Journal Hypatia’s editors resign, and directors suspend associate editors over their apology for the “transracialism” article

Reader Robert called my attention to an article in the Daily Nous about the “transracialism” article that started a big kerfuffle in the social science/justice community.

As you might remember, it all started recently when Rebecca Tuvel, an assistant professor of philosophy at Rhodes College in Memphis, Tennessee, published an article called “In defense of transracialism” in Hypatia: A Journal of Feminist Philosophy. Tuvel compared the situation of a transgender person, Caitlyn Jenner, with that of Rachel Dolezal, a white woman who tried to pass for black. She found no substantive philosophical reason to celebrate Jenner but demonize Dolezal, which in fact was what the Regressive Left had done. If you can feel that you’re a woman when born a man, Tuvel asked, why can’t you feel that you’re black when you’re born white?

In response to Tuvel’s ideological impurity, a bunch of academics wrote a letter to the journal calling for the article’s retraction, and some of the journal’s associate editors apologized for the “harms imposed by the article on trans people and people of color,” asserting that the article should not have been published. (That apology, on Hypatia’s Facebook page, has now disappeared, but you can find my screenshot of it here.) I thought Tuvel’s article was a decent one (see also here), and that there was certainly no reason to reject what seemed a perfectly legitimate and socially relevant philosophical analysis. I hope Tuvel doesn’t suffer professionally from writing her piece.

If you want a comprehensive account of the affair and its sequelae, Wikipedia now has a big article on the “Hypatia Transracialism Controversy.

Now, according to Hypatia’s website, the board of directors seems to have realized what an embarrassment the actions of the associate editors really produced. The main editor of the journal, Sally Scholz, and book review editor Shelley Wilcox, have both resigned for reasons for that aren’t clear (it may have to do with them disagreeing with the associate editors). And the journal’s board of directors has suspended all actions of the associate editors, so they can’t handle any papers, until a new committee restructures the journal.

From the site (my emphasis):

It is with disappointment and regret that the Board of Directors of Hypatia has received the news that Sally Scholz and Shelley Wilcox are resigning from their roles as editors of Hypatia. Throughout their tenure with the journal, they have stood by fundamental principles of publication ethics, which call upon all who are involved in the governance of a journal to respect the integrity of the peer-review process and to support authors published by the journal (with rare exceptions such as plagiarism and fraud). The Board is also committed to these principles and fully supports Scholz and Wilcox in their commitment to and execution of them.

Unfortunately, the Associate Editors’ public apology for the publication of an article failed to respect these principles. Their action, appearing to speak for the journal rather than as individuals, invited confusion over who speaks for Hypatia. It also damaged the reputations of both the journal and its Editors, Scholz and Wilcox, and has made it impossible for the Editors to maintain the public credibility and trust that peer reviewed academic journal editorship requires.

We wish to reiterate that neither Hypatia, nor the journal’s Editors, have apologized for or retracted the article in question. We also wish to reaffirm that the Associate Editors did not in any way speak for the journal, nor do they have authority to do so.

As the board ultimately responsible for the well-being of the journal, we find it necessary at this time to take emergency measures to restore the academic integrity of the journal and shepherd it through a transition period to a new editorial team. Thus, we have temporarily suspended the authority of the Associate Editorial Board.

Well that’s a slap in the face, and good for Hypatia! It was a really awful idea to first accept a paper and then, after public outcry from the Purity Crowd, have the associate editors (who handle all the papers) declare that the paper should never have been published. Maybe there’s hope yet for academic feminism—at least in this journal.

16 Comments

  1. Carey Haug
    Posted July 22, 2017 at 12:50 pm | Permalink

    This is an attempt at damage control. I think it’s a step in the right direction as it reinforces Ms Tuvel’s right to academic freedom.

  2. infiniteimprobabilit
    Posted July 22, 2017 at 1:21 pm | Permalink

    Well done the board of directors.

    Personally, I’m tempted to find Dolezal’s stance a bit silly and pathetic, but I have to remind myself that we all do rather pathetic things (myself included, and I’d have to kill you if I told you about them). If she feels more comfortable in black company, fine. It’s just a matter of how far you go to be accepted.

    But Tuvel’s article – (from what I’ve read here) there’s absolutely nothing wrong with it. It argued a position. If it was a factually incorrect position it stands to be contradicted, not denounced as thoughtcrime.

    cr

  3. Heather Hastie
    Posted July 22, 2017 at 2:26 pm | Permalink

    This is excellent. I was another who thought the apology was an appalling response from the associate editors of Hypatia. Tuvel’s article met requirements for publication and, whatever anyone thought about it, was a perfectly logical philosophical response to the issue.

    My estimation of the magazine has increased significantly.

  4. Posted July 22, 2017 at 2:47 pm | Permalink

    In defense of Rachel Dolezal, it appears that she grew up with 4 adopted siblings who were all of African descent. I can understand that she identified with them. It’s similar to people of Middle-Eastern, African or Asian descent growing up in Europe and identifying as Europeans.

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted July 22, 2017 at 3:35 pm | Permalink

      That I quite understand. I think it was when she actually claimed to be ethnically black that (IMO) she jumped the shark. But that’s a criticism of, shall we say, the wisdom of her tactics, not of her motivation.

      cr

    • ladyatheist
      Posted July 22, 2017 at 4:24 pm | Permalink

      That family was messed up. Dolezal was able to get custody of one of her adopted brothers. She took on the role of mother & that’s part of the source of her adopting a black identity. Also, I think her ex-husband is black. If Eminem can have a rap career, she shouldn’t be vilified for doing something that has better motives.

  5. Posted July 22, 2017 at 3:11 pm | Permalink

    Most definitely NOT expecting this.

  6. mordacious1
    Posted July 22, 2017 at 4:24 pm | Permalink

    I have never understood, why it’s perfectly acceptable ( to some people) to identify as another species, but not as another race.

    • Dave
      Posted July 22, 2017 at 4:47 pm | Permalink

      I would guess it’s because none of the other species are able to take offence at it. If you identify as a three-toed sloth or whatever, your fellow humans will think you’re a bit weird, but you’ll get no trouble from the sloth community!

      • Phil Giordana FCD
        Posted July 23, 2017 at 2:46 am | Permalink

        The Sloth Community is still too busy fighting that whole “deadly sin” business…

  7. Posted July 22, 2017 at 8:13 pm | Permalink

    Do magazines, journals, newspapers, radio and TV shows not carefully review the material they intend to publish or present any more before communicating it to their public? I know that they’ve gotten very poor about editing (They must all think spellcheck is God and, therefor, infallible.) One would think that knowing what the piece is about and whether or not it meets your editorial guidelines would be a major prerequisite. Then, the back-pedaling and apologies would be less necessary afterwards.
    Also, get a backbone.

  8. steve oberski
    Posted July 22, 2017 at 8:13 pm | Permalink

    Perhaps the Board of Directors of Hypatia recalled that their namesake “Hypatia of Alexandria … the only daughter of the mathematician Theon of Alexandria … was a Greek mathematician, astronomer, inventor, and philosopher in Egypt … murdered by a Christian mob … which effectively marked the downfall of Alexandrian intellectual life”.

  9. Sebastian
    Posted July 23, 2017 at 5:00 am | Permalink

    The best thing about this seems to be IMO: it shows that those forced apologies for wrong-think can actually backfire (as they should).
    It is usually assumed that apologising for what you’re accused of, even for a completely silly non-crime, will put you on the save side. So even if all you care about is saving your own behind, one still wants to think about how ridiculous or wrong-headed the accusations leveled at one are before one decides to apologise.


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