Friday, 3 October 2014

Some Further Developments on Brian Leiter and the PGR, following the September Statement and the Advisory Board Letter that Urges his Resignation

This is following up on the events a week or so back, which resulted in two posts here and here. A string of unprovoked* harassments, bullying and threats towards various academic colleagues online by Brian Leiter, famous philosophy blogger and coordinator of the Philosophical Gourmet Report (a sort of home-cooked, informal ranking of English-speaking philosophy departments based on mutual appraisal or lack of such by said departements), finally led to a storm of protests. These were especially strong in support of Leiter's latest victim, Carrie Ichikawa Jenkins and documented in the September Statement (to date signed by 613 academic philosophers in North America and overseas and called a "smear campaign" by Leiter himself). This letter urges academic philosophers to recline serving the PGR with any type of input as long as it is linked to Leiter. As a subsequent reaction, 30 out of 56 of the PGR's advisory board – basically what makes the PGR radiate any sort of academic authority in the first place – wrote to Leiter, asking him to hand over the management of the PGR to new regime. A more detailed update to this request was sent on October 1, and today, Leiter posted a reply on his blog, where the essential info is this:

two of the options mentioned in the letter, both involving my immediate departure from the PGR, were unacceptable:  I have already invested hundreds of hours in correcting and updating the spread sheet with more than 550 evaluators, as well as the spread sheet containing more than one hundred faculty listings.  Any report based on that work is a report I have at least co-edited.

I have also informed the Board that I am still considering the third proposal, namely, proceeding with the 2014 PGR (with Brit Brogaard as co-editor) while simultaenously committing to turn over any future PGR to others.  I am also considering two other possibilities:  (4) proceeding with the 2014 PGR (again, obviously, with Brit as co-editor) and postponing any decisions about the future of the PGR until after the 2014 PGR and after the current controversy; or (5) simply discontinuing the PGR altogether.
My analysis: Leiter dares the gang of 30 (thereby daunting the gang of 613) to a game of chicken, where the opening play is "I do whatever I want with my baby". Possibly he does, the question is who actually cares about the baby in the long run, when he has had it drained of fat, so to speak. To be frank, although regularly having students and post docs who gravitate towards seeking foreign contacts, careers or training opportunities across the anglophone philosophy world, I never did, as my Canadian bioethics colleague Udo Schuklenk has made clear that he doesn't – classifying the PGR as a "gossip document", where "people affiliated with pre-selected programs evaluate the quality of people in pre-selected programs based on ... well, apparently, whatever criteria they choose to evaluate quality". To find good departments is easy, you look up what people publish in the field you're interested in, read it and assess it and check how it's flying in the collegial discussion, and possibly chart a bit how the seminar programs look like and what the funding situation looks like – easy enough these days.

I did and do, however, care lots about the horribly bad example set by Leiter's behaviour towards colleagues – in particular, women colleagues, as it seems – and the effects that this has on these persons. That was reason enough for me to sign the September Statement. Whether or not Leiter runs his PGR baby into the ground is not really any concern of mine, although I do think, as Udo seems to do, that it might actually do the English-speaking academic philosophy world a bit of good to get rid of at least one layer of the many layers of the mutual academic back-scratching club.

*) Addition on October 6, 2014: As can be seen by the comments below, Brian Leiter thinks that the word "unprovoked" here (as in my earlier posts) is factually incorrect. In light of the evidence he has provided and the further comments following Leiter's two posts below, I have nevertheless decided to let it stay, but with the following addendum: 

It is clear to me that BL felt strongly provoked by some complex process of events around the PGR and that he at the time, for some reason, saw Carrie Jenkin's blog post as part of what he  perceived as a "smear campaign" against him. Taking, BL's word for it, he later received information that he himself was among the philosophers, whose behaviour Jenkins distanced herself from in her post. However, to my eyes, this just confirms what I have written. The fact that someone is filled with strong negative and resenting affect, caused by some phenomenon, does not make that phenomenon into a provocation. The fact that Leiter in retrospect allegedly finds some information that, had he known it at the time, would have made the phenomenon into a provocation doesn't change this situation. But, I'd go some steps in Brian Leiter's direction and make the assumption that indeed Carrie Jenkin's had Leiter in mind as one of the philosophers she thought about as exhibiting unprofessional behaviour, and that Leiter at the time knew this to be the case. Does that in any way constitute sensible cause to do what Brian Leiter did? I cannot see how it would under any minimally reasonable standard of professional academic conduct. Thus, even then, no provocation for the actual actions of Leiter would exist – this is my position. I'm aware that Brian Leiter holds a different position on this matter, but that in itself is no reason for me to change my mind.