Tuesday, September 30, 2014

The Revolt Against Leiter

Brian Tamanaha

Brian Leiter, in his own words:
I am the editor of the PGR; I am also one of the leading Nietzsche scholars in the world, a law professor, a New Yorker with limited toleration for the fools our profession breeds, a leading figure in legal philosophy, a leading philosophy blogger, a devoted teacher and mentor (defamation of me has grown so common on this score that I've taken to putting my evaluations on-line), a husband, a son, a father of three, a longstanding opponent of cyber-harassment based on gender and race, and a defender of academic freedom and the rights of everyone from Steven Salaita to John Yoo to speak freely about matters of public concern without state sanction.
Leiter is being modest, for he might have added, owing to his blogging and rankings, he is one of the most influential people in academic philosophy and in legal academia—an unmatched feat of dual influence.

But a revolt is taking place in one of his domains. In a short period, 600 philosophers (and counting) from around the world have signed a Statement of concern about Leiter’s conduct, which states in part:
The undersigned members of the philosophical community have decided to decline to volunteer our services to Leiter's PGR. While we recognise that there are other ways to condemn Professor Leiter's behaviour and to support our colleague, we think the best choice for us involves publicly declining to assist with the PGR. We cannot continue to volunteer services in support of the PGR in good conscience as long as Brian Leiter continues to behave in this way.

We feel that we need to consider very carefully what kind of example we are setting for graduate students, and for philosophers across the whole discipline, when something like this happens. Tolerating this kind of behaviour signals to them that they can expect the same in their own professional lives. We wish to set a clear example of how to respond appropriately but firmly.
(PGR is a ranking of philosophy programs run by Leiter with input from other philosophers.) The immediate prompt for the Statement was Leiter’s interaction with Professor Carrie Ichikawa Jenkins. The day after she became a full professor, Jenkins announced a pledge to conduct herself in a professional manner, including the following:
. In my professional capacity, I will treat other philosophers with respect.
• In particular, I will treat other philosophers more junior and/or professionally vulnerable than myself with respect.
• I will not make negative personal comments about individual philosophers in professional contexts.
• If I disagree with someone’s work or ideas, I will find ways to express that disagreement without suggesting the person is unintelligent, lacking in credibility, unfit to be a philosopher, or otherwise undeserving of respect.
• I will not treat other philosophers or their work in ways that are belittling, trivialising, and/or exclusionary.
In response to her post, Leiter sent Jenkins an email in which he called her a “sanctimonious asshole,” and issued this threat: “Also, calling me “unprofessional” is probably defamatory per se in Canada, so I’d suggest you stick to “unethical” (since “ethical” as we all know has no cognitive content). It may be in the US too, I haven’t asked my lawyer yet, but I will.” (Note that Leiter is not mentioned in Jenkin’s post, and her statements are pledges about her own future conduct.)

While the Statement—signed by 600 philosophy professors (and counting)—cites this particular incident, it makes clear that the objection is to a pattern of conduct by Leiter.

Leiter’s response to the revolt is that he is the victim of a “smear campaign” by people angry at his ranking (the PGR). His critics insist, however, “this is not primarily about the PGR; it’s about what many of us perceive as Leiter’s inappropriate behavior on a large number of occasions.” “He systematically resorts to aggressive, offensive and intimidating behavior against those who dare express views different from his own, both in public and in private correspondence, often targeting junior colleagues and others who can’t ‘compete’ with his power and influence.”

A comprehensive archive of links to this controversy—including an article in the Chronicle of Higher Education, as well as Leiter’s posts on these events—can be found here.

Leiter is quoted in the press and law blogs as an authority on legal education, and in a recent National Jurist poll he was voted one of the most influential legal educators in the country.

Addendum: Professor Leiter requested that I include his response:

REPLY FROM LEITER: There are presently 550 evaluators nominated for the 2014 philosophy rankings; of these about 40 or 45 have signed the "boycott" statement to which prof. Tamanaha links. Since the signatures were solicited by Prof. Richard Heck (who last tried to torpedo the philosophy rankings in 2001 with another petition), it is perhaps not surprising that he did so with false statements about the interchange with Prof. Carrie Jenkins. The actual sequence of events was as follows. On July 1, I posted a sharp critique of some utterly misleading rankings produced by Prof. C. Jennings (not Jenkins), a tenure-stream faculty member at UC Merced. She quickly started revising it after I called her out. On July 2, other blogs began attacking me for criticizing Jennings. Later, on July 2, Prof. Catarina Novaes also joined the criticism, pointing me to the response by Carrie Jenkins, which she characterized, obviously correctly, as “reacting to what many perceived as Brian Leiter’s excessively personalized attack of Jennings’s analysis.” Even one of Jenkins’s close friends has admitted to me what was obvious at the time, namely, that her post was aimed at me. I had some unpleasant exchanges on social media with Jenkins prior to this as well, but as I said in the blog post to which you linked, I should have cooled off before sending my derisive e-mail. The release of the e-mail by longtime opponents of my philosophy rankings was timed to derail the 2014 rankings.

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