Friday, October 17, 2014

Leiter to Step Down as Editor of PGR

I started writing this last week shortly after the news broke, but then some stuff came up and I couldn't finish it for a few days. By that time it was old news, and I decided not to post it at all. But then I reconsidered, because I thought about how much it annoys me that Leiter and his supporters consistently whitewash what he was accused of, with their talk of "politeness police" and the like, as if the problem is that Leiter is too rude for the profession's delicate sensibilities. So then I figured, "What the hell." I wrote it, might as well publish it. So I'm publishing it, and the hell with timeliness. 

Via Daily Nous, we learn that Leiter has reached an agreement with the PGR Advisory Board to step down as editor and join the Advisory Board at the conclusion of the 2014/15 edition of the PGR, at which point Berit Brogaard will assume the role of editor until a co-editor can be found. The fifty members of the Board voted 45 to 0 to approve the following statement:
The 2014-15 PGR will proceed as planned, with Berit Brogaard joining Brian Leiter as co-editor and taking over responsibility for the surveys and the compilation of results, with assistance as needed from Brian and the Advisory Board.  At the conclusion of the 2014-15 PGR, Brian will step down as an editor of the PGR and join the Advisory Board.  Berit will take over as editor until such time as a co-editor can be appointed to assist with future iterations of the report.  After 2014, Berit will have ultimate decision-making authority over the PGR.  Upon completion of the 2014-15 PGR, Berit will appoint a small advisory transition committee that she will consult on possible improvement, both substantive and operational, in the PGR going forward.
I was hoping to see a less centralized editorial structure, but I guess I see this as progress. However, if the editors and board don't make some long-overdue changes to the PGR's survey methodology, statistical procedures, and leadership structure, it will be a really unfortunate waste of an opportunity and a majorly huge bummer.

I also had some quibbles with a passage near the end, which Leiter says is an excerpt from an email from someone on the Advisory Board (other than Alex Rosenberg), who writes:
I really do not understand what is going on.  You used some strong, and arguably inappropriate, language in mostly private communications with people who had criticized or threatened you. 
For starters, that's not what happened. I wonder why Leiter's supporters have such a hard time acknowledging what the objection to his behavior is. The problem with the emails disclosed in the Statement of Concern is not the strength of the language; it is the threatening and abusive content. That is, the problem is what he is doing in those emails, not the language he uses to express himself.

Anyways, back to the excerpt:
The response has been a well-organized attempt to force you to give up the editorship of the PGR.  
Yeah, that's basically right. But it's not so crazy. The argument, as I understand it, is this: Leiter's tendency toward hostility and abusiveness makes him undesirable as someone who possesses a great deal of influence over the profession--that is, in light of his penchant for hostility and abusiveness, he ought to be less influential than he is. It therefore makes sense to attempt to deprive him of some of his influence, and the primary source of his influence is his editorship of the PGR. The only way for this attempt to be successful is for it to be well-organized, so it makes sense to organize it well.
But, as has been repeatedly noted, the intemperate language that has provoked the politeness police had exactly nothing to do with your behavior as editor of the PGR.
a) "Politeness police"? come on. No one is complaining about his being impolite. This is just a bit of misdirection and/or horseshit.

b)  As I just got through saying, it has to do with his capacity as editor of the PGR, if hot his behavior in that capacity. For that is the ultimate source of his influence.
You have consistently let important matters be decided by a vote of the board.  You have scrupulously maintained the confidentiality of people’s rankings.  You have worked hard over many years to improve the methodology and usefulness of the PGR.  
As far as I know, all that stuff is true. I wouldn't say I think he's done everything he could to improve the PGR's methodology--I have some suggestions he hasn't acted on--but he's done a lot over the years to make it much better than it was.
So why is your use of intemperate language any more relevant to your editorship of the PGR than it is to, say, your law school professorship?
For a variety of reasons that I think are easy to understand, as long as you have a moderately subtle grasp of the issues involved. For one thing, Leiter doesn't derive any of his influence over the profession from his status as Law Prof. For another, Leiter enjoys a significant range of freedoms and privileges in his capacity as law prof--academic freedom, tenure, what have you. Now, Leiter owns the PGR, and it would seem that my earlier contention that he is not its king was incorrect. So there's a very real sense in which his freedoms and privileges as PGR honcho are unlimited. But in order to produce the PGR in a responsible manner, he requires the cooperation of (certain prominent members of) the profession, and each member of the profession is free to decline to cooperate. Which is exactly what happened.
Would the politeness police urge that you be fired from your teaching position because you called someone a "sanctimonious ass"? 
I think the answer to this last question is, "no, the so-called "politeness police" would not urge that." For the so-called "politeness police" have not urged that. No one has so much as suggested that. As far as I can tell, the few times this subject has come up, it's been in the context of, "of course no one is suggesting..." So this concern strikes me as falling somewhere in the range between unfounded and nonsensical. No one is threatening his job; they are threatening his status as influential member of the profession, in that influence is derived from his status as editor of the PGR.

So let's just cut this shit out from now on, ok?

--Mr. Zero

7 comments:

Anonymous said...

Some Leiter supporter writes: I really do not understand what is going on. You used some strong, and arguably inappropriate, language in mostly private communications with people who had criticized or threatened you.

Mr. Zero writes: For starters, that's not what happened. I wonder why Leiter's supporters have such a hard time acknowledging what the objection to his behavior is. The problem with the emails disclosed in the Statement of Concern is not the strength of the language; it is the threatening and abusive content. That is, the problem is what he is doing in those emails, not the language he uses to express himself.

I'm no "Leiter supporter" myself but I wonder as well how the anti-Leiter crowd has such a hard time acknowledging the response to the objection to his behavior. In so many words, given the context, someone suggested that they weren't going to treat Leiter as a "normal" member of the profession. And in response he told them to fuck off via email, basically. This isn't an unreasonable response. I would tell someone to fuck off as well, if they suggested that they weren't going to treat me as a "normal" in some way or another. Wouldn't you? That's the response. It's not crazy, so let's stop pretending like we don't understand it.




Mobius Trip said...

“That is, the problem is what he is doing in those emails, not the language he uses to express himself.”

I’ll give Leiter the benefit of doubt and suggest that this Nietzsche scholar is NOT being reactionary. So how would this be explained except as fighting fire with fire? Don’t judge a camel without knowing what is in its toe.

“No one is threatening his job; they are threatening his status as influential member of the profession, in that influence is derived from his status as editor of the PGR.”

Again, an attack from the faceless ‘other’ on private sensibilities.

Bill said...

' He told them to fuck off via email, basically. '

What part of ' I'm planning out my litigation strategy' do you not understand?

(Since I've seen the suggestion that this was 'obviously' a joke floated elsewhere without being challenged, I'll note that if I'd received such an email and decided not to take it seriously, I'd be inclined to reconsider if the sender followed up by making very public noises about his fancy lawyer. Or are we supposed to pretend that the blog post in which Leiter did this had ABSOLUTELY NOTHING to do with this situation?)

Anonymous said...

The e-mail was sent to Jenkins in early July, the blog post appeared in mid-September, after the statute of limitations expired for the person who had threatened to sue Leiter.

Bill said...

Quite so.

But the contents of that email were discussed on social media, first by Brian Leiter, who publicly alluded to his 'sanctimonious arsehole comment' and then by Jenny Saul on the Feminist Philosohers blog quite some time after that. (And iirc, shortly before the time of the blog post about his lawyer, Leiter was complaining that by not making clear the full context of the 'sanctimonious arsehole' comment - ie, the contents of what Leiter's defenders are now stressing was a private email - the Feminist Philosophers blog was dishonestly misrepresenting him.) So it would be misleading to suggest - as I'm sure you didn't mean to - that the Jenkins email was water under the bridge by September. It wasn't, and part of the reason it wasn't was Leiter bringing it up on Twitter.

You'll also see, that although the bulk of the September lawyer post was about Birnbaum, it also contained this throw-away parenthesis:

'at least one philosophy-related blog I'm aware of may be on the receiving end of serious legal trouble; I'll post about that if and when it happens'

Now, if I'd been complaining publicly about being misrepresented by a blog, and I had occasion to make a remark like that, and had some other blog in mind, I think I'd go out of my way to make that clear. I certainly wouldn't be complaining if people who were aware of the situation understood it as a threat. Sure, it's vague and ambiguous - but then, many of the most effective threats are.

tl;dr: if you make legal threats in one context, and then make serious allusion to how awesome your lawyer is, don't act surprised if people interpret one set of remarks in the light of the other.

Anonymous said...

So your view is that the following would have also brought the wrath of the Vellemanites and Haslangerians down on Leiter:

Dear Professor Jenkins: The context of your resolution suggests that you have committed yourself to not treating me as a normal member of the profession. What exactly do you have in mind? After all, some such treatment I would deeply object to; other such treatment would be of no concern to me. Further, it is my opinion that you have asserted in a public forum not simply your negative opinion of me, but you have also made false factual statements about me that cast me in a negative light. Unless you retract them, I will sue you. Best, Brian Leiter

Bill said...

Is your position that the fact that the emails to Professor Jenkins contained threats of legal action was irrelevant to the response of Leiter's critics?

I can't speak for the 'Haslangerites' and 'Vellemanites', since I'm not up to date with my subscriptions to either party, so I'm not in a position to check with the latest version of the rule-book.

I also find that the discussion of remote possible worlds were there are talking donkeys, individuals of sufficient girth to stop a train in its tracks, people who reproduce like amoebas, or Brian Leiter addresses people with whom he has a disagreement in polite and factual terms produces less philosophical illumination than it is frequently supposed.

What I can say, on my own behalf, is that all of the following were relevant to my response to the case:

a) the fact that Leiter was threatening legal action
b) what this threat was a response to - ie an apparently anodyne blog-post
c) the manner in which the threats were made - including, in particular, the apparent suggestion in the blogpost that the unlikelihood of winning in court would not necessarily deter a law-suit.
d) the fact that the threats were delivered in English, rather than a language unknown to Professor Jenkins such as, say, Swahili, Classical Arabic or Old Church Slavonic.

Had any of these facts been different, my response might well be different. But if someone took this to licence the claim that all Brian Leiter did was to email Professor Jenkins in English rather than Old Church Slavonic, I'd be inclined to doubt that their primary motivation in doing so was the pursuit of truth