Free Speech at Oxford (updated with an important correction)

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 05/05/2020 - 9:26pm in

Flying around social media yesterday were cheers that Oxford University had issued a “Statement on the Importance of Free Speech” in response to a motion from the Oxford Student Union allegedly to “ban ‘ableist, classist and misogynist’ reading lists”.

Here’s Richard Dawkins on Twitter, for example:

I checked out the widely circulated Oxford Blue article linked to in Dawkins’ and others’ tweets, as well as the Oxford Student article first reporting on the Student Union motion. Though there were a few snippets here and there, neither article included or linked to the whole text of the motion, or even a substantial block of it.

And what of the “Statement on the Importance of Free Speech” that Oxford University “released”, according to the May 3rd Oxford Blue article? Fortunately, the authors of the article included the entire text of that statement. However, it appears to be the exact same text already posted last year on at least a couple of Oxford sites and released at least as early as May, 2017. It’s not clear what actually happened here. Perhaps the university simply referred the journalists at Oxford Blue to this pre-existing statement. [Update: according to the reporter, yes, this is what happened.]

Oxford Blue also reports that “the university” (they don’t specify who) said, “I can confirm that the University has no plans to censor reading materials assigned by our academics.”

Censor reading materials? Is that what the students were calling for? Not exactly.

Jenny Saville, “Stare III” (detail)

A fellow twitterer answered my request for the actual motion, and from the looks of it, the students were basically aiming for four things:

  1. For Oxford University to add gender identity, disability status, and socio-economic status as protected classes to its policy on acts of hatred and hate speech, which currently only concerns race, religion, and sexual orientation (as it is modeled on Part III of the UK’s Public Order Act of 1986, which concerns “acts intended or likely to stir up” hatred or violence).
  2. For Oxford University to not require students to take any courses whose content would “amount to” criminal hate speech, were the policy amended as in 1.
  3. For Oxford University to require faculty to consider the impact of “including prejudicial articles” on the well-being of protected groups as they finalize their reading lists and to include content warnings if appropriate for any of the readings.
  4. For two Oxford University Student Union officers—the Vice-President for Access and Academic Affairs and the Vice-President for Welfare and Equal Opportunities—to “condemn… the use of hateful material” in required courses. [Note: initially this was reported with the mistaken assumption that these vice presidential positions were administrative positions of the university. Rather, they are student union positions.]

What to make of these demands? The first thing to note is that none of this is censorship. So, for “the university” to say that it has “no plans to censor reading materials” is not, strictly speaking, to reject the student union motion. The closest we get to censorship in the motion is in the condemnation called for in #4, above. That isn’t technically censorship, but it may have similar effects (I don’t know, as I don’t know anything about those particular offices or whether Oxford faculty care about whether they condemn their reading selections). [Note: in light of the correction of #4, above, I think it is safe to say that #4 does not come close to constituting censorship.] #2 might strike some as censorship but it seems “pro-freedom” to me, for if its effect would be to give students more choice—here, not to take a course they otherwise would have been required to.

(In one line in the original document, the students complain about the lack of “criminalization” of certain forms of biased speech, but what they end up calling for from Oxford isn’t the criminalization of speech.)

The extent to which these demands are anti-free speech turns in part on what material is actually covered by it. I don’t know enough about the legal context to know exactly what kinds of texts would be picked out by “intended or likely to stir up” hatred. Are historical documents and older writings ever included here? Has the assignment of a hateful text for the purposes of study ever been the target of the Public Order of 1986 or university policies based on it? Readers, help us out.

Here’s the actual text of the motion (courtesy of Eric Sheng):

As you can see, the students named one example of a text they think would fall under their expanded hate speech proposal: “Procreative Beneficence: Why We Should Select the Best Children” by Julian Savulescu, which appeared in Bioethics in 2001. In this article, Savulescu argues that prospective parents “should select the child, of the possible children they could have, who is expected to have the best life, or at least as good a life as the others, based on the relevant, available information,” which they took to be objectionably ableist.

I don’t think the students did themselves any favors with this choice of example, in which Savulescu distinguishes between identifying conditions, such as poor memory, that tend to make people’s lives worse (a claim he endorses) and saying that people with those conditions are less deserving of respect or are less valuable (a claim he rejects). Regardless of whether one thinks Savulescu’s argument is any good, this article is certainly neither intended to, nor likely to stir up, hatred against disabled persons. The students are just mistaken that it is an example of hate speech.

Suppose, though, that they weren’t mistaken. Even if it were hate speech, note that the students are not calling for Oxford to ban Savulescu’s essay. Rather, they are arguing that students be given the option to take a course in which it is assigned, and that students be warned about its content. One way to put this is that they’re arguing for “informed consent” for encountering hate speech.

Unfortunately, they are also asking for administrators* [students actually; see the correction to #4, above] to condemn the assigning of the reading. Though I tend to favor “more speech” approaches to allegedly objectionable speech, without measures to separate the authority’s expressive actions from its coercive ones (a la Brettschneider), this is an overreach. [Note: in light of the correction of #4, above, which makes clear that it is students, not administrators, being asked to condemn the readings, I retract this criticism.]

So what to think about all of this? Here are three takeaways (feel free to add your own):

(a) The students care about the welfare of the vulnerable among them and are pointing out what they take to be a problem of arbitrariness in law and policy (that there are protections on the basis of, say, race and religion but not gender and class).

(b) The students are arguing for a more-freedom, more-information, and more-speech approach to solving this problem, rather than censorship.

(c) The students seem to have an overly inclusive conception of what counts as hate speech.

I think (a) is good, (b) is a mixed bag owing to the vague call for official condemnations and  [see the correction to #4, above] the confused language of “criminalization”, and (c) is not terrible but not good, either.

The problem with (c) is not really the legal point, but rather an apparent tendency towards a kind of “affirming the consequent”. Here’s an example. We might expect an atheist to criticize the ontological argument for the existence of God, but someone who criticizes the ontological argument for the existence of God is not necessarily an atheist. That is, it doesn’t follow from one’s making an argument an atheist would make that one is an atheist—it depends on the argument (among other things). Similarly, it doesn’t follow from one’s making an argument a racist or sexist or classist would make that one is a racist or sexist or classist—it depends on the argument (among other things). For example, we might expect a racist to argue against affirmative action, but it doesn’t follow that one is a racist in virtue of arguing against affirmative action.

It isn’t surprising that students are susceptible to this mistaken reasoning. For one thing, they’re still learning how to think carefully. For another, it’s not always a mistake to reason this way, and in some contexts (or for people with certain backgrounds) it could be a reasonable heuristic to employ.

Ironically, this kind of reasoning might have been in play in the widely shared descriptions and attitudes expressed about this story, which framed the students as censors. We might think that someone who favors censorship might express the same kinds of concerns the Oxford Student Union did in their motion. But it would be a mistake to conclude, as many seemed to do, that because they expressed such concerns, the students were calling for censorship. They weren’t.

I suppose an additional takeaway would be that, as with some other disputes over speech, the combatants may have more in common than they realize.


The post Free Speech at Oxford (updated with an important correction) appeared first on Daily Nous.

No Resumé? No References? No Problem

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 10/03/2020 - 6:37am in

When it comes to fair hiring practices, America is a little confused about exactly what it wants. While three quarters of Americans maintain that workplaces should promote racial and ethnic diversity, for example, only a quarter believe that race and ethnicity should be taken into account while hiring to increase diversity. That might help explain why hiring discrimination against black Americans hasn’t declined in the past quarter century. 

It’s not just on the race front that America remains lost in the interview process. Despite laws banning it in its most direct forms, hiring discrimination based on age, family status, criminal record and more is still rampant and insidious. In fact, studies show that even “fair chance” or “ban the box” policies that prohibit employers from asking applicants if they have ever been convicted of a crime can have the opposite of their intended effect

Perhaps that’s why it felt like breaking news when The Body Shop recently announced its radical decision to move to an “open hiring” practice for all of its retail positions. In practice, that means that starting this summer, the multinational cosmetic supplier is ditching the interview process and background checks and considering only the most basic requirements: can the applicant legally and physically do the job? If the answer is yes, the applicant is hired on the spot on a first-come, first-serve basis. No resume, no references, no interview.

The Body Shop made this decision based on its own evidence: according to Fast Company, it piloted the unusual hiring practice in 2019 in its North Carolina distribution center by asking applicants three simple questions: Are you authorized to work in the United States? Can you stand for up to eight hours? And can you lift over 50 pounds? 

From Fast Company: 

“The results were striking: Monthly turnover in the distribution center dropped by 60 percent. In 2018, The Body Shop’s distribution center saw turnover rates of 38 percent in November and 43 percent in December. In 2019, after they began using open hiring, that decreased to 14 percent in November and 16 percent in December. The company only had to work with one temp agency instead of three.”

But the evidence for open hiring had been pouring in long before The Body Shop hopped on board. In fact, the retailer’s HR staff was trained by the team that runs the brownie baking company Greyston Bakery, who have been using open hiring for so long that they’ve opened an entire training center to promote the practice. 

According to Greyston’s Center for Open Hiring, U.S. employers spend an average of over $4,000 trying to find the right candidate for a single job — money that could be saved by considering only whether applicants meet the basic requirements. Open hiring could also provide a win for populations that otherwise struggle to find work. For example, 75 percent of formerly incarcerated Americans remain unemployed a year after their release from prison, despite the fact that they are statistically more likely to remain in their job longer than those who haven’t served time. 

Greyston has been using an open hiring model for over 35 years. “Anyone who comes to the front door of the bakery gets a job. We don’t ask them any questions, we don’t ask for references, we don’t try to interview them. We’re only interested in what they’re capable of doing in the future,” Greyston president and CEO Mike Brady said in his 2014 TED Talk

Brady makes clear that at Greyston, open hiring is equally about better business and social justice — at the end of the day, it is a choice the company made based on their values. “We need to look back at the business model, and we need to update it. We need to say, ‘Okay, how can business, this great force, be used to solve some of the social problems we have going on right now?’” Greyston’s website is full of stories about workers whose lives have changed thanks to the company’s multitude of other programs that provide housing, job training and even on-site social workers to help employees navigate the complex logistics of staying on their feet — offerings far exceeding the kind of support most companies offer, open hiring or not.

But The Body Shop’s data show that businesses’ motivations don’t need to be quite so altruistic for the practice to make sense: screening applicants for a multitude of factors irrelevant to the job doesn’t get you better employees. 

Greyston is the first to admit that open hiring doesn’t always work out. It’s not a silver bullet for human resource retention — the company still has a 12 percent turnover rate. And there are few examples of the practice being used for positions higher up the chain (let’s just say, we’ve yet to hear about a company hiring the first CEO that applies). But open hiring’s champions don’t purport to be solving all of the world’s job inequality in one fell swoop. The goal, according to the Center for Open Hiring’s website, is much simpler than that: “It gives people who want to work an opportunity to do that by replacing scrutiny with trust.”

The post No Resumé? No References? No Problem appeared first on Reasons to be Cheerful.

Anti-Trans Discrimination in Philosophy of Religion: An Accusation & Possible Progress (Updated)

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 03/03/2020 - 11:26pm in

A professor of philosophy says she was told by the organizer of a conference on theology and philosophy of religion that he would not consider papers from her for conferences like that because she is transgender.

[Sadie Benning, “Mask”]

Sophie Grace Chappell of Open University says of Andrew Pinsent, a member of the theology faculty at Oxford University:

Dr Pinsent confirmed to me in person a while back that he would not consider papers from me for conference[s] like this because I am transgender.

Chappell made her remarks on PHILOS-L, a large philosophy listserv, in response to a call for papers posted by Pinsent last Wednesday for an upcoming conference on natural theology at Oxford he is organizing.

You can view her post here.

In an email, Dr. Chappell said the aforementioned exchange with Dr. Pinsent took place in 2017.

Dr. Pinsent denies the accusation. In an email, he wrote that “is not only false but literally and demonstrably false.” As evidence against him saying such a thing, he cites a 2015 email to Dr. Chappell in which he tells her she may “be interested in our summer conference in Oxford, which we shall be advertising shortly.”

On the webpage for the conference he is organizing, Dr. Pinsent added this note about Dr. Chappell’s accusation:

I state here that this claim is completely false and that the conference is open to anyone. To extend an olive branch, I have written to Prof. Chappell offering to reserve a place at the conference for her. Given the seriousness of this public defamation, against me and the University of Oxford, we are, however, also following up this matter with PHILOS-L and taking legal advice.

Via email, Dr. Chappell said that though she called out Dr. Pinsent publicly, they used to be friends and “there is much about him that I like and respect.” She also expressed hope for “a positive outcome from all this… not a destructive one.” Dr. Pinsent’s statement that the conference is “open to anyone” and his inviting Dr. Chappell to it seem like positive developments—the implicit threat of a lawsuit not so much. Dr. Chappell hasn’t said whether she is accepting the invitation.

The publicity of the case is perhaps both a sign of progress and a potential cause of it. That Dr. Chappell felt that it was worth making this accusation in public is an indication of confidence that enough others in the profession would find anti-trans discrimination problematic enough to do something about it. It wasn’t always so. Looking forward, others who are organizing events in philosophy of religion and theology may be motivated to take steps to not be subject to similar accusations.

(Readers may be interested in Dr. Chappell’s “frankly autobiographical” reflections on “transgender in theory and practice.”)

I asked one of the conference’s scheduled keynote speakers, Helen De Cruz (Saint Louis University), if Dr. Chappell’s accusation and Dr. Pinsent’s reaction to it were going to have any affect on her plans to attend the conference. I reproduce her response, in full, below.

I have been asked to provide a comment in light of a recent situation that arose about the conference Natural Theology in the 21th Century, where I am one of the keynote speakers.

The space of philosophy of religion is a difficult one to navigate. Whereas philosophy is quite liberal, philosophy of religion reflects a greater diversity of political views, including on gender issues. I find it fascinating to work in this space, and I greatly value conversations with people across the political spectrum.

This greater political diversity also means though that philosophy of religion is less welcoming to transgender and other LGBTQ+ people than many other philosophy fields are. This is regrettable and unfortunate.  As I’ve argued (in a forthcoming paper), we need to seek epistemic friction, and this includes challenging prevailing religious orthodoxies on gender and sexuality (I think that there is also a place for these views to be discussed, but I know other people disagree with me on this).

In situations like the one I am commenting on, it is often difficult to separate the personal and the professional. Let me clarify, in case it escaped people’s notice, Sophie Grace Chappell did not say in her original message that discrimination against trans people would be conference policy. Still, individual trans philosophers experience rejection on an individual basis. This is independently the case from any conference policy.  

In the interest of full disclosure: Andrew Pinsent has been a mentor and invaluable help for me when I was a postdoc at Oxford, and also later. I greatly value Andrew’s philosophical work, I also value Andrew as a person, and I owe a debt of gratitude to him. So, given this situation, it was a torn and difficult decision to know what to do. I do not wish to appear ungrateful, I don’t wish to pretend this issue hasn’t happened.

Not presenting at the conference was an option, but I felt that there are several disadvantages. First, my non-appearance would not make clear what, if any, my reasons would be and might give rise to the impression that I was just succumbing under pressure. I could easily see how my conservative philosophers of religion friends would cry out “cancel culture”, or say that I am just another liberal not worth engaging with. However, I hope (and Sophie Grace Chappell told me she shares this hope) that her willingness to step forward affords us with an opportunity for us to change the field for the better.

Individual cases like these are helpful for us as a wakeup call, but the danger of focusing on them for the sake of “drama” in the profession is that we sometimes lose sight of the larger picture, namely that philosophy of religion is still by and large unwelcoming to transgender people (and other people who are LGBTQ+). One could put this down to deficiencies in character, but I here wish to focus on the structural issues.

Philosophy of religion also still has a long way to go to be more open to traditions outside of Christianity (and to a lesser extent naturalistic atheism), and to be open to people of color and people with disabilities (the issues here is that lots of traditional theological interpretations of scripture are ableist). There are still very few people of color like me who are members of the Society for Christian Philosophers and other Christian philosophical spaces. The situation for women is getting better, but judging by low numbers in the field, can still be improved substantially.

There are still very big obstacles for trans philosophers. I am hoping we could take this opportunity to draw attention to this issue. As I said, not presenting is an ambiguous statement of some sort, and so is presenting without any explanation. When I will present my paper, I intend to spend the first five minutes on expressing my solidarity with trans philosophers of religion, outlining the problems they face (I will ask feedback from several such philosophers to make sure this sounds on track but I will refrain from mentioning any specific cases), and conclude in expressing the hope we will be more inclusive. I hope this will change the hearts of at least some philosophers of religion.

I know that several philosophers of religion disagree strongly with me on the metaphysics of sexuality and gender. But I don’t think we need absolute agreement on this score. What we need is to be mindful of each other, respect each other’s pronouns (this is a courtesy you can extend even if you are gender critical), and try to make the space more welcoming. I will spend the remaining time of my talk talking about Schleiermacher and our taste for the infinite. I hope I am still welcome to come and present at the conference under those terms.

Some people might object to my idea that we can separate philosophical discourse from being welcoming to transgender people. I think this is right, it’s impossible to separate them. Trans philosophers go into spaces knowing that many people within it will not take their gender identity seriously. That must be hard, and I commend the courage of Sophie Grace Chappell and other trans philosophers (some of whom are out, not all) to navigate spaces under those conditions.

But we live in a non-ideal world, so I think what we can do is at least welcome those courageous trans philosophers balancing that with the need for openness to differences of opinion. I particularly hope we can shift the culture in conferences with a focus on Christianity where it seems to me the issue is more pressing than in conferences that have a broader focus (I cannot speak from experience of any conferences focused on any non-Christian religion).  I am reminded of Paul’s letter to the Galatians: “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” I have always taken this to mean not literally that we don’t have gender or religion or that the realities of oppression would simply vanish under a Christian identity. Rather, I take it to mean that under a Christian identity, those things ultimately don’t matter. It does not matter who you are, you are loved and valued for who you are. That’s a powerful message I hope we can take more to heart in philosophy of religion conferences.

UPDATE (3/4/20): Dr. Pinsent sent the following to me (and has now also posted it to PHILOS-L):

A statement by Andrew Pinsent, approved by Sophie Grace Chappell on 3 March 2020:
To close some issues that have arisen recently between myself and Professor Sophie Grace Chappell, I state definitively and finally that there is no policy against transgender persons at the Ian Ramsey Centre. And I personally invited Sophie Grace Chappell to our 2015 conference and have now also invited her to our 2020 conference. So she might, in fact, be our most invited single speaker of recent years. Finally, I have also been in direct contact about this matter with Sophie, who has been a personal friend and respected colleague for most of the last thirty years. Although we have our disagreements, we have also discovered some significant misunderstandings that we are able to address together.

■   ■   ■   ■   ■

The post Anti-Trans Discrimination in Philosophy of Religion: An Accusation & Possible Progress (Updated) appeared first on Daily Nous.

MLA Statement on Violence Against Students and Teachers in India

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sun, 26/01/2020 - 6:04am in

In recent weeks, supporters of Prime Minister Modi's government have increased attacks (both physical and verbal) against secular institutions of higher education in India--particularly in response to protests against the passage of a new citizenship law that is discriminatory against Muslims.  You can find a first person account at Academe and further coverage here.

In January, the Executive Council of the MLA issued a statement in protest of the violence against students and teachers.   You can find the link here.  I am also posting the Statement itself:

In January 2020, the Executive Council approved the following statement.

We condemn the physical assaults on students and teachers in India, most recently at Jawaharlal Nehru University, Jamia Millia Islamia University, and Aligarh Muslim University, and the continued violence against students and members of the press, the opposition, and the public, who exercise their rights of assembly and dissent in opposing the national Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA). These protests question new steps that allow state discrimination against citizens purely on the basis of religion and thus contravene India's own constitutional commitment to secularism. The Indian government is advancing Hindutva (the idea that Hindus are united in a Hindu nation-state that privileges Hindus) while legitimizing discrimination against other denominations, fanning polarizing rhetoric in public discourse, and setting the stage for confrontation and violence that plays out on campuses and affects academic life. The CAA establishes expedited pathways to citizenship for Hindu, Sikh, Zoroastrian, Buddhist, and Christian (but not Muslim) refugees. It also excludes a range of refugees from Myanmar, Bhutan, China, and Sri Lanka. The act, which represents an escalation of Hindu nationalism, simultaneously and exclusively casts "Muslim" states as perpetrators of violence against minorities and does not recognize Muslim groups as victims of state violence on a par with those of other religions seeking asylum and, ultimately, citizenship. The Indian government has responded to protests against the act with unprecedented violence on campuses and in the public sphere and routinely criminalizes the assembly of five or more people in order to sanction its brutality in suppressing the protests.

We urge India, a signatory and drafting member of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948, to consider the declaration's basic tenets, which the passing and implementation of CAA appear to violate (in particular, articles 1, 3, 5, 6, 7, 9, 14, 18, 19, 20 [1]).  We urge the government to honor the rights of assembly and dissent, to protect academic freedom, to protect teachers and students in its educational institutions against violence on campus, and to create stable conditions for open dialogue on any proposed changes in the university and on state policy, citizenship, immigration, and assembly. We urge the government to take immediate action to penalize the perpetrators of violence against students. We urge the government to give ownership of, and jurisdiction over, university curricula, research, and institutional positions to the faculty and to safeguard the basic rights of students and faculty members to pursue their educational goals without suffering violence, poverty, and the loss of life. We condemn, unequivocally, and call for the immediate cessation of sanctioned violence on campus in India and the assault on the democratic principles of equality, freedom, and the right to espouse viewpoints without fear of reprisal. 

Aus Race Laws In Spotlight After Paris Attacks

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 13/01/2015 - 10:55am in

Discrimination Action Against Coles Online

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 06/11/2014 - 9:55am in