I’m having a new operating system installed on my computer today, so posting will be light (these things take time!).
But I just got this news from reader Larry, and then from a half dozen others, and thought I’d pass it on. I’ve known Peter Boghossian for some years, and I’ve found him a smart, friendly, and decent guy as well as a great person to discuss philosophy with. But he’s also a big critic of wokeness (in the pejorative sense), and was one of the three perpetrators of the “grievance studies affair” in 2017 and 2018 that exposed the intellectual vacuity of some humanities journals (which, by extension, says something about the intellectual rigor of the fields those journal draw from). And since he was untenured at Portland State University, with Portland, Oregon being the Mecca of Wokeness, he always told me that he was sure he’d be fired some day, or at least never get tenure. (He’s an untenured assistant professor of philosophy.) He’s also been disciplined by PSU (see below) for a ridiculous reason.
And by all accounts he’s a terrific teacher. He gets a 4.7 out of 5 rating at Rate My Professors, with 95% of applicants saying that’s take a course from him again. I can believe it: he’s even-tempered, kind, and uses the Socratic method when teaching, his goal always being to get students to think rather than agree with a preordained conclusion. And that’s what having a conversation with him is like, too. When I visited PSU to give a talk to his class, we had a lot of discussion on the side, and he was always challenging my views in a Socratic way. I could barely get him to tell me what he thought!
Well, PSU didn’t fire him. He decided to quit.
You can read about it by clicking on the screenshot below, which takes you to a letter of resignation Peter sent to his provost this morning. It’s published on Bari Weiss’s Substack site:
Here are just a few quotes from the eloquent but sad letter. He begins by describing all the diverse speakers he invited to his classes: flat-earthers, creationists, climate-change skeptics, and of course me (I talked about the incompatibility of science and religion). In every case he was trying to challenge the “conventional” ideas his students had absorbed before college. And so he describes why he can no longer fulfill his mission as a philosophy teacher.
I never once believed — nor do I now — that the purpose of instruction was to lead my students to a particular conclusion. Rather, I sought to create the conditions for rigorous thought; to help them gain the tools to hunt and furrow for their own conclusions. This is why I became a teacher and why I love teaching.
But brick by brick, the university has made this kind of intellectual exploration impossible. It has transformed a bastion of free inquiry into a Social Justice factory whose only inputs were race, gender, and victimhood and whose only outputs were grievance and division.
Students at Portland State are not being taught to think. Rather, they are being trained to mimic the moral certainty of ideologues. Faculty and administrators have abdicated the university’s truth-seeking mission and instead drive intolerance of divergent beliefs and opinions. This has created a culture of offense where students are now afraid to speak openly and honestly.
And, over the ten years he was there, he discovered that PSU was uber-Woke and had no patience for a Socratic-style teacher who questioned not only ideas in general, but the University’s own dictates in particular. One might call it Structural Intolerance:
. . .I began networking with student groups who had similar concerns and brought in speakers to explore these subjects from a critical perspective. And it became increasingly clear to me that the incidents of illiberalism I had witnessed over the years were not just isolated events, but part of an institution-wide problem.
The more I spoke out about these issues, the more retaliation I faced.
He describes some of the retaliation he experiences, which continued right up to the present, but he doesn’t want to dwell on it because, after all, victimization is not his thing.. The Grievance Studies affair was the beginning of the end:
I continued to believe, perhaps naively, that if I exposed the flawed thinking on which Portland State’s new values were based, I could shake the university from its madness. In 2018 I co-published a series of absurd or morally repugnant peer-reviewed articles in journals that focused on issues of race and gender. In one of them we argued that there was an epidemic of dog rape at dog parks and proposed that we leash men the way we leash dogs. Our purpose was to show that certain kinds of “scholarship” are based not on finding truth but on advancing social grievances. This worldview is not scientific, and it is not rigorous.
Administrators and faculty were so angered by the papers that they published an anonymous piece in the student paper and Portland State filed formal charges against me. Their accusation? “Research misconduct” based on the absurd premise that the journal editors who accepted our intentionally deranged articles were “human subjects.” I was found guilty of not receiving approval to experiment on human subjects.
Meanwhile, ideological intolerance continued to grow at Portland State. . . .
You can read about the harassment, which included graffiti and disruptions of his classes and panels, none of which was ever investigated nor were any students disciplined. Finally, he had enough, and resigned out of frustration due to the inability to maintain his own principles (he’d been silenced to some extent):
This isn’t about me. This is about the kind of institutions we want and the values we choose. Every idea that has advanced human freedom has always, and without fail, been initially condemned. As individuals, we often seem incapable of remembering this lesson, but that is exactly what our institutions are for: to remind us that the freedom to question is our fundamental right. Educational institutions should remind us that that right is also our duty.
Portland State University has failed in fulfilling this duty. In doing so it has failed not only its students but the public that supports it. While I am grateful for the opportunity to have taught at Portland State for over a decade, it has become clear to me that this institution is no place for people who intend to think freely and explore ideas.
This is not the outcome I wanted. But I feel morally obligated to make this choice. For ten years, I have taught my students the importance of living by your principles. One of mine is to defend our system of liberal education from those who seek to destroy it. Who would I be if I didn’t?
So he’s voluntarily given up his job and his income. I hope some other school snaps him up, but things being what they are, he’s surely been tainted by opposing the Woke. And the Woke run nearly all the universities.
I doubt PSU realizes what a great professor it’s losing. I’m sure they’re relieved that they’re free of an anti-Woke faculty member who challenged their ideas and was subject to complaints. Well, it’s their loss. PSU is going the way of Evergreen State, purging “dissident” professors and enforcing intellectual conformity. I know there are some parents and prospective college students who still want a challenging education—who want to learn to think and analyze rather than absorb and parrot whatever dogma their professors feed them. Those people should avoid PSU like the plague.