Problematic Scholar, Problematic Scholarship?

At two recent conferences (CAMWS and CAC), Prof. Thomas Hubbard gave nearly the same paper under two different titles. At CAMWS (presented in April), it went under the title "Addressing Campus Rape as a Classicist" while at CAC (presented in May) it was titled "Classical Rape and its Modern Relevance." The topic of the talk was a course he taught in 2016 called "Mythologies of Rape," which, according to the syllabus he handed out at each talk "attempts to inform modern legal and policy discussions concerning rape." He includes in the description of his course the comment "In Lord Matthew Hale's famous dictum from the 17th century, no crime is so easily alleged or more difficult to prove." This sentence sets the tone for the course and the talks. As the syllabus and talks make clear, it is not a “classics” course on ancient gender and sexuality, it is an advocacy course and should be evaluated as such.

In what follows, I attempt simply to lay out the facts and issues surrounding the talks, the course the talks discussed, and the history attaching to Hubbard's involvement in what has been considered attempts to use our field to promote what has been long established in US and other countries’ laws as illegal behavior by adult men with boys. This post is based on 1. the CAMWS talk, 2. publicly available copies of the abstracts for the talks, 3. the syllabus he handed out at the talks, 4. notes and comments provided to me by those present at one or other of the talks, 5. comments provided by students in the class in question, 6. notes and context provided by scholars rebutting some of Hubbard's published ideas, 7. public statements on Twitter about the talks, and 8. internet archives of previous controversies on ancient pederasty and concerns over its use to promote or justify modern practice concerning sexual activity between men and boys. With the exception of comments on Twitter, or on the internet generally, all comments contributed by others to this post are anonymized.

I recognize that by discussing this issue in a public forum, I run the risk of breaking the unspoken rules of academia about problematic scholarship and scholars and that there may be a reckoning in the future, but I do so now because the scholar himself has made this a public discussion by giving these talks and promoting this course and so, public discussion is, I believe, valuable and warranted. In academia generally, the problematic scholar can be open and transparent with their problematic views, while everyone else only whispers that it is a problem. We need to stop whispering, even when we know we still inhabit a world where those who speak out against problematic scholars suffer more consequences than the problems themselves.

I state here at the beginning that this is not personal. This is about the way even the most diligent and precise of scholars can manipulate or misrepresent our evidence to suit personal ends. It about how academic freedom and the teaching of difficult subjects can be used to promote not difficult, but dangerous ideas. It asks whether we can trust scholarship when the line between personal and professional become indistinguishable. It is a case study in why, even though true objectivity is never possible, we should be extra careful when we look to the past for guidance to the present. As I have said before, some aspects of antiquity should stay in antiquity.

The History

The recent talks engendered a great deal of controversy, especially because of Prof. Hubbard's senior status in the field and his high profile scholarship on ancient sexuality, specifically on pederasty. In the past, Prof. Hubbard has been directly associated with NAMBLA--North American Man-Boy Love Association--, an association that has promoted relationships between adult men and boys. He has published projects under their auspices (his pamphlet/book "Greek Love Reconsidered" and an article in a special issue of the journal Thymos, which he assigns in the course under discussion, a course which, in part, uses ancient texts to argue that statutory rape and age of consent laws are onerous regulatory impositions.

The seeds of this controversy go back to at least 2005, when Haworth Press refused to publish an article in the Journal of Homosexuality that they and others felt "promote[d] child sex abuse." An agreement was made to publish a revised version of the article later, but in 2009, the new owners of the journal, Taylor and Francis, refused again. Prof. Hubbard penned a letter to the then APA (now SCS) and commented on the issue, "The net effect is to discourage discussion or publication on certain topics deemed even potentially ‘controversial,'...This creeping marginalization of edgy topics cannot be healthy for the free development of scholarly inquiry in our field or any other.” When interviewed, the then co-chair of the Lambda Classical Caucus, Kristina Milnor (quoted in a THE article on the issue), said the caucus itself was divided on the matter, understandable given the potential academic freedom issues involved.

Around the same time, the infamous BMCR controversy broke out over James Davidson's The Greeks and Greek Love and brought to the fore a number of issues about the way one can use classical evidence and one's scholarship on it to promote one's personal views (the link provides access to all the relevant reviews and responses). This was the charge leveled against Davidson by both Hubbard and Verstraete, while Davidson shot back that this was precisely what Hubbard and Verstraete were doing. Hubbard, however, came out of the exchange relatively unscathed; he was asked to edit the Companion to Greek and Roman Sexualities and his NAMBLA published book has even been cited by Andrew Lear in his chapter in the 2015 Sex in Antiquity volume edited by M. Masterson, Nancy Rabinowitz, and J. Robson.

Perhaps, they were unaware of the pamphlet's publisher? As I and others have discovered, pinning down NAMBLA as a publisher can be difficult as they use shell organizations and other names. But, it is a serious question whether we should cite scholarship, even by a serious scholar, that is published by an organization like NAMBLA. One scholar wrote to me of Hubbard's scholarship on pederasty as follows:
"Hubbard, I found, had a lot invested in the premise that they [boys] were present, etc. So I wanted to make sure he hadn’t turned up some evidence that contradicted my hypothesis. I didn’t find much, but did find a lot of special pleading of a morally repugnant kind. In particular, he is a Pindarist, and one of a specific training: he knows perfectly well that a naive literal interpretation of some poetic line from adult male to young boy like “you are the ruler of my soul” does not in fact mean that the boy exercises anything in the nature of what real people would call power over the adult. Hubbard knows this stuff is conventionalized love-talk without significant literal meaning (he at the very least knows that this is a very serious likelihood). He’s deliberately misinterpreting it for pernicious purposes—to advance a kind of incel line of “the underage boys are the ones with the power: they call the shots.” That one of his articles on the topic was published by NAMBLA (a detail he has tried to write-off in public controversy with James Davidson as an almost accidental happenstance—but try to find the publisher identified in the pamphlet itself: I did once; it turned up nothing; it seemed like a shell company) is apt."
Hubbard himself thus attributed his publishing under NAMBLA's auspices as "accidental happenstance;" this fact raises questions about the working of peer review, but that question clearly needs another blog post.

While the history of Prof. Hubbard's association with problematic topics has been around for a long time, his recent conference talks have given new life to those concerns and fits in with current debates more generally of the (mis)use of classical material to justify morally questionable or even repugnant ideas, laws, practices, and policies, and the use of conference peer review processes to give these views public platforms (as we see in discussions of white supremacism). There is a concern once again (as there was in 2005) that the classical past is being used to promote what amounts to child abuse and, in the case of Hubbard's focus on rape, to promote actively misogynist positions that more than one scholar who contacted me has found highly reflective of incel rhetoric.

The Conference Talks

The talks in question, as noted above, were nearly identical, based on what can be pieced together from attendees, the abstracts, the handout, etc. Whether this is a violation of the conference standards is up to CAC to decide. The abstract for CAMWS is fuller, while, due to word count limits, the CAC abstract is shorter. The CAMWS abstract contains what is clearly a statement of the bias of the author and not something that should have been overlooked in the review process (full disclosure: I am on the CAMWS program committee, but did not review that particular abstract; I do know who did and they seem to be genuinely surprised that the paper proved problematic). When I first read the abstract in the program, (linked above) I didn't really look at the entire thing. Now that I have, the first and final paragraphs are clearly questionable.)

The abstracts begin identically. What is missing from the CAC abstract, however, is of interest, particularly since the CAC abstract was submitted and presented for a panel sponsored by the Women's Network. In both talks, in the abstract for CAMWS, and in the Q/A periods, Prof. Hubbard expresses that he felt discriminated against by women (feminists, to be precise) in that his home Women's Studies program will not cross list his course and, as he makes clear in the abstract, women are not receptive to him teaching such a course:
"Ideally, a class about how men and women interrelate should have a rough balance of male and female students to share perspectives, but classes on gender seldom do; most faculty teaching such courses are female, and most male students regard gender-related classes as a systemically hostile environment. Engaging male students constructively and sympathetically is essential to changing the environment and attitudes that perpetuate rape, but if the males are not there, nothing will change. The mostly female students who choose to enroll in such a course, among the wide array of electives available to them, tend to come into the class with strong preconceived positions, based on negative personal experiences they or close friends have had with the issue. As a male teacher of a topic that has traditionally been gendered as a “female concern,” I faced some suspicion both from students and colleagues who should have been more cooperative. For a male to promote critical thinking about the wisdom of some activist-inspired legislative and administrative remedies can too easily be dismissed as denying the seriousness of the problem. A female teacher utilizing the same syllabus and readings might elicit a different reaction."
These words from the abstract were stated almost verbatim in the conference talks. It suggests, at the least, that Hubbard, who here suggests the female students were biased against him, was himself biased against the female students, whom he states could not be "objective" participants in his class because of their gender. He mentioned in the question and answer period of one of the talks that the male students were entirely receptive to the course material and assignments.

He left much of that last paragraph (bolded), which makes clearly problematic statements claiming his being discriminated against, out of the CAC abstract.

Also present in the CAMWS abstract, but absent from the CAC abstract:
"As the capstone experience of the course, I sponsored a conference bringing to my institution legal scholars, social scientists, activists, and humanists from multiple sides of the recent controversies to examine the relevant issues in an interdisciplinary fashion."
I am told by someone in the department and a student in the class that he arranged for Laura Kipnis to keynote a conference he organized on the subject. Again, removed from the CAC abstract, but in the CAMWS version:
" well as public debate over the wisdom of some recent measures, such as the requirements of the 2011 directive of the US Department of Education Office of Civil Rights that universities adopt “preponderence [sic] of evidence” standards in adjudicating allegations against students, state legislation requiring “affirmative verbal consent” among students, and the evolution of administrative procedures for adjudicating rape claims that deny basic constitutional rights to the accused. Studies by the American Association of Universities and many individual university systems, including my own, have suggested that as many as “one in five” or “one in four” female undergraduates has experienced “unwanted sexual conduct.” However, some faculty caution that over-zealous Title IX surveillance by universities has resulted in regulations designating faculty as “mandatory reporters” of personal issues students communicate to them in confidence, as well as cases where expression of heterodox opinion on sexual matters may become subject to Title IX regulation."
The removal of this last section from the introductory paragraph makes sense in light of the fact that Canada has no similar structure, although a centerpiece of the talk is the issue of affirmative consent, something Canada has a law on and which he uses as an example of how unreasonable he thinks such laws are are. But, really, it is this paragraph, along with the last, which make clear the actual framework within which Prof. Hubbard's paper should be situated. It is within a framework of enforcement of Title IX on college campuses--not just for sexual assault cases, but also accusations against faculty for harassment and gender discrimination. The department of Classics at UT Austin has been listed at least 4-5 times on "A Crowdsourced Survey of Sexual Harassment in Academia" at "The Professor is In" blog. This is not an insignificant number or fact as there are other known (but whispered about) cases involving the program.

I received messages or saw comments on Twitter and through email in response to the talks. Here is a sampling:
"He was mainly arguing that affirmative consent laws were only focussed on female pleasure, not male pleasure, and weren't men allowed to get to determine some of what was pleasurable about sex? But also that it was essentialising to argue that *all* women liked consensual sex, and that some women liked the "strong silent type" and would take pleasure in being dominated, so it was unfair of affirmative action activists to assume all women were like them. After all, there are romance novels!"
"He suggested that there was no evidence that girls who were married off at 13 found that experience distressing or that they considered it rape; and that we should look to the ancient world for models to revisit our views about the age of consent for girls and boys."
"I went to this talk and was appalled at the bullshit he was boldly proclaiming, as though it were inconceivable that a thoughtful (male) scholar could disagree with him. As a grad student, and especially as one who was still considering graduate study at UT, I was very frustrated with his talk, but I wasn't exactly in a position to do anything about it."
"The message of his class and talk more or less seemed to be "statutory rape: is it really even rape?" with a side of "also, rape accusations are sorta overblown and stuff" (there's a week in his class about the Hippolytus and false rape allegations, for instance)."
"Much of the extra commentary offered by TH was especially revelatory and revealed that he is interested in neither the emotional consequences of this class nor in maintaining objectivity. In speaking of victims needing to be resilient, he asked "Do I wallow in it?" (i.e. victimhood after non-consensual sexual encounters). He referred to one of the scholars he has students read as a "professional victimologist". I believe it was Lisak, whose data he manipulated to make it seem as though a lower proportion of rape accusations are true. When asked by an audience member about this, he agreed that he was interpreting the data differently than Lisak presents it. When asked whether he believes "no means no", he paused (for quite a while) and answered that sometimes no means yes.  At no point did TH discuss any emotional consequences with students, or in fact how the class was received when it was taught."
 But, perhaps the most strongly worded response:
"Overall, the talk presented horribly problematic arguments about rape and gender, and Hubbard's class should not have been taught. Having spoken to numerous people about Hubbard after this talk, I now realise that he has a reputation. Everything he said in his talk seems to line up with that reputation, or go even further. I feel uncomfortable that he was allowed to give such a talk at CAMWS, I feel uncomfortable that he is still allowed to teach and interact with students, and I do not think an individual who so clearly implied that he does not have typical moral issues with rape or child molestation is a safe person to be around."
 This is not the first talk Prof. Hubbard has given on these issues. Here is a link to his 2011 SCS (formerly APA) "Greek Pederasty, the Construction of "Childhood" and Academic Freedom."

The Women's Network placed the talk on their meeting agenda directly afterwards at CAC. They issued a rather vague statement a few days later:

It continues:

"When relevant, this must be communicated in our research, teaching, and interactions with one another. There need be no conflict between academic freedom and sensitivity to the human experience. We applaud further exploration and promotion of research on topics of social relevance that recognize their real force and consequences."
This statement could be read as support for Prof. Hubbard's right to give a talk reflecting ideas they find repugnant. I was told by someone in the meeting that they wished to issue a quick statement that did not mention him directly.

The Class

Integral to the talk was the course he was referring to called "Mythologies of Rape." I will quote below from the syllabus and the give a summary based on notes provided me from students in the course, attendees at the talk, and from the recording of what was said about the course in the talk.

I was told by individuals with some knowledge that the course was not taught in the Dept. of Classics at UT, but in the School of Undergraduate Studies, which involves a separate review process. In the talk, Prof. Hubbard refers to it as an "honors course," which seems to be called "signature" courses on the webpage.

Here is a summary of his remarks about the course in the talk and his response to questions on the content of his course. This gives a general idea about what the course entailed.

What is the course about? From the syllabus:
"This course attempts to inform modern legal and policy discussions concerning rape by exploring its conceptual genealogy not only in English Common Law, but through art, literature, and legend dating back to classical times. In Lord Matthew Hale's famous dictum from the 17th century, no crime is so easily alleged or more difficult  to  prove. How can jurisprudential systems adequately protect the rights of the victim  while granting due process and presumption of innocence to the accused? Why are juries traditionally so sceptical of rape claims? What special challenges are 'presented in combatting organized rape of civilian population in situations of war? To what extent is underage sex legitimately defined as "statutory rape"? What are the conditions that perpetuate prison rape? Why do men rape women (and other men)?
In tracing this conceptual history, we shall examine rape as a literary and mythological topos from the Trojan War (a founding myth of Hellenic identity) to the rape of the Sabine Women and the rape of Lucretia (founding myths of Roman identity) to modern mythologies of race and gender vulnerability in films such as D. W. Griffiths' Birth of a Nation and the Nazi-produced Jud Suss. How have these  politicized invocations of rape conditioned popular and elite assumptions that complicate the process of finding justice? Do classical art and literature glorify rape, and if so, how has their centrality in Western education contributed to social attitudes and legal practice surrounding rape? How have contemporary feminism and global human rights agendas shaped our understanding and treatment of rape? The course aims to contextualize the legal issues surrounding rape in broader dimensions of social construction and gender performance."
It is clear from this introduction and the schedule of readings that this is not a classics course aimed at understanding ancient sexuality and practices. The only ancient texts assigned are Ovid (Amores and Metamorphoses selections), selections from Livy, on the rape of Persephone by Claudian, and Euripides' Hippolytus. The selection is curious. No ancient laws (which DO expect consent, especially the Gortyn law code), not the most well-known version of the Persephone story, the Homeric Hymn to Demeter, which clearly positions Persephone's kidnapping and marriage as traumatic (to the entire world, in fact), and a very, very selective choice from Ovid's Met, who represents numerous traumatic rapes.

The only scholarship on pederasty (the statutory rape component) is Hubbard's 2010 article "Sexual Consent and the Adolescent Male  or  What  Can We  Learn from the Greeks ?' (in Thymos--possibly a NAMBLA backed publication). The only other scholarship on ancient rape is, to his credit, the best scholarship on the topic a rape in ancient warfare (Dr. Kathy Gaca's work)--but the issue of martial rape was an anomaly in the course as none of the ancient sources or modern US materials touch upon it. There is a very good book on teaching rape, pederasty, and other challenging subjects in ancient texts, but it does not appear on the syllabus.

Student comments on the course:
"The class was horrible and was an extended version of the comments he made in what you tweeted. The first time I think most of us in the class realized it would be a bad semester was our first essay where he asked us to evaluate our own sexual experiences or our friends experiences where we felt violated/assaulted to see if it was ACTUALLY rape under the Texas penal code or bad sex. He also had us write a paper over lowering the age of consent and lowering the punishment for sexually assaulting a child under the age of 6 (apparently 6 and under don't know assault is bad, they only think it is bad later on because they are told it is bad). We were also asked our sexual preferences in class and asked if we ever had a desire to be raped."
Interestingly, both of these assignments could be considered flagrant flouting of the mandatory reporter requirements of Title IX.
"I'm not too sure if he graded down if we didn't agree with him. I know I thought it was odd I received an A on a paper by just regurgitating his views (this was the one about changing the age of consent)."
Prof. Hubbard said in the talk that the course was  not run again because of bias against him by faculty in the Social Work program. But, as one student remarked:
"We filed complaints with the dean's office, which we are pretty sure is why the class isn't offered anymore. That was a lot of our motivation to stay."
The course was not renewed to be taught again under the signature course program. According to Prof. Hubbard's talk, it is because he is a man and not because of the content of the course.

Additional summary of the CAMWS/CAC talks (from those present)

H. holds up the affirmative consent model as problematic because we should not assume that all women have the same sexual preferences and some women “are attracted to the strong silent type…the stereotypical romance model.” Uses 50 shades of gray as example. How do we “reconcile” this supposed affirmative consent preference with the “sociobiological reality” that women “who feel the most vulnerable” are also those who are most likely to prefer men with aggressive personalities and dominant physical attributes.

He asks: How can we use a standard that is only reasonable in the minds of women? Shouldn’t there be a standard that is reasonable from mens’ points of view as well? Ones that match with their ways of understanding verbal and non-verbal cues? What about men with men? If men can’t understand the word “yes” or “no” when women say it, how can they be expected to understand it when the law says it means something other than what men mean when they say it?

H. points to Canada’s affirmative consent law, but claims that police and prosecutors have been “reluctant to utilize it for a variety of reasons.” -- he fails to note that this reluctance involves cases where alcohol is involved, not affirmative consent generally. It is clear that Hubbard is using an article from the Globe as his language almost precisely mirrors the language of the article, which says: "A dozen legal experts in consent law, including six Crown attorneys, told the Globe that some police officers are reluctant to lay charges if they believe the case won’t succeed in court. The reasons vary, they say. Sometimes police want to spare the victim from a grueling trial process. Additionally, the unique stigma that comes with a sexual assault charge – which can stay with an accused even if a judge finds them innocent – can deter investigators from making an arrest in borderline cases."

Hubbard says: “Statutory rape is a question which I have long felt Classical evidence is relevant…” It is “criminalized in our society” and punished with “draconian” punishments. Statutory rape “would have been normative” in antiquity--cites marriages of young girls and pederasty. He states that “historical evidence suggests” that relationships between adults and children (age differential relationships) are not “intrinsically exploitative or abusive in a generally permissive environment.”

He refered to research that he says suggests that memories of child molestation (“which are often non traumatic”) are often more traumatic than the actual incident itself. He states that it is the therapist who makes the incident into a “life destroying incident.”

He stated that women who enroll in these courses tend to come in with strong opinions about the material already--based on negative personal experiences or those of friends (in abstract). He faced hostility, he suggests, because of he is a male teacher of traditionally female subjects--both from students and colleagues; a “female” using the same syllabus would have faced less suspicion.

Quotations from attendees about the CAMWS/CAC Question and Answer

"The next person asks if Hubbard will teach this class again and what his student papers were like. Hubbard’s response:
  • UT Austin will not let him teach this class again (so it was only taught once): Hubbard claims that if people have a lot of emotions about something, he’s not allowed by society/university administration to challenge students to think critically about it because it undermines their emotions
  • Hubbard says that he made students write about statutory rape laws: (when he talks about making students do this, his tone and phrasing makes me think that he really just wanted students to write about how statutory rape laws are bad—would Hubbard accept “critical thinking” that still supported such laws?)
  • Hubbard had backlash from the social work faculty at UT Austin: they didn’t like the class because it wasn’t from the perspective of a victim
  • Hubbard claims gender discrimination by the Gender and Women’s Studies department because they wouldn’t cross-list his course (he thinks the reason they wouldn’t cross-list the course is because he’s male, not because of the lengthy list of reasons why his course was horrible)
  • He says his class had 2 male and 10 female students: Hubbard makes sure to tell everyone that the boys were in frats and one was a Republican (Hubbard just volunteered this information about the males in his class—he was unprompted, and it seems very strange that he was so concerned with the demographics of just the males in his class)"
One student in the course commented on the two male students:

"One was fairly okay and the other gave an extended presentation over why women don't actually get raped often."

There were additional comments on the course by students on Twitter, but these comment have subsequently been made private or were deleted, which I do not blame the individuals for doing. I have been told by numerous individuals who have experience with Prof. Hubbard that by writing this, I am opening myself up to vicious verbal attacks from him. Fortunately, I do not work with him, so he will need to do it from afar or in print. Also, I have made every effort to only attribute to him here documentable statements.

This is what I have learned and can document from the talk, the course, and its back history. What others choose to do with this information is up to each individual. After my own further research into this topic, I have not changed my response: