Thursday, 25 December 2014

Brian Leiter's Christmas Present: Threatening Colleagues with Defamation Suit for Signing "The September Statement" and Carrie Ichikawa-Jenkins with Exposure of Intimate Health Details

Remember The September Statement from earlier this year, signed by 648 academic philosophers in North America and elsewhere against Chicago philosopher and law professor Brian Leiter's unacceptable treatment of his UBC colleague Carrie Ichikawa-Jenkins, ending in Leiter's statement of resignation from the institutional ranking operation he had founded and coordinated up till then, the Philosophical Gourmet Report? If not, a recapture of some of the essential of this sad and disgraceful story is here (start at the bottom to get the adequate chronology). This detailed chronological account is also rewarding.

One would have thought that after this, Brian Leiter would prefer to lay dead and lick his wounds for a while, waiting for the memory of the scandal and his own disgrace to settle, and maybe find new pathways to having himself feel good about himself besides bullying and threatening (apparently mostly female) academic colleagues for one of the other, more or less fathomable, reason found by him to justify such behaviour. Maybe do something meriting a minimal portion of admiration and respect from academic colleagues, perhaps?

Not so at all.

As revealed on Christmas eve by Jonathan Ichikawa-Jenkins, Carrie's husband, Leiter has recently had a Canadian lawyer send a letter to them both, threatening with a defamation lawsuit unless they publicly post a "proposed statement" of apology to Leiter, with the specifically nasty ingredient of a specific threat that such a suit would imply " “a full airing of the issues and the cause or causes of [Carrie’s] medical condition;”. Moreover, the letter asks the Ichikawa-Jenkins to apologise not only for the personal declaration of professional ethos that made no mention of Brian Leiter whatsoever but that for some reason – to me still incomprehensible as long as a deeply suppressed guilty conscience or outright pathology is not pondered – to to be an attack on his person, but also for the actions of other people, such as this post at the Feminist Philosophers blog, and The September Statement itself – implying obviously that all the signatories to that statement would be in the crosshairs of professor Leiter. The full letter of the lawyer setting out these threats is here. The (expected) response from the Ichikawa-Jenkins' lawyer is here, stating the simple and obvious claim that all that's been publicly communicated on this matter – such as making public bullying emails of Leiter –  is protected by normal statutes of freedom of speech.

Following the quick uptake of this news, with comments by The Daily Nous, and Jon Cogburn pointing out the perversity of an academic promoting the abuses of free speech by UK libel law standards, Leiter has posted a comment of his own. He states that Jonathan Ichikawa-Jenkins' brief recapture of Leiter's lawsuit threatening letter is "misrepresenting" it, which – in want of any specifics from leiter's side – seems to mean not disclosing it in full (making every academic book, including Leiter's own works, commenting on the works of others into a "misrepresentation" as defined by Leiter himself). He moreover states that the Ichikawa-Jenkins's dismissal of his legal threat means that "we now have an effective admission by Jenkins and Ichikawa that they misled the philosophical community with their claims in the September Statement". The argument for this bizarre claim seems to be that their legal response is not responding to his lawyers' statement of the September Statement as factually inadequate. What Leiter forgets, however, is that this response is already all over the internet, in the form of Leiter's own emails and public remarks on this affair. On this matter, the onus is on Brian Leiter to prove that he hasn't as a matter of fact written or said the things attributed to him. All that remains beyond this, as noted by The Daily Nous, is apparently that Leiter wants to question that Carrie Ichikawa-Jenkins was as a matter of fact harmed by his behaviour towards her, conveniently forgetting that what his professional colleagues reacted against was his own unacceptable bullying behaviour, and the implications of having him getting away with such breeches from the position of power bestowed on him by being in charge of the PGR. As we now know, this assessment was shared by a sizable enough portion f the PGR advisory board to eventually produce the mentioned resignation of Leiter from his position of influence over this institution.

This utterly bewildering attempt by a philosphical academic at constructing an argument that wouldn't even pass for a 101 essay reminds somewhat of the attempt of Leiter to have me retract statements on my own blog that his harassment of Ichikawa-Jenkins was unprovoked. Apparently, Leiter believes that the fact that he feels something (such as provoked) implöies the existence of something (in this case a provocation) that justifies the behaviour he exhibits due to this feeling. Maybe it is the same thing going on with this lawsuit threatening business of his – since he feels he has the right to treat colleagues as pieces of crap when he feels like it, this is also "factually adequate"? Or maybe he just likes to annoy other people, who knows?

Brian Leiter ends his comment by clarifying ...

Legal remedies may yet be pursued against others among the original signatories and authors of the September Statement.  As I have remarked previously, I do not begrudge those who signed subsequently for doing so given the misleading statements that were presented to them.

As one of those subsequent signatories, I do wonder whether or not the implication that I didn't have the wits to check the relevant facts, such as Brian Leiter's own original bullying email to Carrie Ichikawa-jenkins, before signing could perhaps constitute libel. Perhaps me and the 647 others should open a class action defamation suit against Leiter for soiling our academic reputations by ill-meant slander? Or perhaps not. Perhaps we should stand by the minimal decency standard of civil academic discussion not to try to resolve either factual or normative disputes by threats of force towards opponents.


  1. Christian, your obsession with this Leiter case is getting the better of you. Most of this post is attacking strawmen. The lawyer's letter is quite clear: it claims that it is false that Leiter's e-mail affected Jenkin's work and health. If that is false, Jenkins has a legal problem. Contrary to Ichikawa, there is nothing in the letter claiming that Leiter was defamed by "1.Carrie’s pledge on her tumblr blog to behave with civility towards other philosophers and colleagues; 2.Carrie’s post to Facebook of the complete text of Professor Leiter’s email of July 2, 2014 regarding that pledge." The letter also states, again quite clearly, that there may be legal action against "original signatories" to the September Statement; it does not even suggest legal action against other signatories, whom Leiter has repeatedly exonerated on his blog, pointing out that they had no way of knowing that some claims were false (if, as Leiter claims, they are). Finally, it does seem to me strange that if you are alleged to have made false statements, you respond not by asserting that they are true, but only that they are "lawful." Maybe Jenkins and Ichikawa have admitted to their lawyer that the claims are not true or not entirely true, and so the lawyer took the route of avoiding the question of their truth in favor of claiming they were nonetheless legal?

    Philosophers should do a better job reading and analyzing what is in dispute here, especially since the lawyer letters are now available and very clear.

    1. Brian, when you attempt to comment anonymously, you really should edit those comments to remove obvious tells like your repeated use of the term "obsession" to characterize any remarks on your behavior.

      Bharath Vallabha has addressed your use of "obsession" here:

      "It seems to me you need to make up your mind on whether you want to be a well-known person...."

    2. Ohhhh Hai Brian

  2. Hi Brian at 17:35!

  3. Would Brian really comment anonymously after all those years of deriding people for posting comments without posting their names and even calling them "juvenile jackass" as he announced IP addresses? See, e.g., as an example of such sleuthing.

  4. All those 'Hi Brianing', whether you are right or wrong about it being him, are still attacking a straw man... The first Anonymous's comments seem reasonable. So what if it is Brian?

  5. If Christian is at risk of being sued his "obsession" is quite rational, Brian.

  6. Leiter's lawyer's letter also states that "[t]he September Statement falsely portrays Professor Leiter as a "tormentor" of Professor Jenkins". Under Anonymous 17:35's analysis, if this portrait is false, then "Jenkins has a legal problem"--is that right? I don't know enough about Canadian libel law or the terms lawyers there use in practice to tell whether Leiter's lawyer is using "falsely portrays" as a synonym for "falsely states".

  7. Hi Jonathan! Hi Carrie! Hi Justin! Hi Christian! Hi everyone who is friends with Brian or Jonathan or Carrie! Maybe we could focus on the arguments? On the internet, we have no idea who anyone is.

  8. Hi Brian!! *waves emphatically*

  9. I don't condone harassment or intimidation, but if this is your best description of the occurrence of such behavior by philosophers, you live in an Ivory Tower.

  10. Hi all,

    as obsessed as I am, I'll be off on holiday and blessedly offline for a week, so no comments will be cleared for a while. Alas, the amount of spam makes it impossible for me to open the comments field entirely. Cheers!

  11. From Daily Nous.... Best break down of the failure of Leiter's case

    Disgusted on Dec 25, 2014 • 1:25 pm at 1:25 pm Reply
    What was Leiter defamed by? Here is the entire text of Jenkins’ tumblr post:

    (after quoting the tumblr)—

    Note that Leiter is not mentioned in this post at all. It was Leiter himself that, egocentrically, assumed it was about him. After Jenkins posted this, Leiter writes to call her a “sanctimonious asshole.” But seriously, who but an asshole could have a problem with this post?

    Here are the relevant lines from the September Statement:

    “Professor Jenkins has been targeted by Professor Brian Leiter (University of Chicago) with derogatory and intimidating remarks privately by email in July, and recently with further derogatory remarks publicly on Twitter.” – TRUE

    “Professor Jenkins wrote the following blog post in July:
    in response to which Professor Leiter sent her an email saying that she comes across as a “sanctimonious asshole” (and indicating that he is not sure whether “in real life” she is a sanctimonious asshole or a “civilized person”). The email also intimates that Professor Leiter is contemplating litigation against Professor Jenkins, states that he is wondering “what she is ‘thinking’ if anything”, and asks if she plans to spit at him at the APA or chase him with a bat.” – TRUE

    “He has now followed this up by saying publicly on Twitter that he has called Carrie a “sanctimonious arse”. He sent her another email in an attempt to apologise for ‘upsetting her’, “ – TRUE

    “The effects of this on Professor Jenkins since July have been very serious, impacting her health, her capacity to work, and her ability to contribute to public discourse as a member of the profession.” – This is what’s disputed, but there seems to be evidence that it is TRUE.

    (As far as I can tell, the September Statement does not use the word “tormenter” to describe Leiter — a word that only appears in HIS lawyer’s letter.)

    Brian Leiter’s lawsuit threat is pathetic bluster aimed at scaring the entire profession away from criticizing him and his awful behavior. This is not the first time he has threatened stupid lawsuits, and it probably won’t be the last. I hope we stand together and make it clear that we disapprove of his strong arm (not to mention ineffectual) tactics to protect himself from criticism

  12. Perhaps we should ask the Loathsome Leiter's lawyer whether or not accusing an anonymous commenter of being the Loathsome Leiter is legally actionable slander? Is it slander all the way down with this guy? Maybe, instead, he just shouldn't behave like such a loathsome jerk to so many of his perceived adversaries, and none of this sort of thing would happen.

  13. did he ever sue?