass stock out of a job are just a lie invented by foes of LGBT people? Well, that would be pretty strange, considering that LGBT publications like Pink News have covered them as well. Students demand Sussex uni fire anti-trans professor Kathleen Stock (pinknews.co.uk)
Oh, but did they really aim to get her sacked, or were they just fans of academic freedom who wanted to use their own freedom to oppose the things she said with respect for her own academic freedom as an academic, but in a rather extreme way that *looked* as though they wanted to get her fired when they didn’t? No. They aimed to get her sacked. When she *was* sacked, the group posted a well-publicized tweet that said, ‘Ding dong, the witch is dead’ in celebration.
Let’s review, shall we? A group of people wanted to get Stock fired for her views. They organized themselves in a group with the aim of getting her fired. They attacked her consistently on social media, on campus, and beyond. They made no secret of what they wanted, and they openly celebrated when they got what they wanted, explaining the reason why. The matter was investigated by the police and also by the Equality and Human Rights Commission, and both the police and the Commission clearly took it as serious harassment against Stock. And all the things the mob did were done openly and proudly and the things themselves — not just reports about them, but first-hand evidence showing the actual things — were broadcast widely in the mass media and also in publications that cater to LGBT interests.
The people who deny that cancel culture is a real and serious phenomenon have made a habit of denying that anything like this ever happens. How seriously should we take them? We no longer need wonder. Here’s a clear case where there doesn’t seem to be any room for serious doubt about whether the things happened, why they happened, what the aims of the perpetrators were, or what the official investigations have deemed them to be. None of this rests on the testimony of Stock. And yet, when all this is shoved in the faces of the denialists who are then asked ‘what about this?’, they keep on denying.
Why would they deny the truth of straightforward empirical facts on clear evidence? Presumably because the alternative is to try to argue in favor of cancel culture, and it’s better to try to back a dead-lost empirical argument (since some people might not know the empirical facts) than to try to make a moral argument in support of cancel culture (since just about anyone can see the absurdity of such arguments even *without* knowing any empirical facts).Report
Well said, Justin.Report
Kathleen Stock was not “sacked”. Both her remarks and Sussex’s suggest she had the support of the leadership, and to my knowledge she’s never alluded to being “sacked”. The media seem to refer to the event as her resigning or quitting.
Perhaps you don’t believe that detail would make a difference to your argument – but surely it’s better either way to be accurate about the nature of her departure.Report
I would be very hesitant to form any beliefs on the basis of reports in the Daily Mail, but YMMV. It is true that students demonstrated against Stock and called for her to be sacked. But it isn’t clear to me that this amounts to harassment rather than the exercise of free speech by the students. It can’t be the case that students never have the right to object publicly to what professors say or do, nor that students can’t comment on professors on social media, etc. So the question is whether this exercise of speech crossed a line such that it amounted to harassment. You seem very confident about the right answer to that question, but I am not on the basis of the publicly available facts. (If the students had a well-founded fear of retaliation, as it seems they did, then covering their faces is hardly evidence that they were harassers rather than protestors).Report
Chris: No one needs to rely just on the Daily Mail. The message from the Sussex Vice-Chancellor says Stock was subject to harassment and bullying. I’ll bet that in the Bristol case you mentioned upthread, where you couldn’t find out the facts, the university’s senior administration did know the facts. They’re in a position to find them out — or in as good a position as anyone — and have to, since they have to decide on a policy response and that will blow up in their face if it’s based on misinformation. Similarly, I assume the senior administration at Sussex have been following Stock’s case closely for a long time and, being on the scene, not only are in as good a position as anyone to ascertain the facts but have a strong incentive to do so. In fact, the incentive many senior administrators have is to avoid controversy, keep out of the newspapers, etc. which in this case would mean bowing to the students’ demands and not supporting Stock. That they didn’t do that is very cheering (and surprising) to me and many others, but it also gives added credibility to the V-C’s judgement that the students weren’t just exercising free speech but went beyond it. Or will you have some argument about how university administrators are as untrustworthy as tabloid newspapers?Report
“[The] incentive many senior administrators have is to avoid controversy, keep out of the newspapers, etc. which in this case would mean bowing to the students’ demands and not supporting Stock.”
I find this very, very hard to believe – since she left Sussex there have been pro-Stock pieces published in the Guardian, Times, Telegraph, Daily Mail, etc etc. Bowing to the students’ demands would have caused MASSIVE controversy in the British media.
If anything, the VC had a strong incentive to back Stock, given that the government and almost all of the major newspapers (tabloid and broadsheet) have voiced opinions of support for her. How would bowing to the students’ demands *avoid* controversy?Report
Tom: you (like others) seem very keen to argue from general principles governing the behaviour of administrators here. I, on the other hand, am personally acquainted with Tickell (he used to be at Bristol and had a house in the city until a couple of years ago) and the political context here is that a VC would be bound to back Stock. It is also the case, afaics, that he couldn’t have met the student demands within the limits of current employment law, so there was literally no threat to Stock’s job that arose from the route of the administrators bowing to those demands.Report
But was the V-C required in any way to assert that the students engaged in harassment? I’m taking his doing that specific thing to having some (obviously not decisive) evidential bearing on whether they actually did harass. You made your “very high degree of confidence” remark about people on one side of this issue, but upthread there are people who seem very certain that there was no harassment by the students despite the considerable evidence that there was.Report