Publishing

Months After ‘Transracialism’ Flap, Controversy Still Rages at Feminist Philosophy Journal

July 21, 2017

Updated (7/24/2017, 10:55 a.m.) with new information about the resignations of associate editors.

Hypatia may be the subject of fewer critical tweets and blog posts, but controversy at the feminist philosophy journal, which stirred outrage in April after it published an article that linked transracialism to transgender people, has hardly abated.

On Thursday the journal’s Board of Directors announced that Sally Scholz, editor of Hypatia, and Shelley Wilcox, its editor of online reviews, would resign. The board has also temporarily suspended the authority of the Associate Editorial Board. That means the directors will appoint the next temporary top editors, a task that is typically in the purview of the associate editors.

And on Monday the philosophy website the Daily Nous reported that eight members of the Associate Editorial Board had resigned from the journal. In the members’ resignation letter, as quoted by the website, the associate editors wrote that they disagreed with the Board of Directors’ statements about the temporary suspension and that the board was unwilling to work with the associate editors to end the current conflict at the journal.

“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,” the letter says.

The continuing rancor at the journal underscores just how unprepared the publication was for the controversy surrounding the article, by Rebecca Tuvel, an assistant professor of philosophy at Rhodes College, and how a complex governance structure — which the journal is now trying to correct — contributed to its tortured series of public statements on the matter.

"I wish the next editorial team much success as they guide Hypatia along its longstanding path of publishing excellence," said Ms. Scholz in an email statement. Ms. Wilcox did not respond to a request for comment.

It appears that the controversy persists because of the associate editors’ decision to publicly apologize for the article, "In Defense of Transracialism," after social-media outrage and a letter demanding the article’s retraction drew more than 800 signatures. The Board of Directors later disavowed the apology, and a pair of statements published on the journal’s website on Thursday — one by Ms. Scholz and Ms. Wilcox, and one by the board — made reference to it.

“Their action, appearing to speak for the journal rather than as individuals, invited confusion over who speaks for 'Hypatia.'”
"The recent position taken by Hypatia’s Associate Editorial Board 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," Ms. Scholz and Ms. Wilcox wrote, in part.

"Their action, appearing to speak for the journal rather than as individuals, invited confusion over who speaks for Hypatia," the board said of the associate editors’ apology in its statement.

None of the people listed as associate editors on the journal’s website, all of whom were emailed for comment by The Chronicle before and after news of their resignation, responded, except for one, who said her term had ended on June 30.

A Disputed Apology

Miriam Solomon, a professor and chair of the philosophy department at Temple University and president of the Board of Directors, said the journal’s publisher, John Wiley & Sons, had brought in the Committee on Publication Ethics, an outside group that consults with editors and publishers of academic journals, to review the situation. The main question: Was the apology issued by the associate editors appropriate?

Last week the committee, known as COPE, produced a report that found the apology inappropriate, Ms. Solomon said. Even after the report’s findings were presented to the journal’s editors, the associate editors did not acknowledge any mistake in issuing the apology, and the board had to "take other measures," she said. As a result, the board temporarily suspended the authority of the 10-member Associate Editorial Board.

“We understand that feminist philosophers are divided in their opinions about the letter we posted in May,” the associate editors’ resignation letter says. “We would like to emphasize that our letter neither called for retraction nor impugned any individual actions on the part of the journal’s editors. Instead, our letter clearly stated that it is the journal’s review process, not a particular, individual execution of that process, that requires review.”

“We also felt that what the associate editors did had consequences and that we needed to restore the academic integrity of the journal.”
"We didn’t want the editors to resign without our support," Ms. Solomon said. "We also felt that what the associate editors did had consequences and that we needed to restore the academic integrity of the journal."

The temporary suspension means that the board is in charge of appointing an editor and organizing a temporary publication structure, Ms. Solomon said. "Normally the board doesn’t involve itself in nonfinancial matters, but the publisher contacted us and said, ‘You know, ultimately you’re legally responsible,’ and we are. So we felt that we did what was in the best interest of the journal and in accordance with our fiduciary responsibilities."

On Friday, before news broke of the associate editors’ resignation, Ms. Solomon said she hoped that their temporary suspension would last only six months.

Elizabeth S. Anderson, a professor of philosophy and women’s studies at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor and a member at large of the Board of Directors, said the report had suggested that if someone from outside the publication questioned a journal article, an internal investigation should be conducted and nothing should be said publicly until the results of the inquiry are available.

The associate editors "felt that they didn’t see that the COPE report had identified anything wrong with how they conducted themselves, whereas we thought they were pretty clear that you just don’t run off making public statements in your capacity as associate editors," Ms. Anderson said.

“You just don't run off making public statements in your capacity as associate editors.”
The associate editors should now come to terms with the consequences of undermining the board’s power, she said.

Both Ms. Solomon and Ms. Anderson acknowledged that Hypatia’s governing structure is complex. Still, the board is ultimately in charge of delivering the journal to the publisher and maintaining its finances, Ms. Solomon said. After the May controversy, journal submissions went down, and reviewers said they did not want to review articles if the associate editors might issue statements as they did concerning the controversy over Ms. Tuvel’s article.

On Friday both board members said that, in hopes of clearing up some of the confusion over the journal’s governing structure, the board will form a task force to rethink it. Both board members said they wanted a simpler new structure.

The board also aims to hire a mediator whom both sides approve of to help them agree on the publication’s ethics.

"It’s only under conditions of trust between the editors and every other part of the governance structure," Ms. Anderson said, "that a journal can actually operate and be functional."

Fernanda Zamudio-Suaréz is a breaking-news reporter. Follow her on Twitter @FernandaZamudio, or email her at fzamudiosuarez@chronicle.com.

Clarification (7/23/2017, 2:55 p.m.): This article originally stated that the journal’s Board of Directors would now appoint its next top editors. Those editors will be temporary; the text has been updated to clarify.