Defamatory Remarks Prompt Resignations & Legal Restructuring at Philosophical Society

Four members of the executive committee of the Philosophy of Education Society of Great Britain (PESGB) resigned in the wake of complaints that Impact, the society’s journal, published defamatory remarks about a philosophy graduate student.

In issue 27 (September 2022) the journal published “How can universities promote academic freedom? Insights from the front line of the gender wars,” by Judith Suissa (UCL) and Alice Sullivan (UCL). As explained here, the authors of that article attack Christa Peterson, a philosophy graduate student at the University of Southern California: “Suissa and Sullivan insult Peterson by calling her a ‘troll’, insinuate she has mental problems by characterizing her as ‘obsessive’, falsely accuse her of ‘bullying’… and misdescribe her work in an inflammatory way.”

According to minutes from a meeting of the society in November, 2023:

Amanda Fulford, Naomi Hodgson, David Lewin and Victoria Jameson resigned from their positions on the Executive Committee in June 2023. Naomi, David and Amanda resigned in response to criticism from some members of the Executive over the handling of complaints received by the Society about IMPACT 27. They felt this criticism to be unfair and obstructive to the work they had been appointed to carry out. Victoria resigned in solidarity with the officers.

Officers of the society had suggested that in light of the complaints, the piece by Suissa and Sullivan be revised:

At [a previous meeting], the Secretary and Treasurer had reviewed the complaints and recommended that the authors be asked to amend two passages in the pamphlet. The authors had declined to make the suggested amendments. The Trustees were therefore considering the option of withdrawing the pamphlet. Following the AGM, however, it came to light that the Society is not authorised to amend or withdraw the pamphlet without the authors’ consent. IMPACT 27 will therefore remain in the public domain.

The only revision to the article made by the authors related to an inaccurate statistic.

The complaints about the authors’ defamatory remarks led to a legal restructuring of the Society, according to the minutes:

One of the things brought to light by this affair is the personal liability of the Trustees should a legal case be brought against the Society. Therefore, legal advice has been sought from a law firm specialising in charity law, VWV. The advice relates to the transition from an unincorporated charitable association to a charitable incorporated organisation (CIO). This transition will require the formal dissolution of the PESGB as an unincorporated association and the creation of a new CIO with the same name. This in turn will require the consent of PESGB members. The Executive plans to bring a proposal to this effect to the AGM in March. VWV has advised that a complete elected Executive Committee is required before steps can be taken to incorporate, which is why these mid-term elections have been called. Once the vacancies are filled, discussions with the Charity Commission about incorporation can begin.

The meeting minutes are here.


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