Kristina Gehrman (Tennessee, Knoxville), who was a public figure in the case against Searle, offers some reflections. Here now is Kristina:
I want to share a couple of thoughts, mostly geared towards my fellow philosophers and academics in the wake of the Searle case.
I don’t regret sticking my neck out back in 2004, and I definitely don’t regret doing it in public again now. But I did it for a very specific reason, which is that I firmly believe that professors, administrators, and others in positions of power in academia are responsible for creating INSTITUTIONAL barriers to the kinds of predatory, undermining, and alienating behavior that John Searle’s undergraduate research assistants have been subjected to for years and years. We are supposed to be mentors and educators with firm and healthy boundaries even in our closest relationships with our students and mentees. And our mentoring and teaching relationships are supposed to be geared towards the intellectual and professional development and growth of our students/mentees. In philosophy, we by and large fail at that *as a matter of institutional culture*.
Of course, there are many wonderful, mature, thoughtful mentors and educators in the discipline. I’m still in philosophy because of the support of several such people while I was in graduate school – the inimitable Rosalind Hursthouse and Alva Noe at Berkeley, and then Barbara Herman and Gavin Gavin Lawrence and Pamela Hieronymi at UCLA. But for the most part in philosophy, this kind of support happens because individuals value it, are good at it, and make an extra effort to do it. We still mostly lack disciplinary and departmental cultures of mentorship and careful respect for power structures that would establish these kinds of support as the norm.
So my point is that it’s not enough – in fact, I would go so far as to say it’s not RELEVANT – to condemn John Searle, or others like him, for being slimy creepers. What’s relevant to me is the question of what made it so that the rest of the faculty at Berkeley – themselves, not slimy creepers and generally nice, decent people — were passive in the face of the full knowledge of Searle’s behavior. How many young women were lost to philosophy or had their self-confidence or sense of intellectual belonging undermined as a result? It’s absolutely unacceptable. Obviously there are many different possible explanations for people doing nothing in this kind of situation – shyness, naivete, indifference, obliviousness, complicity, being stymied by administrative indifference, reputational considerations, fear of repercussions, etc. But a strong departmental culture and relevant array of institutions and policies can overcome most of those things.
So I’m here to say to my fellow academics: if you respect what I did and you want to back me up, then turn your attention to whatever department you’re a part of right now, and start thinking about developing policies and structures and practices that will result in a culture of healthy boundaries and structured, effective relationships between those in power and those whose intellectual and/or academic careers are just beginning. Start doing research about best practices in these areas. Start talking to your colleagues about getting policies about appropriate relationships across power positions into your bylaws, including disclosure requirements. Do whatever you decide is best, but don’t just keep on waiting for the one bad apple to retire, and don’t think that you and your peers are not vulnerable to committing similar abuses of power just because it’s 2019 and now we all know better.
Last thing. I’m obviously not going to name the eight women who co-signed that letter with me. But I’m glad to have the chance to say publicly that you are wonderful, gutsy, no-nonsense people and I am so grateful to you.