Re: [OPE-L] checking

From: Howard Engelskirchen (howarde@TWCNY.RR.COM)
Date: Sat Nov 11 2006 - 15:28:07 EST

Regarding the note from Cyrus, nobody wants to wade into the middle of these
exchanges.  I thought there were some points that needed making when the
flame war erupted in early September but hesitated and the moment passed so
I let it go.  Perhaps this is a time to raise a couple of points related to
the general problem.

1.    It goes without saying that those who participate in the parry and
thrust of personal abuse can have no idea how it dampens the enthusiasm for
collegial exchange.  It cannot help but stifle; folks lose interest.  My
guess is that once personal abuse begins, whatever the justification, pretty
much everybody loses interest not only in the particular exchange, but in
exchange on any topic.

2.    I support Jerry's role as coordinator of the list.  I think he has
devoted enormous energy to the task and has developed and sustained a
difficult and important job over a long period of time.  But he issued a
warning not long ago.  I got the impression from the post that he had
authority as list administrator to exclude someone from the list.  I don't
know whether this is the case or not, but if it is, in my opinion it
shouldn't be.  I don't think any such decisioin should be taken by an
individual.  We have an administrative committee.  Moreover, willingly or
not, Jerry has sometimes found himself in the middle of such exchanges.  In
anything approximating such an instance, it would be wise for him to recuse

3.    At the moment, as far as I understand, the only mechanisms we have for
situations where list members engage in personal abuse are punitive.  As the
economists say, this is inefficient.  It's too draconian to be imposed and
is difficult to impose fairly.  We should consider whether alternatives
aren't available to us.  Silly things are said on the list.  There are
unhelpful refusals to listen, unnecessary disagreements, folks talking past
one another, etc. -- all the errors of ordinary communication.  There are
also, and should be, sharp disagreements.  A little roughness of the skin
from exposure is in order.  Still, words can harm.  Where they do, the
tradition of criticism self-criticism may contribute to sorting things out.
In fact it may well be that the eruption that gets expressed in abuse
reflects an accumulation of irritations only poorly expressed in the actual
attack.  A thoughtful culture of criticism self-criticism might allow such
things to be fleshed out before they reach the point of abuse.  In any event
we should be reluctant to leave everything to ground rules  enforced
punitively only.  Perhaps we could find a way to channel abuse first
offlist, say by asking that any expression of perceived injury be expressed
onlist only in a joint statement.  For persistent problems phone mediation
might even occasionally be helpful.  People with expertise in conflict
resolution are available at many universities or other public agencies, are
often progressive, and might be sometimes be worth calling on.  Anyway, we
don't have to watch passively while a situation deteriorates.

4.  OPE-L is an important list and could be much more important than it is.
It's worth giving thought generally to list policies that constrain
scholarly exchange.  A glaring example is the policy that allows posts to be
used but prohibits their attribution.  I'm missing something on this -- I've
never understood the rationale.  The policy cannot help but limit the
exchange of tentative thoughts and insights.   Surely it must inhibit
discussion of works in progress.  It certainly inhibits citation to OPE-L.
We have seen how it might contribute to a list member's feeling, rightly or
wrongly, of having been the victim of wrongful use.  Conceivably, since it
blunts accountability, it may actually contribute to abuse.  If this or any
other policy makes no contribution to collegial discussion, it should be

In any event it would be good to openly discuss such issues; the
administrative committee ought to review them.


----- Original Message -----
From: "Fred Moseley" <fmoseley@MTHOLYOKE.EDU>
Sent: Saturday, November 11, 2006 11:48 AM
Subject: [OPE-L] checking

> Hi Jerry. were you able to send the referee report that I sent you to
> David Laibman?  Just checking to make sure.  I haven't heard from
> David. Sorry for the bother.
> Too bad the Cyrus letter got forwarded, but your apology should take
> care of it.
> Thanks again,
> Fred
> ----------------------------------------------------------------
> This message was sent using IMP, the Internet Messaging Program.

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