An Account of the Vice-Chancellor’s Forum, Durham University, March 16, 2022

I am an associate professor in the department of Philosophy at Durham University. I serve as the Deputy Director of the Liberal Arts programme, and I am an elected officer of the Durham branch of the University and College Union, serving in the role of equalities officer (jointly with another DUCU member) since summer 2021, and prior to that I was an elected member of the DUCU committee. In 2020, I was elected by the Academic Electoral Assembly as a member of the standing committee, representing the concerns of members of academic staff on Senate.

Durham University, like pretty much the entire Higher Education sector in England, is currently dealing with a number of complicated difficulties, including the Covid-19 pandemic, unexpected over-recruitment as a result of the pandemic, and the issues which have resulted in industrial action every year since 2018.

I note this as providing a backdrop to the events of today, March 16, 2022, which I will try to relate in as factual manner as possible (because I happen to think that the facts matter).

Statute no. 32 of the University Statutes says:

(1) The Vice-Chancellor may call meetings of all members of the academic staff. The Vice-Chancellor shall call and attend such a meeting if requested in writing by at least one hundred members of the academic staff.

(2) Any matter of interest to the University may be discussed at all meetings of the academic staff held under this Statute, and their representations shall be forwarded to such one or more of the Statutory Bodies as the meeting considers appropriate.

On March 1, 2022, more than 150 signatures requesting such a meeting was submitted to the Vice Chancellor’s office. The letters that many people signed requesting the meeting included these two requests:

I request that the meeting is held in hybrid format allowing for both in-person and online attendance, and that a venue be identified that allows attendance by as many members of academic staff who would wish to attend in person. I hope that you would also attend in-person, as per the conditions that staff have been teaching in across this academic year.

I also request that the meeting be organised to allow the views of academic staff to be aired openly and to allow discussion between yourself and staff.

On March 9, 2022, teaching and research staff at Durham received an email from the Vice-Chancellor’s office, which said in part:

All staff are warmly invited to attend a staff Forum on Wednesday 16th March at 2.00pm. I will host the Forum, which will include a short presentation from members of the senior team and me.

In order to facilitate attendance on an equal basis, the Forum will take place online.

With the email was a link to a form where members of staff could submit questions in advance. This form was only accessible to members of staff logged into their Microsoft Suite account, and had “name” as a required field.

When I replied inquiring what provision there was for asking questions anonymously, I received this answer:

You can still use the Microsoft form as all questions are put forward to the panel anonymously prior to the event.

Four things to note:

  1. We requested a meeting with the Vice-Chancellor, not the Vice-Chancellor and members of the senior leadership team.
  2. We requested a hybrid meeting, in keeping with the working conditions that most members of academic staff have been expected to work in for the last year. This request was not met.
  3. The fact that questions were submitted to the panel anonymously does not address concerns about lack of provision for anonymous submission.
  4. March 16 is the last Wednesday of the term. Wednesday afternoon is traditionally teaching-free so that committee and other meetings can be held then, and most departments traditionally hold their Boards of Studies on the first and last Wednesdays of the term, at 2pm.

The following is an incomplete list of departments whose Boards of Studies or other departmental meetings conflicted with the Vice-Chancellor’s Forum: Computer Science, DCAD, English, History, MLAC, Music, Philosophy, Physics, and Sociology. Some, but not all, departments where able to shift their meetings to 3pm in order to allow members of staff to attend the Vice Chancellor’s forum.

Over 450 people attended the meeting. The Vice Chancellor began with a presentation, followed by presentations by the Deputy Vice Chancellor and Provost, the head of HR, and the Chief Financial Officer, followed up with some final remarks by the Vice Chancellor. These presentations were on the issues of pensions, pay, and workload. During the presentations, the zoom chat was turned off so that no comments or questions could be written. The presentations lasted 38 minutes, at which time the Q&A was opened, and I raised my zoom hand. The first comment in the chat was a request that for an anonymous zoom poll, at the end of the meeting, to determine whether participants were happy with the format and running of the meeting. The request for a poll was never acknowledged, but towards the end of the meeting another attendee set up a poll via an external site; the results can be read here.

The first person called on was the pensions officer of Durham UCU, who attempted to rebutt some of the claims that were made in the pensions presentation, at which point, the Vice-Chancellor responded saying that she didn’t want to get into a back and forth about the facts.

We are a university. Facts, and truth, matter. If this is not the time and place (a VC-hosted discussion, i.e., a back and forth) to try to come to an agreement on the facts, then when is?

As other people were called on to speak, and questions were pulled out of the chat in order for them to be answered, it became increasingly clear that questions and questioners were being cherry-picked. At 14:44, I asked in the chat “in what order are questions being taken?” When someone else was allowed to speak (note: people were not allowed to unmute themselves, only the host could unmute people), two people pointed out that both I, and Sol Gamsu the DUCU president, had been earlier in the hand-queue, and others put in a request that questions be answered in the order they were raised. Sol was then invited to ask the next question.

At 14:50, there was a request in the chat that elected representations of staff be given the space to speak, as opposed to unelected senior management.

At 14:57, the first woman was called upon to speak. She pointed out that my hand had been raised before hers and indicated that it would be proper to call on me first. The response was that at this point there was no longer enough time to take everyone’s question. She proceeded to speak (and did so amazingly, I wish that speech had been recorded so that we could have the transcript of it, I am so impressed and so pleased that she was willing to take a stand on behalf of her department and the wider university community.)

At 15:00, the Vice Chancellor tried to bring the meeting to a close. She said she would stay on a few minutes longer to allow people to continue to put questions in the chat, to be answered at a later date. At this point, people were enormously frustrated at the fact that I had not yet been invited to speak:

anonymized zoom chat transcript

At 15:05 I left the meeting (so as not to be any more late to my departmental Board of Studies meeting), having never been invited to speak.

The ironic thing? What I wanted, first and foremost, was to offer the Vice Chancellor an apology.

On February 17, while I was on the picket line outside Elvet Riverside, I saw the Vice Chancellor across the street, presumably en route from her office (we had seen her walking the morning before presumably en route to her office). Despite the fact that she’s been in post since January, I had not had a chance to meet her in person yet, because Senate meetings are still on zoom. (I’ve never yet been to a Senate meeting in person.) There was a gap in the traffic, so on impulse I dashed across the street, to ask if she’d like to come over and talk to us for a bit. She said she was on her way to an appointment, which, fair enough, so I tried to follow it up with “You’re welcome on the line any time, we would love to have a chance to talk to you,” but before I could finish extending the invitation she cut me off and said “Don’t ambush me,” and walked off.

I was completely taken aback; it was my not my intention at all to ambush her, though had I been less impulsive in my decision to try to talk to her, I might have seen that this could’ve been intimidating. But I honestly — and honestly naively — thought that a Vice Chancellor would be interested in talking to her staff; I would not have approached her otherwise. I have felt very bad about this incident ever since, and I wanted to apologise, personally and verbally, in a way that an apology in a chat or an email, from someone she did not know, would not have worked. I am sorry, and would have acted differently if I had thought more before acting.

I wanted to apologise, and I wanted to ask what we, as a body of staff, needed to do in order to facilitate a meeting, with her (and not members of the senior leadership team), in a hybrid setting (where she could meet, in person, at least some of her staff), where we could discuss matters of importance to the academic community at Durham University (no powerpoint presentations needed — or allowed). Because after an hour of managerial fillibustering and obfuscation, we did not get what we asked for and we do not know how to get it.

Note: I have attempted in this post to stick to the facts and maintaining anonymity of other attendees of the meeting as much as possible. If there’s any concern that I have misrepresented what happened or omitted important information, I will edit this post to rectify the error and add a note here of any changes made, and when.

Correction 2022-03-16, 21:56: It was not the Pro-Vice-Chancellor who attended the meeting and gave a presentation, but the Deputy Vice Chancellor and Provost. Also, added mention of the informal satisfaction survey.

Addition 2022-03-17, 08:53: Added Physics to the list of depts having a meeting during the time of the VC forum. I have also learned that Post-Graduate Open Days were happening that afternoon as well, preventing even more members from staff from being able to attend the forum.

Addition 2022-03-17, 11:14: English also had their BoS during the forum, and were able to send only one representative to the forum.

The 2011 Congress on Logic, Methodology, and Philosophy of Science (Nancy, France)

In honor of World Logic Day today, Valeria de Paiva has organized a bunch of people to write up informal reports of various meetings of the Congress on Logic, Methodology, and Philosophy of Science, organized via the Division of Logic, Methodology, and Philosophy of Science and Technology. (See a list of past congresses here.) I volunteered for the 2011 congress for two reasons: First, it’s the only one I’ve ever been to! And second, it holds a very special, personal place in my life.

The 2011 congress was held in Nancy, France, from 19 to 26 of July, organized by Gerhard Heinzmann and his team. I was invited to participate in a workshop within this congress on Logical Modeling: The Interface Between the Formal and the Empirical, and I gave a paper on “Faithfulness: On the proper method of building formal models for pre-modern logical theories”, building on my post-doctoral research, under the supervision of Benedikt Löwe, in logical and formal models and medieval logic. I remember being grateful for having the workshop-within-a-congress to present in, because the overall congress was rather overwhelming — so many people, so many talks I wanted to go to! It was an incredibly rich week with always something interesting to do or someone interesting to talk to.

As part of the conference, the organizers made arrangements with photographer Olivier Toussaint to come and photograph the conference, as part of a project he was doing on portraits of science. He could be seen with his huge camera lenses floating throughout the conference, capturing both candid photos and posed portraits.

What made this congress so special for me on a personal level is that this was the first conference I went to where I was so obviously pregnant that people assumed my news was commonly knowledge; I was five and a half months pregnant, but at a conference only two weeks earlier everyone was very oblique and circumspect, not wanting to presume. There in Nancy, there was no need to presume, it was obvious fact! When Toussaint discovered that there was a young! female! pregnant! logician present at the conference, you could see his glee — I would make a great addition to his collection because there’d be no one else like me in it. 🙂 I was delighted when he asked if I would sit for him for a post portrait, not only for the vanity of being a part of this collection, but also because there was one thing during my pregnancy that I had not been able to organize for myself and did not know if it would be able to do before my daughter was born, something that would have been routine if I were still living in the US but which just seemed so daunting to try to do as an immigrant, and I had quietly given that up as “not for me”, with no small amount of sadness: A maternity photoshoot. And then here comes this entirely unexpected opportunity, to have some professional photos taken of me while pregnant, but photos of me and not my pregnancy. It was an opportunity to celebrate the diversity of the field of logic, and also to commemorate this special moment in my life.

So those are my personal recollections of that congress, and why it was such a meaningful moment for me.

Sara L. Uckelman
(c) 2011 Olivier Toussaint

Excerpt from the interview I gave as part of the portrait series:

What is your opinion about your portrait?

Part of the reason that Mr. Toussaint asked if he could photograph me is that, at the time, I was about 6 months pregnant.

As an academic and a soon-to-be mom, I know that figuring out how to balance these two aspects of my life may, at times, be ­complicated, yet I feel it is very important that I do so. Attending the Congress while pregnant was a step towards creating the new me which can successfully balance both work and home life, and Mr. ­Toussaint’s portrait of me, even if it does not physically display this stage of my life, provides me with a symbol of the success of that first step. It makes me excited and optimistic for the future, and I’m very happy to have such a lovely memory of a special time in my life.

View the entire portrait exhibition.

Wot I Read, 2021 Edition


  1. Cleary, Beverley, Ramona the Brave (finished May 8, 2021): G really liked this one.
  2. Cleary, Beverley, Ramona and Her Mother (finished May 24, 2021): We slipped this one in between the Neverending Story and the Hobbit. It never ceases to amaze me, rereading the Ramona books to G as bedtime stories, how influential these books were on the parent I was to become.
  3. Cogman, Genevieve, The Invisible Library (finished January 2021): This felt a lot like someone attempted to write Jasper fforde for NaNoWriMo. Parts of it I liked a lot, but it had a really frenetic pace that just felt exhausting at times.
  4. Cogman, Genevieve, The Masked City (finished February 1, 2021): This had the same frenetic energy that the previous one did. I keep thinking: This is supposedly a book about libraries and librarians and books, but so little about the book is actually about these things. Why not a quiet story involving hunting down books? And the adventures that come from that? I also became increasingly bothered by Irene’s blase use of the Language, especially to control people’s minds, or to casually do things that result in their death. This manipulation was never questioned, either by her or her friends or by the author. Surely there have got to be some constraints on the use of the Language, the transgression of which has serious consequences. The fact that it does not makes me question the fundamental structures of this world.
  5. Cogman, Genevieve, The Burning Page (finished February, 2021): This one was the weakest of the three. My complaints about TIL hold here — every single chapter there was another cliff-hanger or gotchya moment, it felt like, and it felt a lot like it was written by someone who was like “I have no idea what to do next! I know, I’ll do something wacky and unexpected!” I find Alberich an utterly flat and unconvincing villain, and I have no idea what we’re supposed to think about Irene’s relationships with Vale and Kai. Is she interested in both of them? Is this intended to be a love triangle? I keep thinking “wouldn’t it be great to have a heroine who can simply be friends with a man?” and then having those hopes dashed.
  6. Cogman, Genevieve, The Lost Plot (finished February 16, 2021): I liked this the best out of the four. The plot seemed a bit more mature, though I still find Irene and Kai’s relationship perplexing. Are we supposed to think that she’s interested in him? I am JUST not feeling it, at all.
  7. Cogman, Genevieve, The Mortal Word (finished August 19, 2021): Having read this, I have now come to the conclusion that the Library — Irene included — are not the good guys. No way, no how. They are manipulative, they are deceptive, they STEAL BOOKS (seriously, why couldn’t they (a) buy them properly? Or (b) “borrow” them and make copies and give the original back?). Irene continues to be weirdly uncaring about the death and devastation that follows in her wake, and I think Cogman has given up trying to make her a sympathetic character.
  8. Cogman, Genevieve, The Secret Chapter (finished October 25, 2021): Weirdly, this one felt like Cogman went “oh! Irene is horribly immoral, I have to say something about her moral upbringing/education, let me try to shoehorn into her past an extremely important school that has never been mentioned or reference but was so important for her moral education that it can provide a motivation for a story”. Not entirely successful, but I did like this book more than some of the other ones, even though I’m not by nature someone who goes for heist stories.
  9. Cogman, Genevieve, The Dark Archive (finished November 7, 2021): I really don’t have very much time for villains who continually are resurrected even after they’ve been killed for no other reason than to fill the role of villain, especially when those villains appear to be villains only for the sake of being villains and don’t actually have any robust character development or reason for the villainy behind them. I was also not a huge fan of the deus ex machina epilogue.
  10. Ende, Michael, Momo (finished January 31, 2021): I read this aloud to G. We read it right at the start of second lockdown, when we are all at home, and she was trying to go to school, and I was exhausted, and worn out, and wow this is a hard book to read when you’re a working parent who feels like you are too busy and too tired to properly care for your child. It was purely the fact that I was there reading it to her that made me able to read it to her; because clearly I couldn’t be as remiss as the parents in the story because I was still actually making the time to read to her. I’ve always loved this book, though, and was delighted that she loved it too.
  11. Ende, Michael, The Neverending Story (finished May?, 2021): I read this aloud to G, and she absolutely loved it. I totally nailed the right age to read it to her. We afterwards watched the movie, and she took the book to school as her reading book so she could read it again herself, by far the hardest book she’s ever attempted.
  12. Forna, Namina, The Gilded Ones (finished July 11, 2021): I wanted to like this one more than I did. It had all the makings of a great book — extremely well written, fascinating characters, a rich and unusual world and back story — but it felt like a lot of the pain was there for pain’s sake, and not because it really fit in the story. I’ll probably read the sequel, because I am eternal optimist, but this book was more of a chore than a joy.
  13. Jemisin, N. K., The City We Became (finished November 25, 2021): A dear friend lent this to me during first lockdown when I was running out of reading material, but I only got around to reading it this year because the first time I opened it up it struck me as a book that needed work to read. As it turned out, that was only true for the first chapter or so, after which it became much fun; however, it’s a book that definitely works best if you actually know (and love) NYC. I know the city only vaguely, and I felt like much of the book was not written for me.
  14. Jones, Heather Rose, Floodtide (finished August 24, 2021): I was desperately in need of some comfort (re-)reading so I went to one of my go-tos. I think Floodtide is my favorite of all the Alpennia books. It is SUCH a masterfully put together story, and I love the way it interleaves with Mother of Souls.
  15. Jones, Heather Rose, Mother of Souls (finished between August 24, 2021 and September 1, 2021): Probably my second favorite of the Alpennia books.
  16. Jones, Heather Rose, Daughter of Mystery (finished September 1, 2021): Having finished Mother of Souls, it was basically impossible NOT to reread DoM.
  17. Jones, Heather Rose, The Mystic Marriage (finished September 9, 2021): I have the most ambivalent relationship with this one; it doesn’t inspire loyalty the way the others do, but there are some parts of it that I love so much. This reread was definitely a very good reread.
  18. Jordan, Robert, Eye of the World (finished March 28, 2021): It’s been about 9 years since I did a complete readthrough of the series (the only time I’ve done that), but a group of friends are planning to do a reread, one book per month from Jan. 2021 until we’re done. I didn’t get started until mid March, but was pretty sure I wouldn’t have trouble catching up.
  19. Jordan, Robert, The Great Hunt (finished April 3, 2021).
  20. Jordan, Robert, The Dragon Reborn (finished April 7, 2021): 9-12yos at the playground are fascinated when they see an adult sitting there reading a book this thick, esp. one with such a neat cover.
  21. Jordan, Robert, The Shadow Rising (finished April 13, 2021): Still probably my favorite of the entire series.
  22. Jordan, Robert, Fires of Heaven (finished April 17, 2021).
  23. Jordan, Robert, Lord of Chaos (finished May 3, 2021).
  24. Jordan, Robert, Crown of Swords (finished May 9, 2021).
  25. Jordan, Robert, Path of Daggers (finished May 16, 2021).
  26. Jordan, Robert, Winter’s Heart (finished May 22, 2021): I remember this one really dragging, other times I read it. I did not feel that this time.
  27. Jordan, Robert, Crossroads of Twilight (finished May 30, 2021).
  28. Jordan, Robert, Knife of Dreams (finished June 6, 2021): I got to the end of this one, and realised I never figured out what the title referenced.
  29. Jordan, Robert & Brandon Sanderson, The Gathering Storm (finished June 13, 2021): I remember the first time around when I reread the entire series, I really didn’t like Sanderson’s writing style and it took away from my enjoyment of the book. This time around, it bothered me a lot less. I had, however, forgotten how unutterably sad this book was. Not sad incidents but just this growing weight of sadness where sometimes you’re reading and tears come to your eyes because it’s just so sad.
  30. Jordan, Robert & Brandon Sanderson, A Memory of light (finished June/July 2021): This one got me all up in the feels. It was a smashing ending to the series.
  31. Jordan Robert, Towers of Midnight (finished between June 13 and July 5, 2021): I did read this! I just totally forgot to put it into the list.
  32. Jordan, Robert, New Spring (finished July 5, 2021): This is everything you want from a prologue story, and it was exactly what I needed to get me over my book hangover from reading the whole series.
  33. Lancaster, A. J., King of Faerie (finished October 11, 2021): I completely missed that this had come out, and then saw a tweet about it, squeeed, immediately ordered it from an independent bookshop, and devoured it. So good! So much fun! Definitely finished the quartet on an upswing, and I am SO GLAD to hear there’s going to be a spin off novel next year, because YES I need Marius’s story as well as Hetta’s. Excellent good fun fantasy, really enjoyable.
  34. Leckie, Ann, Provenance (finished November 16, 2021): I got this from the library, because it was a rare instance of an SFF book at the library that’s by a contemporary author that I haven’t already read. I really enjoyed it! It was surprisingly…sweet and light, for being set in the same universe as the Ancillary novels. (I also was some ways into it before I realized it was called Provenance rather than Providence, but I think the second title could’ve worked just as well for the story.) If the Ancillary novels are space opera, this was more of a space lullaby. It was satisfying before-bed reading that never forced me to work hard for my reward.
  35. Mann, George, The Affinity Bridge (finished March 6, 2021): This felt like a poor version of Cogman. Both are set in a steam-punk/late Victorian England, involve police inspectors and mysteries, and feautre main characterswho have offices in the British Museum. However, Mann’s MC is male and his sidekick is female, so there’s a lot more inbuilt/structural misogyny, and there was also a lot more blood, corpses, and extremely long (sometimes pages long!) fight/chase scenes. I think Mann could’ve benefited from a heavier-editor — especially one who knows that airplanes live in hangars, not hangers, and how to use the word “comprise”.
  36. Mann, George, The Osiris Ritual (finished March 15, 2021): I should have written my review of this as soon as I finished it; now, five months later, I remember basically nothing of it.
  37. Martine, Arkady, A Memory Called Empire (finished July 21, 2021): This has gotten a lot of good press, and recommendations from friends whose opinion I rate. It was fine. It often felt like it was consciously trying too hard, “look at how deep this book is”. One of the central structures reminded me very much of the Dax characters in ST:DS9. I liked it, but I won’t rave about it.
  38. Murakami, Haruki, After Dark (finished February 20, 2021): Joel got me five Murakami books for Christmas, and this was the first I read. It was just delightful. The perfect balance of weight and lightness, a beautifully crafted and written story, with just enough weirdness in it for you to know you’re reading a Murakami.
  39. Murakami, Haruki, Sputnik Sweetheart (finished February 23, 2021): The second of my Christmas Murakami books. I loved the way that I never knew what was going to happen.
  40. Nelson, Miles, Riftmaster (finished July 27, 2021): There was a “local vendors” market day in Durham earlier this summer, and a young local author had a stand, including his debut novel, Riftmaster. I’m all about supporting young SFF authors, especially ones who live in Durham so I happily grabbed a copy (and got it autographed!). There was a lot to like about this; in essence it reminded me of Baxter & Pratchett’s The Long Earth, and it grew in strength as the story progressed. I particularly like the way the enby status of the titular character was developed and realised, the way it was obviously a part of the story but wasn’t a plot point in any way. I also thought Nelson handled his transphobic character extremely kindly. What was less successful for me was the actual writing: My goodness, this needed an editor. Hopefully he’ll find a good one going forward, and I’ll certain read more by him if he publishes again.
  41. Polack, Gillian, Langue.Doc (finished September 17, 2021): I feel like this book was written for a niche audience that I thought, judging from other people’s descriptions, I would be firmly in, and it turned out I was very much NOT. The premise of the book was so wonderful, but instead of capitalizing on a great premise (and a smashing title), what I got was something that told me very little about the Middle Ages, even less about either Languedoc as a region or Languedocian/Occitan as a language, and felt like the author had a very big chip on their shoulder re: scientists. It made me sad, having read the book, because I was prepared to love it.
  42. Pratchett, Terry, Lords and Ladies (finished September 20, 2021): After having finished up my previous book, I really need some comfort re-reading.
  43. Pratchett, Terry, Wyrd Sisters (finished September 26, 2021): Of course, once I reread Lord and Ladies, I needed to go back and re-fill in the background material.
  44. Pratchett, Terry, Witches Abroad (finished October 2, 2021): This book never really does it for me, and it didn’t do it for me again. On the other hand, after having reread all the Discworld books many times over in the last 15 or so years, this read through was the first time that I figured out what the pun in Casanunda’s name was.
  45. Pratchett, Terry, The Fifth Elephant (finished November 29, 2021): I needed more comfort reading. TFE is one of the Pratchett books where I can never really remember what happens in it, which made it the right choice for a reread. When I did reread it, the rampant trans-friendly message also made it the right choice.
  46. Pratchett, Thud (finished between November 29 and December 18, 2021): A good follow-up to TFE.
  47. Pratchett, Terry, Going Postal (finished December 18, 2021): This one is always so much fun, but I always wish that we got to know more about the old letters being delivered.
  48. Pratchett, Terry, Making Money (finished December 22, 2021): One cannot read GP without reading MM. I liked MM better this time than some other times I’ve read it.
  49. Pratchett, Terry, Feet of Clay (finished December 27, 2021): Had to go back and reread this after reading GP and MM.
  50. Pratchett, Terry, Men At Arms (finished December 29, 2021): And of course always have to reread this one after reading FoC.
  51. Suri, Tasha, Realm of Ash (finished January 13, 2021): I really enjoyed Empire of Sand, but hadn’t realised the sequel had come out until end of 2020. So this was my first book of 2021, and it was good and I liked it, but it wasn’t astonishing in the way that Empire of Sand was.
  52. Tolkien, J. R. R., The Hobbit (finished July 27, 2021): I read this aloud to G. She enjoyed it. I really enjoyed it. It’s very well suited to reading aloud.

What I Wrote in 2021, fiction edition

I have been very ambivalent about doing some end-of-year round-ups this year, because overall 2021 was a lot harder than 2020 and there’s so many more things I didn’t do than I did that surveying the ones I did do doesn’t make me happy it just makes me feel guilty.

So this is not really a survey of what I wrote, fiction and poetry wise, in 2021, because that is a sad and depressing list; instead, it is a survey of what I published, which makes me a bit happier.

It was mostly a poetry year: I had four poems in Dreich‘s love-themed special issue in February, including one I wrote for G, “(my) Love is (not) Patient”, one of my favorite poems I’ve ever written. Unfortunately, one of them — a haiku — was misprinted (missing the final line), which was disappointing, but a corrected version was printed in a haiku-themed issue a few months later.

Another poem, “Artio Brings a Blessing,” was published in Ink Drinkers Poetry, in their folklore themed issue.

Over on twitter, a friend shared a picture of a bird-shaped votive vessel, with the caption, “explain to me, in verse, why god is like a duck”. So I did, in two different forms. The short form is the more successful, I think; but the long form perhaps makes more sense.

And my only short story, Two, was published in A Quiet Afternoon 2, published by Grace & Victory Press. This is one of my favorite stories, and one that almost made the cut so many times. I’m really happy that it has finally found a home, and someday I will get around to writing the “about this story” blog post. It’s…complicated in its inspiration, and I haven’t yet figured out how to put it into words. But someday.

Publication Announcement: “What Problem Did Ladd-Franklin (Think She) Solve(d)?” (NDJFL, 2021)

I recently realised I’d been forgetting to post publication announcements here! So let’s try to fix that in the next few posts. This is my most recent academic publication:

“What Problem Did Ladd-Franklin (Think She) Solve(d)?” Notre Dame Journal of Formal Logic 62(3): 527-552 (August 2021): 527-552. DOI: 10.1215/00294527-2021-0026

This paper was almost three years in the making! It all started when I was at a workshop on Formal Logic & Feminist Philosophy in Minneapolis in April 2018, and Frederique Janssen-Lauret causally mentioned how Christine Ladd-Franklin had solved a problem in Aristotelian logic that had been open 2500 years. As I say in the paper:

As a historian of logic (albeit focusing many centuries earlier than Ladd), this immediately caught my attention because an achievement like that is something that absolutely every logician should know about, and I was embarrassed—especially in my position as someone who is outspoken about the need for logicians to be familiar with the history of their field!—that I wasn’t more familiar with this result.

So during one of the breaks, I googled, found her PhD dissertation, and started reading it.

It was extremely slow going, and I would never get through more than 1-2 pages at a time. For most of 2018 I only looked at the text haphazardly, but then I was asked to give at talk at KCL in January 2019, which was the perfect impetus to talk on the topic! Which is how late November found me devoting a few hours a day (and getting my rate up to 3-4 pages a day!) to going through her dissertation, trying to understand exactly what was going on.

The talk at KCL went really well — I got a lot of positive and useful feedback, and in particular a comment from Michael Beaney that when the paper was done, I should send it to History and Philosophy of Logic. It’s always nice to know that people are interested enough in a topic to potentially publish it, while you’re still writing on it!

But I had hit a bit of a wall: I was able to give the talk in talk format, but I couldn’t figure out how to organize the corresponding paper. You can hand-wave a lot of things, and make random segues when giving a talk; but you have to fill all the details in in the paper, and I spent most of 2019 working on that, extremely slowly.

And then there was the pandemic, and pretty much all my active research stopped. Still, I didn’t want to let this one go, especially since it was coming together, and I had been told in a failed attempt at promotion that I might have a better chance the next year if I published something in a generalist journal (what generalist journal wants a paper in formal logic? Well, maybe this one would be wanted…). So I volunteered to give a short talk on it at the Women in Logic workshop in Paris in June 2020, and again, the extremely positive and useful feedback made me want to keep working on it. Other than one other hold-over from Before Times (a paper that also stemmed from that FormLog&FemPhil workshop!), it was pretty much the only thing I worked on during the pandemic summer. In September 2020, I gave a much bigger and more detailed version of the talk to the Logic Supergroup, and it was in doing that that I finally figured out the last structural bits. So it was just a matter of wrapping it up in fall 2020, and sending it off.

By that point, I’d signed two book contracts — another thing I’d been told would help my promotion application! — so I decided not to sell out my soul to the generalists, but, instead, treat the paper with the care and respect I thought it deserved. I was really proud of it, and figured — why not send it to the best logic journal I know of? The one that has published papers I have found foundational pretty much throughout all my logical education. The one where you feel like you’ve “made it”. So in January 2021 off to NDJFL it went…and it was accepted! The referee had some useful comments, I improved the paper some, and it was accepted in April and published in August! I’d made it. I’m published with the Big Kids.

(Oh, and my next promotion attempt was successful. Pretty sure this paper contributed to that!)

Stoic logic and ECQ

Over on youtube, I received the following question:

How the stoic logic avoid the principle ex contradictione quodlibet?

There’s two formulations:

(1) a, \neg a\vdash b
(2) a and \neg a \vdash b

(2) it is not a valid sequent in stoic logic, since it requests two distinct sentences, but why (1) it is evidently invalid?

It was a great question, and one too complicated to answer in a youtube comment, so I’m answering it here instead.

The first thing to note in this context is how the Stoics define validity:

A valid argument, according to the Stoics, is an argument such that the negation of its conclusion is incompatible with the conjunction of its premises (Mates, p. 58).

However, Mates goes on to point out that:

This, however, need not be taken as the definition of validity but only as a statement of a property which belongs to all valid arguments (Mates, p. 60).

That is, the incompatibility condition is necessary for validity, but it need not be sufficient.

So let us consider (1) and (2) more closely: It’s clear that in (1) and (2), the conclusion is incompatible with the conjunction of the premises only because the conjunction of the premises (or the single conjunctive premise) itself is already incompatible. So in a sense, the conclusion is not incompatible with the premises — it’s nothing about the conclusion that is causing the problem. This is our first indication that even though these two sequents might meet the incompatibility criterion, it won’t be enough.

Another way to put it, in modern classical propositional logic, we have Deduction Theorems (for both \vdash and \vDash):


In Stoic logic, however, we don’t have the right-to-left direction; as Bobzien notes,

The Stoics considered all conditionals of the form ‘If A, A‘ as true (cf. Sextus, M. 8. 281, 466), but ‘arguments’ of the form ‘A\vdash A are neither axioms of the system, nor can they be derived; the latter is due to the requirement of a plurality of premisses (p. 181).

So this makes explicit why (2) is excluded; it simply doesn’t have enough premises. It also gives us a clue as to how we might be able to exclude (1): It simply doesn’t have the right form. All true (i.e., “sound” in modern vocabulary) arguments are either one of the five undemonstrated arguments, or derived from these five via one of the four themata. Arguments of the form (1) cannot be so derived. Note that we cannot use the first thema, RAA, which says that “If from two [propositions] some third is deduced, either of them with the opposite of the conclusion implies the opposite of the other” (Mueller, p. 201); because we have to start from a successful derivation before we can use RAA to turn it into another derivation.

Does this mean that the Stoic system is incomplete? That their system of argument forms and the rules for putting these argument forms together to derive new, valid arguments does not match up with their conditions for validity? After all, intuitively we have arguments that look like they should be valid, but are not derivable in the formal system.

Not necessarily. For if the “condition for validity” is merely necessary and not sufficient, then lacking a sufficient condition for validity, we don’t have a target class of formulas to match our derivation system up with. If the sufficient condition is: Incomptability of the negation of the conclusion with the conjunction of the premises and derivable from the five undemonstrated arguments, then by definition, this system, if sound, cannot be incomplete.

Alternatively, we can ask what other ways of characterising the conditional could meet the requirement we quote from Mates, but provide a definition of validity. Here, it’s worth looking at the variety of implications in play in the Stoic contexts, especially Chrysippus’s, whose “truth-conditions for the conditional were said to involve a connection…this connection was determined indirectly, based on the concept of conflict (maché), and there are some indications that the resulting concept is that of an implication stronger than strict implication” (Bozien, p. 186). If a genuine connection must be established — and by now it is a commonplace for scholars to argue that Chrysippus had a connexive or relevance understanding of implication — between the antecedent and the consequent, then having merely incompatible premises will not be enough to establish the incompatibility of the premises with the conclusion, hence allowing the Stoics to escape ECQ.


Bobzien, Susanne. 1996. “Stoic Syllogistic”, Oxford Studies in Ancient Philosophy XIV: 133-192.

Mates, Benson. 1953. Stoic Logic, University of California Press).

Mueller, Ian. 1979. “The Completeness of Stoic Propositional Logic”, Notre Dame Journal of Formal Logic XX, no. 1: 201-215.

Resolution Read, Week 30: A note on Wertz’s ” ‘Not both p and q, therefore if p then q’ is a valid form of arugment” (NDJFL, 1977)

I’ve been going through old issues of NDJFL to find articles written by women that I can tweet at Women in Logic. I’ve been reading (or, skimming) a lot of other articles, ones whose titles are relevant to my own research, or which merely catch my eye.

S. K. Wertz’s article in vol. 18, no. 4 was one of the latter. It’s two pages (so many of the early NDJFL papers are like 2 pages long, I’m jealous of when you used to be able to publish that sort of thing. Nowadays, you have to write a blog post instead.), and it’s about an argument put forward by Geoffrey Hunter in Mind (LXXXII, 1973).

Both Hunter and Wertz are concerned with arguments of the form:

(1) not both p and not q, therefore if p then q.

This argument form is purportedly valid, but Hunter believes he’s found a counterexample to it:

(2) Not both Geoffrey Hunter is a bachelor and Geoffrey Hunter is not married. Therefore, if Geoffrey Hunter is a bachelor then Geoffrey Hunter is married.

This appears to have a true antecedent and a false conclusion.

Wertz’s complaint against Hunter’s example is that bachelor = not married, so if “Geoffrey Hunter is a bachelor” is $p$, then “Geoffrey Hunter is married” should be \neg p, not q. He says that (2) then fails to be an instantiation of (1) because “(1) requires that the propositional variables be distinct” (p. 611, emphasis in the original).

But this is not true. In classical propositional logic, a valid argument form will remain valid whatever propositional letters are substituted. Let us then substitute in \neg p for q in (1):

(1′) not both p and not \neg p, therefore if p then \neg p.

or fully in symbolic form:

(1*) \neg(p\wedge\neg\neg p)\rightarrow(p\rightarrow\neg p).

which is equivalent to:

  1. \neg(p\wedge p)\rightarrow(p\rightarrow\neg p).
  2. (\neg p\vee\neg p)\rightarrow(p\rightarrow\neg p).
  3. \neg p\rightarrow(p\rightarrow\neg p).

And (5) is, clearly, a tautology.

So while Wertz is correct that Hunter’s “counterexample” fails because it fails to recognise the logical relationship between “Geoffrey is a bachelor” and “Geoffrey is married”, Wertz is incorrect in thinking he’s shown that (1) requires the propositional variables in the argument form to be independent.

Resolution Read, Week 20: “Intuition and Reason” by Christine Ladd Franklin

Even though it’s the middle of marking season, I actually have a bit of time to work on my own research (which is good, given the deadlines coming up in June and July…). I’ve been reading a lot of Christine Ladd Franklin’s work lately, for a handbook chapter on her that I’m writing, and today’s paper struck me as a good one for a resolution read, even though, technically, this doesn’t meet the resolution because it’s reading I have to do for a specific deadline/project.

Christine Ladd Franklin, “Intuition and Reason”, The Monist Vol. 3, No. 2 (January, 1893), pp. 211-219, from jstor.

Why? Because the paper is less about the faculties of intuition and reason, and which once “is the more noble guide to conduct” (p. 211), than it is about the “wholly unfounded” belief that some people have that men act according to reason and women according to intuition. As someone who worked in symbolic logic at the highest level, equal to the best logicians of her century, it’s not surprising that Ladd Franklin doesn’t want women relegated to the realm of intuition alone. She says:

It is time that the belief in the different quality of men’s and of women’s minds should follow the whole antiquated machinery of “faculties” into the limbo of old and worn-out fashions of thought and of speech (p. 211).

(She would be very disappointed to see how little we’ve come along in the last hundred and thirty years.)

What I find interesting is that even while she decries the existence of this antiquated viewpoint, she is happy to provide an explanation of where it came about. She says that men and women act equally from intuition and reason, depending on the context, but that women’s circumstances are such that they are more often in contexts where intuition rather than reason serves them better:

It is not true that the Creator has made two separate kinds of mind for men and for women; but it is true that society, as at present constituted, offers two somewhat separate fields of interest for men and for women, and that the nature of their conduct is of necessity determined by the character of the action which is demanded of them (p. 212).

There is a sort of feedback loop going on: Women are (or at least, traditionally/historically, for the majority of the history of logic prior to Ladd Franklin’s time) systematically excluded from the “public” spheres where reason, disputation, argumentation, debate, logic, etc. are central tools, because they are public. This means that women are afforded fewer opportunities of using these tools, which then allows men to conclude that women use these tools infrequently because they are incapable of using them, rather than that they do so simply because they don’t have as many opportunities. It’s a pernicious circle, one that women are still often trying to escape; and it’s no surprise at all, given Ladd Franklin’s history, that she’s speaking out against it.

If women are seen to be worse at reason and better at intuition, simply because they are given more opportunity to practice the latter than the former, then one would expect the converse to be true of men, and indeed, something fascinating in this paper is how Ladd Franklin zeroes in on the concept of “emotional intelligence” (although she doesn’t use this phrase) and uses it as an example of something where people assume that women are naturally better at it, but where in fact this is simply because

To the woman of the past, who was to a great extent confined to her own home, the temper of her house-mates was what her happiness depended upon more than anything else in the world. It was impossible that she should not acquire a keen intelligence in interpreting every slightest shade of expression upon the human face…Women’s interests have been so exclusively social that they have developed a sense for the physical expression of emotion which makes society for them a matter of complicated relations, of delicate susceptibility to play of feeling, which—except in the hyper-sensitive period of courtship—is not common among men [pp. 213-214]

She is quite dismissive of idea that men are simply less good at emotional intelligence, and argues that a man who “is markedly deficient in these qualities” (p. 214) should be censured.

In the end, she argues that intuition and reason not only are not distinct faculties or capacities, but they could not be, because the one is built on the other. She distinguishes three types of actions which fall under the umbrella of “intuitive”, and it depends on whether the principles of reason guiding the action are conscious or not. In one type, the reasoning is conscious, as in the beginner pianist who “goes through a painful process of syllogism before each key is struck” (p. 215); in the next, it is unconscious but can be “forced into consciousness”, as in the expert musician who reads his music and plays it without conscious effort (p. 215); and in the third, it is unconscious “and cannot by any effort be made conscious”, as in when we calculate the relative distances of objects (p. 215). Consequently, the question with which she opened the paper, “whether intuition or reason is the nobler faculty”, “is an exceedingly meaningless question” (p. 215).

As further evidence that women are by no means deficient in the capacity to reason, Ladd-Franklin points out that geometry was a standard part of the high school curriculum at the time, and that (and this surprised me!) “that there are in this country [the US] (according to the Report of the Bureau of Education) three times as many girls as boys who take the high school course” (p. 217). She points out quite cheekily that if women were naturally ill-disposed to pure reason, then there would be a

great hue and cry from the teachers of the geometry classes about the difficulty of teaching that subject to girls, and the girls ought to lament and moan over the impossibility of getting safely through with their demonstrations (p. 218).

But quite the opposite is the case: “Day after day an army of girls goes smiling into the class-room and comes smiling out, utterly unaware that an unnatural wrench has been given to their delicate minds” (p. 218). Given equal educational opportunities, there is no difference in cognitive facilities. (Here it’s useful to remember that Ladd-Franklin had herself been a high-school teacher in science and mathematics for a decade about twenty years prior to this paper. She’s speaking from personal experience here, as an anecdote she goes on to relate illustrates.)

All in all, a fascinating read.

A Jain argument for vegetarianism

For Easter break relaxation, I have been reading Gulam Mohammad Munshi’s translation of the Baitál Pachísí, a medieval collection of 25 stories about King Bikram and the Baitál (a type of Indian vampire). The framing of the collection is that Bikram has been charged with bringing Baitál back to a Brahman, but Baitál says he will only come with the king if the king doesn’t say a word. He then proceeds to tell amusing tales that each end with a riddle, and the king cannot help but answer the riddle, at which point Baitál escapes his clutches and returns to the tree Bikram originally found him in.

Most of the stories are merely silly and amusing, but some of them provide some really interesting insight into medieval Indian culture (particularly the recitation of various proverbs). In general, the characters are by default Hindu; however, occasionally a Jain turns up, such as in the tenth story, where Gunshekhar, the king of Baradmán in the country of Gaur, and his minister Abhaichand both follow the Jain religion. In this story, there is a very interesting argument for vegetarianism (combined with some very problematic ableism!) spliced in the rest of the antics:

And it is virtue to take care of every life, taking from an elephant down to an ant, beasts, birds and even men. There is no religion in the world equal to it. Those [men] who increase their own flesh by eating [the flesh] of other [animals] suffer hell at last. Therefore it is proper for a man to take care of lives. Those who do not feel pain for others and take lives and eat them, their ages are shortened upon the earth; and are often being maimed, lame, one-eyed, blind, dwarf, hump-backed and such deficient in body born. As they eat parts of beasts and birds’ bodies, in the same manner they lose their own parts of the body at last. And it is a great sin to drink intoxicating drinks. Therefore to drink liquors and eat meat is not proper.

Knowing basically nothing about Jainism, I have no idea if such an argument is typical or atypical, but I thought it was (a) interesting and (b) probably not widely known, which means it definitely merits a blog post.

Doctor Logic Awkwardly Does Logic: What Is Logic?

One year ago this week, I faced the sudden need to translate my logic classes into something that could be done via video. I had one laptop with a built-in webcam and a crappy headset with a crappy microphone, a whiteboard in an office with terrible lighting, and not even the faintest clue what programme I could use to record videos from linux — and thus was born Doctor Logic Awkwardly Does Logic, because oh my goodness my early videos were awkward.

Come October, and my introduction to logic class is entirely online, with entirely asynchronous lectures, for the whole year (we DID have remote, but synchronous, discussion groups). My uni provided me with a great mic and a good webcam, AND a drawing tablet so that I didn’t have to attempt to record a reflective whiteboard. I even mastered the art of zooming myself and recording the result, allowing me to take advantage of the zoom whiteboard! So while things were still awkward, they were not as awkward as they had been.

I’ve recorded videos in the morning, I’ve recorded them late at night, I’ve recorded in my office, in my bedroom, in my livingroom, in my kitchen, once I recorded from the upper bunk in my daughter’s bedroom because it was the only place in the house quiet enough to record that wasn’t the bathroom. I’ve recorded at a rate of slightly more than 1 per day every weekday (including holidays) for the last 5.5 months.

150 videos later, today I finished recording all the content I needed for that class. But — whatever videos I produced needed to be captioned for accessibility purposes, and the easiest way to get decent enough captions was to make use of youtube. So here’s a playlist of just over 20 hours’ worth of logic, in bite-size format.

It’s not your typical intro logic class. It’s got more zoom-bombing cats, more Latin, more Sanskrit, more history than your typical intro logic class — and 100% more awkwardness!

I’m now going to take a break for a few months, but maybe I’ll come back and do my advanced logic class sometime.