At least four prominent philosophy professors were mailed packages filled with literal shit this summer, prompting concerns that an inner-disciplinary feud that all four were involved in two years ago has spilled into the real world, or at least the faculty mail room.
Sally Haslanger, a feminist philosophy professor at MIT, told BuzzFeed News that she found a padded envelope waiting for her when she returned to her office in August after some time abroad. As one does, she reached inside the package, which she noticed has no return address.
“Then I thought, ‘Oh shit,’” Haslanger said. “‘This is shit. I’m one of the other people who got the shit!’”
“One of the other people” was a reference to the three other philosophy professors—University of British Columbia professor Carrie Ichikawa Jenkins, NYU professor J. David Velleman, and UC Mercer professor Carolyn Jenning—who were also mailed shit in July.
Why would these four be singled out? In 2014, Jenkins wrote a blog post calling for herself and others in their field to show more support to junior colleagues and those who are “professionally vulnerable.” While she didn’t name names, BuzzFeed reports that Brian Leiter, a powerful philosopher and law professor at the University of Chicago, took umbrage with the post and mocked her in an email, calling her a “sanctimonious asshole” in the process. That led to hundreds of philosophy professors signing a pledge promising not to contribute to the influential Philosophical Gourmet Report, which Leiter then-edited, until he stepped down.
As convoluted and very college-y as that is, the poop-plot thickens. From BuzzFeed:
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, for his part, denies mailing the shit. “I have no insight into why crazy people would do crazy things like mail shit to people,” he said.
So who is the mystery pooper? It could be Leiter, it could be a deranged acolyte of his, or it could be anyone who closely follows the dramatic inner-goings of academia. Until we know for sure, professors should probably let their TAs open their mail, just in case.