The eloquent and well argued letter is here. I do not think they are being alarmist in their diagnosis of the ultimate function of this and other attacks on the traditional university. (Let's keep discussion here to the open letter and the function of MOOCs specifically. I'm going to start another thread today for discussion of things that we might organize publicly to resist these trends.)
Please email Matthew Smith at Yale's Philosophy Department if you wish to co-sign his excellent Open Letter. He is looking for a publication venue. His email: email@example.com. A link to the letter is here. You may wish to email the link to the letter to your university adminstrators. Our thanks should go to Smith for his leadership here.
We therefore call on chancellors and presidents of universities and colleges throughout the United States to declare publicly that their campuses are Safe Protest Zones, where nonviolent, public political dissent and protest will be protected by university police and will never be attacked by the university police.
We call on these chancellors and presidents to commit publicly to making their campuses safe locations for peaceful public assembly.
We call on these chancellors and presidents to institute immediately policies that reflect these commitments, and to instruct their police and security forces that they must abide by these policies.
We have been asked to publish this call for support from our Mexican colleagues. Comments can be sent to Gabriel Vargas Lozano, Coordinador del Observatorio Filosófico de México at firstname.lastname@example.org. The website of Professor Vargas Lozano's group is here (in Spanish).
IN DEFENSE OF PHILOSOPHY AND THE HUMANITIES IN MEXICO
To: Dr. Felipe Calderon Hinojosa, President of the United States of Mexico
Mr. Alonso Lujambio, Minister of Public Education
The Committees on Education of the House of Representatives and the Senate of the Republic of Mexico
Since its origin, philosophy has been, and still is today, society's critical self-awareness, which rests on argument, on rationality, and the search for a world in which justice rules. Teaching philosophy has historically made it possible for the society as well as for individuals to be more aware of their world and and to be free.
Our country needs an educational system founded in reflections about our actions and moral norms (which only Ethics can provide). We need to be able organize our thoughts consistently and present arguments coherently (Logic).We need to develop artistic and literary sensibilities and judgments (Aesthetics) and foster the ability to engage in dialogue while respecting the reasons given by others (which is the task of Introductory Philosophy Courses). Philosophy makes possible a greater cultural comprehension of the nation.
Everyone knows that our nation is in the midst of a crisis that requires urgent, long-range solutions. Our young people are most affected by this crisis because they are in the stage of their lives when their understanding of the world organizes itself and in which they form the values which will guide them in the future. For all those reasons it is unacceptable that anyone – especially those in high school – should be deprived of a philosophical education. But that is precisely what the High School Education Reform, first introduced by the government more than 2 ½ years ago, intends to accomplish.
It is even less acceptable that an agreement (the 488), which was entered after we protested, to restore the humanities as well as philosophical disciplines to the basic and required school subjects, be rejected on the grounds of purely sophistical arguments. Let us add that this agreement was unanimously accepted by the educational authority of the country (May 22, 2009) and published in the Official Notices of the Federation (June 23, 2009).
The first order of the day is to teach philosophy in courses bearing the names of classical disciplines. These courses must have serious content and be taught by persons trained in our profession, regardless of the teaching methods employed. We do not accept, for any reason, that the teaching of philosophy be eliminated, diminished, disguised, or distorted. We reiterate to the educational authorities of the country our emphatic rejection of such changes.
The authorities must not lend a deaf ear – as they have done so far – to the an energetic demands of the philosophical, scientific, and humanistic communities, both national and international. As long as we live in a state of laws, the authorities may even less refuse to comply with the agreements they have signed.
Our country needs a solid education. This implies the balanced integration of technology, science, and the humanities. In this way alone we can prepare young people adequately for the challenges of the future on the margins of the violence that surrounds us on all sides. We await your response.
We have been asked to publish this Open Letter. Comments are open here and can also be sent directly to Ted Toadvine, Department Head (email).
It has come to our attention that false and misleading allegations about the Department of Philosophy at the University of Oregon have been circulated on various blogs, and we are writing with the intention of correcting this misinformation.
The claims made about our department are summarized succinctly by Brian Leiter, who alleges that they were reported to him by an anonymous graduate student at our program and subsequently confirmed by two faculty members:
that “there is a faculty member suspected of being a serial sexual harasser”;
that “it was graduate students who had to raise a stink about it, due to departmental and administrative lethargy on the matter”; and
that “a feminist philosopher on the faculty urged quiet about this incident lest it cost the department an award for being ‘women-friendly.’”
Concerning (1), an administrative review was conducted by our Office of Affirmative Action and Equal Opportunity (OAAEO) in response to concerns brought forward by a now-retired member of the faculty regarding a current member of the faculty. The concerns were that the faculty member in question had violated the university’s policies concerning conflict of interest and sexual harassment. After a thorough review of the allegations, including interviews with two dozen students, some faculty members, and alumni, our administration concluded that there was insufficient evidence to conclude that there were policy violations as alleged. The announcement of the conclusion of this administrative review was made on 3 August 2011 by the University’s Senior Vice Provost for Academic Affairs. Prior to that time, no authoritative information concerning the review had been made public. Since Oregon administrative rules restrict public dissemination of information about personnel reviews, the details of this review are not public knowledge and have not been shared with faculty or students in our department.
Concerning (2), the claim that this review was instigated by graduate students, or that the department and administration did not respond in a timely way to the allegations, is false. The administrative review was requested by the department head in response to concerns raised by a faculty member. Graduate students learned only later that the review was in process, in many cases as a consequence of being interviewed as part of the review. Since the review process is confidential and intended to protect due process, many of our graduate students expressed frustration at the lack of public information. Unfortunately, the confidential nature of the review process has encouraged some to believe that the administration has not responded appropriately. In our view, the confidential process of such reviews is essential to protecting the privacy of those who bring concerns forward, those who are accused, and those who provide information or evidence concerning the allegations.
Concerning (3), the claim that a faculty member in our department “urged quiet about this incident” is false and misleading. Since personnel reviews are not a public matter, no public announcement or other authoritative information was disseminated to faculty or students concerning this review while it was underway. The majority of our faculty first learned of the review when graduate students expressed frustration about the lack of public information or administrative response. At that point, our department was asked by the administration to cooperate with the review process by respecting confidentiality and due process. Due process requires that hearsay and unverified allegations not become the basis for public judgment. In this spirit, many members of our department urged that the review process be allowed to take its course, so that unverified allegations not be taken as the basis for public condemnation. Unfortunately, the blog postings to which we are responding did not respect this request.
All faculty, staff, and graduate students in our department were invited (on 2 May 2011) to comment directly and confidentially to a representative of SWIP-UK concerning the department’s nomination for their “women-friendliness” award. Although many graduate students were aware of the ongoing review at that point, either by being interviewed or by way of rumor, the majority of the faculty were not. When faculty members did learn of the review, they expressed the need to respect the due process of those involved. The department also organized an informational meeting between the graduate students and representatives of the administration and OAAEO, as well as holding a department-wide meeting to increase understanding about the review process and formulate next steps for our response as a community. No faculty member made any effort to suppress information for the purpose of winning an award.
Our department takes seriously the task of fostering a positive climate for all members of our community. Our dedication to feminism and to philosophical pluralism is reflected in our academic curriculum as well as our department culture. The latest NRC assessment of research doctorate programs ranked us as the most diverse philosophy program among public AAU institutions, and the third most diverse program in the country. We are also the only philosophy doctoral program in the United States to require that students complete courses in feminist philosophy. As a department, we are committed to the safety of our women students, to fostering an environment that is healthy and appropriate between faculty and students, and to encouraging the flourishing of all women in our community, faculty as well as students. Although the administrative review is now complete, we take the recent events in our department as an invitation to work energetically and proactively toward improving the climate for women in our community even further.
Mark Johnson, Knight Professor of Liberal Arts and Sciences
Bonnie Mann, Associate Professor of Philosophy
Scott L. Pratt, Professor of Philosophy
Beata Stawarska, Associate Professor of Philosophy
Ted Toadvine, Department Head and Associate Professor of Philosophy
Alejandro Vallega, Assistant Professor of Philosophy
Readers will note that we have published a response from the editors of Synthese regarding their recent issue on “Intelligent Design”. This issue became public through Brian Leiter’s blog, where he posted a letter from the guest editors of the ID issue – Glenn Branch and James Fetzer – alleging various forms of misconduct, and where he (Brian) also called for a boycott of Synthese until an adequate response was forthcoming. We have not endorsed or condemned the call for a boycott; we have instead asked for debate on it.
Here, we open the issue for comments, and note the crucial gaps in the published response.
In our view, most of the serious charges in the Branch-Fetzer letter were not addressed at all.
Branch and Fetzer claim that the editorial disclaimer calls into question their professionalism. Do the editors-in-chief of Synthese acknowledge this? Stand behind it? Deny that this was intended?
Branch and Fetzer claim that they were twice assured by one of the editors-in-chief that there would be no disclaimer. Do the editors-in-chief deny this? Do they endorse this behavior?
Branch and Fetzer and others have raised the issue that the allegations of professionally improper tone are attributed vaguely rather than specifically, implying that the latter would be more appropriate in this case. This vagueness is not changed by the current response. The editors-in-chief say this: “we judged that several articles included in the special issue contained language that is unacceptable: neutral readers of the issue will find no difficulty in identifying such passages.” Given the heated discussion on the matter, one has to say that this claim has been empirically refuted, at least unless “neutral” is being used in some very substantive manner. If this is a charge of professional "unacceptability" – as opposed, say, to some suggestion that an optimally polite and kind writer would write differently – then it is certainly not clear what is being charged. Do the editors-in-chief deny that in making charges of professional inappropriateness they ought to identify who is being charged and on the basis of what comments? If not, are they willing to make the identifications now?
Finally, as Jon Cogburn emphasized recently, there is the huge outstanding issue of whether the editors-in-chief were pressured by supporters of ID, specifically whether there were implied threats of legal action. This is, for all the reasons Jon pointed out, a crucial issue for the profession given the underlying political issues.
These as we see them, are some of the issues not addressed in the response. We invite discussion.
We have been asked to publish this note from the editors of Synthese.
In response to the controversy concerning a decision by the editors of Synthese involving a recent special issue on "Evolution and its Rivals":
We are committed to the view that Synthese, in addition to being a venue for pure philosophy, also be a forum for debate on issues which extend into the public sphere. In particular, we believe that philosophical debate concerning the role of religion in science and public policy is important. This is why we accepted the proposal to pursue this special issue.
We allow guest editors sufficient freedom to craft intellectually significant special issues. At the same time, as editors of Synthese we must ensure the highest standards of politeness and fairness. This is sometimes a difficult balance to strike, especially with respect to highly-charged matters.
We judged that several articles included in the special issue contained language that is unacceptable: neutral readers of the issue will find no difficulty in identifying such passages. We placed no restriction whatsoever on content. After internal resolution failed, we added a preface as a way of acknowledging our ultimate responsibility, while expressing our regret for the breach of our standards.
While we grant anyone's right to judgment calls different from ours, the simple fact remains that it was our task as editors to make them in this case. Of course, there are lessons to be learnt from what happened regarding our internal procedures, and Synthese will do that.
Finally, we would emphasize once more that maintaining standards of courtesy in academic writing is not a matter of taking sides. It is beneficial to all parties interested in the pursuit of truth. The special issue is out there now, and we trust that colleagues interested in its theme will now proceed to discuss the actual contents.
We publish this letter with permission of Daniel Dennett.
February 1, 2011
Open Letter to Professor Jozsef Palinkas, President, Hungarian Academy of Sciences
Dear Professor Palinkas
I am writing to withdraw my endorsement of the Open Letter of January 28 addressed to you and bearing my signature, among many others, regarding the treatment of philosophers in Hungary. I have received a torrent of messages both condemning and supporting it, and as I have become better informed about the circumstances, I recognize that I simply do not know enough about the specific issues to have a responsible opinion about how the principles enunciated in the letter, to which I do fully subscribe, should be applied in this situation.
Many of those who also signed the letter may, because of their much more direct and voluminous knowledge of events in Hungary, be in a position to attest to the facts that inspired the writing of the letter in the first place, but I am not, and for this I apologize to all my friends and colleagues, both in Hungary and around the world, who may have taken my signature as a guarantee I was in no position to give.
I have been saddened to experience the level of vituperation and distrust now poisoning the academic world of Hungary, which I had come to admire so much. I feel that I must withdraw my signature in order not to be drawn into this polarized atmosphere. I hope this deplorable interlude will soon end, with a fair and objective finding regarding all the charges and countercharges, allowing vigor and clarity to be restored.
Daniel C. Dennett University Professor and Fletcher Professor of Philosophy, Tufts University Honorary Member of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences
Letter of Protest Concerning the Treatment of Hungarian Philosophers*
In the last six months a number of questionable actions have been taken against philosophers and other academics in Hungary. These actions include dismissals of philosophers from the Philosophy Institute of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences and the rating of 15 of 23 colleagues affiliated with the Academy as “professionally unqualified.” This same designation has been extended to others who have earned the level of Habilitation. During the same period, charges have been brought against a number of philosophers -- including Agnes Heller, distinguished professor emerita from the New School for Social Research – regarding the alleged misuse of grant money: charges we find to be highly unlikely and regarding which much more detailed documentation is required. Another philosopher, Mihály Vajda, has been charged with the misallocation of grant money to his daughter – whereas in fact she employed this properly obtained money to pursue a significant study of public opinion concerning the Holocaust. We consider these various moves to be questionable in view of the likelihood of political motivation on the part of the ruling Fidesz party. They are in flagrant violation of the principle of academic freedom. Still more seriously, they reflect an unjustified persecution of philosophers and other scholars and teachers. We protest these actions and call upon the Republic of Hungary to live up to the standards of justice and equity to which its own constitution is committed.
Those who sign below include all current members of the Executive Committee of the American Philosophical Association, Eastern Division. Dated: February 1, 2011
Susan Wolf, University of North Carolina, President, American Philosophical Association, Eastern Division
Paul Guyer, University of Pittsburgh, President-Elect, American Philosophical Association, Eastern Division
Edward Casey, State University of New York at Stony Brook, Immediate Past President, American Philosophical Association, Eastern Division
Richard Bett, Johns Hopkins University, Secretary-Treasurer, American Philosophical Association, Eastern Division
*copies have been sent to the Prime Minister of Hungary, Viktor Orbán; the President of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, Jozsef Pálinkás; György Szapáry, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary (Hungarian Embassy in Washington); and Révész Sándor at Nepszabadsag, the only remaining independent newspaper in Hungary.
We are concerned about the political and professional fate of our Hungarian colleagues. At the center of the conflict are Agnes Heller, Mihály Vajda, and Sándor Radnóti, who publicly criticized the President of Hungary, President Orbán, because of the adoption of questionable laws concerning the media. Heller and Vajda were already persecuted as dissidents during the Communist regime: They were stripped of their posts as professors in 1973 and had to emigrate in 1977. Now, under the nationalist government, which has used its two-thirds majority to erode the Hungarian constitution, they are again exposed to political persecution. The press loyal to the national government is agitating against an indeterminately wide “circle of liberal philosophers” around these persons—and in doing so uses an expression, “liberal,” which meanwhile has been given a highly negative connotation, a connotation of the unpatriotic and cosmopolitan attitude of Jewish intellectuals.
See this post for context. Here is a letter on the subject (in German) from Jürgen Habermas and Julian Nida-Rümelin. We will provide a translation if we can obtain permission.
January 20, 2011
An Open Letter Regarding the Situation of Philosophy and Philosophers in Hungary *
By Professor Laszlo Tengelyi Philosophical Seminar University of Wuppertal
I would like to make you aware that in Hungary, very recently, a campaign has been initiated against philosophers such as Agnes Heller (Prof. em. at the New School for Social Research), Mihály Vajda, Sándor Randnóti and others.
As you probably know, the Hungarian parliament recently passed a law concerning the media, which is not compatible with European norms.This media law, however, is only the tip of the iceberg. One could cite a whole series of further measures from the last half-year, which add up to a dismantling of democratic institutions in Hungary. The Young Democrats (Fidesz), a party elected to parliament with a two-thirds majority, have already altered the constitution more than ten times. The constitutional court has been stripped of essential rights. The so-called “Budget Council”—a body which is independent of the ruling party, and which is composed of economic experts and tasked with overseeing the economic policy of the current administration—after the first critical positions it adopted, was dissolved and replaced with members of the Fidesz party. The post of the chief justice in Hungary was similarly filled by a well-known Fidesz party member.
The principle of the separation of powers in Hungary today is plainly at risk.
Very disturbing reports are coming from Hungary. This post provides an overview, with links to other posts. It seems the new right-of-center government is using its friendly newspaper to incite popular opinion against a number of prominent Hungarian philosophers, including Agnes Heller, who spent many years at the New School in New York. The linked post puts it like this:
Magyar Nemzet (“Hungarian Nation”) claimed that those philosophers had missused funds on a large scale. All of them are considered “liberal”, i.e. skeptical about the present homeland politics of their country. It seems that after considerable philosophical infighting some insider has triggered a police investigation into the finances of six projects carefully selected to incite a maximum of populist indignation. Magyar Nemzet runs an almost daily campaign on behalf of the Orban government, insinuating that an elitist intellectual clique has taken control of Hungarian academic life. (Alas, still an effective type of accusation.)...
Laszlo Tengelyi, a native Hungarian, teaching philosophy in Germany, has addressed an open letter to the most important German philosophical associations in order to draw attention to what he calls revenge* against political opponents. It is a disturbing story.
Tengelyi's original letter is here. We will publish an English translation as soon as possible.
* UPDATE: "campaign" is a better term here for Tengelyi's word Hetzjadt.
UPDATE 2: a petition has been generated; it has a brief English summary of the issue.
We, current and former students and staff of Middlesex University, wish to make plain our disgust at the behaviour of the Metropolitan police at the demonstration against tuition fee rises in London on 9th December. A Middlesex student, Alfie Meadows, sustained life-threatening injuries and underwent brain surgery as a result of an attack by the police. Protesters wishing to leave the demonstration had been told by police to exit via Whitehall, where many were then kettled and attacked. At around 6pm, the police launched a series of unprovoked charges, using horses, truncheons and shields on protesters trapped in Whitehall. Hundreds of peaceful protesters were lined up on the south side of Whitehall and witnessed these attacks.
Over the last month, we have been witness numerous times to police attacks on young protesters, many of school age, with nothing to defend themselves but their passion, anger and sense of injustice. The spectacle of brute, armed force marshalled against the young holds up an unflattering mirror to the society that condones it.