(Another) Shake-Up at ‘Hypatia’

Divisions within the journal’s editorial board, sparked by an article on transgenderism, lead to the resignations of top editors and suspension of associate editorial board.

July 24, 2017
 

There’s more upheaval at the embattled feminist philosophy journal Hypatia: its two top editors have resigned and its Board of Directors has suspended the authority of the associate editorial board. That’s pending a restructuring of the journal’s governance system, to one conducive to “continued academic integrity and appropriate editorial autonomy,” the directors said in a statement late last week.

“As the board ultimately responsible for the well-being of the journal, we find it necessary at this time to take emergency measures to restore the academic integrity of the journal and shepherd it through a transition period to a new editorial team,” the statement said.

Praising the departing editors, Sally Scholz, a professor of philosophy at Villanova University who led the journal, and Shelley Wilcox, a professor of philosophy at San Francisco State University who led Hypatia Reviews Online, the directors said they were “very sorry” to see them go, “especially under these circumstances.”

The source of the rift between Hypatia’s Board of Directors and editors on one side and its associate editorial board on the other is an article the journal published earlier this year. In it, author Rebecca Tuvel, an assistant professor of philosophy at Rhodes College, compared “transracialism” to transgenderism, arguing that society should be as accepting of people such as Rachel Dolezal as they are of Caitlyn Jenner. (Dolezal, former head of the Spokane, Wash., NAACP chapter, made headlines in 2015 after it was revealed that she was born white but had been “passing” and identified as black. Jenner, of course, was an Olympic decathlete who came out as transgender in 2015.)

Tuvel’s article was peer reviewed and passed editorial muster, but some critics immediately called for its retraction, citing various concerns. Tuvel hadn’t sufficiently engaged critical race theory or the literature on transgenderism in making her comparison, they said, and otherwise promoted damaging “stereotypes” about trans people and disparaged blacks. Tuvel faced additional personal attacks online.

Hypatia did not retract the article. But in what appeared to many as a formal message from the journal, its associate editors soon posted on Facebook an apology for the publication of the piece.

“We, the members of Hypatia’s Board of Associate Editors, extend our profound apology to our friends and colleagues in feminist philosophy, especially transfeminists, queer feminists and feminists of color, for the harms that the publication of the article on transracialism has caused,” the associate editors said. “Clearly, the paper should not have been published, and we believe that the fault for this lies in the review process.”

Concerned about the associate editors appearing to speak for the journal, Hypatia’s directors soon published a formal disavowal of the associate editors’ disavowal.

“The board stands behind the judgment of Hypatia’s editor,” the directors said in a guest post on the blog Daily Nous, criticizing the associate editors for “undermining” Scholz.

The Board of Directors did at the time address some of the concerns of Tuvel's critics, saying that it acknowledged “the intensity of experience and convictions around matters of intersectionality, especially in the world of academic philosophy, which has an egregious history of treatment of women of color feminists and feminists from other marginalized social positions.”

But if the May statement was intended to appease both Scholz’s supporters and her critics (and perhaps Scholz herself, who did not respond to a request for comment), it apparently failed.

A separate statement from Hypatia’s editorial board published Thursday said that the associate editors’ position and “the subsequent controversy has limited the ability of our editorial team to continue management of Hypatia and Hypatia Reviews Online while upholding the journal's high standards for scholarly inquiry, diversity, inclusiveness and rigorous academic and review standards.” The statement says Scholz has restricted her involvement to journal issues already in process.

It seems “clear that a change of leadership structure at the journal might create space to move forward not only at Hypatia but perhaps in feminist philosophy more generally,” the editorial board wrote. “We have urged Hypatia's Board of Directors to undertake comprehensive restructuring of the journal’s governance structure to provide a suitable environment for the next editorial team.”

Hypatia does have a complicated governance structure, relative to other journals. But the Tuvel piece also exposed deep divisions within feminist philosophy about issues of identity and who should be writing about them, and how. Some scholars have pointed out that Tuvel is neither transgender nor black, for example, in critiquing her.

The journal’s Board of Directors reiterated in its announcement that neither Hypatia nor its editors “have apologized for or retracted the article in question.”

“We also wish to reaffirm that the associate editors did not in any way speak for the journal, nor do they have authority to do so,” the board said. “Their action, appearing to speak for the journal rather than as individuals, invited confusion over who speaks for Hypatia. It also damaged the reputations of both the journal and its editors, Scholz and Wilcox, and has made it impossible for the editors to maintain the public credibility and trust that peer-reviewed academic journal editorship requires.”

Going forward, the board wrote, everyone involved in Hypatia’s governance will be required to commit to principles established by the international multidisciplinary Committee on Publication Ethics, “which include respect for the autonomy of the editors and the integrity of the peer-review process.”

“We are focused on the future of Hypatia,” the board said, “and we hope to work with many in the Hypatia community and the broader communities of feminist philosophy in making the changes necessary to ensure that this future is a bright and inclusive one.”

Several associate editors contacted for comment did not respond. But Leiter Reports, a philosophy blog moderated by Brian Leiter, Karl N. Llewellyn Professor of Jurisprudence at the University of Chicago, posted what it described as a circulating response to the news from a majority of the associate editorial board. The note, reportedly not yet online, alleges that Board of Directors gave the associate editors an ultimatum earlier this month: either resign or be suspended.

The directors' recent statement “claims that they have ‘temporarily’ suspended our authority. Nonetheless, their unilateral decision is a de facto suspension of Hypatia’s governance documents and a firing of us,” reads the note posted by Leiter. “We deeply regret that the editors and nonprofit Board [of Directors] were unwilling to engage with us in systematically reflecting on these issues and collaboratively addressing their implications for Hypatia. The declaration by the nonprofit board that they are suspending our authority means that we cannot fulfill our duties as associate editors in accordance with the journal’s governance documents. Regrettably, we see no alternative but to resign from Hypatia’s board of associate editors with this letter.”

The associate editors said they've “been guided by commitments to excellence, academic integrity and inclusiveness that have long informed Hypatia’s vision and have established it as a leading feminist philosophy journal.” Saying they’d requested mediation with the editors and the Board of Directors, to no avail, they added, “we remain steadfast in our commitment to working within the letter and spirit of the journal’s current governance document.”

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