Tag Archives: NYU

Who are the Abusers?

The main point of interest in the latest Title IX scandal at NYU  resides in the presence of the passel of superstar “philosophers” (Butler, Spivak, Zizek) implicated through having written letters of support for the faculty member who was ultimately found guilty in the proceeding.

My off the cuff response, posted in a Facebook comment thread, was that we shouldn’t be be surprised that “the sleep of reason”, which is what this current of intellectual life represents in my opinion, produces “monsters”, i.e. those abusing their power and feeling justified in doing so. Specifically, insofar as scholarship dispenses with facts and ridicules logic while fetishizing subjectivity it shouldn’t surprise us that we are creating conditions ripe for academic variants of Harvey Weinstein’s casting couch-which is what this episode revealed.

Maybe or maybe not. This was not ground I would invest that much in defending.

And so, when another commenter took issue with me, noting instances of sexual harassment and abuse in the hard sciences, I quickly backed down. The underlying nature of the subject matter and the standards within it are probably secondary: far more determinative are academic power dynamics which will be exercised regardless of the standards for fact and argumentation applicable (or not) to the field.

It was therefore a bit of a surprise when, immediately after my having waved the white flag, another commenter chimed in providing data relevant to the discussion

While noting that the the research is “very limited”, that which exists “suggests harassment rates are indeed significantly lower in STEM fields.” In particular, he linked to the attached study including the following graph which demonstrates the point pretty dramatically.

Of course, all this is confirmation of my pre-existing position (actually that of Chomsky, Sokal and Bricmont) arguing against the all too common view on the left which construes science as inherently authoritarian, repressive and reactionary. In this case, it comes across as exactly the opposite: the presence of rigorous objective standards seems to promote respectful collaborative relationships between students and faculty while discouraging the kinds of arbitrary exercise of power which is all too common in other fields.

Yes, limited evidence. But seems at least worth discussing.

Note: Thanks to Michael Kinnucan for hosting the discussion and to commenter Eric Stansifer for the reference to the study.