Tuesday, October 7, 2014

On The Advisory Board Letters and Leiter's Response

Via Daily Nous, we learn that Leiter has responded to two letters, drafted by Jason Stanley, David Chalmers, Susanna Siegel, and Jonathan Schaffer and signed by a majority of the members of the PGR Advisory Board, requesting that he step down as editor of the PGR. He has also made the text of the letters public. They are as follows:

Letter #1, sent on 9-25-14:
Dear Brian, 
We are writing in our role as PGR advisory board members.  Many of us have been urged in recent days to resign from the PGR board because of concerns about your conflicts with other philosophers.  So far we have resisted those calls, because we think the PGR plays a valuable role in the profession, but we take the issue seriously. 
We all value the extraordinary service you have provided with the PGR.  At the same time, we are worried that the enterprise is about to be damaged irreversibly.  We see that you have floated the idea that you might not run the next PGR, and that this idea appears to have widespread support.  We think that there is a way to proceed without the PGR ceasing entirely. 
Our suggestion is that you turn over the PGR over to new management. Specifically, you could turn over the report to a committee (e.g. of board members), perhaps rotating, who would administer the report henceforth.  You have said that running the PGR is a headache, and the PGR has become a central enough institution in the profession that it does not really make sense for it to be identified wholly with one person.  We think that for a majority of the profession, continuing the PGR under new management would be an option preferable both to the PGR continuing as is and to its ceasing entirely. 
This is our advice, respectfully submitted as members of the PGR advisory board. 
Sincerely, 
[Names of 30 PGR board members.  Names are omitted as not all board members have agreed to their names being made public.]
Letter #2, sent on 10-1-14
Dear Brian, 
You had said that on Oct 1st you might want to have a more extended discussion. So we want to update you on where things stand. 
Our original letter, which you have seen, was signed by 30 out of 54 members of the advisory board. 
In the interim we have had some discussion among board members of the various options.  The consensus of the board members we have talked to is that we should request that you either step down from the leadership now and relinquish control of the PGR, or at least that you make a commitment to doing so by a specific date in the near future (with the consensus being that something like January 2015 would be the latest appropriate date, though the details could be discussed). 
At this point, 30 board members have endorsed this request.  [N.B. The specific request above is what they endorsed; what follows is our own informal discussion.] 
It is clear that the majority of the board thinks that the only solution is for you to step down.  Of course we recognize that the PGR as it stands is under your control and the decision is yours.  But we do urge that you follow the request of the board.  
The central point is that this controversy, whatever its merits, will seriously undermine our ability as a group to produce a legitmate ranking.  Over 500 people have already signed a statement committing them to boycotting the PGR if you are in control.  Many others who have not signed the statement are waiting to see what happens.  We think that any ranking produced in this circumstance will be seriously compromised, and that the authority of the PGR will be undermined. 
The board's request specifies that you step down from the leadership and relinquish control of the PGR, meaning there should be a leader or group of leaders without your playing a direct or an indirect controlling role (an advisory role would be fine).  Ideally this leader or group of leaders should be appointed by the board, and the board rather than any individual should retain ultimate control of the PGR. 
There are various ways in which this might occur.  In a previous email we suggested the following options: 
(a) You step down from the leadership now. 
(b) We postpone the survey until 2015 while you (publicly or privately) commit to stepping down before the survey. 
(c) You remain on as co-editor for a 2014 survey and publicly commit to stepping down as soon as the survey is completed. 
Our view is that (a) would be best, (b) second best, and (c) third best.  Some board members have said to us that they would find (c) unacceptable.  It is clear that many philosophers (including some board members) would still boycott the PGR under this circumstance, and that serious damage would be done, though less damage than would occur without the public commitment.  Still, many board members say that (c) would be acceptable. 
We are not conveying any of this publicly at this point.  We want to leave room for you to frame your decision in the way that you prefer. It may well be that you were planning to take one of these options in any case.  We think that on all of these options you would secure your legacy to the profession as the creator of a thriving PGR, and as someone who has continually acted in the best interest of students of philosophy around the world. 
Yours in friendship and respect, 
David Chalmers
Jonathan Schaffer
Susanna Siegel
Jason Stanley
Leiter's response, as reported earlier in the same post, is as follows:
I indicated that 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 [sic] 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.
A number of things about this exchange stand out.

  • It is truly remarkable that a majority of the PGR Advisory Board think that the PGR is weaker with Leiter's continued involvement than it is without. 
  • If the first letter was sent on September 25th, then Stanley et al. must have begun work on it as soon as the September Statement went live on the 24th, if not before. 
    • Which, just to be explicit, means that they also sent that first letter before most of the over 600 additional people signed the Statement.
  • Leiter's response is not responsive. The reasoning is a total non sequitur. The letters are about his future involvement in the PGR, not whether he is to receive credit for work he has already performed. His receiving a co-editor credit is obviously compatible with his turning over the report to new management effective immediately. 
  • Leiter seems to think this is going to blow over--at least, that's what his idea to make a decision "after the current controversy" would seem to indicate. So that means that if this is important to you, it is important to make sure that this doesn't blow over. 
    • I'm not so sure it's going to blow over, anyway. As it stands, well over 600 people have signed the September Statement, and that number continues to grow. That's not a "tempest in a teapot." That's an extraordinary number of people taking a public stand. I think it's unprecedented--I can't think of a time when anything like this happened. Add to that a majority of the advisory board signing a letter urging him to step down. The profession is taking a stand against him, and his own advisory board has joined it. I'm not sure I see how you come back from that. 
  • A number of comments have been left on various blogs expressing skepticism about the purity of the motive behind, or maybe the good faith of, this campaign. After all, Leiter has been like this for years, and nobody said a word until he attacked someone who was popular and well-connected. 
    • I don't think that's really true, though. It seems to me that people have been critical of Leiter's pugilistic and pugnacious persona for years. And this is the third time this year in which there's been a public outcry against some unnecessarily abusive thing he's done:
    • First, there was the thing in comments in Feminist Philosophers where he got into arguments with Matt Drabek, Rachel McKinnon, and the anonymous graduate student whom he advised to leave academia. This caused people to wish aloud for a philosophy news blog other than his, which led pretty much directly to the establishment of Daily Nous. (If I recall correctly--didn't look it up. Do I recall correctly?)
    • Second, there was the thing where Leiter strongly objected, in unnecessarily personal terms, to an attempt by Carolyn Dicey Jennings to study the correlation between PGR rank and tenure-track placement rate; again, there was a fairly significant public outcry, of which Jenkins's blog post was part. 
    • Third, there's this. While the reaction this time is stronger than it has been in the past, it does not seem to me to come out of left field. It seems to me to be a clear pattern of increasingly vociferous responses to his unnecessarily abusive behavior. 
    • And the note he sent to Jenkins, in particular, is over-the-top nasty and completely unprovoked in a way that much of his earlier, more public material, was not. 
  • It seems to me that Leiter has yet to make a sincere apology or acknowledge that these behaviors crossed a line. 
  • I see why he'd want to finish the current/upcoming edition of the PGR before handing the reins to new management. A transition like that is probably a lot of work, and it'll take time to get the new editor/editors up to speed. Making a transition in leadership like that while simultaneously producing an edition of the Report would be hard, especially if it wasn't planned in advance. So I think it makes sense for him to want to finish the 2014 edition before making any big changes. 
  • If he were to discontinue the PGR altogether, there would be no reason why the Advisory Board couldn't immediately undiscontinue it, and reconstitute it with the kind of editorial/organizational structure mentioned in letter #2.
  • It'll be interesting to see how the Advisory Board will reply to Leiter's response. 
--Mr. Zero

42 comments:

Anonymous said...

Given Leiter's history of misrepresenting the content of criticisms directed at him, it's become clear that either (i) he has difficulty understanding those criticisms or (ii) he understands them but intentionally misrepresents them. His general lack of self-awareness leads me to favor (i), but his general willingness to engage in distraction--e.g. ad hominem arguments--leads me to favor (ii). I honestly don't know which it is.

Anonymous said...

I think it's (i) at a conscious level, and (ii) at an unconscious level. It's astonishing how obsessed he is with his own reputation, and how he seems to think his tirades somehow protect his reputation rather than ruin it. Publicly calling someone a hack over a negative book review? I mean, how can any reasonable person think that doing so would help their reputation rather than making them look childish? This ia a man who has publicly proclaimed "I am . . . one of the leading Nietzsche scholars in the world." What kind of scholar says that about himself? If you really are among the best in a field, you generally let other people refer to you as that. It's just astonishing what this guy thinks will buttress his own reputation. I mean, does anyone not believe that many of the anonymous defenders referred to above are Leiter himself?

Thrasymachus said...

"And the note he sent to Jenkins, in particular, is over-the-top nasty and completely unprovoked in a way that much of his earlier, more public material, was not."

What about the emails to McAfee? These are nasty too, but the "September Statement" does not even mention them. I think the McAfee emails are even worse, because they contain a threat to reveal some kind of personal information.

Anonymous said...

Of course the McAfee emails aren't mentioned in the September Statement. McAfee is a nobody. The illustrious original signatories (who clearly don't care about the 600 peasants who jumped on the bandwagon, since they sent the letter before circulating) only care about people at their level.

Anonymous said...

Keep in mind that the original Sept. Statement people were colleagues, current and former, of CIJ. Though I agree that it'd be nice if NM were mentioned more.

ssd said...

The September Statement was written before the McAee emails were made public. Most of the people who signed it didn't know about those emails.

The September Statement was drafted carefully. Many of us knew that Leiter's behaviour to Jenkins represented a pattern, but we wanted to be very careful what we signed, for fear of attracting the attention of litigious Leiter. The many other stories that were out there were very worrisome, but since we didn't know the details firsthand, we thought it safest to write in reaction to the case we did know about.

The point of the addendum was to allow people to express disapproval of the more general pattern of behaviour. That's the thing that has the numbered signatures.

Anonymous said...

"Leiter seems to think this is going to blow over"

No, he recognizes that he can basically tell his detractors to go fuck themselves. It's his project, and he's under no obligation to step down.

If he posts next week, telling everyone to kiss his shiny red ass, what happens? Some people will bitch and moan, but then what? Does anyone think that the PGR will suddenly disappear? That people will stop caring about it? That some contender will rise up in its place overnight that everyone in the field will work with?

We can wring our hands all we want. It's his ball, on his court, and he refs the game.

Anonymous said...

"If the first letter was sent on September 25th, then Stanley et al. must have begun work on it as soon as the September Statement went live on the 24th, if not before."

Uh, yeah. Many, many insiders knew all about the statement before it was posted. Jason Stanley is Richard Heck's buddy from grad school. The insiders who are on Leiter's board knew all about the campaign well before you did.

Anonymous said...

If Leiter *owns* his report, then I don't see how the Board could resurrect the Report without his consent if it was discontinued. Any "resurrection" would also have to be sufficiently different and independent to survive a copyright challenge, which basically means starting something new, not resurrecting a discontinued PGR.

At that point, who cares? Jump ship and start a new ranking. It's a lot of work, but it looks to me like that's essentially what's being called for anyway. Money, mouth... you know the rest.

Mr. Zero said...

If Leiter *owns* his report, then I don't see how the Board could resurrect the Report without his consent if it was discontinued. Any "resurrection" would also have to be sufficiently different and independent to survive a copyright challenge...

Yeah, I can see that I wasn't too clear about what I meant by that. The "resurrected" project wouldn't be able to use the name, or any of the text, or the list of PGR evaluators (I think), and they'd have to make their own publishing arrangements.

But copyright would not stop a group of people who knew each other from when they worked on the PGR from getting together on their own to produce a highly similar product in almost exactly the same way using the exactly same methods. (Of course, I think it would be a mistake to produce the resurrected version using exactly the same methods; it would be more wise to use the opportunity to make a number of methodological changes.) But my understanding of copyright law is that, as long as they don't use literally the exact materials they got from Leiter, they can legally produce a very, very similar document in a very, very similar way.

Mr. Zero said...

What about the emails to McAfee?

Yeah, I agree, and I recognize, to my regret, that I'm as guilty of overlooking McAfee as anyone.

Anonymous said...

"But copyright would not stop a group of people who knew each other from when they worked on the PGR from getting together on their own to produce a highly similar product in almost exactly the same way using the exactly same methods."

No, what's stopping them is an apparent lack of interest.

The board asked him to step down, and he said no. They can leave at any time, and do the work on their own. In fact, they didn't need to ask Leiter to step down at all; their first move could have been to resign in protest.

I predict that most, if not all of them remain on board, and nothing changes.

Anonymous said...

As was mentioned in the comments in another thread, Leiter has been going after "right-wing" philosophy and law professors (and students) in an over-the-top nasty way for years.

Anonymous said...

7:00pm,

What's your point? There are been numerous responses made to that worry.

Anonymous said...

It's strange how the first couple of commenters interpret the fact that BL doesn't share their appraisal of what he's done as evidence that he lacks "self-awareness." Is there no possibility of reasonable disagreement about all this? According to BL's blog, even some Board members agree with him about this. Do they lack self-awareness?

P2 said...

What's strange about it? Professor Leiter gives every appearance of being oblivious to the problematic nature of his own conduct. Personally, I don't buy it. I think he is, and always has been, intentionally and calculatingly destructive. But I can certainly understand how he could come across as lacking self-awareness, especially if you're disposed to give him the benefit of the doubt and conclude that he couldn't possibly know exactly what he's doing.

Anonymous said...

P2, you seem to have missed the point. The point is that maybe neither BL nor some members of the Advisory Board thinks there's anything problematic with BL going after critics on his private time. Remember Rosenberg's post at Daily Nous.

P2 said...

Perhaps, Anonymous. You're certainly right about Rosenberg's post on DN, which I took to be every bit as oblivious to BL's calculated destructiveness as BL presents himself as being.

Anonymous said...

An underrated aspect of this whole thing is the parallel between Leiter and a politician/sports coach caught in a scandal. The latter resigns not because of public pressure, but in order to "spend more time with the family." Similarly, Leiter acts as if he;s resigning because of the general burden that the PGR has become and not because people want him out.

zombie said...

Leiter has agreed to step down and turn PGR over to Berit Brogaard and the advisory board after 2014-15:

http://dailynous.com/2014/10/10/leiter-to-step-down-from-pgr-the-new-consensus/

Anonymous said...

A few years ago this blog had an incident or two where blog participants were upset at the blog moderators for doing a poor job of moderating, breaking their own rules about allowing and disallowing comments. Some participants even suggested that the blog be turned over to more competent moderators. The blog moderators refused. Insults were hurled by both moderators and participants. No lawsuits occurred. From what I know, no nasty e-mails were sent. And no one made such e-mails public, mainly because most everything here is anonymous. But with those last few omissions there was very little difference between the behavior of the Smoker moderators and Leiter's behavior. Indeed, from what I recall, someone even commented that one of the moderators might be Leiter. While philosophers in the blogosphere shouldn't give Leiter a pass, they also shouldn't give the Smoker blog moderators a pass. And yet they did give the Smoker blog moderators a pass (or maybe gave up in frustration, since this is their blog, they make the rules and they can do whatever they please). Unlike the Smoker blog moderators, Leiter has agreed to step down. I'd have to conclude that Leiter is not a Smoker blog moderator. He is better than all of the moderators of this blog combined.

Anonymous said...

"But with those last few omissions there was very little difference between the behavior of the Smoker moderators and Leiter's behavior."

Says the poster who seems completely oblivious to how power-differentials change the nature of an action. Kids on playgrounds bully each other but different actions call for different responses.

Look, there are pros and cons to anonymous posting (Daily Nous has a thread on this right now) but it's a serious mistake to think that Leiter's problem is that people don't post anonymously.

Anonymous said...

Insults were hurled by both moderators and participants. No lawsuits occurred. From what I know, no nasty e-mails were sent. And no one made such e-mails public, mainly because most everything here is anonymous.

So, basically, nothing like what happened with Leiter.

Anonymous said...

Every time I read any anonymous post defending Brian Leiter, I pretty much just assume that it is Brian Leiter. He has a long track record of doing such things. The result (at least for me) is that I no longer really take any defense of his position seriously at all. Perhaps that's unfair. But he kinda brought it upon himself through years of bad behavior.

Anonymous said...

12:20 PM: evidence?

Anonymous said...

2:10 - evidence in support of what?

Anonymous said...

There's no evidence. 12:20 said it's an assumption.

(It's certainly a false assumption, but that's a different point.)

Anonymous said...

The issue is when someone creates something (a blog, a ratings survey, etc.) that serves the public interest, does the poor behavior of the creator undermine his or her ownership right in the thing created. As the Smoker blog moderators and Leiter demonstrated, it does not. Someone who enjoys the thing created has a choice: tolerate the creator's poor behavior, stop being part of the thing, or create your own thing. A sign of magnanimity is when the creator steps down and hands the thing over to those who enjoy it. We should thank Leiter for showing such magnanimity.

Anonymous said...

"A sign of magnanimity is when the creator steps down and hands the thing over to those who enjoy it. We should thank Leiter for showing such magnanimity."

Let me get this straight: you think Brian Leiter stepping down from the PGR shows magnanimity? You think Leiter is magnanimous? Magnanimous. What the everloving fuck are you talking about?

zombie said...

I can assure you that Brian Leiter is NOT one of the mods of this non-profit blog which has absolutely no influence on the prestige and rankings of philosophy departments.

I guess you'll just have to take my word for it, however.

Anonymous said...

"I guess you'll just have to take my word for it, however."

This sounds like something Leiter would say. ;)

Anonymous said...

"A few years ago this blog had an incident or two where blog participants were upset at the blog moderators for doing a poor job of moderating, breaking their own rules about allowing and disallowing comments. Some participants even suggested that the blog be turned over to more competent moderators."

What planet are you from where you can go up to somebody whose blog you don't like and tell them to give their blog to somebody else?

Jaded, Ph.D. said...

(Before addressing your point: A+ trolling there, 1:46. My version of the sockpuppetry charge that other bloggers (and anonymous commenters) like to throw around is to ask the rhetorical question, "This person is trolling, right?" Anyway.)

To address your point: I'm actually not sure what you're talking about. Are you talking about the time people were upset by some comments and Mr. Zero acknowledged and validated those feelings in a blog post, basically saying, "I'll be better"? Cause that totally sounds like Leiter's response to this whole fracas.

That said. You're free to start your own blog that lives up to the ideals that you see us failing to meet here. I think it's good to have more voices in the philosophy blogosphere! I'm a Millian: It's useful to have dissenting voices to keep my views from ossifying into dogma; there's also the off-chance that I don't have the entirety of the truth and though someone else's views might be mostly false, there might still be a glimmer of truth there (unlikely! haha). And I would even link to your blog if I thought it useful! But no promises and I hope you'll still read us (I think we do good stuff here when we get around to posting).

What I would promise is that I won't run a lot of blog posts calling your blog nonsense and accusing you of deliberately distributing nonsense or calling you unhinged and stupid or suggesting that you should leave philosophy or call the department that you are in "Shit" or threaten to reveal whatever potentially embarrassing information I might have on you to the public.

Now, I might get a bit snarky here and there like I'm getting here and like I've gotten with other bloggers in the past. And sometimes, I might be "sanctimonious" and accuse people of making false equivalences and perhaps not treat their views in the same way that I would treat them were I writing a journal article. Blogging should be a little fun, after all.

But, rest assured, if you start a blog, I wouldn't get angry simply because your blog existed as an alternative to mine and I wouldn't get upset and threaten to sue you if you criticized me publicly, whether implicitly or explicitly, and I wouldn't call *you* names. Your views, on the other hand, would remain fair game.

Anonymous said...

What I would promise is that I won't run a lot of blog posts calling your blog nonsense and accusing you of deliberately distributing nonsense or calling you unhinged and stupid or suggesting that you should leave philosophy or call the department that you are in "Shit" or threaten to reveal whatever potentially embarrassing information I might have on you to the public.

Oh, good for you. I see you don’t promise that you wouldn’t call him a troll. (So “I wouldn't call *you* names” strikes a kind of ironic note.) But, baby steps, Jaded, baby steps.

Jaded, Ph.D. said...

Yeah, 3:38, I was thinking about that after I posted.

I guess I kind of blew it if you can't call someone's behavior trolling without also calling them a troll.

I suppose that it is possible, and that is what I had in mind. Still, my little performance would be better taken had I not included that preface.

Sorry, 1:46!

Anonymous said...

BL could simply have shut down the PGR altogether, but he didn't. He compromised, in order to get the new PGR out. That was a decent thing to do, and he didn't have to do it. So I agree with 1:46 pm.

Anonymous said...

7:16 - The decent thing for BL to do would have been to step down, effective immediately, as requested. That was option (a), and the option that his advisory board favored. But he didn't accept option (a). He didn't compromise, either. Rather, he took option (c) despite the fact that, at least initially, some members of his board considered (c) unacceptable.

Anonymous said...

9:07 am doesn't seem to have the facts right. Here is the relevant post: http://leiterreports.typepad.com/blog/2014/10/pgr-update-2-1.html

As I read it, maybe a minority of the Advisory Board (4 people) thought he should resign right away.

Anonymous said...

Give us a break 2:21, and read the original post. The option the advisory board favored is made explicit in their letter, reprinted above. It's option (a), which BL rejected. And beyond that, '4' is 'some.'

Anonymous said...

11:08 write: But with those last few omissions there was very little difference between the behavior of the Smoker moderators and Leiter's behavior. ... I'd have to conclude that Leiter is not a Smoker blog moderator. He is better than all of the moderators of this blog combined.

This is one of the most bone-headed claims I've read of late. Jaded, Zombie, and (in my own view) especially Mr. Zero do a great job moderating and in no way would any greater interests be served by their handing over the reigns of this blog to the smug blowhards who feel certain they'd do a better job. Jeez louise.

Anonymous said...

How about a job market thread? How are things looking so far this year?

Anonymous said...

Totally off topic: Does anyone know why UNC has an open TT assistant position that is only advertised in one out of the way place? Is a Philjobs ad coming or is this a bid to keep applicants low because they already have a candidate picked out?

https://unc.peopleadmin.com/postings/60821