I was asked to post this open letter to the blog. It is important to do so, not only because Prof. May is a first rate philosopher who has done enormously influential work within that social circle known as "SPEP philosophy." but because his call for a "no-team" approach strikes me as one of the most important political points in all this. Many have said this along the way, but such attitudes continue to be drowned out.
Why I have withdrawn from the advisory board to the Pluralist Guide
I have written Professor Linda Alcoff asking to have my name withdrawn from the advisory board to the Pluralist Guide. I would like explain my reasons for doing so, in case they are of any value to others who are thinking about the issue.
My precipitant for withdrawal was not, in fact, the Guide itself. It was the SPEP vote endorsing the “efforts” of the guide. I had come to have misgivings about the failure of the Pluralist Guide to incorporate reasonable criticism into its rankings, especially with regard to the issue of climate for women philosophers. The SPEP vote has convinced me that the Guide has now become captive to a long-standing feud arising from a certain conception of the distinction between analytic and continental philosophy. The SPEP vote has made the Guide a question of which team one is on. In my role as a philosopher I am not on a team. Thus I need to withdraw from what is beginning to feel like team membership.
My particular concerns about the Guide are specific to the controversies around the departments at Oregon and Rutgers in the arena of the climate for women. I find myself unable to sort out what has happened at Oregon, and what the climate there is like for women. I am concerned that all the signatories to the open letter rejecting the charge of sexual harassment are faculty members. However, the anonymity of its accusers both in the Newapps blog and in the Leiter Report also gives me pause. The Rutgers case seems more straightforward. Although the Guide’s site has posted a link to the letter from current and former graduate students from Rutgers denouncing the idea that Rutgers “needs improvement” in its climate for women, it continues to place Rutgers under that category. It seems to me that first-hand testimony in this case would trump a reputational survey from outsiders. In the cases of both Oregon and Rutgers, then, the failure to reconsider the Guide’s results is not only unfortunate. More deeply, it is potentially damaging for women who want guidance in applying to graduate schools. It also makes me wonder what else might be missing or distorted in the Guide’s results in this area.
There are those who might accuse me of playing into the hands of Brian Leiter by withdrawing my name from the advisory board, and even more so by making my withdrawal public. This accusation would be misplaced. From my own very occasional readings of Professor Leiter’s blog, I find his views often to lack proportion, and at times even to lack decency (exemplified, among other places, in his odious treatment of Simon Critchley). If I were forced to choose between Professor Alcoff and Professor Leiter as a representative of the profession, I would not hesitate to choose the former. However, I do not have to make such a choice. And that is the point. It is in fact the point that SPEP has missed. We are philosophers. We need to look first to our own integrity. In the case of the Guide, and because of its support by SPEP, we are failing to do so.
I have heard it said that the SPEP vote did not endorse the results of the Guide, only its efforts. This, of course, is disingenuous. Moreover, I find it ironic that those who accuse analytic philosophy of logic-chopping would resort to such a rhetorical strategy. We all know what the SPEP vote is about. It is about circling the wagons in the face of criticism of one’s own. It is the continuation of a siege mentality that becomes more anachronistic by the day.
The goal of the Guide to address the question of the climate for women in philosophy is an important one. I don’t believe it was done very well, and, more important, I don’t believe it has adequately taken account of legitimate criticisms of its results. This is bad both for women who would like to become professional philosophers and for those of us who would like to offer them helpful advice about programs. And as long as the discussion of these issues remains hostage to a debate between Team Leiter and Team SPEP, I fear that more accurate and helpful guidance will not be forthcoming.
Todd May, Class of 1941 Memorial Professor of the Humanities, Clemson University