A few days ago, while I was drafting a post on Eileen O’Neill's classic, (1998) "Disappearing ink: Early modern women philosophers and their fate in history," the Pogge story broke--, finally. [Yale's Thomas Pogge responds here [recall my criticism of his rhetorical use of polygraphs]]. I was unable to complete my draft post on O'Neill because I started mulling a part of the story that had not appeared in print before and that deserves more attention:
In an affidavit quoted in Lopez Aguilar’s federal complaint, a Columbia professor who was on the faculty at the time wrote that Pogge “had written a series of sexually harassing emails” to a student, “and there had also been some physical interaction between them.” Pogge was later “forbidden by the university administration” to enter the philosophy department “whenever the student had classes there.”
(The unnamed student later left the program, according to the affidavit. BuzzFeed News was unable to reach her.)--Buzzfeed.
Here are some reflections:
- A Columbia professor who was on the faculty at the time is a credible witness. This suggests strongly there has been a finding of sexual harassment against Pogge at Columbia. If that is right, he seems to have lied about this to the folk at Yale several times. ["Pogge told the hearing panel that he had indeed been accused of sexual harassment at Columbia, but that the allegation was false. Yale knew about it, he said, and an official “took great pains to investigate what had happened” before offering him a job."] Pogge's detailed, published response skips over this material, yet it is by far the most damaging to his reputation. (I am surprised that this has not prompted Yale to reconsider its stance toward Pogge.)
- Presumably we had not heard about the Columbia case in print before because most such cases involve non-disclosure agreements. Universities pretend that such non-disclosure agreements protect victims and the accused, but, in practice, they seem primarily designed to protect the PR of universities. [According to the Buzzfeed story, Yale apparently also uses such non-disclosure agreements because they seem to have offered one to Fernanda Lopez Aguilar.]
- The story also clearly suggests that at least some folk, including professional peers, at Yale knew that a serious incident had occurred at Columbia before they hired Thomas Pogge. Presumably some of the folk that knew are still alive, and somewhere in the profession, and have seen this story unfold over the years, and kept quiet. <--That's what I call a 'culture of silence.' I know some faculty at Columbia, Yale, and elsewhere, who saw Pogge operate up close, and who worked tirelessly to mitigate his impact through formal and informal means. But we should be under no illusion: professional philosophers did too little, and much of it only too recently, to protect other young women. This is our collective neglect (and shame). No amount of prestige, recognition, and fine words we offer each other can remove this stain from our discipline.
- I am not surprised that Yale apparently spent $2000 to keep Fernanda Lopez Aguilar from telling "anyone about Pogge’s behavior," given that this acknowledged behavior apparently included sharing a hotel room with one of his own thesis advisees. Given how wealthy Yale is, I am amazed they are letting him continue to teach undergraduates rather than ensconcing him, say, in some fancy research-only institute--you would think this would be a no-brainer for the university's risk office (or whatever they call it at Yale).
- At various points in his "Response," Pogge suggests that money may be a motive of his accusers ("we know of law firm going after rich institutions for the sake of winning large financial settlements"; "left her determined to take me down and, after her loss in the Yale proceedings, to win a financial settlement from Yale;" and "But I fear that such talk of legal action is no more than a cover for legally extorting a financial settlement.") Oddly, he also mentions that he knows that Fernanda Lopez Aguilar is from a wealthy family. If she were as wealthy as Pogge implies, she would not need his money and so mention of this motive is just a red herring. So, it is utterly unclear why he should mention her wealth, especially because this is the kind of thing that could endanger her life in Honduras. To be sure, I am not claiming that he is deliberately endangering her life, but it is reckless to discuss her purported finances in public without her permission.
- In a follow up piece, Buzzfeed notes how Pogge's Response misrepresents his case:
In his statement, Pogge claimed Lopez Aguilar’s assertions had already been disproven: “One version of her allegations was thoroughly investigated in quasi-judicial proceedings by a Yale committee of five faculty members and one Federal judge, who found her charges of sexual harassment to be not credible.”
The panel’s actual finding was that there was “insufficient evidence” with which “to corroborate either Ms. Lopez’s or Mr. Pogge’s differing accounts.”
- Pogge has been an excellent mentor to many talented and accomplished women. This has been great for the profession, which, as we all know, has struggled to recruit and maintain women in the field. To recognize this, is not to deny that he has also been an awful professional colleague to other women (humans can be this imperfect); and, as the reports make clear, several of these have left the profession to our great shame. In addition, there must be quite a few witnesses (I have spoken to a few unrelated to the cases discussed in the press) who may not have interacted with Pogge personally, but who saw that he would get away crossing boundaries without anybody lifting a finger. How many more left the field in disgust (or anger)? Given that the profession is such a status hierarchy, bad behavior at the top can generate a huge pattern of exclusion. This is our generation's disappearing ink.
- The Buzzfeed story accuses Pogge of treating letters of recommendation as a form of currency to elicit more favorable behavior from young women he encountered. If this is true, he betrayed not just these women's trust in him, but he also broke professional norms and our collective trust.
- Some other time, I reflect on to what degree and how our evaluation of Pogge's arguments may be influenced by his conduct (recall The Arthur Koestler problem). Here I just note that we are not just dealing with arguments; Pogge turned his professional status into a prominent place in public and political life. (This is why the story has attracted so much attention.) There may be nothing wrong with that as such. (Even if one thinks, as I do, that professional success/status involves considerable luck and, perhaps, injustice, it is also the case that most of the professionally successful are very skilled at professional philosophy.) The problem is that the very institutional mechanisms (references, job opportunities, PhD supervision, citations, charisma, etc.) that allow him to secure such a place are some of the means by which he seems to have operated to promote his bad behavior (I am not claiming all allegations are true, but it seems some are). In addition, it is not impossible that because many of us like his politics/policies, we allowed ourselves not to become conscious of what we were facilitating. It would be worth the time of our social epistemologists to reflect on how we can improve the institution of philosophy such that we become less vulnerable to repeat. While we understandably focus on individual human conduct, we should not ignore the institutional mechanisms, professional norms, and incentives -- Pogge calls attention to "the intensely competitive worlds of academia and university politics" -- that generated this situation.