MU philosophy instructor contextualizes Ashmore letter

Earlier today, I published a letter from emetrius philosophy professor Robert B. Ashmore to Fr. Wild that went viral and eventually made it to McAdam’s blog. I had lumped Ashmore’s opinions with those of another philosophy instructor, Javier A. Ibáñez-Noé, who characterized the appointment of Jodi O’Brien to the ARSC deanship as damaging to “traditional commitment to respect Catholic teaching” at MU. However, Matt Wion, a doctoral student and MU philosophy instructor commented on that post to distinguish Ibáñez-Noé and Ashmore’s views:

I do not know enough about Ibanez to speculate on his precise positions. I do, however, know Bob Ashmore relatively well. I’m quite sure the Dr. Ashmore does NOT support the rescinsinding of Jodi O’Brien’s job offer. I think he is more of th frame of mind that certain people in our department, Dr. Snow, and several of the PH. D. candidates are using this unjust episode to further their radical race and gender theory agenda.

I would like to emphasize that for many reasons I will NOT side publicly with Ashmore or Snow or against either. I will say, quite publicly, that I am in totatl agreement that Marquette was unjust in rescinding the job offer and morally wrong to do so. I will also say that I think much of the anger and protest is totally justified.

But both Ibanez and Ashmore write from their side of a deeply divided and even hostile Philosophy department. Some members of our faculty and many of our students are fiercly pushing the department into race and gender studies, and area they think should be at the forefront of philosophy. Other faculty members are deeply oppossed to this, for various reasons. Most notably they wish to keep the deparment focused on history of philosophy, and fear that it is being turned into a race and gender studies only-club.

In a private communication, Matt wrote that he meant to say that “‘Ashmore perceives Snow and others as peddling a radical “race and gender agenda’ but I forgot to write the “percieves. I am not claiming that he is necessarily right on that.”

I do not personally have any interest at all in the philosophy of race and gender. I do not study it, nor have any desire to do so. I do not, however, possess the expertise to assess its merits. Nor is it my place to have any say in these department struggles, nor take a side. I am not facutly here and it is not my place to have any input in how the department goes.

My purpose in writing this is to put Bob Asmore into context and to separate his concerns from those of McAdams and probably from those of Ibanez as well.

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15 Responses

  1. I’m all for contextualizing, but anyone who thinks that the MU philosophy department is in danger of becoming a race and gender studies-only department is delusional.

    • Well Sparky, perhaps such a person is overreacting. But there are a number of faculty who believe this. I wish to add that I have no opinion on this department dispute. None at all. I am merely describing what some have said and Ashmore appears to come from this camp.

      I have noted a very strong interest in race and gender theory among many grad students and faculty, and a rather large number of talks given on the subject. But it does not follow that other areas are be excluded of course.

      This is an issue for the professors to wage war over, not I.

      I will say this, however, if there is no pushing of a race and gender agenda at all … why do you think so many faculty have such feelings? To clarify, the question is not rhetorical, loaded, or sarcastic … I an genuinely asking. For I do not have a position on this dispute.

    • I should add, it is not merely some of the faculty. A Number of grad students strongly feel like the philosophy of race and gender is given central importance in the department and that those who specialize in other areas are somewhat excluded from primary view.

      I do not say this is true, nor do I say I am among those who feel this way.

      But we do have to wonder why people think this? They may very well be wrong to think it. It may be entirely false. But we must ask these questions.

  2. “Well Sparky, perhaps such a person is overreacting.”

    Yep.

    “I have noted a very strong interest in race and gender theory among many grad students and faculty, and a rather large number of talks given on the subject.”

    Is this more than anecdotal?
    Out of the 26 faculty members listed on the Philosophy Dept. website, how many work in race or gender studies? Maybe three.

    Of the three people recently brought to campus, how many do race or gender studies? Zero.

    Of the last four department hires, how many work in race or gender studies? One. The other three work in history.

    As far as talks go, whomever is in charge of talks often has some sway in decisions about who to bring. It’s one of the perks. The last two people to serve on that committee (I think) were people who work in race and gender. I would imagine the concentration of talks in race and gender will change when there a different person is on that committee.

    Look, if graduate students are interested in these areas, then credit ought to be given to the instructors who have stimulated the interest of these graduate students. It is not the fault of faculty if grad students become interested in a particular area. And it is ridiculous to assume this must be because there is a radical agenda being pushed. This sounds like sour grapes from people who work in other areas.

    Finally, and importantly, I would be surprised if anyone felt pressured to work in these areas instead of history or continental or ethics, though maybe you have evidence to the contrary. If people are not being pressured, then in what sense is a radical agenda being “pushed”? In what sense is it being “pushed” in a way different from the way ancient or medieval or continental is being pushed? Students take seminars and they try to figure out what interests them. What advantage does any instructor have, given this?

    The fact is, there is very little evidence a race and gender agenda is being pushed. It is simply the case that there are now people teaching and writing dissertations in areas that in the past were not represented at MU.

    “…if there is no pushing of a race and gender agenda at all … why do you think so many faculty have such feelings?”

    I just gave you some reasons for thinking these beliefs are ungrounded. I don’t know what more to say by way of explanation. If I had to guess, though, I would say that departments change and part of what it is to be a conservative is to want things to stay the same. It’s an old story.

    “…those who specialize in other areas are somewhat excluded from primary view.”

    Can you be more specific about the ways other areas are “excluded from primary view”? I’m not sure I know what that means. And since you are an instructor in the department, do you have any idea of the number of students working in these areas as compared to other areas? I would be interested in some actual numbers.

  3. “Nor is it my place to have any say in these department struggles, nor take a side. I am not facutly here and it is not my place to have any input in how the department goes.”

    Good call. I bet your department is thrilled that you felt it was your place to diagnose their problems and publicize them in this way. Members of your department have been very active in the wake of the decision to rescind the offer to Dr. O’Brien. Those persons have not acted in the name of your department, nor have they claimed to represent your department. I am unsure why you now feel the need to implicate the whole department in this matter.

    And a further question, Matt: Has Dr. Ashmore previously registered opinions on the withdraw of contracts from out lesbian sociologists considered for Deanships are Marquette? Absent of this, I think your “contextualizing” of his opinion is out of line, and if I may add, philosophically suspect. Speculation and anecdotes do not an argument make.

  4. @ Courtney. Why do you think that I have implicated my department in anything? I am not accussing people I my deparrtment of anything at all.

    Furthermore, you seem to suppose I was making some argument? I don’t recall doing this. I was contexualizing, not arguing for some side.

    Ashmore and Ibanez have already publibly aired our department struggles, I was merely commenting on that.

    There is no need for your rudr tone. Was I rude in my post? I think not.

    Finally, I get the impression you thini I favor the rescinsion of the job offer. I decidely do not. Dr. O’brien was treated unjustly and immorally. This is disrimination and it should not be tolerated!

  5. Sparky,

    First: I am troubled that you seem to assume that I hold the views about race and gender and “agendas” in the dept. I said several times that these were not my views.

    But let me be even more clear: it is not my view in the slightest that a race and gender agenda is being pushed. I am reporting a widespread view among several grad students and fauclty. That view, I repeat, is NOT my own.

    I like your response and find much of it very well said.

    I must, however, point out a flaw in your reasoning. From the fact that few faculty members do their primary research in these areas, it does not follow that the area is not given undue attention by those in power in the dept.

    Theses are different things and conflating them is a logical error.

  6. And yes sparky I do know of some students who have said they have been pressured to do race and gender. I personally suspect that to be a misperception on their part, but such is their view.

  7. First, about Courtney’s comment, I think she may have been at least partially referring to the original post in which you stated:

    “Some members of our faculty and many of our students are fiercly [sic] pushing the department into race and gender studies, and area they think should be at the forefront of philosophy. Other faculty members are deeply oppossed [sic] to this, for various reasons. Most notably they wish to keep the deparment [sic] focused on history of philosophy, and fear that it is being turned into a race and gender studies only-club.”

    This makes it sound as if you are reporting AS FACT that certain members of the department are pushing an agenda. (I think your comment to Bento was meant to back off from this claim.) In any event, this could lead a lot people to think that this actually is a fact, when it seems that no one has provided any evidence for it. In the end, my guess is that in a department as big as yours things are a lot more complicated than can be summed up as the sort of dispute you suggest.

    About your response to me, you made some comments and asked some questions of me and I answered them. I did not assume anything about your position in all of this. And I’m not sure why you thought I did. I was primarily defending my claim that there is very little evidence for this idea that an agenda is being pushed.

    Finally, I did not commit the logical error you mention. I did not infer from number of faculty members doing research in an area that there is not undue attention being paid to that area. Of course, that would be a conflation.

    The point is that since no evidence has been provided for the charge, the only thing one can do in response is think about what COULD count as evidence and show how the facts do not support the charge. It certainly COULD count as evidence that some are trying to “push” the department “fiercely” in the direction of a particular area if a substantial number of scholars were now taking up work in that area, or if we had recently hired several people in that area. This does not imply that I am committed to making the inference you suggested I made.

    If, as you put it (hypothetically), people in power are pushing to make Marquette a r”ace and gender studies-only club,” then I would simply like to know what that pushing consists in. Who is doing the pushing, and how? (This is a rhetorical question. I do not expect you to answer it. But it seems like someone should.)

    Finally, if students are feeling pressured to work in a particular area, then I would encourage them to take that up with the dean or the provost, since it is unacceptable. Of course, what constitutes objectionable pressure is a tricky issue. For example, selling a particular area is different from pressuring someone to work in that area. But different students could have different reactions to a sales job. In any event, I think we can agree that genuine pressure should not be part of anyone’s graduate experience.

    • Hi Sparky,

      First, I see now that you did not indeed committ the fallacy I attributed to you. I took you to be conflating, but you seem to have been illustrating one kind of evidence one might point to to claim an agenda is being pushed.

      I agree that there is no evidence of agenda-pushing in some pernicious sense here. I also agree that so many students are interested in this area, becautse those in our department teaching race and gender are good teachers … and I would add good people. Professors like Monahan and Tobin are charisimatic, kind, intelligent, and good people, and it’s no surprise to me that many of our students are drawn to them and what they study.

      I thought you were attributing the negative views of race and gender to me, because when you quoted my earlier posts and comments you often used the “…” to omit my disclaimers, leaving the quotes to sound like I was explaining my own view.

      I am sorry, I must have read too much into that.

      Thank you for your explanations and arguments. As I have mentioned I’m not really personally invovled in this department dispute.

      The only reason I tried to contexualize it in the first place, is that Ibanez and Ashmore appealed to it, and seem to be partially motivated by it.

      I do not really know Ibanez, but I do know and respect Bob Ashmore. I also know and respect Nancy Snow and I don’t share what appears to be a negative view of her by Dr. Ashmore.

      I suspect you are right that much more is going on then just a dispute over race and gender. The department is probably deeply divided over several things.

      And I agree that pressured students should go to the dean. But again, I am not really convinced that these students are pressured, I’m inclined to think this is a misperception on their part.

  8. Matt, you might be surprised to find out that I support the hire of Dr. O’Brien by Marquette, and I support the student and faculty movements that arose in the wake of her unjust treatment.

    If you are not making an argument, what are you doing? You are pushing for the ideological separation of Ashmore’s letter from McAdams’ position (and maybe Ibanez, though you admit you don’t know Ibanez well enough to make any claims about his position). The grounds for us to believe that Ashmore’s letter is anything different from the traditionalist-Catholic agenda is that you “know” and “respect” Ashmore. I’m suspicious of this, not in the least because after a few short sentences, you decided what side of this debate I fell on, a decision that was erroneous.

    Ashmore and Ibanez’s letters do introduce the roles of some members of your department in the movements begun in the wake the decision against O’Brien. However, you are the first to call out PhD candidates, and the first to name two other philosophy faculty members. Faculty members who, though you speak highly of them, have now been publicly planted in one side of a debate and situation that you admit you may be mistakenly diagnosing.

    Furthermore, I imagine that you may have further alienated students who do feel pressured to pursue the philosophies of race and gender. I imagine that in their position, the public charge that they are “misperceiving” things is further damage to what seems like a very frustrating position.

    I think that before we engage in future conjecture and future harm to others, we look for the truth of the matter, a truth which you say you do not possess.

    • Courtney what in the blazes are you even speaking of? I never thought you were oppossed of the hiring of Dr. Obrien! Or oppossed to those in my department protesting? I also support the hiring of Dr. O’brien and support the protesting?

      Frankly I cannot figure out what your issue is or why you think I’m attacking anyone or calling anyone out! Are you not well?

      What Ph.D candidates did I call out? Call out for what? Who did I oppose? You are making the assumption that Bob Ashmore holds “traditional al catholic agenda.” Perhaps he does. But I’ve spoken at lengthy with Bob Asmore many times on political and moral issues, and this is not my impression of Bob Asmore.

      Nor have I admitted to “mistakenly diagnosing” anything! I am simply stating what is in fact true, a number of facutly believe certain things about other faculty.

      The idea that I’m attacking anyone, calling them out, attempting to harm are humiliate them is just plain insutling and wrong.

    • One more issue that I must adress. You claim that I “put two faculty members on a side of a debate.” I do NO SUCH THING!!! I do not attribute any views or positions to the faculty members named. And they were NOT mentioned in relation to Jody O’Brien.

      Speaking with Sparky about our department, I wrote this:

      “I also agree that so many students are interested in this area, becautse those in our department teaching race and gender are good teachers … and I would add good people. Professors like Monahan and Tobin are charisimatic, kind, intelligent, and good people, and it’s no surprise to me that many of our students are drawn to them and what they study.”

      This has nothing to do with anybody’s views or anything to do with Jody O’brien. I am simply agreeing with Sparky that those professors who teach race and gender theory are great teachers and good people!!!! How is that possibly putting them “on one side” of anything.

      Please read more carefully.

  9. Matt,

    In response,

    1) “Finally, I get the impression you thini I [sic] favor the rescinsion [sic] of the job offer. I decidely [sic] do not. Dr. O’brien [sic] was treated unjustly and immorally. This is disrimination [sic] and it should not be tolerated!”

    I read this statement as “I get the impression that you think in favor […]” Perhaps what you meant to say was “I get the impression that you think I’m in favor […]” If this correction is the case, you might want to proofread.

    2) “What Ph.D candidates did I call out? Call out for what? Who did I oppose?”

    Your responses:

    a) “A Number [sic] of grad students strongly feel like the philosophy of race and gender is given central importance in the department and that those who specialize in other areas are somewhat excluded from primary view.”

    b) “Dr. Snow, and several of the PH. D. [sic] candidates are using this unjust episode to further their radical race and gender theory agenda […]”

    c) “And yes sparky [sic] I do know of some students who have said they have been pressured to do race and gender. I personally suspect that to be a misperception on their part, but such is their view.”

    3) “Nor have I admitted to ‘mistakenly diagnosing’ anything! I am simply stating what is in fact true, a number of facutly [sic] believe certain things about other faculty.”

    You say:

    a) “I agree that there is no evidence of agenda-pushing in some pernicious sense here.”

    But you also say:

    b) “I suspect you are right that much more is going on then [sic] just a dispute over race and gender. The department is probably deeply divided over several things.”

    And then:

    c) “I am simply stating what is in fact true, a number of facutly [sic] believe certain things about other faculty.”

    Which is it? That there’s “much more […] going on” than “just” a dispute in the way that you describe, or that what you state (vague though it may be) “is in fact true”? And what’s “true” here, anyhow—that a number of faculty “believe certain things about other faculty”? What does that even mean?

    d)“…widespread view among several grad students and fauclty [sic].”

    Which is it? “Widespread” or “among several”?

    4) “Are you not well?”

    I’m fine, thank you. And you?

    5) “This has nothing to do with anybody’s views or anything to do with Jody O’brien [sic].”

    5b) “I wish to add that I have no opinion on this department dispute.”

    If these statements are also the case, then what are we (i.e., you) talking about?

    Look, I imagine we agree on basic principles regarding the O’Brien hire/non-hire. If that is the case, we should both commit ourselves to sound reasoning. Likewise, poor grammar and syntax can quickly undo good intentions.

    • Sorry that’s what I get for responding via blackberry. Yes, I meant that I got the impression you thought I was oppossed to O’Brien.

      A few things that might clarify my points (I’ll try to actually check my grammar for once):

      When I wrote,:

      “Dr. Snow, and several of the PH. D. [sic] candidates are using this unjust episode to further their radical race and gender theory agenda ”

      I was not claiming this was true, but stating that certain parties believe this. Did you think I was stating it as fact? That could be poor grammar on my part again. I was NOT stating it as fact, but opinion and not my own opinion, but the opinion of other parties.

      Yes, I mentioned that some grad students and some faculty view the race and gender folk this way, and some do feel pressured to study race and/or gender. But I did not name them nor give any information as to who they are. So how am I calling them out? The people I have in mind have told me this at length in private conversation, and they are, in fact aware that I have posted this here. They are also aware that I think they may be guilty of misperception here, as I’ve told them this personally. So I’m not attacking people or anything like that.

      To my statements in (a) and (b) if your scroll up you will see that in (a) I am agreeing with Sparky that the people doing race and gender studies are not pernicisouly peddling an agenda. In (B) I am recognizing that there is deep division in the department. There is no contradiciton in affirming both (a) and (b).

      Regarding the last statements you quote. That this has “nothing to do with Jody O’brien,” refers to the mention of Tobin and Monahan by name. I am not mentiong them in that context, I merely brought them up as astounding teachers who inspire students. This claim was separate from the O’brien issue and was meant to agree with Sparky that grad students in our department are drawn to race and gender by good teaching and advising, not by an agenda.

      And finally, what I will not publicly take an opinon on is the direction the department should go. The rift in our department seems to be between parties with very different ideas about what our department should be. It is not, to repeat, my place to have any say in that matter.

      As for Ashmore. My argument is not that I “know” and ‘respect” bob ashmore, therefore his argument is different. But let me here flesh that out. I have spoken on moral issues with Bob Ashmore, including the issue of traditional catholic teaching on homosexuality and same-sex marriage. I could be wrong, by my clear impression is that Ashmore’s position is not simply the “traditional catholic agenda.” What I read in his letter is his fear that some people are using the issue of Jodi O’Brien to enact a larger agenda, one which he has issues with. Again, I must repeat, this does NOT mean I agree with Bob Ashmore. But I strongly believe he should not be put in the same camp as John McAdams.

      McAdams is a genuine homophobe who cannot even mention Nancy Snow or Jody O’brien with out calling them “Lesbian this or that” in a sneering manner. He rails against a “gay facsim” that exists only in his sick mind, and with dishonor condemnds any of us who see our gay brothers and sisters as deserving of equal status and respect. Bob Ashmore is not the same kind of man.

      So I apologize for my poor grammar, hopefully these statements clarify.

      I also apology for the “are you not well” comment? As all who know me will attest, in debate I can be a bit of an ass sometimes. I am sorry.

      I agree that we are on the same side here and must therfore commit ourselves to sound reasoning.

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