Thursday, February 23, 2012

If P, then WTF?!

The image to your left is one of a set of images that were recently posted by Vincent Hendricks, Professor of Formal Philosophy at the University of Copenhagen and part-time Visiting Research Scholar at Columbia University, advertising his course in Logic. (The advertisement has since been taken down from Prof. Hendricks' website, but you can view screenshots of the original here.) Professor Hendricks is also a member of the editorial board of Synthese, a philosophy journal specializing in epistemology and the philosophy of science, which has come under considerable scrutiny in the last year as a result of some highly-questionable editorial judgments regarding the merits and demerits of Intelligent Design arguments. (For more on the Synthese scandal, see here, here, and here.) I should say at the outset, and in the interest of full disclosure, that I do not know Professor Hendricks personally, nor am I familiar with his published work. As a rule, I try to assume that people I don't know are fundamentally well-meaning, decent and rational people. However, after seeing these photos, I'm pretty convinced that-- not to put too fine a point on it-- Professor Hendricks must have lost his mind.

You'll notice first, I hope, that in the image above Prof. Hendricks is prominently and authoritatively situated amidst a bevy of scantily-clad and thoroughly-infantilized "schoolgirls," who appear to be (from right to left) either affectlessly bored, technologically preoccupied, mysteriously vacant (possibly afraid?), and perfunctorily seductive. Behind all these good-looking girls, not incidentally, there just so happens to be some symbolic logic on the whiteboard. These photos were an advertisement for Prof. Hendricks' Logic course. I'll leave aside for the moment the many problems associated with "advertising" courses, a practice that I think unfortunately reifies the idea that learning is a commodity and, more unfortunately, reinforces the commonly held presumption that best analogue for the the teacher/student relationship is the server/consumer relationship. (My department "advertises" courses as well, though the images associated with our courses are decidedly less provocative.) In Hendricks' (semi-)defense, as he notes on his own blog, his images were originally photographed for a magazine that intended to feature him as the "Man of the Month." (Exactly which magazine that is has not yet been made clear.) I'm not sure what Hendricks' caveat means to excuse, really, since I imagine that anyone who's ever taught a Philosophy course (or taken a Philosophy course, or taught or taken ANY college course, for that matter) can easily surmise from these images that they could NOT EVER be appropriate for a syllabus or course-advertisement. Nevertheless, they were utilized as such, and the images have created a bit of a maelstrom in the professional philosophical community, as evidenced on the two most widely-read Philosophy blogs, The Leiter Reports (relevant posts here, here and here) and NewAPPS: Art, Politics, Philosophy, Science (here). Professor Hendricks' response to the backlash on those blogs, in full, is as follows:
To the Philosophical Community
A recent picture on my website has caused some debate. The intention was that the picture, as cover on a forthcoming magazine, might be used to view logic from a somewhat humorous and untraditional perspective appealing to a larger audience which the magazine covers. However it had the opposite effect offending various parties in the philosophical community. I truly apologize for this and I stand completely corrected. I have removed the pictures from the website.
Vincent F. Hendricks
Just to be clear, the "debate" that Prof. Hendricks apologizes for generating doesn't concern a single offensive picture, but a whole set of offensive pictures. And it concerns a whole set of pictures which, although ostensibly directed at some other audience (presumably, an audience interested in what Copenhagen's "Man of the Month" looks like), were nonetheless directed at undergraduate students, both male and female. Professor Hendricks, we can only assume, consciously elected to include these images as a part of his Logic syllabus in order to appeal ("from a somewhat humorous and untraditional perspective") to a "larger audience" who might not already be convinced that philosophical Logic is appealing. Again in Prof. Hendricks' defense, we all have to admit that philosophical logic is often a hard case to sell. It's NOT an area of our discipline that generally appeals to anything like what one might call a "larger audience." So, I understand and can sympathize with the inclination to employ "somewhat humorous and untraditional" methods of appeal to draw students in logic courses.

Alas, as they say, the road to Hell is paved with good intentions.

I really want to give Professor Hendricks a fair shake here, but I also feel obligated to get the facts (in this case, the pictures) of the matter out there for your consideration first. So, you can see throughout this post the other images included in Prof. Hendricks' original advertisement for his Logic course. None of them, I hope we all can agree, mitigate the overtly sexist depiction of women in the first picture posted above-- by which I mean, all of them capitalize on the sexual objectification, infantilization, subordination, submission and de-intellectualizing of women. All of them represent Prof. Hendricks as authoritative, powerful, intellectual and autonomous-- which, of course, I think we can safely assume he is-- but Prof. Hendricks' authority, power, intellect and autonomy are represented via explicit contrast with archetypical representations of women as passive, submissive, deferential and (reductively) sexual. All three images are, in fact, pretty much standard for what in the U.S. we might consider typical Maxim fare. (I have no idea what the Danish equivalent of Maxim might be, though I presume, because I live in the real world, that there is an equivalent.) I'd like to think that any philosopher worth his or her salt would know better than consent to participation in images like these.

I would, unfortunately, be wrong.

If you want to read what working professional philosophers are saying about this whole issue, I would direct you to the links in the first paragraph above at The Leiter Reports and New APPS blogs. I've been following those conversations, and I think that most of the key critical points and counterpoints have been articulated there already. Instead of repeating what's been said about the matter, and since I seriously doubt that Prof. Hendricks himself is still reading those exchanges, I've decided instead to direct my commentary to a different audience. I'm directing this to those of you female students at the University of Copenhagen who might have been considering enrollment in Logic with Prof. Hendricks next term. What follows is the email that I think you should send to Prof. Hendricks explaining why you have decided to decline that option. Feel free to copy-and-paste it verbatim, or to make whatever editorial amendments you wish. For what it's worth, I think that male students at the University of Copenhagen could/should send something like this, too, although that would definitely require some editing.

Dear Professor Hendricks,

I recently saw the advertisement for your 2012 Logikkursus. Before seeing it, I considered enrolling in the course, as I understand philosophical Logic to be (like mathematics and physics) one of the core disciplines through which we come to understand the fundamental truths of our shared world. I find it especially curious that you would post an advertisement utilizing images that preemptively undermines the intellectual merit of more than half of the possible students in your course. So, I am writing now to inform you that, because of your advertisement, I will not enroll in your Logikkursus.

I assume you are aware that the images you posted in your advertisement were manifestly and overtly sexist. Those images simultaneously objectified, infantilized, depersonalized and dehumanized the women depicted in them. Although I am aware that such images are standard fare in the larger world of advertisements, I am deeply disappointed to see you appropriate them so uncritically.

I assume you are also aware that the profession of Philosophy is grossly underrepresented by women. Less than 1 in 5 tenure or tenure-track professional Philosophers are female. If you wonder why students like myself-- i.e., female undergraduates interested in Philosophy-- depart from the discipline in statistically significant numbers, I suggest that you take a critical look at your course advertisement.

I take from the apology that you posted on your blog that you understand your chief offense to have been employing (in your words) " a humorous and untraditional perspective." Let me be clear: the perspective depicted in your course advertisement was unambiguously sexist, which is neither humorous nor untraditional.

I would congratulate you for your achievement of Copenhagen's "Man of the Month" designation if I did not at the same time regret so deeply that you congratulate yourself for the same. Because you have authorized the representation of that honorific in the most traditional (and non-humorous) manner possible, I find myself deeply suspect of your capacity to teach me the basic skills of critical thinking. You elected to extend that representation into the Academy, a world in which it should be (and is) most roundly criticized. I can only see in that decision a deeply flawed capacity for illuminating the shared truths of our world.

If you find yourself so inclined, I would be interested to hear your understanding of the issue upon which you "stand completely corrected." In the meantime, I am and remain personally insulted by your Logic course advertisement.

Sincerely,
Student

20 comments:

Ryan D. said...

Great piece, Leigh. As an additional note, it does seem to me that Prof. Hendricks undercuts the very image he's hoping to project here: it's quite clear to me that these pictures (and the haste with which he wished to show them off in all manner of inappropriate places) imply the psychology of a nerd whose sexual frustrations are rather protracted, i.e. he's simply trying too hard to look like the person of power he unfortunately emulates but falls short of.

Emma B. said...

It's interesting though, isn't it, that specifically a black man should go the route of portraying not only female students, but himself as hypersexualized, especially in a profession that is not only deeply sexist but also extremely racist. There is something oddly mimetic (in the sense of miming what you are stereotyped to be) about the whole thing that merits some sort of consideration.

DOCTOR J said...

@Ryan: Excellent point. He doth protest too much.

@EmmaB: I had the same thought when I originally saw Hendricks' photos. But that may be because I spend so much time with critical race theory, where (as you know) the hypersexualized black man is about as easy a stereotype to deconstruct as the reductively-sexualized woman. I suppose that one could view Hendricks' choice of images as a way of affirming the power/knowledge combo (i.e., a way of saying "Look, see? Intelligence is *not* emasculating for black men!"), though it's clearly a failed attempt, as you note. The immediate impression given over by the images is (as you note) a hyper-sexualized black man amidst a group of hyper-sexualized white women, confirming and capitalizing on the (traditional, sexist and racist) white fear of miscegenation. On the other hand, the fact that you and I (qua white women) see it that way is itself a confirmation of the persistence of that racist fear.

Ideas Man, Ph.D. said...

I stop paying attention to philosophy gossip, and this is what happens.

My favorite line from your sample letter: "Let me be clear: the perspective depicted in your course advertisement was unambiguously sexist, which is neither humorous nor untraditional."

I can only assume that even if Hendricks regularly teaches classes in symbolic logic, it's been a while since he taught a class in Critical Thinking...

Anonymous said...

Much emphasis is placed on the idea that "[t]hese photos were an advertisement for Prof. Hendricks' Logic course". I'm not trying to condone Professor Hendricks' actions but where exactly did he state that he posted the pictures in an effort to advertise his course?

Brian W. Ogilvie said...

All very well put. I'll just add that the photos were apparently taken for Connery magazine. If you can stomach more of the same, you can visit its website at connery.dk (I'm not going to dignify it with a real link). Apparently, it's the Danish equivalent of Maxim. One of the New APPS commenters went to town with the obvious French pun.

Joe said...

As far as I can tell, the magazine in question -- "Connery" -- *is* the Danish equivalent of Maxim.

Connery.dk is the address. There are lots of similarly themed pictures on the site, some by the same photographer, but I couldn't find the Hendricks photos.

Mihai Martoiu Ticu said...

I don't see what's wrong with the pictures and I had a very different interpretation of them than you had. The message to me was: "Logic is sexy. And expect me as a slave driver to really put you on some hard work."

Dave9 said...

So what does it say about the de-intellectualisation and infantilisation of women to offer a premade protest letter? Are the female students who might be offended by the course advertising images incapable of penning their own missives?

DOCTOR J said...

@anonymous: Hendricks' own explanation claims that he was using the photos to appeal "to a larger audience." Both the form and the content are identical to every course advertisement I've ever seen. So, I guess I don't need him to actually *call* it an "advertisement" to know it is so.

@Mihiai: I can't tell if your comment is tongue-in-cheek or not. I hope it is.

@Dave9: I don't think UCopehagen women are incapable of penning their own missives (though I can think of many reasons why they my be hesitant to do so). And I can't see any way in which proposing a letter expressing what is, in effect, a collective concern infantilizes or de-intellectualizes anyone who might sign it. In fact, it happens quite often in my own job (i.e., when letters are sent on behalf of a committee or a department, rather than each individual member penning his or her own version of the same).

Mihai Martoiu Ticu said...

My argument is very serious. I see your response comparable with the witch hunting in the middle ages. Or with the reactions they have in very remote villages where they stone little girls because pedophiles raped them. It is just dogma. Feminism in overdrive. This guy did not intent to do any of the things you write about. The only mistake he made is when he took the pictures down.

Actually you should be ashamed as a philosophy professor, for your closed mindedness.

Mihai Martoiu Ticu said...

Actually I have a better description of your reaction: it's so Sarah Palinesque.

Anonymous said...

It should be noted that this is actually a mandatory class on BA level logic, which makes the whole thing even more horrendous. As a CPH MA student, i do not personally have to participate in these lectures, but this does not make it less offensive in the least. What is extremely offensive - apart from the obvious; the pictures in themselves and the professors attitude towards his responsibility as a teacher - is the lack of outrage in Denmark...this has hardly caused any debate at the university, and certainly not in any of our mainstream or public service medias. So; thanks so much for blogging on this - its good to know that some people at least has not lost their minds!

niksic said...

OMG - not only one photograph but more?!?! Can we all feel and hear the sensations?!

Get real, please! You are from a place where you often have mass-murderers going berserk and shooting random by-passers and fellow hig school kids. Why don't you think about and find some answers to that?

I think the most depressing element of this story is that the professor has felt it necessary to apologize. I am absolutely sure no one would have even raised an eyebrow had the professor been a white female with a few brown or black Chippendales' type of students around but he is a black male with white students - say no more.

physphil said...

I am actually surprised that analytical philosophers, whom I think should probably be the "smartest" and "most critical" of all kinds of academics, can be so united in condemning Prof. Hendrick's advertising attempt. I thought that analytical philosophers were far removed from the feminist cheerleading occurring in gender studies departments. But I was wrong. Instead, this incident is a prime example of groupthink and the perpetration of feminist dogma. Your inclusion of a copy-and-paste-ready letter for students to send to Hendricks further illustrates the point that you merely intend to indoctrinate students, not let them think for themselves whether the images are offensive or not.

Slightly tongue-in-cheek, this incident made me tempted to think that philosophers used to be that nerdy, loner boy/girl who never dated anyone in high school. When a more sexually appealing man like Vince Hendricks manages to make it in the profession, he gets hated.

mihai martoiu ticu said...

Hendricks on the cover of Connery Magazine

The Vincent Hendricks issue of Connery Magazine is now online. Although not the first philosopher to be interviewed by a men’s lifestyle magazine—Marshall McLuhan was interviewed by Playboy in 1969, for instance, as was Jean-Paul Sartre in 1965— Hendricks may be the first to do so for charity.

This issue of Connery Magazine is part of a broader effort by dozens of Danish politicians, sports figures, media personalities, artists, and intellectuals, to support the launch of a new Danish charity, youmeshopping.dk. In this February 2nd interview, made in association with youmeshopping.dk, Hendricks discusses why he supports this charitable foundation, describes his background, and his rise to professor of formal philosophy.

http://choiceandinference.com/2012/03/01/hendricks-on-the-cover-of-connery-magazine/

Tomáš Pavelka said...

I must quote one anonymous above:
"What is extremely offensive - apart from the obvious; the pictures in themselves and the professors attitude towards his responsibility as a teacher - is the lack of outrage in Denmark...this has hardly caused any debate at the university, and certainly not in any of our mainstream or public service medias"

That clearly shows that what may seem sexist in your country, may not be that bad in Europe. It seems that you, Doctor J, haven't met a proper Danish girl. She would just probably laugh at it. Because she has her dignity and a delightful sense of humour.

Good luck with your next cases,I hope you will fight against sexism at the more proper places in the future. Antisexism is the right thing to do.

Visitor said...

I'd be interested to know if your letter writing campaign has any effect. Living in Denmark, it has been my impression that the Danes do not concern or preoccupy themselves much with the concept sexism. Naked women in product placement adds and sexist cartoons adorn my office and many times it is women who put these up. For better they seem to have more liberal attitudes towards sexuality and the human body, on the other hand they do not always seem that concerned with whether their attitudes lead to a "hostile" environment for others (this goes for colonialistic/racisist attitudes/comments as well). Good luck to you. I look forward to hearing whether KU or Hendricks have further comment.

Shep Trott said...

Doctor J, you've hit the right moral note with your critique, though I find it hard not to be moved to laughter by the photos.

"The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" was an interesting piece of literature that reflects what some commenters are saying. The author clearly believed he was a feminist, but proceeded to right a book in which a multitude of women were abused, and in which the male protagonist waltzes from one sexual encounter to the next as if somehow every woman was just waiting for his interest.

MSdos5602 said...

I cannot condone the advertisement, but I am left wondering if perhaps the whole thing is slightly overdone. Perhaps it was supposed to be humorous indeed- taken from a youthful standpoint, the sheer magnitude of the oxymoron, a Philosophy and Logic professor with such a bevy is rather amusing. Again, I cannot say it was the best of actions, nor even close, and I can agree that good intentions, in this case, do lead downward. However, I feel that the level of hostility toward this professor, as well as the fairly self-righteous letter enclosed in the article to be overdone and an overreaction. The article itself should have stood as a warning, should a warning be necessary.
I do appreciate the information, and I am glad to see that this outlook is not tolerated well- but I hope moderation has not been forgotten, nor the errors implicit in being human.