Yale Philosopher Named in Harassment Complaint

May 23, 2016

Thomas Pogge, a professor of philosophy at Yale University who’s built his career on ethics and global justice, retaliated against a former student for resisting his advances and has been accused of sexually harassing numerous other young women, according to a federal civil rights complaint first reported on by BuzzFeed. Inside Higher Ed detailed some of the allegations against Pogge without naming him in 2014, but the recently filed complaint under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, which prevents gender discrimination in education, sheds new light on his alleged pattern of harassment.

In the 1990s, for example, a student at Columbia University, where Pogge was then teaching, accused him of sexually harassing her; the university eventually forbade Pogge from entering the philosophy department when the student was there, according to an affidavit from a Columbia professor included in the new complaint. Pogge moved on to Yale and allegedly harassed a student named Fernanda Lopez Aguilar, who eventually filed a Title IX complaint after reading additional allegations against Pogge by a third woman in a 2014 essay. The essay, which alleged that Pogge specifically targeted women from other countries who were unfamiliar with harassment reporting channels and were otherwise at the opposite end of the power dynamic he derided in his professional work, didn’t use Pogge’s name. But many philosophers assumed it was him, and recordings between the author and Pogge obtained by BuzzFeed suggest he read it and agreed with its premise.

Lopez Aguilar’s complaint alleges that Pogge offered her a salaried position in his Global Justice Program but rescinded it after she rejected his sexual advances during a trip to Chile. A hearing panel at Yale found that there was “substantial evidence” that Pogge had acted unprofessionally and failed to uphold standards of ethical behavior, but that there was insufficient evidence of sexual assault. Lopez Aguilar says Yale nevertheless attempted to buy her silence for $2,000.

The recent talk of Pogge’s alleged behavior -- which has for some time been an open secret in philosophy, according to professors interviewed by both BuzzFeed and Inside Higher Ed -- has yielded at least nine additional allegations of harassment from women in various countries, according to Lopez Aguilar’s complaint. Most allege offers of job offers, hotel rooms, plane tickets and other assistance from Pogge, even though he knew little about them or their work, beyond their physical appearance.

Thomas Conroy, university spokesperson, declined to comment for the article, and Pogge reportedly did not respond to initial requests for comment. (He did not respond to requests for comment from Inside Higher Ed in 2014.) But over the weekend, after the Buzzfeed story was published, Pogge posted a response on a university blog denying the allegations by Lopez Aguilar. He said her claims contained “various provable falsehoods and inconsistencies" and blamed the "familiar phenomena" of what he called false allegations in part on the “the intensely competitive worlds of academia and university politics."

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