Apparently, feminist philosophy professors are being targeted in an entirely new way—poop mail.
According to BuzzFeed News, Sally Haslanger, a feminist philosophy professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, rummaged through her mail upon returning from a summer abroad. In the pile laid a padded envelope, with no return address. Haslanger opened the envelope, stuck her hand inside and felt something that was not quite right.
“Oh shit,” Haslanger recalled herself thinking to BuzzFeed. “This is shit. I’m one of the other people who got the shit.”
Indeed, Haslanger had been mailed poop.
Surprisingly, she wasn’t the only philosophy professor who opened an unwelcome package of feces that summer.
Carrie Ichikawa Jenkins, a University of British Columbia philosophy professor and a friend of Haslanger’s, reported receiving a pile of poop in her mailbox in July. That same month, philosophy professor J. David Velleman of New York University also unsuspectedly reached into an envelope of shit. Carolyn Jennings later emailed BuzzFeed with a picture of the package of poop she, too, was delivered in July.
What do all of these people have in common? They are critics of Brian Leiter.
Brian Leiter is a University of Chicago philosopher and law professor. He may be best known for founding the Philosophical Gourmet Report in 1989, which ranks philosophy PhD programs. However, his rankings and views in general have drawn controversy since. Leiter has been known to call others “morons,” “zombies” or “demonstrably incompetent” when he finds them intellectually lacking. Critics often accuse his Gourmet Report of demeaning philosophy in general by definitively ranking programs in an allegedly biased manner.
Jenkings’ envelope of poop had some tracking information that could be traced back to Chicago—the address was only one digit off from Leiter’s office. As if that weren’t coincidence enough, Jenkins wrote a blog post in 2014 that Leiter felt was a personal insult. In the post, Jenkins called for philosophers to treat colleagues with more respect, rather than belittle each other. Leiter then emailed Jenkins and took to social media to say her blog post was “threatening.”
This led to the pledge, later signed by hundreds of philosophers, to vow not to volunteer for Leiter’s Philosophical Gourmet Report. Studies have shown philosophy is a very male, very white profession that is often stacked against the success of women and minorities. In recent years, petitions and pledges like this have tried to change the atmosphere. This was followed, crappily, by threatening and belittling emails stemming from Leiter aimed at those who took up criticizing him.
As the theory goes, Leiter, or rather a condemnation of Leiter, was the only connecting factor between these philosophy professors. With tracking information tracing one of the poop parcels back so close to Leiter’s office, some believe he could have been the perpetrator.
“I have no insight into why crazy people would do crazy things like mail shit to people,” Leiter said via email to BuzzFeed. “This is about trying to embarrass me.”
According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, David Velleman emailed Leiter about the shitty mailings in August. “I assume it can’t be you,” wrote Velleman. “Which means that someone is trying to embarrass you.”
With websites like iPoopYou.Com, Poop Senders, and Shit Express, mailing poop is considerably easier than ever—as is setting up a colleague via packages of shit. If this is the case, we hope the great crap criminal of the American philosophy world is found before any of these professors are caught in another shitty day.