Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Leiter Boycott Update

Today, I sent the letter below to the friends and colleagues to whom I had also written last week. It occurred to me that others might wish to see it and, perhaps, to direct their friends and colleagues to it.

Friends and Colleagues,

A week ago, I wrote you about intimidating and threatening emails that Brian Leiter had sent to Carrie Jenkins, expressed my concern about them (and for Carrie), and urged you to join me in boycotting the Philosophical Gourmet Report so long as it remains under Leiter's control. Many of you are among the 516 philosophers who, as of this writing, have now signed the "September Statement", in addition to the original 21 signatories. To you, I extend my sincere thanks and ask you to help spread the word.

To those who have not yet signed, I ask you to reflect upon these two passages from a pair of emails that Leiter sent to Noelle McAfee, of Emory University, on 12 Feburary 2014:
At 4:36 EST: I know you and your work all too well, and I realize you are on a personal vendetta against me, going back to when I was charged with placing you years ago. [McAfee graduated from Texas in 1998.] At some point, I’m going to go very public with all this if you continue to misrepresent me, the PGR, etc.

At 9:47 (EST?): If my e-mails to you "get around," rest assured that other things will get around. I am tired of your sick nonsense. You are lucky to have any academic job, let alone a job at a nominally serious university.
Noelle has confirmed publicly that she read these passages as I think anyone would: as "specifically threatening to out some information that [Leiter] had in his role as placement director" (my emphasis), information that, she is apparently supposed to believe, might threaten the "academic job" that she is "lucky to have" (and with it, of course, her livelihood). As Noelle goes on to say, "On its face that is beyond the pale". And, even if Noelle knows that "Leiter has nothing on [her]", such a threat can only have been extremely frightening and disturbing.

This is but one of a number of similar incidents recently, but this pattern of threat and intimidation goes back at least fifteen years. And for anyone who is thinking, "Oh, really, it isn't that bad", then, as someone who has (a) been there and (b) spoken at length with both Carrie and Noelle: I am sorry, but you simply do not know what you are talking about, and you have no business judging those of us who have been victims of this kind of intimidation on the basis of your personal views about how we are supposed (allowed?) to react.

OK, so let's say you agree that Leiter has behaved badly. Why boycott the Philosophical Gourmet Report? Well, asking nicely has not worked (to understate the point rather a lot). And because:
  1. Anyone can issue threats and insults, but only someone with power and influence can intimidate and frighten.

  2. No one who regularly uses their power and influence for such ends has any business having that power.

  3. We gave Leiter his power and influence, so we can take it back.
Now, Leiter's power emanates in large part from his position as editor of the Gourmet Report (though also from his blog's de facto status as the official online news organ of our profession). For many of us, then, boycotting the "Leiter Report", so long as that is what it is, is an appropriate way to express our moral outrage and, at the same time, to try to scale back the power Leiter has been abusing.

No doubt there are other ways one might choose to respond, and if some people wish to take other forms of public action, then that is fine. To give one example, at least 24 members of the PGR "Advisory Board" have signed a letter calling for Leiter "to turn over the PGR to new management". But most of us do not have that option. And I would urge strongly that public action is what is called for in this case. A private decision, say, not to read Leiter's blog is not an adequate response, as it will do nothing to prevent future such episodes.

So, to emphasize: This is not about the Gourmet Report as such. Predictably, Leiter and his allies have claimed that it is, but that is simply an attempt to distract from the real issue, which is Leiter's long-running mistreatment of far too many of our colleagues.

Richard Heck

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