Nearly a month after sexual misconduct allegations arose against renowned Yale philosophy professor Thomas Pogge, simmering anger within the philosophy community has turned into open outrage as more than 200 philosophy professors around the world — including 16 full Yale professors — have signed an open letter condemning Pogge’s alleged misconduct.
A May 20 Buzzfeed News article first shed light on allegations made by Pogge’s former student Fernanda Lopez Aguilar ’10. Two other current professors have since come forward with stories about their encounters with Pogge during their time as students, which they called “unpleasant” and “inappropriate.”
However, the new open letter is the most public and widespread condemnation of Pogge’s actions by his colleagues since the allegations were first made public.
“Nothing is more important to our philosophical community than the trust he has betrayed,” the letter reads. “Based on the information that has been made public, we strongly condemn his harmful actions toward women, most notably women of color, and the entire academic community.”
Yale professors in the philosophy department, particularly those with tenure, have been quick to make their stance on the issue clear — 16 of 21 full professors signed the open letter, including the department chair Stephen Darwall.
University spokesman Tom Conroy declined to comment on the letter. University Title IX Coordinator Stephanie Spangler did not return requests for comment on Monday.
In an interview with the News before the open letter was published, philosophy professor Shelly Kagan, who was department chair when Pogge was hired, said what Pogge has admitted to doing is inappropriate and unprofessional. During a 2011 UWC investigation, Pogge acknowledged that he had shared a hotel room with Lopez Aguilar and slept on her lap during a flight, although he added that both actions were suggested by her.
“The things about going to the conference with a former student and sharing a hotel room and he admitted to sleeping with his head on her lap. That is not appropriate behavior,” Kagan said in an interview with the News, referencing allegations made by Lopez Aguilar in May 2011 to Yale’s University-Wide Committee on Sexual Misconduct. In his 2011 response letter to the UWC, Pogge did not deny either action.
“It’s not the way one should act towards a prospective employee or former student,” Kagan added. “If he’s done what he said he has done, I strongly disapprove of his actions.”
According to documents provided to the News by Lopez Aguilar, Yale was made aware of allegations against Pogge during his time at Columbia but still decided to hire him.
When asked whether sexual misconduct allegations were brought to his attention during the recruitment of Pogge, Kagan demurred, saying it was not his place to confirm or deny the allegations. Kagan added that had accusations against Pogge been brought to his attention, he would have discussed them with the administration.
“I don’t think it’s appropriate to make any implications against [Pogge] or any other colleagues,” Kagan said. Still, he added that beyond what Yale can do, it seems to him that Pogge has behaved in an “inappropriate fashion.”
The open letter that was drafted and published recently focuses on allegations made against Pogge in a federal civil rights complaint, which details Pogge’s relationship with Lopez Aguilar and include previous allegations against him during his time at Columbia University. The authors of the letter wrote that the information in the public domain sufficiently demonstrates that Pogge has engaged in behavior that violates the norms of professional conduct.
The letter notes that the federal complaint focuses more on how Yale handled the sexual misconduct case, rather than on Pogge’s action and added that the academic community must determine its own reaction to the allegations.
In the past month leading up to the open letter, other scholars in the philosophy community have come forward with uncomfortable encounters with Pogge.
Princeton philosophy professor Delia Graff Fara wrote in a blog that she had a “mildly unpleasant experience” with Pogge when she was a senior undergraduate at Harvard. She recounted how Pogge kept her talking for longer than she felt comfortable during a conversation after dinner and began rubbing her thigh. Kagan said Graff Fara is a “very highly respected” member of the profession and that he has no particular reason to doubt her report.
In a blog, Tufts philosophy professor Erin Kelly recounted an encounter with Pogge from more than three decades ago. After she visited Columbia University in 1984 as a prospective graduate student, Pogge invited her to travel with him to Europe or South America, as well as stay in his apartment. Even though Pogge insisted on sending Kelly his keys, she declined both offers. She still enrolled at Columbia, but Pogge did not press further invitations upon her during her time there.
“I am heartened by this cathartic outpouring of concern,” Lopez Aguilar told the News after the letter’s publication. “I remain committed, however, to seeing Thomas Pogge dismissed from his position at Yale University, and to obtaining a public apology from the Yale administration for its mishandling my case.”
She also claimed that she and other women only became “survivors” because a Yale administrator decided to give Pogge a second chance, despite the alleged incidents that took place at Columbia.
According to the Yale College Programs of Study, which was released on June 16, Pogge is currently slated to teach two classes in the fall and two in the spring.
Correction, June 21: A previous version of this story inaccurately stated that allegations against Pogge are contained in a federal civil rights lawsuit; in fact, the allegations are made in a federal civil rights complaint against Yale.