Faculty Letter in Support of Stephen Kershnar, February 4, 2022

Note: The below letter was sent to SUNY Fredonia President Stephen Kolison on February 4, 2022, and FIRE invites additional faculty to add their names to the list of signers. Titles are for identification purposes only. Faculty who are interested in joining this letter may email facultyoutreach@thefire.org.

Dear President Kolison,

We understand that some have called for Stephen Kershnar to be fired from his position as professor of philosophy at the State University of New York at Fredonia because of his appearance on a philosophy video podcast where he discussed some of his scholarly work on the ethics of human sexuality, including sexual activity between adults and children. After initially announcing that the matter was “being reviewed,” you have now announced that Professor Kershnar has been barred from campus or from contacting students during a university investigation of “this situation,” that is “the matter involving one of our professors interviewed in a widely shared video podcast.”

Such a suspension from his normal academic duties – let alone any further disciplinary action including his potential termination – is contrary to basic academic freedom principles which SUNY-Fredonia has explicitly recognized as governing its own relationship to the members of its faculty.

It is unquestionably true that Professor Kershnar was discussing extremely sensitive topics during this interview (though his views have been widely misrepresented – he argues, for example, that pedophilia should in fact be illegal), just as he discusses such sensitive topics in applied ethics in his research and teaching. Many scholars and members of the public will no doubt disagree with his arguments and his conclusions, and some might find any discussion of these issues at all to be disturbing.

But academic freedom protects Professor Kershnar in discussing those topics, offering those arguments, and reaching those conclusions, regardless of whether we agree with them or not. Sanctioning Professor Kershnar for the ideas he expressed in an hour-long serious discussion on the respected philosophy podcast “Brain in a Vat” attacks the very heart of the academic enterprise.

Although you have described the video podcast as “widely shared,” in fact the podcast in which Professor Kershnar discussed arguments on ethical issues relating to sexual contact with children has not been widely viewed. What has been widely shared is a brief clip from the podcast. Universities should be places where scholars can safely engage in the task of carefully thinking through the logic and implications of arguments about ethical human behavior, and that is what Professor Kershnar and his interlocutors do in this podcast. Society will be impoverished if such inquiries cannot take place and if ideas about morality are suppressed and censored because they are unpopular or offend the sensibilities of the broader public. If Professor Kershnar’s ideas are wrong, then we all benefit from seeing those errors exposed through intellectual engagement.

The tradition of Western philosophy famously begins with the example of Socrates being silenced and put to death for asking questions and pursuing arguments that his fellow citizens found discomforting. The philosophical enterprise – and indeed the scholarly enterprise broadly – requires the freedom to ask uncomfortable questions and explore unpopular arguments. Universities forsake their central mission if they yield to popular demands that dissident scholars be driven from campus.

Academic freedom will be an empty promise if university officials are not willing to defend a member of the faculty targeted for public outrage for the crime of expressing his thoughts. Firing or otherwise sanctioning Professor Kershnar for his views will send a message to others at SUNY-Fredonia and elsewhere that it is risky for scholars to pursue their profession and share their expertise with the public. Scholars pursuing any research topic that might be controversial will learn that free inquiry and honest discussion should be avoided if they value their careers.

Sincerely,

  1. Keith E. Whittington, William Nelson Cromwell Professor of Politics, Princeton University
  2. Jonathan H. Adler, Johan Verheij Memorial Professor of Law, Case Western Reserve University
  3. Roger L. Albin, MD, Anne B. Young Collegiate Professor of Neurology, University of Michigan
  4. Jason Aleksander, Professor of Philosophy and Associate Dean of Faculty Success and Research, College of Humanities and the Arts, San José State University
  5. Gustaf Arrhenius, Director and Professor of Practical Philosophy, Institute for Futures Studies
  6. Lyell Asher, Professor of English, Lewis and Clark College
  7. Ethan Akin, Professor of Mathematics, The City College of New York
  8. David F. Austin, Associate Professor of Philosophy, North Carolina State University
  9. Jonathan Auyer, Adjunct Faculty, Philosophy Department, State University of New York at Geneseo
  10. J. Michael Bailey, Professor, Department of Psychology, Northwestern University
  11. Jennifer Baker, Professor, Department of Philosophy, College of Charleston
  12. Galen Barry, Assistant Professor of Philosophy, Iona College
  13. Timothy Bays, Associate Professor of Philosophy, University of Notre Dame
  14. Jc Beall, O’Neill Family Chair in Philosophy, University of Notre Dame
  15. Francis J. Beckwith, Professor of Philosophy & Church-State Studies and Associate Director of the Graduate Program in Philosophy, Baylor University
  16. David Benatar, Professor of Philosophy, University of Cape Town
  17. Russell Blackford, Conjoint Senior Lecturer in Philosophy, University of Newcastle, NSW
  18. Josh Blander, Associate Professor of Philosophy, The King’s College
  19. Ned Block, Silver Professor, New York University
  20. Paul Bloom, Professor of Psychology, University of Toronto and Brooks and Suzanne Ragen Professor Emeritus of Psychology, Yale University
  21. Peter Boghossian, Founding Faculty, University of Austin
  22. Hilary Bok, Associate Professor, Philosophy, Johns Hopkins University
  23. David Boonin, Professor of Philosophy, University of Colorado Boulder
  24. Peter Bornschein, Part-Time Lecturer, Department of History & Philosophy, Eastern Michigan University
  25. Ben Bradley, Sutton Professor of Philosophy, Syracuse University
  26. Robert Briscoe, Professor of Philosophy, Ohio University
  27. Christopher Devlin Brown, Associate Professor, Philosophy Department, Xiamen University
  28. Alex Byrne, Professor of Philosophy, Department of Linguistics and Philosophy, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  29. Andrei A. Buckareff, Professor of Philosophy and Co-Director of the Cognitive Science Program, Department of Philosophy and Religious Studies, Marist College
  30. Tim Campbell, Research Fellow, Institute for Futures Studies
  31. Peter Carruthers, Distinguished University Professor, Department of Philosophy, University of Maryland
  32. Spencer Case, Lecturer, University of Colorado Boulder
  33. Eric Chwang, Associate Professor of Philosophy, Rutgers University, Camden
  34. Nevin Climenhaga, Senior Research Fellow, Dianoia Institute of Philosophy, Australian Catholic University
  35. John Coetzee, Professorial Research Fellow, University of Adelaide
  36. Andrew Jason Cohen, Professor of Philosophy, Georgia State University
  37. John Collins, Associate Professor of Philosophy, East Carolina University
  38. Kevin Cope, Associate Professor of Law and Public Policy, University of Virginia
  39. John Corvino, Professor of Philosophy and Dean of the Irvin D. Reid Honors College, Wayne State University
  40. David C.K. Curry, Professor of Philosophy, SUNY Potsdam
  41. Brian Cutter, Associate Professor of Philosophy, University of Notre Dame
  42. Eva Dadlez, Professor, University of Central Oklahoma
  43. Partha Dasgupta, Frank Ramsey Professor Emeritus of Economics, Cambridge University
  44. James J. Delaney, Professor of Philosophy and Ostapenko Endowed Director of Professional Ethics, Niagara University
  45. Nicolas Delon, Assistant Professor of Philosophy and Environmental Studies, New College of Florida
  46. Dan Demetriou, Associate Professor of Philosophy, University of Minnesota, Morris
  47. Huzeyfe Demirtas, PhD Candidate & Teaching Associate, Department of Philosophy, Syracuse University
  48. Lara Denis, Professor of Philosophy, Agnes Scott College
  49. Cian Dorr, Professor of Philosophy, New York University
  50. Matti Eklund, Professor of Theoretical Philosophy, Uppsala University
  51. Paul Elbourne, Professor of the Philosophy of Language, University of Oxford
  52. Ted Everett, Professor of Philosophy, Emeritus, State University of New York at Geneseo
  53. Mark Fedyk, Associate Professor of Bioethics, University of California, Davis
  54. Neil Feit, Distinguished Teaching Professor, State University of New York at Fredonia
  55. Graeme Forbes, Professor Emeritus, Department of Philosophy, University of Colorado Boulder
  56. Jennifer Frey, Associate Professor of Philosophy, University of South Carolina
  57. Brett A. Fulkerson-Smith, Professor of Philosophy, Harper College
  58. Molly Gardner, Assistant Professor of Philosophy, University of Florida
  59. Justin Garson, Chair and Professor, Department of Philosophy, Hunter College of the City University of New York
  60. Anthony S. Gillies, Sherwin Scott Professor of Philosophy, University of Arizona
  61. Daniel Greco, Associate Professor of Philosophy, Yale University
  62. Leslie Green, Professor Emeritus of Law, University of Oxford and Queen’s University
  63. Darij Grinberg, Assistant Professor, Department of Mathematics, Drexel University
  64. Shane Gronholz, Lecturer, Department of Philosophy, Gonzaga University
  65. Matthew Hanser, Professor of Philosophy, University of California, Santa Barbara
  66. Chris Heathwood, Associate Professor, University of Colorado Boulder
  67. Raja Halwani, Professor of Philosophy and Faculty Liaison, Liberal Arts Department, School of the Art Institute of Chicago
  68. Nathan Hanna, Associate Professor of Philosophy, Drexel University
  69. Bashshar Haydar, Professor of Philosophy, American University of Beirut
  70. David B. Hershenov, Professor, Department of Philosophy and Director, Romanell Center for Clinical Ethics and the Philosophy of Medicine, University at Buffalo
  71. Carl Hoefer, Director, Barcelona Institute of Analytic Philosophy and ICREA Research Professor, Departament de Filosofia, Universitat de Barcelona
  72. Carole Hooven, Department of Human Evolutionary Biology, Harvard University
  73. Thomas Hurka, Chancellor Henry N.R. Jackman Distinguished Professor of Philosophical Studies, University of Toronto
  74. Jenann Ismael, Professor, Department of Philosophy, Columbia University
  75. Hrishikesh Joshi, Assistant Professor of Philosophy, Bowling Green State University
  76. Justin Kalef, Assistant Teaching Professor, Department of Philosophy, Rutgers University
  77. Bradley Kaye, Associate Professor of Philosophy, Erie Community College
  78. Zvi M. Kedem, Professor of Computer Science, Courant Institute of Mathematical Sciences, New York University
  79. Peter D. Klein, Professor of Philosophy, Emeritus, Rutgers University
  80. Bernard W. Kobes, Faculty of Philosophy, Arizona State University
  81. Zak A. Kopeikin, Assistant Teaching Professor, University of Colorado Boulder
  82. Matthew H. Kramer FBA, Professor of Legal & Political Philosophy, Cambridge University
  83. Andy Lamey, Associate Teaching Professor, Philosophy Department, University of California, San Diego
  84. Brian Leiter, Karl N. Llewellyn Professor of Jurisprudence, University of Chicago
  85. Mark Lance, Professor of Philosophy and Professor of Justice and Peace, Georgetown University
  86. David Levy, Associate Professor of Philosophy, State University of New York at Geneseo
  87. Matt Lutz, Associate Professor of Philosophy, Wuhan University
  88. Stephen Macedo, Laurance S. Rockefeller Professor of Politics and the University Center for Human Values, Princeton University
  89. Edouard Machery, Distinguished Professor, University of Pittsburgh
  90. Stephen Maitzen, W. G. Clark Professor of Philosophy, Acadia University
  91. Ron Mallon, Professor & Chair, Department of Philosophy and Director, Philosophy-Neuroscience-Psychology Program, Washington University in St. Louis
  92. JB Manchak, Professor of Logic and Philosophy of Science, University of California, Irvine
  93. Jose Luis Marti, Associate Professor of Legal and Political Philosophy, Universitat Pompeu Fabra
  94. Ron McClamrock, Associate Professor of Philosophy, University at Albany, SUNY
  95. Jeff McMahan, Sekrya and White’s Professor of Moral Philosophy, University of Oxford
  96. Dale E. Miller, Associate Dean for Research and Graduate Studies, College of Arts and Letters and Professor of Philosophy, Department of Philosophy and Religious Studies, Old Dominion University
  97. Francesca Minerva, Research Fellow, University of Milan
  98. J.J. Moreso, Professor of Legal Philosophy, Universitat Pompeu Fabra
  99. Christopher W. Morris, Professor Emeritus of Philosophy, University of Maryland
  100. Wes Morriston, Professor Emeritus, Department of Philosophy, University of Colorado Boulder
  101. Joshua Mugg, Assistant Professor of Philosophy, Park University
  102. Jeremy Ravi Mumford, Assistant Professor of History, Brown University
  103. Peter Murphy, Professor of Philosophy, University of Indianapolis
  104. Eric Nelson, Robert M. Beren Professor of Government, Harvard University
  105. Alastair Norcross, Professor of Philosophy, University of Colorado Boulder
  106. John Oberdiek, Distinguished Professor of Law, Rutgers University
  107. Serena Olsaretti, Research Professor, ICREA & Universitat Pompeu Fabra
  108. Camilo Ortiz, Associate Professor of Psychology and Director of Clinical Training, Doctoral Program in Clinical Psychology, Long Island University, C.W. Post Campus
  109. Jonathan Parry, Assistant Professor, Department of Philosophy, Logic and Scientific Method, London School of Economics and Political Science
  110. Steve Petersen, Associate Professor of Philosophy, Niagara University
  111. Charles Pigden, Associate Professor of Philosophy, University of Otago
  112. Allen Podet, Professor of Philosophy and Religious Studies, Buffalo State College, State University of New York
  113. Douglas W. Portmore, Professor of Philosophy, Arizona State University
  114. Jason T. Potter, Assistant Teaching Professor, University of Colorado at Boulder
  115. Dr. Eliezr Rabinovich, Former Adjunct Professor, Department of Materials Engineering, Technion – Israel Institute of Technology
  116. Joel Pust, Professor of Philosophy, University of Delaware
  117. Philip Reed, Professor of Philosophy, Canisius College
  118. David Rosenthal, Professor, Programs in Philosophy and Linguistics Coordinator, Cognitive Science Concentration, Graduate Center, City University of New York
  119. Gabriel Rossman, Associate Professor of Sociology, University of California, Los Angeles
  120. Ruth Sample, Associate Professor, Department of Philosophy, University of New Hampshire
  121. George Schedler, Emeritus Professor of Philosophy, Southern Illinois University, Carbondale
  122. Paul Schofield, Assistant Professor of Philosophy, Bates College
  123. Udo Schuklenk, Professor of Philosophy and Ontario Research Chair in Bioethics, Queen’s University
  124. John Schwenkler, Professor of Philosophy, Florida State University
  125. Stefan Sciaraffa, Associate Professor, Department of Philosophy, McMaster University
  126. Andrew Sepielli, Associate Professor of Philosophy, University of Toronto
  127. Rob Sica, Social Sciences & Humanities Librarian, Colorado State University Libraries
  128. Peter Singer, Ira W. DeCamp Professor of Bioethics, Princeton University
  129. Geoffrey R. Stone, Edward H. Levi Distinguished Professor of Law, University of Chicago
  130. Andrew Sneddon, Professor, Department of Philosophy, University of Ottawa
  131. Bradford Skow, Laurance S. Rockefeller Professor of Philosophy, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  132. Barry Smith, Distinguished Professor of Philosophy, University at Buffalo
  133. Rogers M. Smith, Christopher H. Browne Distinguished Professor of Political Science, University of Pennsylvania
  134. Walter Soffer, Professor of Philosophy, State University of New York at Geneseo
  135. Hillel Steiner, Emeritus Professor of Political Philosophy, University of Manchester
  136. Nadine Strossen, John Marshall Harlan II Professor of Law, Emerita, New York Law School
  137. Alison Suen, Associate Professor of Philosophy, Iona College
  138. David Sullivan, Professor of Philosophy, Metropolitan State University of Denver
  139. David Talcott, Associate Professor of Philosophy, The King’s College
  140. James Stacey Taylor, Professor, Department of Philosophy, Religion, and Classical Studies, The College of New Jersey
  141. Torbjorn Tannsjo, Kristian Claeson Professor of Practical Philosophy, Stockholm University
  142. Sergio Tenenbaum, Professor of Philosophy, University of Toronto
  143. Christopher Tollefsen, Professor and Chair of Philosophy, University of South Carolina
  144. Michael Tooley, College Professor of Distinction, Department of Philosophy, University of Colorado
  145.  Mel A. Topf, Feinstein College of Arts and Sciences, Roger Williams University
  146. Rebecca Tuvel, Associate Professor and Chair, Philosophy, Rhodes College
  147. Peter Vallentyne, Florence G. Kline Chair in Philosophy, University of Missouri
  148. Tim van Gelder, Associate Professor, University of Melbourne
  149. Pekka Väyrynen, Professor of Moral Philosophy, University of Leeds
  150. Michael Veber, Associate Professor, East Carolina University
  151. Eugene Volokh, Gary T. Schwartz Distinguished Professor of Law, University of California, Los Angeles
  152. David Wallace, W.A. Mellon Professor of Philosophy, University of Pittsburgh
  153. Brandon Warmke, Associate Professor, Department of Philosophy, Bowling Green State University
  154. Justin Weinberg, Associate Professor, Department of Philosophy, University of South Carolina
  155. Andy Wible, Instructor of Philosophy, Muskegon Community College
  156. James Lindley Wilson, Assistant Professor of Political Science, University of Chicago
  157. LTC Stephen N. Woodside, Academy Professor of Philosophy, Department of English and Philosophy, United States Military Academy

Schools: State University of New York – Fredonia Cases: SUNY Fredonia: Philosophy Professor Suspended for Philosophizing About Pedophilia