Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Tell 3 (Philosophers)

There's quite a bit of chatter going on in the American Philosophical Association right now concerning that organization's antidiscrimination policy-- more specifically, it's policy forbidding institutions from discriminating against homosexuals in hiring. Professor Charles Hermes (University of Texas- Arlington) authored a petition, which now has over 1300 signatures, calling for the APA to either (1) enforce its current antidiscrimination policy and prevent colleges/universities who are in violation of it from advertising in the JFP ("Jobs for Philosophers," the multi-annual publication that lists open positions in philosophy departments) or (2) to clearly mark the discriminating institutions as institutions who violate the APA's policy. Currently, the APA's antidiscrimination policy reads as follows:

The American Philosophical Association rejects as unethical all forms of discrimination based on race, color, religion, political convictions, national origin, sex, disability, sexual orientation, gender identification or age, whether in graduate admissions, appointments, retention, promotion and tenure, manuscript evaluation, salary determination, or other professional activities in which APA members characteristically participate.

Shortly after Hermes' petition got off the ground-- and got some publicity on Brian Leiter's blog and Facebook-- a counterpetition emerged, calling for the APA to maintain its existing JFP advertising policy. The counterpetitioners focus on the second part of the APA's antidiscrimination policy, which reads as follows:

At the same time, the APA recognizes the special commitments and roles of institutions with a religious affiliation; it is not inconsistent with the APA's position against discrimination to adopt religious affiliation as a criterion in graduate admissions or employment policies when this is directly related to the school's religious affiliation or purpose, so long as these policies are made known to members of the philosophical community and so long as the criteria for such religious affiliations do not discriminate against persons according to the other attributes listed in this statement. Advertisers in Jobs for Philosophers are expected to comply with this fundamental commitment of the APA, which is not to be taken to preclude explicitly stated affirmative action initiatives.

The debate so far, such that it is, can be summed up as follows: can "Christian" colleges and universities legitimately show disfavor to homosexual job applicants on the basis of enforcing certain "ethical standards" necessitated by their institution's religious commitments? and, if they do, does this constitute "discrimination"? The counterpetition argues that "institutions can require their faculty to agree to abide by ethical standards that forbid homosexual acts while not ipso facto discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation." And, of course, the original petitioners cry foul. There's been much haranguing over the meaning of "Christianity," the meaning of "homosexuality," the meaning of "discrimination," and many and varied appeals to the less-than-illustrious history of philosophy on all of these. As far as I can tell, the APA itself has remained very, very quiet.

Outside of the Ivory Tower, the American Civil Liberties Union has begun a campaign called Tell 3, asking people (of all orientations) to commit to talking to at least 3 people about what it's like to be or to know someone who is LGBT. The ACLU's idea is a good one, as we all know that studies show it's much harder to discriminate against someone you know than someone you don't. Although the debate surrounding the petition and counterpetition to the APA has been very interesting, it does often read like entrenched, intransigent philosophers talking past one another. Might be nice to see some of them talk to each other.


anotherpanacea said...

I see you signed. I let my APA membership lapse this year so it's not a live option for me, but my one complaint has been that the petition is so mild. I would prefer a much less equivocal petition. I think the APA should actively speak out against these universities rather than simply adding an asterisk to their advertisements. At least in the case of Belmont, I think the philosophy department would appreciate the support of a professional disparagement in their negotiations with the administration.

Just curious, but what do you think about the fact that some Christian philosophers seems to have taken this debate as signs of their own minority status in need of protection?

petya said...

There's a similar thing going on in political science. People are boycotting the 2012 APSA (poli sci version of the APA) conference in New Orleans because "New Orleans is not a gay-friendly city".

Of my political science professors at Penn State, only one has signed the petition.


petya said...

Oh, Josh. Your comment reminded me of Rick Warren's complaints that liberals were not willing to respect his opinion... Hmmm.