I have read the “Letter From Concerned Philosophers” that has appeared on the Feminist Philosophers website. Let me clarify a few things. First, I fully endorse the spirit of the letter: students who make legitimate complaints against professors should not be retaliated against. I would sign a letter to this effect myself. However, second, and crucially, there have been reports in the press (the Chronicle of Higher Education) that have been attributed to the student and that negatively characterize me. I have no way of knowing how accurate these attributions are: press reports can be highly unreliable and the attributions have been mediated by another student. The allegations thus made against me (repeated and magnified on the internet) are extremely damaging to my reputation and future career. Moreover, they are inaccurate at best, parsimonious with the truth, and highly misleading. Again, I do not know how accurately these allegations reflect any statement made by the student herself (I have read the university’s official letter in which a record of the student’s statement contains far milder claims). I have a right to reply to these public allegations; so do others who are familiar with the facts. To do so involves casting doubt on their veracity, supplying context, correcting misinterpretations, and so on. This I have done, as have others. There is nothing “retaliatory” here, just a reasoned and careful attempt to state the truth. If this undermines the plausibility of what has been publicly alleged, and of the glosses and interpretations put upon it by others, then so be it. The truth is the truth. People must be accountable for their public statements. Had the student and her representative declined to make their allegations to the Chronicle, it would not have been necessary for me to respond; but they did, and so I responded. Quite what would motivate them to do this I do not know, since I had already resigned, but once the allegations were out there I had little choice than to state my case.
Two other points: The phrase “de facto retaliation” used in the Letter From Concerned Philosophers strikes me as mumbo jumbo—a verbal trick to make non-retaliation sound like retaliation. Are we to suppose that whenever an accused person defends herself against her accusers that she is guilty of “de facto retaliation”? Of course, if she defends herself successfully, according to standards of reason and evidence, the accusers will not come off looking so good; but is this an argument for preventing her from defending herself? Second point: I am described in the Letter as a “powerful philosopher”, the suggestion being that I could damage the career prospects of the student and her supporters. This is pure fantasy: how in the current state of things could I have such an influence? Any negative evaluation I might offer would be immediately suspect and ignored by any reasonable person, and would of course make me look extremely bad. Furthermore, the power here does not lie with me: I have had to resign my job, be elbowed out of my profession, had my reputation trampled, etc. I have no power at all as things stand. All I can do is state my case as clearly and convincingly as possible. Do the signatories of the Letter want to deny me this elementary right? Indeed, isn’t the Letter itself an example of “de facto retaliation”?