It’s the end of the world as we know it: More tribalism at The University of Chicago

January 4, 2021 • 2:15 pm

For decades, the University of Chicago has prided itself as a unified community of scholars whose members were encouraged to (and were free to) debate the big questions. Now, apparently, the big questions have been settled by the uncritical adoption of Critical Theory, as evidenced by what our school is doing to its alumni (see below):

I am now in the sad position of watching my own school slowly go woke, fracturing along lines identified by Critical Theory as separating “homogenous” groups of people residing on a hierarchy of privilege. With the exception of “military alumni”, I hate to see our alumni tribalized in this way, and, truly, don’t see the sense in it..

An alum sent me links to this page, where events for alumni are divided up by race, sex, sexual orientation, and even military service. I’m not sure exactly why they are doing this (click on each screenshot to go to the page and read more). I suppose you could confect a reason, but in truth I think it reflects recent subservience to Wokeness, Critical Theory, and a tribalism once seen as exclusionary but now extolled as a sign of “inclusivity.”

I note with special sadness that one of the Association of Black Alumni events deals with the extremely controversial notion of “implicit bias”. Implicit bias is an important buttress of Critical Theory, asserting that that all white people are racist, whether or not they know it. (See Robin DiAngelo for a popular exposition.) This also holds for all men, who are said to be implicitly sexist.

As far as I know, most scholars without an agenda have abandoned it as a useful notion, along with “implicit bias training”, deep-sixed as a serious and useful endeavor to rid institutions of bias and bigotry (see, for example, here, here, here, here and here). But of course there will be no debate about this at the University of Chicago, where all were once free to question ideas like that. It’s simply presented as a given:

This is not to say, of course, that racism is gone, or that there aren’t bigots peppered through society. Of course there are! But the notion that all people are bigots, whether they know it or not, is an unfalsifiable assumption of Critical Theory, and used solely to gain power over others and advance one’s own power. If you’re racist and don’t know it, there’s nothing you can say, do, or evince to defend yourself—much less change the mind of your interlocutor.

A while back, the University suggested that members of our community might be required to undergo training to eliminate racism and other forms of “bias and exclusion”.  If the University of Chicago does this, it’s finished as the gold standard school for freedom of inquiry.

I may live to see the day that I simply have to accept my school as the midwestern version of The Evergreen State College. We’ll all have to get in the canoe! But for now I’ll continue objecting to such a change. After all, the U of C has encouraged its community to be critical.

52 thoughts on “It’s the end of the world as we know it: More tribalism at The University of Chicago

  1. I see that they have a “Latinx” session. Many of the Latinos here in Colorado reject the term and believe that it is a non-Latino imposition on their language and culture.

            1. “Effort” is a programming language? Yet?
              Sounds like a member of the FORTRAN family. We don’t need no steenking Abject Orientation.

      1. I think it primarily signals political alignment (I don’t mean a binary D/R, but more complex allegiances).

  2. Speaking for any Slavophiles among U. Chicago alumni, I am deeply offended that the alum office has not organized a special affinity session for this marginalized group. The lack of such a session is an outrageous case of implicit bias against Cyrillic letters, systemic Latin alphabetism, and a микроагрессия against the Russianx community.

    In all other regards,, I extend to all of WEIT a greeting of С Новым Годом!

    ////Jon Gallant (мы, наши)

  3. As a scientist I have tried to understand my discipline through the lens of Hanson’s Patterns of Discovery (1958), which contends that there are no pure data–i.e., all data are theory laden. This means that, before even attempting to interpret data, there is inherent bias. Even at its most basic level, your perception of a particular person within a categorical group (however defined) will be different than mine and so on. And so part of understanding is cataloguing particular biases, or organizing them into useful components so they can be identified as to how they affect your particular worldview. It may be uncomfortable to do it, and I find it (at age 43) rather annoying to have to be “woke” about certain things (e.g., preferred pronouns etc.). But at the same time it doesn’t bother me to hear these perspectives. I don’t have to agree with all of them (e.g., I don’t list my preferred pronouns), and some I find ridiculous. But as a Professor at a University where I am teaching students who don’t find them ridiculous, I see inherent value in hearing their perspectives. And when I attend similar trainings at our University, I find I learn things. Some of the things I learn I find rather silly, but I usually come away from hearing different perspectives with a modification of my worldview, which I hope is better, and which sheds some light on particular biases that I know might be there, but for which I don’t have any useful category. You don’t have to grow in the direction they want you to, but you do have to grow, because the world changes, and society and its categories are not static. You may want to keep up with the literature, and I see no harm in presenting it in this way. A blanket dismissal of going to such trainings strikes me as coming from a place of extreme incuriosity.

    1. Thanks for the insult. I did in fact go to one session last year, so I wasn’t incurious. I didn’t benefit from it and stopped going (and no, I didn’t write about it here). But I’ve read tons of stuff about it, and write about it here all the time. I feel that by now I’m entitled to give my opinion. And you are not entitled to call me “incurious”, which is simply a iie.

      1. Let me clarify because I didn’t intend that interpretation, and I apologize. I didn’t mean to call you incurious as I very much enjoy your writings and the blog. Obviously that doesn’t stick as a personal trait. I only intended to say that dismissal of the organization of a particular forum of ideas is incurious. That I stand by. And even more so as I didn’t have the context that you had attended one. As I said, at my University I find some of the ideas silly. But not all of them, so I don’t think they are a complete waste.

        1. If you’ve investigated the ideas and found them wanting, then what’s the problem? Presumably you reject the “forum of ideas” of white supremacy. I wouldn’t call you “incurious” if you dismissed the Proud Boys without going to Proud Boys Ideology Training.

          If one is already a liberal, one already subscribes to the really important parts of Critial Theory: the elimination of bias. The rest I find divisive and damaging. And I don’t go around using racial slurs, so you needn’t remind all of us to watch ur language. That’s patronizing

    2. But at the same time it doesn’t bother me to hear these perspectives. I don’t have to agree with all of them (e.g., I don’t list my preferred pronouns), and some I find ridiculous.

      And how confident are you that making the same statement in a context where your university’s students can identify you would not be career threatening?

    3. If by ‘bias’ you mean nothing more than a context for evaluation — observation focusing on the values of just those variables that are claimed to be relevant by some hypothesis about a given phenomenon, as an essential step in evaluating that hypothesis — then the word ‘bias’ is simply a particularly misleading and unhelpful way of characterizing an essential aspect of the scientific method. But critical race theory uses the term ‘bias’ in quite a different way, taking it to be axiomatic that ‘white’ people have negative preconceptions and hostile intentions towards ‘black’ people. Your segue from the first sense of ‘bias’ to the second loses this rather crucial distinction, and overlooks the fact that the kind of ‘trainings’ you allude to frequently take as given a notion — that those of us who are not ‘black’ are unavoidably wired for anti-‘black’ bigotry and a predilection for hostile behavior — that has yet to be defended empirically to *any* degree. I don’t see what ‘incuriosity’ has to do with the decision to not subject oneself to the kind of rubbish thinking that such ‘training’ is all too likely to channel.

  4. As far as I know, Freudian pseudoscience operates on the same basis – you simply cannot reject its premises or defend yourself against Freudian critics, because doing so proves that you have repressed sexual urges as Freudians say, and your vehement denial only confirms the presence of such urges in your subconscious.

  5. I may have said this before: I find this whole business of listing preferred pronouns after your name to be profoundly silly. If you’re in the room with me, I’ll say “you” (and possibly point in your direction). If you’re not in the room, why should you care?

    1. The first time I was at an event where we were to put our preferred pronouns on our nametags I had a fun mental diversion, pondering to myself, for the first time, do I prefer a pronoun? A minute or two later I came to the conclusion that I don’t care enough to have a preference, so I’d just go with my assigned one. Fin. For those that really do care, I don’t mind accommodating. Personally, I find the simplicity of no gendered pronouns in a language appealing (see Finnish).

    2. It’s also redundant to list the non-subject forms, since they’re predictable from the subject form.

        1. Hm, maybe next time I’m asked for “my” pronouns I’ll insist on he/her/their, just to keep people on their toes. And if they slip up and misgender me, I’ll take great offense.

        2. Read something from an individual who uses “they/them” as personal pronouns. But when the story started referencing several other people, it became impossible to determine which they/them was being referred to.

          Personally, I think only those with multiple personalities should be able to rightly claim “they/them.”

    3. I have a couple colleagues (in teaching at a university ) who are now doing this. Their course syllabi are replete with all the right signals.
      But I just don’t use pronouns. Why would I talk to someone in the 3rd person?

  6. Never despair. It’s Lord of the Flies, man. Eventually a uniformed British naval officer will show up on campus to restore order and save the kids from the tribe of “biguns” who’ve gone feral.

    1. Almost certainly the case with pretty much any alumni event, except perhaps the (pre-Covid) bar-meetup-to-watch-sports events.

      I don’t find the format very woke or alarming. All these groups almost certainly predate wokeness, so their formation, existence, and desire to meet and discuss stuff can’t be blamed on wokeness. UCABA, for instance, has a Facebook page dating back to 2013, and who knows how much older the organization itself is – the fact that there is a UCABA or that black alumni have organized a group for themselves cannot be laid at the feet of woke culture.

      The events are open to anyone, which is also not generally a woke thing.

      I do agree with Jerry that the UCABA discussion topic is woke (and the Pride one maybe too), and that this is a bad sign of how woke thought might be making inroads into Chicago alumni groups. However, the existence of different alumni interest groups centered around race or culture – were I a Chicago alum – I wouldn’t find threatening at all. More like ‘business as usual.’

  7. I really hate that the topic of the Pride Alumni is pronouns. I hate that gay people are so linked to this ridiculous non-issue.

  8. At the University of Alberta, Kathleen Lowrey in Anthropology put the following in the faculty directory field for “preferred pronouns”:
    Pronouns: Ourses/Theirses (please use Gollum voice, thanks).

    Prof. Lowrey was Associate Chair for undergraduate studies, but was dismissed from that position after she dared to suggest that transgender identity should not trump biological sex in some policy decisions.

  9. Maybe I missed something, but where in the schedule of events is there a session straight, “cisgender” white people.

    Why are they being left out?

      1. Well, having innate vile attitudes and tendencies towards bigoted behavior attributed to you on college and university campuses all over the United States and Canada, and running a very good chance of being subject to intimidation of various sorts for voicing any opinion that deviates from the current party line in Aggrievement Studies, might qualify as such an issue, no?

  10. Anyone having trouble understanding the mentality of the Republican politicians currently abasing themselves on Trump’s behalf this week, need look no further than the university community to understand that cowardice is the new normal in America, across the political spectrum. Anyone who responds to an accusation of implicit bias with anything less than a hearty, nose-to-nose “fuck you” is just another Ted Cruz.

  11. Not that this sort of thing should be ignored, but didn’t the University of Chicago get totally blasted not all that long ago when a Dean sent out a letter to newly admitted undergraduate students emphasizing that the U of Chicago in no way endorsed ‘safe spaces”, “woke culture”, et. al.? That it did not squelch debate or speech even if such made some people uncomfortable.

    This seems like the product of lower level administrative employees who don’t understand this institution’s long-standing particular academic culture who arranged an under-the-radar event.

    For example, the U of Chicago doesn’t even have freshman dorms, a norm at many if not most colleges, let alone “affinity” dorms of any type. As I remember it from my time living in Chicago and as a service provider to the university, the university generally didn’t have “faculty lounges” versus “student lounges.” It presented itself as a “community of scholars” whose members, including the students, who were all members of that community although at different stages in their scholarly development. (As Prof. Coyne stated.)

    It was also completely off the charts in treating its undergraduate students as complete adults (no “in loco parenti” here).

    1. Yes, but the problem is that the upper-level administration doesn’t seem too concerned about enforcing the University’s principles. We don’t have affinity dorms or student lounges, but the erosion of our principles is beginning, and I’ll have more to say about it later.

  12. I was curious about my alma mater (for my B.S.), Duke, a “non-denominational” Methodist university, as we used to call it. Logging onto the alumni site, I see right away a pull-down menu :Groups”. Most of them seem to be based on subject (law, mathematics, etc.) or places or “intersections” thereof. I note particularly subgroups of Duke Law: Black, Xian, Latinx, Jewish, Muslim and Outlaw (whatever that may be). Then there’s the clinker: Duke Womxn of Color Law. What is that “x” doing in there?

    Anybody else checked out their old school?

  13. Perhaps those most affected should create a new group (similar to the Flying Spaghetti Monster) – a social victim group that promotes a light-hearted view of CRT and opposes the teaching of implicit bias and structural racism in public schools?

    Perhaps we could call it the Shevelled Few or the Ept Many? Prime activity – making arguments that the philosophic burden of proof lies upon those who make unfalsifiable claims, not on those who reject them. Seeking to lift the oppressive Woke Yoke.

    If the group became significant it would be hard to justify their exclusion from debate just because they were the wrong sort of victim group.

      1. A tongue in cheek nod in the direction of the “The Mystery of The Vanished Positive” in the Daily Mail, Annual for Boys and Girls, 1953

        A very Descript Man …. J H Parker

        I am such a dolent man,
        I eptly work each day;
        My acts are all becilic,
        I’ve just ane things to say.

        My nerves are strung, my hair is kempt,
        I’m gusting and I’m span:
        I look with dain on everyone
        And am a pudent man.

        I travel cognito and make
        A delible impression:
        I overcome a slight chalance,
        With gruntled self-possession.

        My dignation would be great
        If I should digent be:
        I trust my vagance will bring
        An astrous life for me.

        I am, of course, open to alternate names for the organisation, but humour and the avoidance of ‘fighting words’ seems a good way forward.

  14. The evidence for implicit bias comes mainly from “Implicit Association Test”s. If these test’s do what they claim, we can, not only in theory, detect thought-criminals before they can commit a crime, even if they themselves are not aware of their criminality (1984, minority report).

    Who wouldn’t want that ?

    Even better, even if they don’t work as advertised they can be used to discredit people you don’t like.

    Who wouldn’t want that ?

    For those less enthusiastic about IAT’s; it’s seems possible to cheat and train yourselves to show the right attitudes about black and white, gender etc….

    1. For those less enthusiastic about IAT’s; it’s seems possible to cheat and train yourselves to show the right attitudes about black and white, gender etc….

      What – you mean “passing for” being woke, instead of “passing for” being [target ethnicity].

      1. For IAT only bias for the right thing is what counts. F.I. IAT showed that people have an implicit bias against insects relative to flowers.

        If an insect insists you to take an IAT, you should be worried 🙂

Leave a Reply