The Accuser and the Ethicist
Here is the short version:
Yale’s Thomas Pogge is a world famous Yale professor of philosophy and ethics who is especially renowned for condemning the terrible human rights effects caused by disparity of resources between rich countries and poor ones. His books, lectures and a well-recieved TED talk argue that the power imbalance between rich countries and poor countries is so great that poor countries cannot reasonably be said to “consent” to agreements between them. Pogge has also accumulated many credible accusations of exploiting, harassing, and taking sexual liberties with his female students in multiple institutions. In the case that has led to this contrast becoming public, Yale offered a female accuser, a Yale graduate named Fernanda Lopez Aguilar, $2000 in exchange for ending the matter and keeping the story out of the news media.
The long version is here. Because the publisher is BuzzFeed, which is not widely regarded as a sterling source of trustworthy journalism (to say the least), the detailed and apparently well-researched report will be easy for Pogge and Yale to ignore and shrug off. However, other publications, including the Yale Daily News, have investigated the work of author Kaitie J.M. Baker, and so far it has held up to scrutiny.
Pogge has responded, less than convincingly, I would say, to the Lopez Aguilar allegations here. I say unconvincingly because he does not address the previous accusations made against him at Columbia University, and if there is one common characteristic of sexual harassers and abusers that stands out above all others, it is that they are habitual and repeat offenders. Anyone who has spent any time in academia (like me) is well aware that the culture permitting professors, especially male professors, to use the student body and bodies as a sexual perk of the job is widespread and only weakly restrained, if at all. Does that prove that Pogge is one of the professors who partakes in the lusty opportunities presented to him as an object of trust and admiration? No. There is, however a lot of smoke surrounding him, and the smoke has been issuing for a long time.
Yale’s institutional conduct is more than smoke. Yale appears to be another example of a trusted institution deciding that it is preferable to cover up the possible, likely or proven misconduct of a valuable employee than to risk damaging the reputation of that institution, or alienating the loyalties of other employees, by addressing it openly and decisively. I’m sure you can name other infamous examples of this phenomenon, broadly covered by the rationalizations “The King’s Pass” and “The Saint’s Excuse” on the Rationalizations List. Among the most infamous of these are the Catholic Church’s decades, perhaps centuries-long enabling of child sexual predators in the priesthood, the Watergate cover-up by the White House, and Penn State’s failure to stop a known child predator from using the school’s football program and its campus as a base of operations. Yale’s particular variety of this unethical choice is an especially unsavory one, closer to the Joe Paterno/ Sandusky and “Spotlight”scandals, because it intentionally places future innocent victims at risk of harm.
I accept that there is a possibility that Pogee is an impeccable professional and as pure as the driven snow, and thus himself a victim of a smear, though this seems unlikely. What I am more interested in now is to address the questions asked in the BuzzFeed piece, which relate to how we should regard unethical ethicists as well as other prominent figures who defy, in their actions, the wisdom they are celebrated for dispensing to others—the Bill Cosbys of the world.
I have some additional questions of my own, but for now I will restrict myself now to those posed in the article. Continue reading →