by Caroline Jenkins (Philosophy) and Jonathan Ichikawa (Philosophy)
Like many of our colleagues at UBC, we’re concerned about academic freedom. UBC’s governance crisis has contributed to a culture of fear. This week, Philip Steenkamp, UBC’s Vice President of External Affairs, asserted that we’re wrong to be concerned. “Categorically,” he told the CBC, “there is no such culture”.
We’ll take Steenkamp at face value—he genuinely believes there’s no culture of fear at UBC. But how would a Vice President of External Affairs know whether faculty members feel stifled? If they did, they wouldn’t speak up—so UBC’s higher-ups wouldn’t hear much about it spontaneously.
As is well-known to theorists of knowledge, one’s position in a power structure can affect one’s ability to know what’s going on. Just think of the sexist office culture of the 1960s. That sexism, undeniable in retrospect, was obscure to the men in charge. Don Draper couldn’t see what was obvious to Peggy Olson. This kind of ignorance is often recalcitrant: the privileged are motivated not to see certain things. As philosopher Charles Mills put it: “imagine an ignorance that fights back.”
Yesterday there was a special meeting of the UBC faculty association, organized in response to this petition to the FA executive. The result of that meeting is that, beginning today, there will be an online vote on the following motion:
Be it resolved that the Faculty Association of the University of British Columbia has no confidence in the University of British Columbia Board of Governors.
The motion was presented by myself—Jonathan Ichikawa, Associate Professor, Philosophy—and seconded by Juliet O’Brien, 12-Month Lecturer, French, Hispanic, and Italian Studies.
Faculty members, watch your email for a message from the FA instructing you on how to vote.
The [UBC] Faculty Association Executive Committee was presented with a petition signed by over 450 faculty seeking to have a membership vote on a no confidence motion. The motion, sponsored by Jonathan Ichikawa (Philosophy), Juliet O’Brien (FHIS), and Alan Richardson (Philosophy) is as follows:
“Be it resolved that the Faculty Association of the University of British Columbia has no confidence in the University of British Columbia Board of Governors.”
Pursuant to the Association’s Constitution, the President, in discussion with the Executive Committee, has agreed to call a special general meeting of the membership to discuss the motion, which will be voted on electronically following this meeting to ensure that all members have an opportunity to participate in the vote.
Meetings at both the Vancouver and Okanagan campuses will be held on Tuesday, March 22nd from 2 pm to 3:30 pm.
UBC Vancouver: Jack Poole Hall South, UBC Alumni Centre, 6163 University Boulevard
Earlier this month I wrote an op-ed in the Vancouver Sun about university sexual assault policies. One of the things I tried to do there was to draw a connection between some of the questions in that area and my own research into knowledge and contextualism. I tried to make the case that a kind of contextualist fallacy lies behind some attitudes about university sexual assault policies. I still think that’s plausible and interesting, although there are certainly competing possible explanations. But one tweet I received in response definitely commits the contextualist fallacy.
The contextualist fallacy is the failure to attend to the context-sensitivity of language, allowing for the construction of a superficially apparently-valid argument that is in fact fallacious. For example, the word ‘now’ is context-sensitive. Sometimes when it is used, it refers to 9:47 am Monday, Jan 18. (In fact, that’s the time that word refers to when I utter it right now.) Here is a true sentence:
1. It is before 10:00 Monday right now.
Actually, although it is before 10:00, it’s not very far before 10:00, when I have to teach. So I’d better come back and finish this post later.