Williams College students call for a boycott of English courses

November 3, 2019 • 9:30 am

After the follies at Williams College last year (a college rated at the very top of undergraduate liberal arts institutions in America), I predicted that things would get even worse this year. Well, it’s been delayed a bit, but the hurling of dung at the fan has begun.

The promised free-speech policy, which was supposed to have been released over a month ago, hasn’t appeared, I suspect because various groups are intervening to tweak it to reduce the freedom part and increase the “inclusivity.” And now, in an unprecedented act of misguided “activism”, a group of Williams students and alumni, posting at a Google site, are indicting the College and its English department for structural racism, transphobia, racism, and the usual laundry list of sins. The conclusion the students draw is that they must boycott nearly all English classes.

I’d be more sympathetic if I thought any of their accusations were true, but, from what I know, none of them are. They are confections of an Outrage Culture perpetuated and coddled by the Williams administration and many of the faculty.

You can read the Marxist-like manifesto by clicking on the screenshot below:

The long document contains an indictment of the English Department for “a long, well-documented, disturbing history of racism, sexism, transphobia, and other violences [sic],” with virtually none of that “history” consisting of more than anecdotes, second-hand statements that students heard, and a list of faculty of color (“FOC”) who, it’s claimed, have been mistreated and have left the college.

Let’s take the “exodus of faculty of color” first. Here’s the list and the reasons for “exodus” (all indented matter comes from the document):

The following professors of color have recently left the College or will be leaving at the end of 2019:

Shanti Singham (retired), Kenda Mutongi (moving to MIT), Anjuli Raza-Kolb (moving to University of Toronto), Joy James (on personal leave), Nimu Njoya (on leave Spring 2020), Kai Green (“violent practices,” returned in SY 2019-20), Kimberly Love (“violent practices,” returned in SY 2019-20), Rhon Manigault-Bryant (on leave), James Manigault-Bryant (on leave), Kasumi Yamamoto (on sabbatical), Jinhwa Chang (received offer at Mount Holyoke College), Mamoru Hatakeyama (received offer at a university in Canada), Mérida Rúa (moving to Northwestern), Amal Eqeiq (on sabbatical), Lama Nassif (on sabbatical), Man He (on sabbatical).

There are 16 faculty here. One is retired, 5 got offers at other schools (faculty of color are much in demand and often receive multiple offers), 6 are or were on leave (and have returned or will return), and the remaining four are on sabbatical (and will presumably return). As far as I know, the sabbaticals (and all the leaves, including those based on medical issues) were paid leaves. Nobody’s salary was taken away, and nobody was denied tenure.

The list is what’s known as “fake news”. As I discussed in an earlier post, the oft-claimed “mass exodus” of faculty of color didn’t exist. Those faculty left at the same rate as did white faculty.

I’ve discussed the cases of Kai Green and Kimberly Love before (see here); these faculty have never suffered any racism or bigotry at Williams College. The article that they wrote to recount their “suffering’ cites only one incident, a peevish car mechanic who, they claim, discriminated against them. To see the toxic combination of offense culture and mental instability unleashed by these two, which has led them to indict their College for their treatment by a single (non-College) car mechanic, see one of the links at the bottom of the post, “LESSONS FROM THE DAMNED, 2018, OR WHY WE CANNOT WAIT FOR TENURE TO INSIST UPON OUR DIGNITY, RESPECT, POWER, AND VALUE (2019)”.

Further, despite there having been lots of courses in “ethnic literature” taught in interdisciplinary concentrations like Africana Studies, the students now demand a tenured position in “ethnic literature” in the English Department.  Yet the concentration of Africana Studies already lists at least 24 courses in ethnic literature (including Latinx literature), as well as a dozen or so courses in ethnic music and film.

I won’t go on except to list the students’ demands and one bit of unintentional humor. Until the demands are met, the students threaten to boycott all classes in the English Department save those that already “engage substantially with race” (students’ bolding):

  1. We demand a faculty search for a senior faculty specializing in Ethnic Literature (African American, Native American, Latinx, Asian American) from outside Williams College to chair the English Department.
  2. We demand that the Department immediately run a search for four new faculty tenure-track hires– one in African American literature, one in Latinx literature, one in Native American literature, and one in Asian American literature.
  3. We demand that there be an external investigation of the English Department.

And if the College doesn’t give in? Then the students are already calling for this to pressure the administration (their emphasis):

As such, we have no choice but to call for an indefinite boycott of all English Department classes (ENGL) that do not engage substantially with race. A token assignment of ethnic literature in an otherwise whitewashed syllabus is not enough. Refusing to enroll in English classes is one way that we can create the pressures necessary to promote change.

I can only imagine how the English professors—or, for that matter, the Williams administration—regard this threat. If students don’t sign up for English classes, what will happen? I don’t know if they’re required to take such classes, but if they are, and don’t take the classes, they should be expelled.

At any rate, the demand is ludicrous, and should be met with raspberries by the faculty and administration. That won’t happen, of course, because almost none of those individuals have a backbone.

After all this kerfuffle—and this is only the beginning, as segregated housing is next on the student agenda—the website has the nerve to say this (their emphasis):

We are not arguing for a policed classroom. We are not trying to police your classrooms. We are demanding that you examine and then dismantle the academic environments you’ve created or allowed to be made. The existing discussion spaces are not just hostile but also uninteresting – you too often frame material such that we can’t address sexual or racial violence in meaningful and ethical ways. When you pretend that we are trying to police you, that we are the ones who set the agendas for discussion, it only distracts yourself and your students from the truth: you are the ones who wield power in the classroom. You police what can be said and who can speak.

This would be hilarious doublethink if it weren’t so absurd and disruptive. “We’re not trying to police your classrooms, but your professors must teach certain courses, you must hire at least four more professors, English professors must not speak in certain ways, and, above all, they must be evaluated by an external body”—probably one whose constitution is approved by the students. Do the students even know what “policing” means?

And so the once-venerable Williams College goes down the path trodden in the past few years by The Evergreen State College and Oberlin College. Down that road leads impecuniousness, a declining reputation of the institution, and reduced enrollment. Good luck, Williams!

64 thoughts on “Williams College students call for a boycott of English courses

  1. Very timely report on another school slowly going down the drain. Just this morning on the CBS morning show they did a piece on Oberlin College/Gibbson Bakery. It was done by Ted Koppel and very well covered. Koppel interviewed the new head of the school who appears to be just as bad as the woman she replaced so there is no hope at this institution.

      1. I believe so, replacing the other one that backed the students and got the school in the middle of it. I do not know the name but she is a black woman. When interviewed she pushed back on just about everything that got her school in trouble. She even questioned the thing that started the whole event, when a black student attempted to buy wine with a fake id and stole two bottles of wine. This was done to the son of the owner, with the owner looking on. She even tried to say there were problems with the bakery on race prior. When Koppel asked her for specifics on that, she had nothing.

        By the way, the owner of this bakery has pancreatic cancer and he nearly cried when talking about being called racist.

        1. She is new since the original incident, but not new since the court case.

          Her name is Carmen Twillie Ambar and she was appointed to the post in May 2017. By background she is an academic attorney and is responsible for Oberlin continuing to fight the case.

          1. May they all go down the tubes, “woke” all the way. I graduated in 1976 and stopped donating to them about 15 years ago when they allowed a “transgender porn star” show a porn movie in the student lounge. That was enough for me.

        1. I just saw the Koppel interview and it’s excellent.

          The new school head is embarrassing, side-stepping question and accusing the bakery of racism and causing discomfort. When asked for specifics, she mentions “lived experience”, but can’t point to anything specific, as Koppel requested.

      1. Please try to see it when you get back because I cannot do justice to it other than what I provided above. It was a first class report by Koppel that we know it would be. He reviewed everything about the original event that started it and the retaliation from the school. The boycott and a bit about the court trial. When interviewing the school the woman tried to say the school should not have been sued and they were treated unfairly. Koppel showed her evidence the school paid for gloves for the students protesting in the cold weather and other things. She just looked stupid.

  2. I agree that this is a serious problem, and I want to be sympathetic, but I cannot help thinking that the administration and faculty have been complicit in allowing this to develop to this point.
    Grievance oriented people never stop of their own accord, and never realize that their protests have become farcical.
    We have seen time and time again that giving in to their demands only results in their issuing yet even more absurd demands. Eventually a point is reached where appeasement will result in no longer being able to function effectively as an institution.
    They should have shut this down long ago.
    I am sure there are many in the faculty and administration who are shocked that the revolutionary attitudes that they encouraged in their students have been turned against them.

    And the kids are no better for it, either. No doubt they see themselves as a student movement akin to the Red Guards, but fail to realize what happened to the members of that organization.

    1. Whether or not this situation is a serious problem remains to be seen. I counted 27 signators of the demands out of about 2,000 students (yes, I looked at the website). Let’s see if these demands actually garner any degree of significant support from the student body. It does no good to have a panic attack before the evidence justifies it.

      1. Sorry, but I’m not having a panic attack, so please don’t imply I am. I called this stuff out last year, based on even fewer people signing editorials in the student newspaper, and I was right. I have just visited Williams and lectured there, and there are often demonstrations involving a large fraction of the student body. I’ve talked to the faculty, and many of them are deeply concerned. And so the problem is endemic, deep, and widespread. It is deeper than I posted about here.

        I do take issue with your characterization that what I posted is a “panic attack.” That’s sort of rude, you know.

        But we’ll see what happens.

      2. Unfortunately, in the recent history of the West (and not only), too many unwelcome changes have been forced by a noisy, fringe minority. E.g. here in Europe, the majority of citizens has never wanted to give supercitizen rights to stray dogs and to reduce humans to the status of dog prey, but this was nevertheless made into laws, due to a small number of noisy dog lovers.

          1. Stray dogs are caught, neutered (hopefully) and, because municipality shelters are full and euthanasia is forbidden (unless the dog has been proven aggressive), doss are released back where they were caught.
            Euthanasia is in theory allowed after a dog has attacked a human, turning humans into bioindicators for dog aggressiveness. However, even this is unfeasible, because the human victim is required to prove the attack and to locate and identify the particular dog.
            Dog lovers blame all attacks on the victims, saying that they must have provoked the dogs somehow. When the victim is a young child, the blame is laid on the parents.

            1. And, of course, this cut in the bud all attempts to force dog owners to put muzzles on their pets. The owners rightfully refuse to disarm their dogs, as long as meters away strays wear no muzzles and can attack any second.
              Not to mention the Echinococcus and Leishmania infections.

        1. The population of “stray dogs” is mainly a result of owners abandoning dogs. Isn’t this a human problem rather than a dog problem?

      3. As far as I can tell, that list of 27 signatures is for an open letter some of the students did earlier in 2019. I would love to know how many have signed up for the current boycott. Is there any way to find this number?

  3. There are so many legitimate racist targets in the world, but these ignorant children are attacking people who would otherwise actually support their cause.

  4. If students don’t sign up for English classes, what will happen?

    They’ll be forced to consider a STEM track?
    All joking aside, I’ll be interested to see how/if the faculty named as mistreated in this respond.

      1. I like this solution – like dual immersion language programs. We’ll take the STEM kids and have them fill the English classes and vice versa. Everyone emerges more well rounded.

  5. … the hurling of dung at the fan has begun.

    Reminds me of an anecdote about Ernest Hemingway: In the “Snows of Kilimanjaro,” Papa had the protagonist deliver the line, “Love is a pile of shit.” The editors at Esquire, where the story was first published (this was the mid-1930s), bowdlerized the line to “Love is a dunghill.” 🙂

  6. “As such, we have no choice but to call for an indefinite boycott of all English Department classes (ENGL) that do not engage substantially with race.” Alas, there are actually many courses “that do not engage substantially with race” in subjects from Astronomy to Zoology, including virtually all STEM fields, languages beside English, and many of the Arts. These students have a lot of boycotting to do. It would be best for them to boycott college altogether, but I suspect that they will be allowed to take nothing but Grievance Study sessions, and will graduate to jobs in administrative offices at other asyla like Williams.

      1. The really lucky ones will get PhDs and be hired to propagate their subliterate grievance ideologies into yet more academic programs in the US and Canada.

    1. On a side note, the authors of ‘we have no choice but to…’ obviously subscribe to the notion of no free will and recognise that their actions are dictated by the laws of physics rather than their superior woke principles.

      1. Reminds me of many films – “then you leave me with no choice” as a bad guy is about to torture or kill the hero.

  7. The linked web site has some statistics in a couple of nice tables that don’t seem to support the hypothesis.

    One table tells us that the numbers of people of colour on the faculty is growing (slowly) in both absolute and percentage terms. The other tells us that the turnover for people of colour is lower than for white people and, in fact, a PoC is marginally less likely to have tenure refused than a white person.

  8. I’m beginning to wonder if the Russians are stirring the pot here. It would be a perfect and cheap way to sew dissension in our “free and open” society – which is their modus.

  9. Reading Lessons from the Damned, it appears that the Love Drs managed to tick off the tow truck driver. There are some people in this world you can’t afford to tick off, and tow truck drivers are up there. They’ve got your car in bondage, for pete’s sake.

    1. To be fair, some teacher will have the option to do so if desired (per the Reason article). This ending bit stopped me thought:

      If math is too daunting for students, a better option would be for schools to stop making it mandatory. Giving parents—and even students themselves—more choice and control over their own educational experience is always a plus, and few people actually need to understand higher mathematics to function in society.

      I couldn’t disagree more. Is it snark? I can’t tell.

    2. Thought everyone knew The Principia is a rape manual.

      As Orwell is said to have observed, some ideas are so foolish only intellectuals could believe them.

      1. “One has to belong to the intelligentsia to believe things like that: no ordinary man could be such a fool.”

        – George Orwell, “Notes on Nationalism” (1945)

      2. Just to remind readers that when you wrote that The Principia a “rape manual,” it wasn’t a hyperbolic wisecrack but actually was asserted by the feminist philosopher Sandra Harding a few years ago.

        For those who care to revisit that absurdity, this link http://www.stephenhicks.org/2017/06/24/newtons-principia-as-a-rape-manual/ comes from PCC(E)’s note in Hili Dialog https://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2017/07/05/wednesday-hili-dialogue-159/.

          1. I hope you know that my comment wasn’t meant to diss you because the things you bring to the fore are substantive, however strange or improbable or absurd they might seem.

            I thought that some readers might have forgotten about this inanity and assumed you were engaging in light badinage just for the heck of it. The utterance is ridiculous but it’s not to be dismissed. People possessed of that sort of mentality, whoever they might be, whatever drum they’re beating, scare the heck out of me.

    3. This keeps coming up but an important point seems to be missed each time it does – this is a proposed “framework”. Says so smack dab in the middle of the article, first line of the quoted material.

      I understand the mere fact that they are even considering this idiotic policy is another worrying harbinger of the immanent death of reason, but it is NOT in place.

      The end is near but not yet upon us. I don’t know if that means there’s any hope.

    4. Fortunately, any self-respecting math teacher will read that directive from the main office, give a small sigh, and toss it in the circular file.

  10. “The conclusion the students draw is that they must boycott nearly all English classes.”
    Flunk all those that boycott required classes and don’t give them a chance to make them up. A learning experience the obviously need!

  11. The list of faculty leaving reminded me of an anti-vaxxer on TV here a few years ago. He noted a number of children who had been vaccinated had died within a month of being vaccinated. It turned out all died in ways that were totally unrelated e.g. drowning, car accidents, etc.

  12. Would it be horribly un-PC to declare Williams College a “basket case?”

    Or merely metaphorically ironic?

  13. Ironic, given that the disdain for reason is partially due to cultural studies units – often found in English departments. I have great admiration and respect for those who do literature or composition or creative writing, etc. But no bad sociology and philosophy. (There is some good CS but it belongs elsewhere for proper oversight, IMO.)

  14. Not just Williams. From what I’ve seen out of Harvard and Yale I’d throw any resume that had those schools on them in the trash as well.

    They used to be such reputable centers of learning, too.

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