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[flagged] Open Letter of Solidarity with the University of Sussex from UK Philosophers (openlettertosussexfromukphilosophers.wor...)
56 points by danielam 14 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 24 comments

It's sad to watch how the quality of Western academia has been declining steadily in the past couple of decades.

Open mindedness and free thinking are not allowed or else the cancel crowd will get you.

Ganging up on someone with different views simply to eliminate them from the discourse became the new way to promote the only correct set of opinions.

My children will go to a uni in few years and I'm completely terrified by the amount of nonsense or straight out lunacy in growing parts of academia these days.

It is pervading everyday life, not just universities. We're exporting this behavior to other nations: https://www.economist.com/briefing/2021/09/04/how-did-americ...

I don’t think that there’s enough information in the article to take the side of Western academia or of the professor in question. The word used was “harassment”, so I’m not sure that that’s still the same as what people refer to as “cancel culture” which is really just disagreement, which people are free to do.

Cancel culture usually refers to calls for someone to be fired or deplatformed, i.e. to harm their livelihood and prevent others from hearing what they have to say. Applying it to mere disagreement would be abusing the term, in my opinion.

It’s still just an airing of disagreement by the end of the day. The people who lash out on Twitter don’t have the direct agency to fire or deplatform the object of disagreement. It’s still the platform or the university that decides that, and those entities are not necessarily doing so for the same reasons as the crowd that’s disagreeing.

It’s not even as if the people who “cancel” strangers for deliberately making bigoted and hateful remarks or committing workplace sexual harassment are the same people who “cancel” professors from speaking about a difficult topic in the academia. You can call it a culture, but it’s not the same people with the same ideals. Plenty of those who are vocal against bigotry would agree that professors who research on difficult topics must be allowed to talk in universities, as long as the content of their talks are actually academic/scientific, and not just outright bigoted.

Not sure I really see this as an issue of being open-minded. Her views are completely conventional, albeit outdated. They are, however, obsolete by the standards academia which has a more sophisticated view of gender.

This statement is very unsettling.

Are you claiming that any discussion that someone or some group deems "outdated", "conventional" or "unsophisticated deserves to be suppressed on those grounds, and that those who defend such views are to be treated in the manner Stock has been treated?

What gender theory posits is controversial, to say the least, and it is itself quite new and highly problematic despite what your claims seem to suggest. Stock is also a feminist which belies the notion that she is defending anything that could conceivably be characterized as a traditional understanding of the subject matter.

Do you have any facts on the decline or just a general feeling? Don’t send the kids to these colleges, then. Send them to study STEM, it’s much harder to bs a computer.

I always read accounts like this letter is addressing, and by all personal reckoning, your (very common) observation is exaggerated, and assuming you are expressing it honestly (and not just as political-team-booing), I think you shouldn't be worried about cancel culture practically affecting your children. The vast majority of the time, somebody being described as a victim of cancel culture was really either A. Strongly criticized or even harassed, which has been a permanent fault of people on all sides of political topics forever, and in fact seems even more severe coming from people of the opposite ideology to cancel culture, or B. Was fired for genuinely hateful/immoral behavior. I.e. the cases where cancel culture actually misfires, usually due to a misunderstanding that catches on (the primary danger of cancel culture), are apparently few, relatively speaking (though of course one's political loyalties tend to color the perception of what counts as unjust consequences).

I think the much more concerning, practical danger to our childrens' intellectual health and spirit is the more general phenomenon of extreme political hatred (see point A. above).

Lol this is literally the "back in my day" response (complete with a sprinkling of "won't someone think of the kids").

Have you ever considered that maybe you're simply uncomfortable with how the world has changed since you were young?

This is sadly lacking any background, I found this [0] article explaining what this is about, and back in January [1] there was an open letter by 600 philosophers condemning her.

[0]: https://www.pinknews.co.uk/2021/10/07/kathleen-stock-univers...

[1]: https://sites.google.com/view/trans-phil-letter/

Unrelated side-note: Never heard the word "untrammelled" before https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/untramme...

> I found this [0] article explaining what this is about

That's being very generous to the article, which is long on what she's accused of, and very short on what she actually said. While her accusers are quoted numerous times, the accused gets only a single sentence:

However, many trans women are still males with male genitalia, many are sexually attracted to females, and they should not be in places where females undress or sleep in a completely unrestricted way.

As 'male' was clearly referring to biology, the first two statements are an accurate summary of empirical facts [1]. Only the third statement is opinion. It is left as an exercise to the reader whether that opinion is deserving of the backlash she faced.

[1] [Trans-people] reported identifying their sexual orientation as something other than straight at a rate of 77%. - https://www.thetaskforce.org/wonky-wednesday-trans-people-se...

The "600 philosophers" letter does not include the title of the signers. This one seems more legit.

I only checked the first 3, but one is a professor, the other a dean, and the 3rd an assistant professor. All having PhDs.

Seems like an odd thing to instantly dismiss one for.

this has some more detail of Stock’s arguments https://www.praile.com/post/kathleen-stock-obe

As much as I detest yet another story of someone being arrested for wrong-think, I don’t see how this fits the guidelines?

> Off-Topic: Most stories about politics, or crime, or sports, unless they're evidence of some interesting new phenomenon. Videos of pratfalls or disasters, or cute animal pictures. If they'd cover it on TV news, it's probably off-topic.

I'm not really very familiar with the situation with Professor Stock, could someone fill me in? Where these views she expressed as part of the course she was running, or beliefs she held personally?

If its the latter, absolutely in agreement, you shouldn't be fired for beliefs. If its the former, that's a little more complicated, I guess me not being familiar with how Philosophy is taught in university doesn't help. You obviously don't want to punish certain beliefs, but then surely by allowing them, especially if you have a professor which holds that opinion personally as well, you just end up punishing the opposing belief (in this case, a student arguing for trans rights may be marked lower because the professor disagrees and not because its incorrect, something I hear in other courses is not uncommon at all).

So yeh, if its the latter, thats fine and I agree with the solidarity, if its the former, I have no idea. Or I could be completely misinformed

> not being familiar with how Philosophy is taught in university

It's still pretty Socratic, meaning that the professor doesn't just tell the students what their own views are but gives a range of views - usually although not always a very wide range.

I've co-taught a course with one of the signatories of this letter. At the end of the course, one of the smartest students went to them outside class and said to them "Okay, but what do you personally think?" They said what they personally thought, and the student said "That's pretty much the opposite of what I would have guessed from your course." Not all professors are exactly like that, of course, but it's not too far from the norm either.

I guess if the professors can be trusted to do that, that works well. I'm not implying they can't be trusted by the way, its just that of course without that the whole thing comes tumbling down

Obviously not really anything like Philosophy so perhaps its treated more or less seriously depending on the subject, but I remember my younger brother telling me about a bad professor he had during uni when he was studying film, who would mark students down who didn't agree with her. I guess in film thats annoying, whereas in Philosophy the consequences are far more serious, so stopping that kind of thing is probably treated with more care. These are just guesses by me though

We're very lucky in philosophy that there's a tradition of literally thousands of years of teaching diverse opinions ... or at least most philosophy professors think there is. It's arguable whether or not what we do now has much in common with what Plato did. But anyway the culture is there, and is handed down very reliably from generation to generation, in my experience.

there can be a cost to individual institutions in defending the rights of colleagues to express unpopular opinions or raise difficult questions challenging popular orthodoxies.

Popularity of this relatively new orthodoxy is a big assumption. Its proponents are certainly loud, but are they really great in number and greater in number than its opponents? It seems unlikely.

Weird how they don’t have a Constitutional free speech guarantee yet they have more in a few spheres

Here is the background story: https://www.theguardian.com/education/2021/oct/12/professor-...

Long story short: The Union made a strong statement without naming her (this reminds me something interesting. In internal fights of the Communist Party, they like make this kind of strongly worded public statements without naming the enemy), but the university supported her academic freedom.

seems good

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