When Sally Haslanger, a prominent feminist philosophy professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, returned to her Cambridge office in August after a summer abroad, she found a padded envelope with no return address waiting for her.
She opened the package while sorting through her other junk mail and stuck her hand inside to feel what was there.
“Then I thought, ‘Oh shit,’” Haslanger said. “‘This is shit. I’m one of the other people who got the shit!’”
MIT’s Environmental Health and Safety team confirmed that the substance was feces, according to a university police report. But Haslanger wasn’t as confounded as one might expect a well-respected philosopher to be when faced with a mysterious package of poop. That’s because three other philosophers also received shit in the mail last summer.
In July, Carrie Ichikawa Jenkins, a philosophy professor at the University of British Columbia, emailed Haslanger, who’s a friend, to say she had received feces in the mail — creatively described by the mystery sender as “foam sculptures,” according to the attached customs declaration.
The same month, J. David Velleman, a philosophy professor at New York University, stuck his hand into an envelope of shit delivered to his office door.
After this story was published, a fourth philosophy professor, Carolyn Jennings, emailed BuzzFeed News photos of the unmarked package of feces she received in July.
All four philosophy professors were embroiled in a 2014 academic brawl over what they perceived as an abuse of power within their field. Now, they say someone is sending them shit in an attempt to shut them up.
The question is, who? And why now?
Jennings’, Haslanger’s, and Velleman’s packages were stamped but had neither a return address nor postmark. However, Jenkins’ package contained tracking information, which traces back to a USPS facility in Chicago. Brian Leiter, a renowned philosopher and law professor at the University of Chicago, is the colleague with whom the four had a high-profile squabble two years ago. The return address is one digit off from Leiter’s office at the University of Chicago, and the sender is listed as “Peter Aduren,” a pseudonym that some believe is used by Leiter.
Leiter emphatically denied sending excrement to anyone.
“I have no insight into why crazy people would do crazy things like mail shit to people,” he said via email.
Although he has no insight into why crazy people do crazy things, he thinks he knows who is responsible:
Several months ago, I learned, via the Chair of the Philosophy Department at British Columbia, that my old pal Carrie Jenkins had received an “offensive” package, and that the return address consisted in a mangled version of my Law School’s address and a pseudonym attributed to me by a law blogger who had championed the idea that “law school is a scam” and whom I had mercilessly criticized for years.
The “law blogger” is me. Leiter previously suggested I or my criticisms of the law school establishment might have something to do with the murder of Dan Markel. The day before he did so “someone” had fed this charming theory to a newspaper, which he then proceeded to quote. Note Leiter’s faux amazement that a reporter so quickly “dug this [“this” being a couple of comments buried deep in a two-year old comment thread on my ITLSS blog] up from the bowels of cyberspace.”
The pseudonym in question is “Peter Aduren,” which Leiter used in the course of cyber-stalking and harassing various people on various occasions. Leiter has never actually denied that he did this, although he has labored mightily to produce the impression that he has denied it (Whether that counts as a “lie” is something I’ll leave to the analytic philosophers).
Moving right along:
I was not going to write about this misconduct at all, since publicity tends to encourage lunatics. But since it continues, it’s worth flagging it as a warning to potential victims. It also turns out one recipient told a reporter that receiving the package was a case of being “threatened for speaking out about what [she] perceives as abuses of power within the discipline.” I confess I laughed when I heard that, since it attributes far too sophisticated motives to the malevolent actor(s). Alas, what this is really about is what happens when one vile cyber-cesspool–the “law school is a scam” crowd–hears about another cyber-controversy (the one about the PGR) involving their nemesis, namely, me.
It is of course extremely unlikely that the perpetrator of this pathetic and disturbing publicity stunt is from the world of arguments about the behavior of contemporary American law schools, since the number of people from that world who even know who Haslanger, Jenkins, Velleman, and Jennings are can be estimated as one (1).
Now that I put it that way, I realize it isn’t unlikely at all. But since publicity tends to encourage lunatics, it would probably be best not to give this latest little outburst any more of it than necessary.