Editor’s note: the following article has been updated to include details obtained via a police report from Portland State’s Campus Public Safety Office regarding a voicemail threat sent to Associate Professor Gilley on September 14.
An academic journal that published a controversial article making a case for Western colonialism has withdrawn the piece after its editor received “serious and credible threats” of violence.
“These threats are linked to the publication of this essay,” Taylor and Francis, the publisher of the Third World Quarterly (TWQ), wrote in a statement in place of where the article was formerly available. “As the publisher, we must take this seriously. Taylor & Francis has a strong and supportive duty of care to all our academic editorial teams, and this is why we are withdrawing this essay.”
The article’s formal withdrawal concludes a month-long controversy that saw its author, Portland State associate professor of political science Bruce Gilley, at the center of an international firestorm culminating in threats of violence against both him and the journal’s editor-in-chief, Shahid Qadir.
First published on September 8, “The case for colonialism” argues Western colonialism has created net-good in some instances, particularly through establishing governance, institutions and infrastructure. Gilley argues that nations who embraced and built on their Western colonial legacy, for example, Singapore, have fared better than those who followed anti-colonial nationalist ideologies. The article also advocates for temporary “recolonization” in specific contexts, such as public finance and criminal justice, for populations who consent as a means to build up their institutions.
The viewpoint article, or scholarly op-ed, immediately sparked a backlash. Critics accused Gilley of racism and poor scholarship. Two petitions on Change.org calling for the paper to be retracted and the journal’s editors replaced, received a combined 17,000 signatures within days. 15 academics resigned from the TWQ’s editorial board in protest. They accused Gilley of egregiously ignoring the sins of colonialism in what amounts to shoddy research and scholarship. However, Gilley also found surprising support from famed MIT linguist and anti-war activist Noam Chomsky, who remains on the editorial board of the TWQ. Chomsky told The College Fix he disagreed with the resignations and that a rebuttal would provide an opportunity for education.
Gilley asked the TWQ to withdraw his article on September 21 and expressed regret for the pain it caused via a statement on his website. Gilley did not provide information on how or why he came to that decision but Christopher Shortell, chair of Portland State’s political science department, told me Gilley did receive a threatening voicemail that was serious enough to involve campus police.
A police report obtained from Portland State’s Campus Public Safety Office documents a voicemail threat made from a Los Angeles area code phone number on September 14 to a faculty member confirmed to be Gilley. The unidentified male told Gilley “I want to fuck you up” and “I might have to travel a long way.” The investigating officer got in contact with the man who said his message was not a threat of violence but rather an announcement that he would try to get Gilley fired from the university. The case is now closed.
Neither Gilley nor the TWQ’s editor have specified the nature of the threats they received and inquiries to both were not responded to. However, a post on Minding the Campus, a website promoting conservative views in academe, by the president of the National Association of Scholars (NAS) says the messages were threats of murder. The post also claims Gilley now regrets asking for the withdrawal of his article. Gilley has written for Minding the Campus as recently as August 29 and is affiliated with the NAS through its Oregon chapter. A request for comment has been sent to the post’s author, Peter Wood, a former anthropology professor at Boston University.
While Bruce Gilley’s colleagues in the political science department remained silent as the controversy was brewing, a few of them are now speaking out. David Kinsella, professor of political science in the Hatfield School of Government at Portland State and former editor-in-chief of International Studies Perspectives, expressed repulsion at the thought of violent threats being sent to an editor or author but is concerned about the wider implications. “I also worry that this episode could encourage others to threaten violence as a means of influencing decisions about scholarly research and publication,” he said.
Kinsella, who is an international relations scholar and has worked alongside Gilley for nine years, doesn’t think Portland State should call on Taylor and Francis to republish the article, however. “The decision by Taylor and Francis presumably reflects an obligation they feel they have to an editor who has been threatened with violence, and I don’t think that’s any business of the university or the department,” Kinsella said.
Political science department chair Christopher Shortell echoed some of Kinsella’s concerns, but specified he was only speaking on behalf of himself. “I think that if they were going to withdraw the article, it should have been on procedural grounds and should never be because of threats of violence,” Shortell said.
Accusations of the TWQ’s alleged procedural violations in publishing Gilley’s article were raised soon after activists first took issue with the paper’s thesis. The journal’s resigning editorial members said in their resignation statement that the article did not pass peer-review. However, Taylor and Francis disputes this accusation in a statement and timeline released on September 26 following an internal investigation.
“Using the checks in our systems, we can be absolutely clear on the path through peer review this essay took,” the statement reads. “The first review was returned with a minor revision recommendation, and the second reviewer made a reject recommendation. Due to the opposing review reports, the final decision to publish was made by the editor-in-chief, following the author making major revisions.” The statement goes on to say that it is customary for the editor-in-chief to ultimately weigh in and decide when there are conflicting review reports.
The backlash to Gilley’s paper follows a similar reaction to Rebecca Tuvel’s peer-reviewed article earlier this year comparing transgenderism to transracialism in the feminist journal Hypatia. Tuvel, a Rhodes College philosophy professor, was subject to an online shaming campaign and petition which sought to discredit her work. However, Hypatia’s board of directors ultimately refused to retract the article.
Bruce Gilley has yet to comment publicly to the media and did not return my requests for comment. Efforts to lead a protest outside his office at the beginning of the term by student activists were ultimately dashed because the professor is on sabbatical.
Correction: the article originally stated that Kinsella has worked with Gilley for eight years, when the correct number of years is nine. The article has been updated.