Thursday, March 13, 2014

wtf philosophy: Northwestern edition update

Following last week's student protest, Peter Ludlow's spring quarter class at Northwestern has been cancelled.
Philosophy Prof. Peter Ludlow will not teach during Spring Quarter, University spokesman Al Cubbage said Wednesday.
Ludlow was scheduled to teach a 200-level philosophy class called “Minds and Machines,” according to CAESAR, but Cubbage said the course has been cancelled. As of Wednesday afternoon, 12 students were registered to take the 48-person class. The students registered for the course will be allowed in enroll in another class even though registration is closed until the add/drop period during the first week of the quarter, Cubbage said.
Students who have been protesting Ludlow’s continued employment by the University were informed of the decision in a meeting Wednesday with Dean of Students Todd Adams and Patricia Telles-Irvin, vice president for student affairs.
In a handout given to students at the meeting, officials highlighted the cancellation of Ludlow’s spring class as part of NU’s response to concerns raised over its handling of Title IX issues.
Is this cancellation the product of mob rule, threatening academic freedom, as Leiter suggested, or the fact that academic freedom involves students as well? The student protest did involve silencing---Ludlow was prevented from teaching the last few classes that term, and students in that class did not hear his lectures. But student protesters felt silenced as well, by an opaque administration which they did not perceive as responsive to complaints and concerns they voiced about sex harassment and gender climate on campus, and they represented their sense of voicelessness by protesting by taping their mouths shut. 

In the Rashomon world of competing legal filings and statements to the media, no outside party is in a position to know the facts at the bottom of the student complaint against Ludlow and Northwestern. But student protesters, so far as I can tell from the outside, are acting on the basis of what they have been told that Northwestern found about the case: that Ludlow had made “unwelcome and inappropriate sexual advances” toward the student in violation of University sex harassment policies (a finding whose factual basis Ludlow contests). Even with tape over their mouths, the student protesters are asserting that they do not want to be taught by people the University has found to sexually harass students. Now, I suspect that many other students on campus don't hold that view, or don't agree with the tactics, or resent having their courses disrupted, or just haven't thought about this very much, and a healthy campus climate will allow all of them to think through and argue these points in the coming months---an educational experience of as much value as a course on Minds and Machines.

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