That SPEP proposal…

At SPEP the following was passed, overwhelmingly, by the members present at the business meeting:


Proposal for Resolution for SPEP Members (Accepted, with amendments)


I  The membership of the Society of Phenomenology and Existential Philosophy supports the independent efforts of the new Pluralist’s Guide to Philosophy to:


1) provide new sources of information on areas of philosophy that remain underrepresented in most doctoral programs in the discipline and


2) provide information on the conditions for women and minorities in graduate philosophy programs.


The membership of SPEP has long championed pluralistic approaches to philosophy, as well as increased diversity in a field that continues to have the lowest representation by women and people of color compared to all other disciplines in the humanities and social sciences.


II.  For the same set of reasons, the membership also supports the new APA-sponsored Guide to Graduate Study in Philosophy, which complements the Pluralist’s Guide by providing a comprehensive survey of all Ph.D. and M.A. graduate programs in the U.S. It includes concise information on women and people of color among faculty and graduate students as well as figures on average number of years to completion of the degree and placement data, while furnishing a profile of departments’ distinctive emphases.


III.  We commend those committed to providing enhanced information about doctoral programs in philosophy in the US, as well as those working to promote diversity in the profession. While we appreciate those who have engaged in constructive dialogue about both Guides and their production, we condemn the incivility that has marked some criticisms, especially ad hominem attacks on the Pluralist’s Guide’s organizers and contributors as well as on SPEP and its membership despite the latter’s independence from the construction of this Guide.  We are grateful to the authors of and contributors to both Guides for their work. Philosophy currently faces unprecedented marginalization within the academy; we support efforts to move past archaic divisions and find common ground.

The reaction on Leiter’s blog is to an earlier (and in context, quite different) proposal. Jon Cogburn writes the following:

It’s clearly a venal and idiotic resolution, in no small part because it implicates outrageous things about all of the philosophers such as Professor Kukla who worked so assiduously to get the perpetrators of the “climate for women” travesty to walk things back. Given all of the important issues concerning the climate for women in our profession, all of this does need bright light.

This being said, we should in no way tar all of SPEP with this! Bad people have every freedom in the world to put forward stupid resolutions in organizations, but the majority of SPEP members are informed people of good will who know exactly what really did go down and also how sexist and dangerous is the climate guide. Given this, I just can’t imagine even a small plurality would vote to pass such a dishonest resolution, and one in the service of something so damaging to both our field and the fight for feminist reform.

I want to say that if it actually passes, then every single one of us who defends SPEP to Brian (when he engages in what we take to be caricatures) will have been shown to be utter fools. However, that may be too strong, as I don’t know how democratic the voting mechanisms are. However, if it passes due to voting irregularity (there have been these kinds of allegations concerning the insular way candidates are proposed for elections in SPEP) I guess that too would also make those of us who defend SPEP look like idiots. . .

In any case, I am going to make a prediction. This thing will not pass.

Finally, as far as I can tell this whole issue is mostly the result of some Baby Boomers still trying to fight mostly irrelevant culture wars from thirty years ago and being intellectually poisoned to the point of incoherence by the victim mentality engendered by those wars. Even in spite of the odd gerrymandered nominating processes, the previous leaders in this same group are on the very edge of being cast aside in SPEP power dynamics by two younger generations of continental philosophers who just are not vituperatively hostile to analytic philosophy. Independent of how destructive (and libelous for that matter) the climate guide is, this generational battle inside of SPEP is as far as I can see *the* primary subtext of the whole sad affair, the older ones like dictators everywhere trying to keep the populace in line by blaming outsiders for their own incompetence. But, as we all know, the Arab Spring isn’t containing itself in North Africa.

The secondary subtext is just how wrong Tolstoy was about the morally redemptive power of oppression. Quite often instead of things that would actually improve our lot, you get crappy identity politics in the service of corrupt power structures within the ghettoized community, which ends up reinforcing the ghettoization! The transparent move of keeping three of the top ranked Leiter schools in the “bad for women” section against very strong evidence to the contrary (and the issue of Oklahoma and Oregon shows how little evidence was applied in the other cases too), is nothing more than a clear case of this.

Again though, *every single* person I know who is very supportive of a non-analytic type Leiter Reports (and who has a different definition of pluralism than does Brian) has been absolutely horrified by the climate section and more so by the embarrassing truculence, dumbness, and dictatorial demeanor displayed by some of the older SPEP bigwigs (people we cherish and learn from in other contexts) who presume to speak for the rest of us. I just can’t imagine for a second this atrocious bit of newspeak passing.

Steven Crowell, who spoke against the proposal, also notes:

Since SPEP is an institution that I’ve been pretty deeply involved with over the years, and which has been negatively characterized often over the years by Brian Leiter and others (often, in my view, unfairly), I wanted to comment on this vote. I don’t intend to comment on the Pluralist Guide itself or the debate that ensued in July and after. I spoke against the Resolution at the business meeting for two reasons: first, I don’t think that it serves SPEP’s interests to take a stand for or against this or any other ranking, or to raise charges of incivility and the like. Second, and more importantly, I believe that SPEP’s voting procedures are not appropriate for handling such Resolutions, of which this was not the only one voted on at this meeting. The voting procedures go back to when SPEP was a very small organization and had mainly to decide on a few issues having to do with an annual meeting. A simple majority of those attending the Business Meeting can carry the day. SPEP has a membership of close to 2000 people. Over 750 people attended the conference at which the Resolution was passed. Only a small fraction of those were at the Business Meeting. I cannot confirm the unofficial numbers (118 in favor, 24 opposed, 5 abstentions), but they are certainly close. And thus it is clear that the vote cannot simply be read as expressing the will of the membership, or even of those attending the conference itself. It might express that will (I personally doubt it), but the numbers themselves provide little evidence for that. I don’t think that it is simply the sort of “generational” problem that Jon Cogburn describes either — there are plenty of us older SPEP members who are not stuck fighting the culture wars, and plenty of younger ones who seem very anxious to start them again.

First off, I wonder what is really up here. First, Crowell mistakes what he said during one proposal for another. (He argued that we should not vote for support of the Occupation movements without waiting for further notification, which doesn’t apply since this proposal was before the membership well ahead of time of the meeting.) Second, I didn’t like much of the Pluralist Guide and said so (I’m writing quick en route home and will do the links later), though I think the principle of charity does mean taking the organizers of it at their word that it was a beta version that was circulated. It happens that right now, Freelance Extraordinaire is at work on a Forbes Travel website due to go public soon, but her work in the coming weeks is to manage the site’s move from private beta site to a public, when it will look very different. That seems to mean that I will wait for the actual finished guide (when will that appear?) before unleashing my worries about that site, and at such a similar time, I will unleash my holy fury at the Pluralist Guide.

But that doesn’t matter, since this proposal is so uncontroversial: members of SPEP don’t (surprise) appreciate attacks on SPEP. We also noting that we are independent of the Guide, but while we’re at it, if the Pluralist peeps and the APA want to publish more info for grad students, that’s cool with us. And if you want to add your two cents of critique of what these peeps come up with (i.e., “constructive dialogue”) this is is cool, too.

That’s what the proposal said and the Advocacy Committee purposely worded it this way–don’t add a whole slew of things to it as the reason for it, since it was worded quite carefully to be very limited. How do I know? I’m one of three members of the committee that wrote its first draft—as someone who didn’t like the beta version of the Pluralist Guide many ways. A lot of what I’ve just read online quickly can’t be true: all three of us are young scholars, not senior scholars scoring points for the old guard. Some of us may even have been seen cheering when Kelly Oliver gave a talk this weekend critiquing the misogyny of earlier incarnations of SPEP…

After a summer largely away from the intertubes and from this debate, I feel like I came in at the end of a long argument where everyone’s really really angry and maybe we should just get together and expel some of that at our ruling oligarchs, such at the Occupation Philadelphia, which I attended last week.


  1. It’s also worth noting that the proper time to express concern over the legitimacy of a business meeting’s voting w.r.t. it’s representativeness is by calling for a quorum count. Crowell’s attempts to claim otherwise are pretty insulting to the institution he says he’s trying to defend. I only assume that had the vote gone the other way, he would be equally clear in decrying the result as non-representative.

    1. Yeah, that’s strange. The proposal was indeed circulated beforehand, but again, he didn’t bring that up until he came out against the OWS resolution–which, I guess, is not the kind of thing that would make one popular on APPS and elsewhere. But I’m glad he did raise the point at the meeting, so that it could be addressed, which it was. Asking for a quorum count is certainly the way to go, but more to the point: one could say this about every conference business meeting. The proposal was so non-controversial (SPEP defends…SPEP… in other news, cats don’t like dogs and people put up their hands when getting hit…) but could only be made such by really, really reading into it. I helped write it! I was there! I wasn’t defending some old generation of SPEP–none of us are even over the age of 40 (if Ellen Feder is, well, hats off to her).

  2. Sorry, I don’t read a lot of blogs so I’m only now aware of the discussion on this one. But since I’ve been accused of misremembering what I said at the business meeting, and of acting inappropriately in the face of “concern over the legitimacy of a business meeting’s voting w.r.t its representativeness,” I’ll just say the following:

    The offending failure of memory is contained, I assume, in the following lines:

    “I spoke against the Resolution at the business meeting for two reasons: first, I don’t think that it serves SPEP’s interests to take a stand for or against this or any other ranking, or to raise charges of incivility and the like. Second, and more importantly, I believe that SPEP’s voting procedures are not appropriate for handling such Resolutions, of which this was not the only one voted on at this meeting.”

    Note that I do not report what I “said” here, but my reasons for speaking against the Resolution. In fact I did “say” (roughly), in regard to the Resolution in question, that it did not serve SPEP’s interests to take a stand on this or any other ranking — mentioning, as I did, the precedent that was set when, years ago, we did not speak out “against” Leiter’s rankings but instead cited the APA “Statement on Rankings” on the SPEP website. My second reason — that the voting procedures are inappropriate for handling such Resolutions — was uttered when I spoke up against supporting the Occupy Wall Street movement. But that does not change the fact that it was already part of my reason for speaking up against the previous Resolution. I don’t think that our voting procedures are appropriate for dealing with such resolutions — I think that only a mail ballot of the entire membership, as in the APA when it comes to controversial resolutions, is the only fair way. I don’t see what a quorum call has to do with it. I wasn’t arguing that the Resolutions would be illegitimate if passed in this way; clearly, they are legally binding according to current voting procedures. But I still don’t think that it is fair. I have raised these concerns with the Executive Committee. Finally, if the vote had come out the other way I would have been happier, but no happier about the fact that proposals of this kind can (and with more frequency these days, it seems, do) come up in this way at the business meeting.

    1. Thanks for the clarification. I think in the coming year there will be the committee that looks at SPEP governance and this should be looked at. I’m not sure what can be done other than to move much of the business meeting online through web voting and such. But there are concerns on many sides about further democratizing SPEP–so anything that helps that is all to the better.

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