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):
- 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.
- 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.
- 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!