At 3:56 p.m. on May 20, 2016, Katie J.M. Baker of BuzzFeed News released an investigative story with a staggering byline: “Thomas Pogge, one of the world’s most prominent ethicists, stands accused of manipulating students to gain sexual advantage. Did the fierce champion of the world’s disempowered abuse his own power?” The story focused on Pogge’s former student, Fernanda Lopez Aguilar ’10, who filed a formal complaint to Yale of sexual harassment and assault in 2011.
Pogge is the director of the Global Justice Program and Leitner professor of philosophy and international affairs at Yale. No degree or qualification, however, could possibly save him from damning allegations such as these. Or so I thought.
“He’ll be gone by the end of the summer,” I remember telling a friend. The next months saw New York Magazine, the Huffington Post and The New York Times pick up the story. Over 160 academics, including 16 of Pogge’s Yale colleagues, signed an open letter that “strongly condemn[ed] his harmful actions toward women, most notably women of color, and the entire academic community.” (As of today, the number of names on the letter has swelled past 200.)
At 9:00 a.m. on January 18, 2017, Pogge lectured for 75 minutes on “Ethics and International Affairs,” marking his second semester back as a professor since the allegations surfaced. Today, he will teach “Recent Work on Justice” — a course with a title starkly at odds with the findings of the past six months.
And yet — the interim period has not seen the Yale administration so much as acknowledge either the allegations against Pogge or the allegations against Yale’s grievous mishandling of the situation. Among the most startling of Lopez Aguilar’s claims is that Yale offered to buy her silence with $2,000. Her story is not a one-off, as a student at Columbia University in 1990 accused Pogge of sexual harassment. Knowledge of this did not prevent Yale from hiring Pogge. And knowledge of Lopez Aguilar’s allegations is apparently not enough to even get the administration to comment.
The University’s inaction in the face of mounting evidence is nothing short of inexcusable. The creation of the University-Wide Committee on Sexual Misconduct and the administrative pledge to right the wrongs brought to light by the AAU Sexual Misconduct Survey ring hollow when the standard of sexual misconduct seemingly only applies to the student body.
I understand that complications must exist when considering the employment of a tenured faculty member such as Pogge. Short of outright firing him, however, Yale has failed its students by not so much as sending out an email addressing the issues at hand. President Peter Salovey is happy to email frequently about a host of campus controversies – Halloweens gone wrong, the renaming of Calhoun, the first naming of Benjamin Franklin College. Why do his correspondences stop when sexual assault is at hand?
As students, however, it is not satisfactory to simply blame the administration. We vote with our OCS worksheets, and with more than 30 students currently enrolled in Pogge’s two courses combined, I’d say we’re not doing a good job with this election. Pogge’s “Introduction to Political Philosophy” course, offered in the fall, was filled on the first day, and the same number of students ended up enrolling as did in 2015 — the year before the allegations surfaced. The students stayed despite arriving to the first lecture of the year to find copies of a New York Times article detailing Pogge’s sexual misconduct strewn on their seats.
If we want our administration to hold itself accountable, we must force it to. Though Pogge is undoubtedly a knowledgeable professor and many at Yale genuinely do want to learn about global ethics, students who enroll in his class tacitly allow Yale to protect itself from its own transgressions. An individual sacrifice is necessary to send a message to the administration. Do not take Thomas Pogge’s classes.
It’s unfortunate that this responsibility rests upon the student body, and perhaps the conflict between the desire to punish Pogge’s alleged misdeeds and the desire to pursue academic interests is difficult to reconcile. But perhaps these decisions are necessary in a climate and a University where prestige and performance often trump conduct and comportment. It is our duty to take a stand, not only against Pogge, but against the notion that academic success excuses sexual harassment.
Mrinal Kumar is a junior in Silliman College. His column runs on alternate Fridays. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org .