To the Editor:
In “God & Man at Yale—Again” [February], Robert William Kagan alleged improper conduct by me and by the Yale department of political science for refusing a promotion to a tenured position to Thomas Pangle. Our impropriety, so the article alleged, was in disqualifying Pangle because he was an intellectual follower of the late Leo Strauss, against whom I and the department are alleged to be biased.
Because Pangle was an unusually successful lecturer, the department’s decision not to promote him stirred up undergraduate protest, during the exciting course of which many irresponsible allegations were inevitably circulated. (Your article does not disclose that student concern was encouraged by an associate and friend of Pangle, Professor Donald Kagan, father of Robert William Kagan.) False as the allegations were at that time, Robert William Kagan, himself a student, has repeated them in his article. A pertinent issue that might have been raised by Mr. Kagan is whether Yale’s policy on promotions insufficiently values quality of teaching as against quality of research. I believe that the department and the university made a good decision in not promoting Pangle because he lacked the level of distinction of scholarship and publication the department sought for the position; but there are many critics of the Yale policy who believe that Yale should more often promote outstanding teachers for that quality alone.
As for the charge of an anti-Strauss bias, it is quite incorrect. The Straussian school of political philosophy is highly controversial; and a small group of Straussians find themselves in frequent conflict in their published writings with a much larger group of non-Straussians and a significant group of anti-Straussians. For the most part, the controversies that divide the groups from each other are healthy questions about the substance and method of political philosophy. Like many members of my department, I believe that Straussian challenges to more conventional schools of thought have made a fine contribution to political philosophy and political science. But there is, among some of the debaters on both sides, a distrust of the integrity of members of the opposing school; hence among some scholars feelings run very high; and many Straussians feel beleaguered. They fear they will be unfairly discriminated against in hiring and promotion. It is, I think, not an unreasonable fear; and it illuminates why some friends of Pangle believe he was discriminated against.
Not having made a survey, I nevertheless believe that the Yale department has hired more Straussians than any other leading department. As for my own participation in hiring, I supported Pangle’s original hiring and his first promotion. Later, as department chairman, I supported hiring other Straussians. Indeed, during my chairmanship, a Harvard professor went so far as to allege that the Yale department was unwilling to consider hiring any political philosophers other than Straussians, an allegation as false as those of Mr. Kagan. Subsequently, as director of Yale’s Institution for Social and Policy Studies, I made special efforts to draw Straussians into its program. Among my other activities to see that Straussians were given full hearings, on one recent occasion I intervened personally with the president of a leading university to overcome faculty resistance to a professorial appointment of a Straussian whose capacities I greatly admired. He subsequently offered me his opinion that my intervention may have been critical to his finally winning the chair.
The reason we did not promote Pangle to a tenured position is that we were looking for a distinguished leader in the field of political philosophy. Although he may someday qualify for such a ranking, he does not yet do so. He is an excellent scholar but so far falls short of intellectual distinction and leadership in the field.
We do not always set so ambitious a standard in appointments. We did so in this case because our judgment was that our department was insufficiently distinguished in political philosophy. It is not up to the level of distinction the department achieves in comparative government, for example, or empirical theory, or American government and politics. We set out to remedy that situation, and we were given administrative approval to hire a professor of political philosophy on condition—stated at the outset—that we engage in a major, sustained nationwide and worldwide search.
The COMMENTARY article contains a number of false statements that reflect at best the author’s ignorance of university procedures. It alleges, for example, that I engaged in an “unheard-of” method of evaluating a candidate—by phone calls to colleagues to ask for recommendations and evaluations. My colleagues and I at Yale have been using the telephone for these purposes for decades. It is also falsely alleged that I did not report these conversations to other members of the review committee. Ordinarily, we make no particular point of reporting them, since we are all engaged in getting information from all possible sources. But in this case I did report my calls to the other members of the committee. I did so in this unusual case because Pangle had told me that, if we did not decide in his favor, he intended to bring formal charges of bias against us, as indeed he subsequently did. Having been put on warning, we made special efforts to maintain scrupulously fair proceedings. It is also alleged falsely that we biased Pangle’s prospects by changing the requirements for the position in midstream. We did not; and, like the other allegations, this one is simply an allegation and without foundation in any evidence.
It is also suggested that we went against recommendations in letters we sought on Pangle’s qualifications. What the author of the article does not understand is that it is the responsibility of the Yale faculty to evaluate candidates for hiring or promotion. The faculty does not delegate this responsibility to scholars from whom it seeks supplementary evaluations. The university requires all departments to seek outside letters to see whether they confirm or challenge the internal Yale evaluation, not to displace the internal evaluation.
Our request for letters asked that referees compare Pangle with others at similar ages and stages of career. But Mr. Kagan is quite incorrect in implying that such comparisons were intended at any point in our deliberations to be sufficient to settle the question of his promotion. In the Pangle case, some letters were strongly for Pangle, some were not, some were strongly opposed. I know of no grounds on which to argue that we did not use the information and evaluations in good faith to help us reach a decision. Any allegation or insinuation to the contrary is flatly false and without evidence.
The article also gratuitously alleges, with nothing to support the defamatory statement, that the department was also biased against Pangle because he is a political conservative. To what degree and in what ways Pangle is politically conservative, I do not know very well; nor do most of my colleagues. We think it important to have diversity in the department; yet, on the other hand, we do not ask questions about candidates’ politics and consider it improper to let political persuasion enter into recruitments and promotions. Pangle’s conservatism—whatever it consists of—was not a factor in our decision.
The account in the COMMENTARY article on my long conversation with Pangle about his prospects for promotion is irresponsible, and all the more so for enclosing in quotation marks phrases implied to be mine though they are not my words at all. I engaged in an unsuccessful attempt to distinguish for Pangle an unreasoned position or prejudice for or against a particular school of thought, like Straussianism, structuralism, Marxism, or functionalism, on one hand, and a reasoned evaluation, on the other. He took the position that any opposition to Straussian thought was evidence of bias.
In the department, we have had sustained discussion on what kind of political philosopher would be best for us, especially in light of the need for diversity of intellectual orientation. Some of my colleagues want a philosopher who specializes in classical Greek philosophy; others want a specialist in the history of modern thought; others want no historian of thought at all but instead a philosopher oriented to contemporary social problems; and others have still other preferences.
If Pangle had not been disqualified for lack of sufficient intellectual distinction and capacity for intellectual leadership, we would have had to move on to questions about his school of thought. At that point, that he is a Straussian would have become relevant, and I do not doubt that my colleagues could have thoughtfully and fairly evaluated the department’s need for this or that kind of philosopher and, in so doing, assessed the value to the department of a Straussian against a member of some other school. We did not come to such a discussion, however, since we earlier reached a decision on Pangle on quality grounds.
My colleagues and I struggled patiently and assiduously with the Pangle case, all the more so because we were put on notice early of Pangle’s intent to bring charges against us. I want to record my confidence in my colleagues’ integrity, especially in the integrity of Douglas Rae who, along with me as a member of the review committee, is mentioned by name in the article.
Charles E. Lindblom
Director, Institution for Social and Policy Studies
Professor of Economics and Political Science
New Haven, Connecticut
Robert William Kagan writes:
For those who may not have read my article, I should mention at the outset that it was not primarily about tenure procedures at Yale, but rather about the general climate of ideological conformity on that campus which successive administrations, including the present one, have failed to disturb. The Pangle case was one illustration of how this conformity works itself out in practice, and Charles E. Lindblom’s role was cited because it happens to have been central in that case.
In his letter, Mr. Lindblom says that I have made false allegations about the facts concerning the tenure review of Thomas Pangle. He also claims that my allegations as to the motives behind the department’s decision to deny Pangle tenure are incorrect. “Proving” what motives lie behind human actions is not easy, but the facts of the Pangle case are plain.
First, let us consider the important questions of the procedural improprieties in Pangle’s tenure review which I described in my article. Mr. Lindblom has attempted to refute my interpretation of the facts on two major issues: (1) He claims that the review committee did not decide to change the requirements for the position in the midst of the review process; and (2) he denies he proceeded improperly in making telephone calls or that he failed to report those calls to the committee.
Mr. Lindblom claims that Pangle was denied tenure only because the department was looking for a “distinguished leader in the field of political philosophy,” and although, as Mr. Lindblom acknowledges in his reply, Pangle is an “excellent scholar” who “may someday qualify for such a ranking, he does not yet do so.” It is in connection with this point that he claims the tenure committee never changed its requirements for the position in midstream. Here are the facts.
Near the beginning of the tenure review, as part of standard procedure, the department sent out letters to eighteen scholars seeking their help in evaluating Pangle for tenure. The letters asked respondents to evaluate Pangle within the following guidelines:
. . . we are interested in how he compares with other scholars of roughly the same age and experience in the field. As you will understand we are concerned not only with the candidate’s competence in his specialties but also with his contributions to political philosophy and political theory, broadly construed. Perhaps, even without the gift of prophecy, you may be able to help us estimate whether Pangle will likely make contributions to political philosophy and theory which will place him among the first rank scholars in the field, in, say, about ten years. [Emphasis added]
But in the majority report of the tenure committee, which was signed by Douglas Rae and Mr. Lindblom, the following appears:
[The letters] make a strong case for tenured appointment for Pangle. They are, however, less than ordinarily useful. First, we believe we see evidence of Straussians coming to the support of one of their own and anti-Straussians downgrading him simply because he is a Straussian. Second, the letters in which we repose the greatest confidence do not—and could not be expected to—address our concern that our appointment be an unusually distinguished one. They endorse him for tenure—as above we have said we might do in ordinary circumstances. But testimony and evidence do not satisfy us on Pangle’s qualifications for so critical and precious a slot as ours at this time. [Emphasis added]
The phrase that I have emphasized is crucial. Why could the letters not be expected to address the questions which the department wanted answered? The answer seems to be that the respondents were asked the wrong question. They were not asked whether Pangle was then, at the age of thirty-four, a “distinguished leader in the field of political philosophy.” They were asked if they thought he might become one in “about ten years.”
Is it reasonable to suppose that the department sent out the original letter knowing in advance that the responses which it would elicit “could not be expected” to be of much use in the final evaluation? I doubt it. The only sensible explanation for this discrepancy is that somewhere between the time the evaluation letters were sent out and the time the committee made its decision, the standards by which Pangle was to be judged were changed. That is why the letters “could not be expected” to be useful. To change the requirements for a position in the middle of a candidate’s review is improper, a point to which Mr. Lindblom does not address himself. As for Mr. Lindblom’s claim that the committee used the “information and evaluations in good faith to help us reach a decision,” the evidence of the majority report suggests otherwise. The letters, which made a “strong case for a tenured appointment,” were deemed “less than ordinarily useful” in making the decision because they were polarized on the issue of Straussianism and because the respondents had been asked the wrong question.
Because the letters were “less than ordinarily useful,” the majority must have turned to the only other evidence available: the telephone calls that Mr. Lindblom made to “an informal ‘panel’ of consultants” (to quote from the majority report). Mr. Lindblom denies that using phone calls as part of an evaluation is “unheard-of” and I agree. What is unheard-of is that such phone calls be used as the primary basis for a tenure decision. Telephone conversations are supposed to supplement letters, not replace them, as they apparently did in the Pangle case. When I consulted Professor Joseph Hamburger, who was chairman of Pangle’s tenure committee and wrote the dissenting report, he stated that “letters are basic. The importance of phone calls as evidence is significantly less than that of letters.”
There are obvious reasons for this. The letters which the department sent out were agreed upon, in their form and content, by all members of the committee. What is more, they were consistent. Each evaluator was asked precisely the same question in precisely the same manner. The telephone calls, however, were not agreed upon in advance by the committee. In general, telephone calls leave much room for discrepancy. The caller asks whom he wants and what he wants, and the circumstances of each discussion can vary, as they did in this case. One of the scholars whom Mr. Lindblom consulted, Professor Allan Bloom, was contacted well before the others, probably before the review process had even begun; according to the majority report, he was asked to evaluate a “shorter list” of candidates than the other four members of the “panel,” but Bloom has told me that Pangle was the only person discussed and that he, Bloom, was in any case not aware that the conversation was to be part of the final review process. Professor Sheldon Wolin has similarly been quoted (in the Yale Daily News) as saying he had no idea his opinions were being used as formal evidence for Pangle’s evaluation.
The other problem with telephone calls is that they yield no written record for verification. Hamburger has stated that evidence derived from such calls could have “no formal standing” in a review procedure. The impropriety of Mr. Lindblom’s telephone calls, then, lay not in the fact that they were made, but in the way they were used, as the basis upon which the committee recommended against tenure for Pangle. Moreover, I did not say in my article that Mr. Lindblom failed to report his conversations to other members of the review committee, as he claims in his letter. Obviously he reported the conversations. What I said was that Mr. Lindblom made the calls “without informing the chairman of the committee” (Hamburger), a fact that Hamburger has since reaffirmed to me.
In addition to trying to refute me on these procedural questions, Mr. Lindblom claims that my allegations as to the motives behind the Pangle decision are false. He asserts that there is no bias against Straussians at the Yale political-science department, or at least that the Straussian issue played no decisive role in Pangle’s tenure review. To support his argument, Mr. Lindbolm claims that Yale has hired more Straussians “than any other leading department.” I would only point out that not one of these Straussians has ever been granted tenure. Nor is it heartening to learn that Mr. Lindblom intervened “personally” to help a Straussian receive an appointment at another university. This may only indicate that Mr. Lindblom does not mind if other universities give tenure to their Straussians.
Mr. Lindblom takes issue with the way I reported on a long conversation he had with Pangle about the latter’s prospects for promotion before the review process began. He does so because it is an important piece of evidence suggesting that there is a strong anti-Straussian bias at Yale and that this bias played a large role in the Pangle case. I based my account on Pangle’s detailed report of that conversation, as contained in the petition he wrote to the then dean of Yale College, Horace Taft, after being denied promotion to a tenured position. Pangle reported the following:
[Mr. Lindblom] began the conversation by asking me if I had an impression of what my chances for promotion were. I told him what I had informally heard from Professor Hamburger, who had said that I should not be very optimistic. Professor Lindblom then asked me if I understood why there was considerable opposition to my promotion, and I replied that I presumed that there was some unfavorable reaction to the quality of the unpublished work-in-progress I had submitted (a manuscript of a book on Plato). With this Professor Lindblom strongly disagreed. He said he knew of no substantial criticism of the quality of my recent work, and added that he was sure none of the tenured members of the department felt qualified to evaluate my work on Plato. The difficulty, he said (in addition to the general financial stringencies of the university), was the “Straussian issue.” He went on to say that he was sure I was familiar with the “fear of Straussians” that crops up frequently in political-science departments, and that this was indeed present at Yale. I stated as strongly as I could that I was shocked to hear that such a consideration, such judgment by association, was involved. Professor Lindblom replied that that was understandable, but that I had to accept the fact that “several” of my senior colleagues were convinced that any scholar associated with the outlook, or coming under the influence, of Leo Strauss was necessarily “tainted with certain specific vices” which made him “unacceptable” as a tenured colleague. He said that a major issue in my tenure would be the entertaining of this charge, and a consideration of its merits in general and its application to me in particular. [Emphasis in original]
I do not know how to interpret Mr. Lindblom’s statements in this conversation, as reported by Pangle, other than that he expected, even before the review process began, that Pangle would be the object of anti-Straussian bias.
That Pangle’s Straussianism was an issue in the decision can also be seen from what, according to Pangle’s petition, Douglas Rae told Pangle in a telephone conversation prior to the submission of the majority report, namely, that he, Rae, had been placed on the committee as a representative of “the anti-Pangle, anti-Straussian, anti-political-philosophy faction” in the department. I would also note that Hamburger considers this addition of a fourth member to Pangle’s tenure committee after the review process was already under way to be “unprecedented,” especially given Rae’s publicly stated opposition to Straussians.
Mr. Lindblom also denies that political views played any part in Pangle’s tenure review. He claims that he and his colleagues “consider it improper to let political persuasion enter into recruitments and promotions.” The political element of the tenure decision, however, did not stem from perceptions of Pangle’s personal views, but rather from his association with the Straussian school of thought which is considered by many to be conservative in the most traditional sense of the word. Douglas Rae’s offhand statement—“Academic freedom is one thing, but there are two types who should never be allowed to teach here: Leninists and Straussians”—was framed in decidedly “political” terms. He was referring to two extremes of the political spectrum: Leninists on the far Left, Straussians on the far Right.
Nor was Rae by any means the only professor in the Yale political-science department who considered the issue of contemporary American politics pertinent to the Pangle case. Hamburger kept (and subsequently shared with Pangle) the minutes of a conversation among members of the tenure committee concerning the degree to which political views should play a part in their evaluation In the course of that discussion Hamburger maintained that political views should in no way intrude. One professor, however, thought that “in a small department, political opinion might be considered,” while another professor objected to the Straussian espousal of certain Platonic views which “are unacceptable to me, and which I would not apply to contemporary America.”
This conversation goes to the very root of the “political” issue. According to Hamburger (as quoted in the article by Craig Gilbert in the Yale Political Monthly, September 1979), “this evidence suggests the existence of an intolerance for those who hold views that are unorthodox, that is, outside the mainstream, and in this case somewhat conservative.” I think that is a generous way of putting it.