To Honor a Boycott or Not?

Some scholars are organizing alternative locations for sessions at a major philosophy meeting, to honor a labor union request.
March 21, 2005

Philosophers have had plenty to debate in advance of this week's meeting of the Pacific Division of the American Philosophical Association.

The meeting is at San Francisco's Westin St. Francis Hotel, which is currently subject to a boycott organized by labor groups upset over pay and working conditions. Some scholars have advocated moving the meeting to another location, as the Organization of American Historians recently did.

But the leaders of the philosophy group -- in a letter posted on a Cornell philosopher's Web site -- said that a poll of program participants found that most did not want to relocate the meeting to San Jose or another location. The letter noted that large academic meetings are typically set up well in advance, and that many meeting participants had made plans that would be difficult and expensive to change. The letter also acknowledged that moving the meeting at this late date could create serious financial difficulties for the association.

So the group is going ahead with its meeting as scheduled, but also publicizing the efforts of some philosophers to relocate their sessions to locations at the University of San Francisco.

In comments posted on the Web site of Brian Weatherson, the Cornell philosopher, opinion appears divided. 

One philosopher wrote, "I won’t cross a picket line and personally I can afford to change my plans if the conference moves, but I do wish there was some way that the A.P.A. could investigate the labor practices of potential venues for meetings well in advance and establish guidelines for program committees before it comes to this kind of crunch.... It’s a real moral dilemma in any case -- one wishes that there would be panel discussion at some future A.P.A. on the moral responsibility, if any, of professional societies as institutions with bucks to spend in the real world."

Others, however, say that the right thing to do is to stick with current plans. "Some people have to make plans far in advance for any number of reasons: financial, medical, disability, child-care, transportation, scheduling of non-A.P.A. commitments, etc," wrote one scholars. "For this reason the A.P.A. has a serious moral responsibility to stick with its plans."


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