Philosophy professor Thomas Pogge lectured for an hour on morality, ethics and justice Wednesday morning, oblivious to the fact that students had arrived to his opening class to find copies of a New York Times article detailing his alleged sexual misconduct scattered on their seats.
No one has claimed responsibility for the printouts, which were already in place half an hour before the start of Pogge’s 9 a.m. lecture, his first since the allegations became public this summer.
Despite the backlash that Pogge — one of the world’s most prominent ethicists -— has continued to face since news about his alleged serial harassment broke in May, all of the roughly 35 seats in the WLH classroom were filled on the first day of his Introduction to Political Philosophy class. Some in the audience had not heard about the allegations, but most who shopped the class were aware of the professor’s allegedly unethical history.
The allegations became widely known when an article published by Buzzfeed News detailed a complaint that Fernanda Lopez Aguilar ’10, whom Pogge had advised, filed with Yale five years ago. Since then, Lopez Aguilar’s story has reverberated in the Yale community and the wider academic world. Several other former students and scholars have also come forward to allege that Pogge has used his fame and power to sexually harass younger women in his field. More than 200 philosophy professors around the world have signed a letter condemning his alleged behavior.
Pogge has repeatedly refuted Lopez Aguilar’s allegations and did so again when the News interviewed him after his class.
“It is the ultimate nightmare to be accused of something that is frightening, even though the evidence otherwise is right there. [Lopez Aguilar] did not flee the hallway half-naked,” Pogge said, in reference to his former student’s description of the aftermath of an alleged assault in 2010. “[But] it is now entrenched. The situation is hopeless.”
Pogge said he had not seen the newspaper copies, but said he had expected some sort of commotion at the lecture, which did not occur.
Pogge said he has considered leaving Yale but is “reluctant” to do so.
Philosophy department chair Stephen Darwall ’68 declined to comment on the situation.
Three of four sophomores interviewed after the class were aware of the allegations against Pogge. One said he had only learned about them that morning. All four said they are considering the Ethics, Politics and Economics major, for which Pogge’s philosophy class is a requirement, although another course with the same name offered in the political science department also fulfills that requirement.
One sophomore said she is shopping both classes that fulfill the requirement and would prefer not to take Pogge’s class because of the allegations. Another said she cannot take the political science course because of scheduling conflicts.
“I had to reconcile over the summer whether I want to jeopardize my academic career to take an ethical stand in the matter,” said a sophomore who requested anonymity because she did not want to risk her standing in Pogge’s class. Ultimately, she said, she has decided to take Introduction to Political Philosophy with Pogge.
According to course demand statistics, 32 students had signed up for the class on Yale’s Online Course Selection software as of Wednesday. On the same day last year, 23 students had registered, although by the end of shopping period last fall, only 11 students were enrolled. Former student evaluations indicate that Pogge’s class is considered more difficult than the political science option, which had 190 students enrolled as of 9 p.m. Aug. 31.
Lopez Aguilar told the News Wednesday afternoon that she is “viscerally disgusted” that Pogge has been allowed to continue teaching at Yale.
“The whole world knows what is happening, and Yale is being very insensitive to that,” she said. “I am disappointed that Yale is allowing it to go on. But I understand he attracts a lot of revenue and still has supporters in Europe.” Pogge is a German philosopher who is well-known throughout his home continent.
Pogge is teaching one other class this fall: a seminar about international tax rules.