Stanford Law School tries to succor Federalist Society by sending its members into the jaws of lions

March 13, 2023 • 12:00 pm

Get a load of this. Although Stanford University Law School is trying to make amends for the shameful display put on by its students last week, they continue to stick their feet deeper into the mud.

Yesterday I reported on the execrable deplatforming of Fifth Circuit federal appellate Judge Kyle Duncan during his scheduled talk at Stanford Law School (SLS). Students, outraged that a conservative judge should be given any platform, interrupted the Judge so persistently and loudly that he was forced to stop his speech. (His topic was the relationship between his court and the Supreme Court.)

The students had been egged on by Tirien Steinbach, the Law School’s Associate Dean for Diversity, Equity & Inclusion. Before Judge Duncan’s talk, she sent an email to the students explaining why Duncan was an oppressor And then when Duncan asked for faculty help in quelling the in-class demonstration, Steinbach stood up and read nine minutes of prepared remarks to Duncan explaining how awful and hurtful he was and how,  perhaps, Stanford’s policy of free speech wasn’t so great after all because it caused “harm”. As she suggested, perhaps the “juice wasn’t worth the squeeze.” Steinbach’s method of promoting harmony apparently involves setting groups against each other.

In a “mistakes-were-made” brand of email to the Stanford community, SLS Dean Jenny Martinez apologized for the incident without placing blame on anyone. But the next day, Martinez and Stanford President Marc Tessier-Lavigne sent a joint apology to Judge Duncan promising that an incident like this would never happen again. Here’s that email:

Dear Judge Duncan,

We write to apologize for the disruption of your recent speech at Stanford Law School. As has already been communicated to our community, what happened was inconsistent with our policies on free speech, and we are very sorry about the experience you had while visiting our campus.

We are very clear with our students that, given our commitment to free expression, if there are speakers they disagree with, they are welcome to exercise their right to protest but not to disrupt the proceedings. Our disruption policy states that students are not allowed to “prevent the effective carrying out” of a “public event” whether by heckling or other forms of interruption.

In addition, staff members who should have enforced university policies failed to do so, and instead intervened in inappropriate ways that are not aligned with the university’s commitment to free speech.

We are taking steps to ensure that something like this does not happen again. Freedom of speech is a bedrock principle for the law school, the university, and a democratic society, and we can and must do better to ensure that it continues even in polarized times.

With our sincerest apologies again,
Marc Tessier-Lavigne, Ph.D.[,] President and Bing Presidential Professor
Jenny Martinez[,] Richard E. Lang Professor of Law & Dean of Stanford Law School

In the penultimate paragraph, they clearly place some of the blame on diversity dean Steinbach for inciting the disruption.  Will they discipline her, or at least tell her to lay off the incitement; and will Stanford discipline any of the disruptive students?  I’d bet money they won’t. And, of course, a policy that isn’t enforced is not a policy at all.

If Stanford were real mensches, they would invite Duncan back to deliver the talk he prepared, and ensure that the event would be peaceful. That won’t happen, either.

But in a really hamhanded gesture, Jeanne Merino, the SLS Associate Acting Dean of Students, “reached out” to the Federalist Society, which had invited Duncan, and offered them University sources of succor. What’s unbelievable is that one of the sources suggested was Steinbach, the diversity dean who escalated the whole affair.  They also offered help from the other two deans (and Merino herself), all of whom had been in the classroom and did nothing to stop the demonstration. You can read Merino’s email here. 

Here’s part of it (second bolding is mine)

2. Connection with OSA, DEI, Levin Center: Please reach out to any of us here at SLS if you would like support or would like to process last week’s events: a. OSA (Jeanne Merino,, Holly Parrish,, John Dalton, and Megan Brown,, b. DEI (Tirien Steinbach, c. Levin Center (Diane Chin,; Anna Wang,

Apparently, besides Conflagator Steinbach herself, Merino, as well as Associate Director of Student Affairs Holly Parrish and Student Affairs Program Coordinator Megan Brown, were all in the room—and did nothing— as the demonstration unfolded.  But to suggest that the Federalist Society should reach out to Dean Steinbach for comfort (not to mention to the other three as well) is like suggesting that the Roadrunner reach out for help to Wile E. Coyote.

Stanford has affirmed in writing that the juice (a climate conducive to learning) is indeed worth the squeeze (the school’s free-speech policy).  The real question is whether the juice is worth the squeeze of having a diversity dean who’s out of control.

These days, Stanford Law School (and its East Coast counterpart Yale Law School) are like a pair of cross-country soap operas. But it’s important to see that this kind of thing is inevitable so long as you claim that DEI programs are in complete harmony with free speech policies. As Steely Dan sang, “Only a fool would say that.”

Three authors “problematize” rigor, objectivity, replicability, and yes, all the aspects of “colonizing and white Eurocentric science”

February 6, 2023 • 12:20 pm

If you want to see every aspect of Critical Social Justice (CSJ) instantiated in one paper, combined with about the worst possible writing—obscurantist, laden with jargon, and nearly Butlerian in opacity—I commend to you the paper below from The Journal Of Social Issues (click on screenshot to read or get the pdf here).  But I warn you: unless you’ve already drunk the Kool-Aid®, you’re going to need a very strong stomach.  The title is what caught my eye, plus it was called to my attention by several readers. It’s an example of trying to undo modern science in favor of the tenets of the academically fashionable CSJ ideology (see here for the best explication of those tenets).

You can get a flavor of the paper from the abstract.


The purported goal of social science research is to develop approaches and applications to the psychological study of social issues that allow us to know, accurately and inclusively, the lived experiences of all human beings. However, our current theoretical and methodological tools, while perceived as “objective,” were founded on ahistorical and context-eliminating perspectives that privilege research designs and analytic strategies that reflect biased racial reasoning with roots in European colonial knowledge formations. By analyzing how the language of “rigor” is deployed within specific instances of social science research, we assert that it is conceptualized and operationalized to maintain a Eurocentric worldview and conception of the “human.” In exploring the ways that the language of “rigor” furthers a European conception of knowledge production as normative, this manuscript provides a critical analysis that seeks to redress ongoing epistemic colonial violence by decolonizing a key term in psychological scholarship.

And although the authors claim they’re not trying to get rid of rigor in psychological scholarship, in fact that’s exactly what they are trying to do: removing the distinction between subjective and objective views, prizing “lived experience” above all research, deposing so-called “Western Eurocentric science”, which they consider white supremacist (note the paper’s title), and in general taming all those nasty aspects of modern scientific analysis which enables it to find out stuff. The paper, then, is nothing more than a clarion call to dismantle modern science and replace it with postmodern views involving power struggles and identity.  As the authors say in their very first sentence, quoting Lorde, “The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.”  So much for rigor, objectivity, replicability, generalizability—indeed, the whole megillah.

Of course it’s necessary for the authors to begin by explaining their “identities” in great deal, for one’s cultural and racial bona fides matter hugely in such analyses, for you have the wrong identity, your ideas are bunk. I won’t go into the very long descriptions, but they are there for all three authors. Here’s just part of the “lived experience” of author #1:

I (first author) was raised as a Muslim immigrant-origin girl in a small Iowa town and constantly aware that my family was “different.” Having been an educator in PK-12 contexts, my goal in studying developmental psychology was to make the process easier for other youth who, like myself, were intersectionally minoritized and privileged because of religious, racial, ethnic, linguistic, and/or other identities or experiences. I was unprepared for the microaggressions embedded in developmental scholarship rooted in non-inclusive modes of knowledge production that resisted the nuances of the diverse individuals and groups I sought to better understand. . . . I seek to place myself in relationships and contexts to learn and engage in a co-conspiring, co-liberatory inquiry stance.

That’s a new one on me: “intersectionally minoritized and privileged” (isn’t that oxymoronic?). And notice the privileged in-group language that helps place an author firmly within the bailiwick of Critical Social Justice.  The other two authors do likewise.

But notice how dreadful the writing is throughout, as well as the profuse use of ideological jargon.  Just looking at the pages can tire you, showing you that you’re going to have to wrestle with a lot of big and complicated words. Just for fun, I calculated the Gunning Fog index (GFI) on some of the text. What is that? Wikipedia tells us this:

In linguistics, the Gunning fog index is a readability test for English writing. The index estimates the years of formal education a person needs to understand the text on the first reading. For instance, a fog index of 12 requires the reading level of a United States high school senior (around 18 years old). The test was developed in 1952 by Robert Gunning, an American businessman who had been involved in newspaper and textbook publishing.

The fog index is commonly used to confirm that text can be read easily by the intended audience. Texts for a wide audience generally need a fog index less than 12. Texts requiring near-universal understanding generally need an index less than 8.

You can calculate it just by pasting text into this website. But let’s go on; I’ll give the figures shortly.

Now to be as fair as I can, here’s how the authors claim that they’re not really trying to upend rigor, objectivity, and other aspects of science:

Our goal, however, is not to assert that the concept of rigor in theoretical or methodological contexts should be abandoned or that standards of excellence in psychology as a science be lowered or jettisoned. Instead, our intent is to interrogate the consequences of “rigor” with respect to how it is conceptualized and operationalized in psychology research, and thereby imagine how we might more effectively achieve the spirit and substance of rigor in our work in a manner that unmoors it from Western epistemological norms. Accordingly, we address three broad problematics: (1) how dominant conceptions of rigor within psychological sciences presume universality; (2) how scholars perpetuate epistemic violence through colonial claims to, or denials of, rigor in the name of “good” or “normative” psychological science; and (3) how a decolonial approach to “rigor” enhances epistemic justice and the quality of science.

[The GFI for the paragraph above was 19.05. But that’s peanuts compared to the GFI for the Abstract above: a whopping 26.93. Twenty-seven years for formal schooling just to understand the text! That’s all the way though college and then ten years of postgraduate study!]

Yes, that’s right: scholars are, through their colonialism, “perpetuating epistemic violence”.  How tiresome to hear the word “violence” used to refer to scholarship, over and over again. There’s even a section of the paper having that title!:

And pardon me if I don’t take the authors’ word that they’re not trying to lower standards of excellence when they say stuff like this:

The criterion of subjectivity dictates that the researcher makes him/her/themself and their self-understanding visible in the research. Decolonizing Western scientific norms requires reconceptualizing who we consider knowledgeable and how they relate to a range of lived experiences, cultural and spiritual practices, and other phenomena.

. . . We do not challenge the notion that there should be standards of excellence in social science research. Instead, we resist notions of rigor that require fidelity to uncritical truths that pass for just-natural facts in “normative” psychological scholarship. We argue that research is rigorous (i.e., high quality) when it reflects the following interlocking credibility criteria. Researchers should engage in self-reflexivity to understand our own subjectivities, historical embeddedness, and positionalities that frame our epistemological approach while also inclusively encouraging people to draw from their own and others’ lived experiences to inform scholarship. [GFI 16.9]

In other words, research is rigorous insofar as it comports with the authors’ ideology.

I won’t go on, for the paper is long, tedious, and laden with buzzwords embedded in bad prose. (Wokesters seem to have problems writing clearly, but maybe, as with Judith Butler and the postmodernists, it’s a deliberate tactic.)

I was going to make this a two-item post, for there was a talk at U. Mass. Boston by one of the authors of this paper and a colleague, and the second and third tweets below will show you some of the slides from that talk, as well as a snarky take from Substack Site “The Flickering Beacon”, an antiwoke venue written by people at U. Mass. Boston. It has two articles on the talk (here and here).

Here are the posts, which you can click on:

They also show slides from the talk and yes, the talk had a land acknowledgment. Here’s one slide:

Enough. If there were a God, I would thank him every day that I didn’t go into the social sciences. Science is already beleaguered by those who want it redone along Critical Social Justice lines, but the social sciences have been completely taken over.

Pamela Paul’s funny (and trenchant) op-ed on campus free speech (trigger warning: many harmful words!)

February 3, 2023 • 9:30 am

Although the word “woke” and its derivatives seem to trigger some readers, I still can’t find a good substitute. I just read Andrew Doyle’s new book, The New Puritans: How the Religion of Social Justice Captured the Western World, and I see that that Doyle doesn’t much like “woke” either. (His book is a good complement to John McWhorter’s book Woke Racism.) At any rate, I tried to find a replacement in Doyle’s critique, but the best replacement I could come up with for the pejorative “woke” is “illiberal Left”, which is a mouthful. And it becomes “anti-illiberal Left” (a bigger mouthful) when characterizing people like Doyle or McWhorter. So I’ll perhaps use both terms. (Remember that Doyle is the creator of Titania McGrath, who hasn’t been tweeting much lately.)

But I digress. Pamela Paul, who used to be the Sunday Book Review editor for the New York Times, now writes a weekly column for the paper. Not only is she a good and clever writer, but she appears to be anti-woke anti-illiberal Left. That makes at least two good NYT columnists of that ideological stripe: Paul and McWhorter.

Her piece this week (click below to read, and I see it’s been archived here) is about the woke Language Police at Stanford, and about the chilling of speech in general on American campuses.  The amusing bit is that her piece uses over a quarter of the words that the Stanford University IT group recommended be changed, and she’s put them in bold. Her intro (I added the link to the list, now archived):

The following is a celebration of the cancellation of the Elimination of Harmful Language Initiative, an attempt by a committee of IT leaders at Stanford University to ban 161 common words and phrases. Of those 161 phrases, I have taken pains to use 45 of them here. Read at your own risk.

Click to read, but you may incur much harm. Her message, though, has hopeful bits.

Note that even “Hip Hip Hooray!”  in the title was deemed harmful by the guide:

Paul uses 20 “harmful” words in the first three paragraphs alone:

Is the media addicted to bad news? It’s not a dumb question, nor are you crazy to ask. After all, we follow tragedy like hounds on the chase, whether it’s stories about teenagers who commit suicide, victims of domestic violence or survivors of accidents in which someone winds up quadriplegiccrippled for life or confined to a wheelchair.We report on the hurdles former convicts face after incarceration, hostile attitudes toward immigrants and the plight of prostitutes and the homeless. Given the perilous state of the planet, you might consider this barrage of ill tidings to be tone-deaf.

Well, I’m happy to report good news for a change. You might call it a corrective, or a sanity check, but whatever you call it — and what you can call things here is key — there have been several positive developments on American campuses. The chilling effects of censorship and shaming that have trapped students between the competing diktats of “silence is violence” and “speech is violence” — the Scylla and Charybdis of campus speech — may finally be showing some cracks.

Matters looked especially grim in December, when the internet discovered the 13-page dystopicallly titled “Elimination of Harmful Language Initiative. A kind of white paper on contemporary illiberalism, it listed 161 verboten expressions, divided into categories of transgression, including “person-first,” “institutionalized racism” and the blissfully unironic “imprecise language.” The document offered preferred substitutions, many of which required feats of linguistic limbo to avoid simple terms like “insane,” “mentally ill” and — not to beat a dead horse,but I’ll add one more — “rule of thumb.” Naturally, it tore its way across the internet to widespread mockery despite a “content warning” in bold type: “This website contains language that is offensive or harmful. Please engage with this website at your own pace.”

By using those words, Paul of course emphasizes the inanity of claiming that they’re “harmful.”  She does add that the Stanford list has been taken down (the link above is to a WSJ copy), and considers this good news—part of a salubrious trend that she sees in American education. But she can’t resist using perhaps the dumbest “harmful word” on the list (save “American”):

Could this be a seminal moment for academic freedom? Consider other bright spots: Harvard recently went ahead with its fellowship offer to Kenneth Roth, the former head of Human Rights Watch, which was earlier rejected, allegedly owing to his critical views on Israel. M.I.T.’s faculty voted to embrace a “Statement on Freedom of Expression and Academic Freedom.” At Yale Law School, which has been roiled by repeated attempts to suppress speech, a conservative lawyer was allowed to appear on a panel with a former president of the A.C.L.U. after protests disrupted her visit the year before. And Hamline University, which had refused to renew an art history professor’s contract because she showed an artwork that some Muslim students may have found offensive, walked back its characterization of her as “Islamophobic.”

Finally, when an office within the School of Social Work at the University of Southern California banned the terms “fieldwork” and “in the field” to describe research projects because their “anti-Black” associations might offend some descendants of American slavery, U.S.C.’s interim provost issued a statement that “The university does not maintain a list of banned or discouraged words.”

And here is a form of linguistic conflict that I hadn’t noticed:

The chilling effects of censorship and shaming that have trapped students between the competing diktats of “silence is violence” and “speech is violence” — the Scylla and Charybdis of campus speech — may finally be showing some cracks.

From the guide (not the column):

She continues, causing a lot more harm but making a point at the same time:

But we do know two things: First, college students are suffering from anxiety and other mental health issues more than ever before, and second, fewer feel comfortable expressing disagreement lest their peers go on the warpath. It would be a ballsy move to risk being denounced, expelled from their tribe, become a black sheep. No one can blame any teenager who has been under a social media pile-on for feeling like a basket case. Why take the chance.

Yet when in life is it more appropriate for people to take risks than in college — to test out ideas and encounter other points of view? College students should be encouraged to use their voices and colleges to let them be heard. It’s nearly impossible to do this while mastering speech codes, especially when the master lists employ a kind of tribal knowledge known only to their guru creators. A normal person of any age may have trouble submitting, let alone remembering that “African American” is not just discouraged but verboten, that he or she can’t refer to a professor’s “walk-in” hours or call for a brown bag lunchpowwow or stand-up meeting with their peers.

Now that you know woke language guidelines, you’ll be able to figure out why the Puritans see all the words in bold as harmful. (Having trouble with “African American? Go here.)

Paul then gives the worrying statistics about the drop over time in the proportion of students who think that free speech rights are secure and notes the frightening 2/3 of students who think that college climates prevent people from expressing views that could be seen as offensive.

In the last two paragraphs she drops the use of “harmful words” and makes her serious point:

It is reasonable to wonder whether any conceivable harm to a few on hearing the occasional upsetting term outweighs the harm to everyone in suppressing speech. Or whether overcoming the relatively minor discomforts of an unintentional, insensitive or inept comment might help students develop the resilience necessary to surmount life’s considerably greater challenges — challenges that will not likely be mediated by college administrators after they graduate.

Rather than muzzle students, we should allow them to hear and be heard. Opportunities to engage and respond. It’s worth remembering how children once responded to schoolyard epithets: “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never harm me.” Narrow restrictions on putatively harmful speech leave young people distracted from and ill-prepared for the actual violence they’ll encounter in the real world.

And this type of bowdlerization is performative. In the end, it accomplishes nothing. The people who promulgate these changes are the Entitled Woke, and the tut-tutting directed at people who will continue to use the old argot. The changes are made for one reason: to flaunt one’s virtue.

Jon Haidt to resign from the Society for Personality and Social Psychology for placing ideology above truth

September 23, 2022 • 9:15 am

Although social psychologist Jonathan Haidt is considered “heterodox” (these days that means “anti-progressive”), I’ve found that nearly everything he’s written is worth reading. That especially includes his two books The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion. and The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas Are Setting Up a Generation for Failure, the latter co-written with Greg Lukianoff. Haidt is neither a polemicist nor a firebrand, but he says what he thinks and calls out nonsense in a no-nonsense way. And now he’s taking a hike from an important academic group because it violates his principles.

Haidt was in fact one of the cofounders of the Heterodox Academy, an organization of academics promoting viewpoint diversity, which of course is the wrong kind of diversity. The group grew out of a talk promoting viewpoint diversity given by Haidt in 2011 at the meeting of the Society for Personality and Social Psychology (SPSP)—the biggest and best-known society of its kind.

And that leads to the double irony that’s the subject of today’s post.  In an article on the Heterodox Academy‘s website (click below to read), Haidt announces that he’s resigning from the SPSP, and for exactly the reason that helped birth the academy ten years ago—the quashing of viewpoint diversity by academia.

Haidt notes that there are two “fiduciary duties” of professors, and by that he means duties that are directed towards a beneficiary (in this case, academics and students), must be adhered to with absolute loyalty, and in which there is no taint of self-interest. All other duties are subsidiary and must go away when in conflict with these two. Here are those duties as quoted by Haidt:

1). As teachers I believe we have a fiduciary duty to our students’ education.

2.) As scholars I believe we have a fiduciary duty to the truth.

Together these serve to fulfill the telos of a university (its end or purpose), and that telos is truth—finding and promulgating truth.

Haidt actually calls these duties “quasi-fiduciary duties” since we aren’t obligated to promote students’ overall welfare, nor is there an agent for whose benefit we seek the truth. He gives four examples of how a professor can violate each of these duties, and argues that universities are now declining in public esteem because they’re making the second duty subsidiary to other goals, goals that fall under the aegis of “advancing social justice”.

Recalling his 2016 lecture at Duke University where he advanced the telos argument, he says this (my emphasis):

I said that universities can have many goals (such as fiscal health and successful sports teams) and many values (such as social justice, national service, or Christian humility), but they can have only one telos, because a telos is like a North Star. It is the end, purpose, or goal around which the institution is structured. An institution can rotate on one axis only. If it tries to elevate a second goal or value to the status of a telos, it is like trying to get a spinning top or rotating solar system to simultaneously rotate around two axes. I argued that the sudden wave of protests and changes that were sweeping through universities were attempts to elevate the value of social justice to become a second telos, which would require a massive restructuring of universities and their norms in ways that damaged their ability to find truth.

I expanded on this argument in a blog post for Heterodox Academy where I predicted that “the conflict between truth and social justice is likely to become unmanageable … Universities that try to honor both will face increasing incoherence and internal conflict.” It’s now six years later, and I think it’s clear that this prediction has come true. It has been six years of near-constant conflict, with rising numbers of attempts to get scholars fired or punished for things they have said, and a never-ending stream of videos showing students (and sometimes professors) saying and doing things that are gifts to critics of universities and of the left. As one university president said to a friend of mine in 2019, “Universities are becoming ungovernable.” Public trust in universities has plummeted since 2015,² first on the right, but later across the board. We are in trouble.

He’s right. Even at the University of Chicago I can see the search for truth becoming subsumed under loud and ubiquitous calls for the university to become a Social Justice Mill. And the sciences, the exemplar of disciplines whose goal is truth (understanding the Universe), are being bent towards Leftist “progressive” ideology, with departments trying to promulgate ideological statements and beginning to ask for DEI statements by job applicants (that’s technically illegal here, but people find ways to get around that).

Although Haidt sees no way around this truth-effacing clash, his advice for us academics is to always stick to our two “fiduciary duties” above all else. When a subsidiary “duty” violates these, don’t adhere to it.

Recently Haidt was asked to abandon or water down duty #2 in the interest of promulgating social justice. Ironically, he was asked by the SPSP, which has gone woke (my emphasis below):

I have been thinking a lot about fiduciary duty because my main professional association — the Society for Personality and Social Psychology (SPSP) — recently asked me to violate my quasi-fiduciary duty to the truth. I was going to attend the annual conference in Atlanta next February to present some research with colleagues on a new and improved version of the Moral Foundations Questionnaire. I was surprised to learn about a new rule: In order to present research at the conference, all social psychologists are now required to submit a statement explaining “whether and how this submission advances the equity, inclusion, and anti-racism goals of SPSP.” Our research proposal would be evaluated on older criteria of scientific merit, along with this new criterion.

These sorts of mandatory diversity statements have been proliferating across the academy in recent years. The Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE), the Academic Freedom Alliance, and many professors have written about why they are immoral, inappropriate, and sometimes illegal. I’ll just add one additional concern: Most academic work has nothing to do with diversity, so these mandatory statements force many academics to betray their quasi-fiduciary duty to the truth by spinning, twisting, or otherwise inventing some tenuous connection to diversity. I refuse to do this, but I’ve never objected publicly.

The SPSP mandate, however, forced us all to do something more explicitly ideological. Note that the word diversity was dropped and replaced by anti-racism. So every psychologist who wants to present at the most important convention in our field must now say how their work advances anti-racism. I read Ibram X. Kendi’s book How to Be an Antiracist in the summer of 2020, so I knew that I could no longer stay silent.

He wrote to the SPSP’s president, Laura King, who affirmed that this was indeed the policy: all speakers had to submit diversity statements affirming that their talks would advance “equity, inclusion, and anti-racism”. Talks would be evaluated not just for their intrinsic merit, but on ideological grounds as well. (As implied above, Haidt doesn’t adhere to Kendi’s principles as limning any form of “truth”: they are ideology—debatable ideology—pure and simple. He sees Kendi’s dicta (read How to be an Antiracist) as “incorrect morally because it requires us to treat people as members of groups, not as individuals, an then to treat people well or badly based on their group membership.”

Let me add that Haidt doesn’t disagree that a form of diversity, “amplifying the voices of those who have historically been underrepresented in our field,” as unobjectionable. This is what he objects to:

I believe that anti-racism has a place at SPSP, and I said so to King. Let there be speakers, panels, and discussions of this morally controversial and influential idea at our next conference! But to adopt it as the official view and mission of SPSP and then to force us all to say how our work advances it, as a precondition to speaking at the conference? I thought this was wrong for two reasons: First, it elevated anti-racism to be a coequal telos of SPSP, which meant that we would no longer rotate around the single axis of excellent science. Every talk would have to be both scientifically sound and anti-racist, even though good science and political activism rarely mix well. Second, it puts pressure on social psychologists — especially younger ones, who most need to present at the conference — to betray their fiduciary duty to the truth and profess outward deference to an ideology that some of them do not privately endorse.

The last sentence is, to me, especially important, for it gives the very reason why scientific societies and universities should not make official political or ideological pronouncements or take ideological or political positions— unless (and this should be rare) they buttress the telos of an organization. That is why my University’s Kalven Report prohibits such statements, and why groups like the Society for the Study of Evolution have betrayed their telos by injecting ideology into their program, declaring, for example, that “sex is a continuum.”  Here we see ideology—the desire to not offend those who consider themselves of a sex that they weren’t born with—taking precedence over truth, which is that in nearly all animals—and certainly in humans—sex is not a continuum. (Gender is more of one, but we’re talking about biological sex, something that the SSE should know something about.)

But I digress. Since the SPSP will not rescind its policy, Haidt is quitting:

I raised my voice again to write to King and object to the new policy. But soon it will be time for exit. I cannot remain loyal to an organization that is changing its telos and asking its members to violate their quasi-fiduciary duties to the truth. I am especially dubious of the wisdom of making an academic organization more overtly political in its mission, especially in the midst of a raging culture war, when trust in universities is plummeting.

So I’m going to resign from SPSP at the end of this year, when my membership dues run out, if the policy on mandatory statements stays in place for future conventions. I hope that other members will raise their voices.

Would that the large number of academics who object to ideological violations of our telos do likewise! Most academics lack both the eloquence and courage of Haidt. But you don’t have to be eloquent. All you have to do is voice your objections and, like Haidt, resign from academic societies that make social justice a higher value than truth.

Professor Phoebe Cohen of Williams College nabs the Lysenko Award for the Suppression of Academic Speech

October 29, 2021 • 10:30 am

Dr. Phoebe Cohen would just be another academic laboring away at woke Williams College (she’s an associate professor of Geosciences and department chair) if Michael Powell of the New York Times hadn’t mentioned her in its article on MIT’s deplatforming of University of Chicago Professor Dorian Abbot. Cohen was quoted as not only favoring deplatforming Abbot, but deplatforming anybody who opposes a school’s DEI program and, most invidiously (see my post here), Cohen dismissed intellectual debate and rigor as products of a white patriarchal culture (my emphasis in NYT quote below):

Phoebe A. Cohen is a geosciences professor and department chair at Williams College and one of many who expressed anger on Twitter at M.I.T.’s decision to invite Dr. Abbot to speak, given that he has spoken against affirmative action in the past.

Dr. Cohen agreed that Dr. Abbot’s views reflect a broad current in American society. Ideally, she said, a university should not invite speakers who do not share its values on diversity and affirmative action. Nor was she enamored of M.I.T.’s offer to let him speak at a later date to the M.I.T. professors. “Honestly, I don’t know that I agree with that choice,” she said. “To me, the professional consequences are extremely minimal.”

What, she was asked, of the effect on academic debate? Should the academy serve as a bastion of unfettered speech?

“This idea of intellectual debate and rigor as the pinnacle of intellectualism comes from a world in which white men dominated,” she replied.

Oy, does that get my kishkes in a knot! It’s not only dismissive of the only way science can move forward (how does she do science—by feelings?), it’s dismissive of every woman and every non-white person who tries to advance knowledge using the very methods Cohen decries.  What an extraordinarily stupid thing to say to a NYT writer! If she uses this philosophy in her classes, I weep for her students.

Now, however, Cohen is getting a taste of her own medicine, as those words she uttered have redounded upon her. In Wednesday’s NYT column by John McWhorter, “Wokeness is oversimplifying the American creed,” which defends Abbot and others who have been “cancelled”—like University of Michigan professor Bright Sheng—there are several mentions of Dr. Cohen in an unflattering light.

I’m less concerned with the particulars of Abbot’s case here than how it demonstrates our broader context these days. I refer to a new version of enlightenment; one that rejects basic tenets of the Enlightenment, as exemplified by Prof. Phoebe Cohen, chair of geosciences at Williams College, who downplayed Abbot’s apparent disinvitation with the observation, as reported by The New York Times, that “this idea of intellectual debate and rigor as the pinnacle of intellectualism” — the idea, presumably, that the widest possible range of perspectives should be heard and scrutinized — “comes from a world in which white men dominated.”

. . .Clearly some cogitation is in order. Yet it appears that Abbot was barred from a more august podium out of an assumption that his views on racial preferences are beyond debate. Even though he was to speak on an unrelated topic. This “deplatforming” — if we must — was, in a word, simplistic.

Simplistic, too: Cohen points to a time when white men, exclusively, were in charge. Yes, but the obvious response is: “Does that automatically mean that their take on intellectual debate and rigor was wrong?” The implication that the questions Abbot raised are morally out of bounds forbids basic curiosity and rational calculation and stands athwart the very purpose of the small-L liberal education that universities are supposed to provide.

Twice in the New York Times in a week! Now that is infamy! What’s also interesting about this is McWhorter’s discussion at the end of Wokeness as a religion, a religion that Phoebe Cohen appears to espouse.

Note also the eerie parallel between the conceptions of original sin and white privilege as unremovable stains about which one is to maintain a lifelong concern and guilt. Religions don’t always have gods, but they usually need sins, which in the new religion is the whiteness that supposedly bestrides everything in our lives.

There is a pitchfork aspect to how this way of thinking is penetrating our institutions of enlightenment. With an unreachable pitilessness, a catechism couched in an elaborate jargon is being imposed almost as if sacred: privilege, decentering, hegemony, antiracism. Nonbelievers, sometimes even agnostics, are cast out, leaving a cowed polity pretending to agree. This is a regrettable kind of religion, aiming to run the state. That’s not how this American experiment was supposed to go.

The only thing that will turn back this tide is a critical mass willing to insist on complexity, abstraction and forgiveness. As a Black man, I am especially appalled by the implication that to insist on these three things in thinking about race issues is somehow anti-Black.

Finally, Cohen, apparently unable to resist speaking to reporters and oblivious about how she looks, said this to the Boston Globe:

But Phoebe Cohen, one of Abbot’s critics, applauded the university’s decision.

“I did not actually call for the cancellation of the lecture, although now that it’s happened I support MIT’s decision to do that,” said Cohen, an associate professor of geosciences at Williams College and a former researcher at EAPS. Cohen said that arguments like Abbot’s discourage greater minority participation in the STEM specialties — science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.

”Underrepresented faculty and students have spoken out repeatedly about how harmful this kind of language is, and how it makes them feel like they have no place in STEM,” Cohen said. “I have colleagues who are negatively impacted by this language…I chose to believe them.”

Didn’t call for cancellation of the lecture? She might as well have if you look at what she said to the NYT above: she was “one of many who expressed anger on Twitter at M.I.T.’s decision to invite Dr. Abbot to speak.” Also note the emphasis on “harm” which is matched, as you’ll see below, by her emphasis on words and offense as “violence.” And any minority student who gives up participating in STEM simply because Dorian Abbot was invited to give a STEM lecture that has nothing to do with Abbot’s views of DEI needs some therapy.

If you don’t think Dr. Cohen is an acolyte of this “religion”, have a look at this column she wrote in the Williams student newspaper (click on the screenshot). While Cohen is right to decry sexism and racism, she’s wrong to say that it’s pervasive at Williams, or to insist that “violence, both physical and emotional, happens to our students, faculty and staff”. (She needs to understand that words and offense are not “violence”, and I’m not aware of any physical violence at Williams.)  But what makes her an acolyte of Wokeism is her self-flagellation at the beginning of her letter: her admission that she’s afflicted by the Original Sin:


Cohen’s opening confession:

I am white. I am racist. I am not proud of this fact, but I have accepted it. Acknowledging that I am racist helps me to become, I hope, less so. I catch my instinctive thoughts and ask them why they are there. Why am I feeling annoyed, fearful, dismissive in this moment? When someone in my community at Williams tells me they feel unsafe, and my first instinct is skepticism, I know that it is a fallacy to say that I’m skeptical because of my training as a scientist. Instead, it is because I don’t want to believe that my colleagues are racist, sexist, transphobic. Not believing it doesn’t make it true. I am a white person raised in a racist, white supremacist country. Every day I have to make a conscious decision to fight against that and to challenge my own thoughts and biases.

Are Cohen’s colleagues at all disturbed by her characterizing them as “recist, sexist, and transphobic”?

She goes on to describe the nonexistent violence at Williams, and says that we must believe those who claim that it happens. I’ve been following Williams for a while, and haven’t seen racism, much less “violence” at the college. There have been one or two racist incidents like odious graffiti, but they appear to have been hoaxes. Williams is about the most antiracist campus I know, second only to Evergreen State and Middlebury. Yet people like Cohen don’t realize that they’re smearing the reputation of their own school by insisted that it’s infested with bigots.

This reminds me of something John McWhorter said in his column today, which hasn’t yet been published (I get the newsletter):

I don’t completely trust white guilt. It lends itself too easily to virtue signaling, which overlaps only partially, and sometimes not at all, with helping people. I recall a brilliant, accomplished, kind white academic of a certain age who genially told me — after I published my first book on race, “Losing the Race: Self-Sabotage in Black America,” two decades ago — “John, I get what you mean, but I reserve my right to be guilty.” I got what he meant, too, and did not take it ill. But still, note that word “right.” Feeling guilty lent him something personally fulfilling and signaled that he was one of the good guys without obligating him further. The problem is that one can harbor that feeling while not actually doing anything to bring about change on the ground.

The final ignominy: Louis K. Bonham at the Minding the Campus site has bestowed on Cohen the first “Minding the Campus Lysenko Award,” named after the charlatan agronomist Trofim Lysenko, who screwed up Soviet genetics for decades with his false and falsified theories of “vernalization.” Because Lysenko didn’t follow the scientific method but was resolutely supported by Stalin, millions died of famine,’ and good Russian geneticists, like Nikolai Vavolov, were imprisoned or killed.  The award thus dishonors those who suppress academic dissent, like Cohen. From Bonham:

The moral of Lysenko is that suppressing academic debate and dissent for political reasons yields bad science, bad scholarship, and inevitably bad results. It can even lead to the collapse of nations. The genius of the scientific method and Western academic culture is that you get closer to the truth by subjecting all theories and ideas to rigorous testing and debate. When you frustrate this process because you are afraid the results might prove politically inconvenient, uncomfortable, or “triggering,” the ghost of Lysenko smiles.


Our winner, however, has no such excuse. While also involved in l’affaire Abbot, she is not on the MIT faculty or in its administration, so unlike Prof. van der Hilst [who got the “Dishonorable Mention” award], she was not thrust into the fray. Nevertheless, this Williams College department chair helped lead the keyboard warriors demanding that Prof. Abbot be disinvited from giving the Carlson Lecture—not because his science was unsound, or that he was unqualified, or that he had broken the law or committed a tort, but because he believes that individuals in higher education should be evaluated based on their individual merit rather than their membership in an identity group. Scandalous, I know. Apropos to the purpose of our award, when interviewed by the New York Times, our winner justified her actions thusly:

What, she was asked, of the effect on academic debate? Should the academy serve as a bastion of unfettered speech?

“This idea of intellectual debate and rigor as the pinnacle of intellectualism comes from a world in which white men dominated,” she replied.

Trofim Lysenko would be pleased, although he likely would have formulaically dismissed the need for academic rigor and debate as being the product of fascist-bourgeois-imperialist-capitalist culture, instead of the current wokeism of “straight white men” as the source of the world’s problems.

So congratulations, Williams College Professor Phoebe Cohen, you are the first recipient of the Minding the Campus Lysenko Award for the Suppression of Academic Speech.

After all this, Cohen is now getting a taste of her own medicine, the kind of taste she says, in a piece from NBC News, that Abbot deserves.

But equating the cancellation of a school’s public lecture to censorship oversimplifies the matter, said Phoebe Cohen, a paleontologist and associate professor of geosciences at Williams College. She said concerns over whether such actions curtail free speech on campuses are overblown.

“It becomes this battle cry of free speech and academic freedom, but he has academic freedom,” Cohen said of Abbot. “He is allowed to say whatever he wants to say, and he has, but that doesn’t mean that he’s free from consequences.”

And while universities should uphold academic freedoms, Cohen said, institutions also have a responsibility to consider the communities their students and faculties are a part of.

“It comes down to who is being harmed,” she said. “Universities don’t have a responsibility to platform people who are harming others.”

Cohen, too, is not “free from the consequences” of her ridiculous views. Instead of finding ubiquitous approbation for her statements, which I guess she expected, she was criticized heavily on Twitter.  Since she won’t be fired or cancelled—and she shouldn’t be—I don’t care if the Twitter criticism bothered her or offended her. (When she strikes out with words, it’s appropriate to respond with words.) It apparently did bother her, though, for first she cancelled her Twitter account and then restricted it a few days ago:


Eric Hedin is back, now asserting that there is zero chance that life originated through natural processes, so God must have been responsible

August 13, 2021 • 11:30 am

I’ve tried to avoid writing about this, as Intelligent Design advocates really love getting publicity from me, and I’m tired of the muddleheaded lucubrations of Discovery Institute flacks like Michael Egnor and David Klinghoffer. But I have to call attention once again to Eric Hedin, ID advocate and former professor of physics at Ball State University, a public school.

Way back in 2013, I discovered that Hedin was teaching a general science class to nonmajors that not only promoted intelligent design, but religion itself. That was a violation of the Constitution, and the Freedom from Religion Foundation and I informed the school’s President that they were breaking the law. The result: Hedin’s class was ditched, as it should have been. I never called for him to be fired or not promoted (he was subsequently given tenure), but I didn’t want him teaching creationism as science, which the courts have repeatedly forbidden. I didn’t try to get the man dumped or permanently demonized, which is what cancellation is about.

This site has a gazillion posts over several years on the fallout; if you want to see some, go here.

As I wrote a short while back, Hedin is now trying to cash in on this incident by claiming he was canceled: he’s published a book called Canceled Science: What Some Atheists Don’t Want You To See. I’m apparently one of those atheists, for the Amazon blurb says this:

Eric Hedin was enjoying a productive career as a physics professor at Ball State University when the letter from a militant atheist arrived and all hell broke loose. The conflict spilled first onto the pages of the local newspaper, and then into the national news. The atheist attack included threats from the Freedom from Religion Foundation [FFRF], which targeted Hedin after learning his Boundaries of Science course exposed students to an evidence-based case for design and purpose in cosmology, physics, and biochemistry. Canceled Science tells the dramatic story of the atheist campaign to cancel Hedin’s course, reveals the evidence the atheists tried to bury, and explores discoveries that have revolutionized our understanding of the nature and origin of matter, space, and even time itself.

I am indeed the militant atheist (see below), and for my part in this “cancellation” the Discovery Institute named me “Censor of the Year” in 2014, an honor I’m quite proud of. Meanwhile Hedin’s new book isn’t selling very well, and never did (it was published by the Discovery Institute in February and now ranks about 17,000 on Amazon). In the meantime, Hedin moved from Ball State to the Christian college Biola University (formerly the Bible University of Los Angeles), where he can teach all the Jesus he wants as a Professor of Physics and Astronomy and also Chair of the Department of Chemistry, Physics and Engineering. The Lord works in mysterious ways, eventually leading Hedin back to Home.

BTW, whenever I’m called a “militant atheist”, I remember this cartoon, which is great:

Perhaps to boost his sales, Hedin just gave an interview to the right-wing college-monitoring site The College Fix, which to its discredit has a palpable dislike for evolution, and makes the following claim (click the screenshot to read):

Hedin’s argument is familiar: it’s the “fine-tuning” argument, which claims that the laws and parameters of physics are too “fine-tuned” for life to be an accident, so God must have tuned the parameters (as for the rest of the Universe where life doesn’t exist, well, that’s just collateral damage). Further, the universe hasn’t always existed, and its finite time and space make it even unlikelier for life to have originated “by accident” (it wasn’t an accident, of course: life requires both accident and then natural selection). I’ll quote some of his argument, but I’ve argued before against this nonsense many times and am not in the mood to do so again:

As the title of your book suggests, what is it that atheists don’t want us to see?

Evidence that points to something beyond nature as being responsible for major aspects of our universe, in particular the origin of the universe. The laws of nature all seem to be finely tuned to a value that of course allows life, but there’s some razor sharp or knife-edge tuning to these parameters that really can’t be explained by saying, “Oh, it’s just luck.” The level of biological information that is within the cell far exceeds what can be attained by any natural process we can think of, and actually there are laws of physics that claim that natural processes cannot generate that level of complexity that is functional, specific, information-rich, resembling machines, architecture and coding. There’s also the esoteric aspects of human nature: a mind, a consciousness, emotions, a spiritual sense. These go beyond what can be explained by appealing to random interactions between particles guided by the push-pull forces that we find in nature. We see the universe, we look at it, we study it, and we find evidence of intelligent design. The more we study nature, the more evidence for something beyond nature comes into the picture.

He keeps citing “randomness” as an unlikely explanation for consciousness, emotions, and the like, but why does he leave out selection? And why is he so damn sure that these features couldn’t arise either as a direct product or a byproduct of selection? This is the ID argument: we can’t explain it now, so God must have done it. But is it really God? Yes! See below. First, though, more argument:

Do people who have not studied this issue in depth truly understand the mathematical enormity of the fine-tuning argument? It’s not just “the chances are low” that life arose by chance.

Honestly, as a physicist I would be willing to say the physical reality chance of life originating on its own by natural processes within this universe is zero, not just low. It’s because the universe is not infinitely big. There is a finite universe. We don’t have an infinite amount of time, the universe has a finite age, roughly 13.8 billion years. That limited time, limited spatial extent of the universe means that there’s a limited amount that any natural randomness could generate. The probabilistic resources of our universe fall short of what is necessary to develop even one large functional protein molecule that would be just one of tens of thousands of different protein molecules that are needed for human life to exist. It’s almost to me desperate to keep trying to think that this could have happened by chance.

I do not think that these people know what “enormity” means. But at any rate, 13.8 billion years of Universe and 4.5 billion years of Earth, combined with a gazillion gazillion gazillion planets suitable for life—that seems like a lot of opportunity for me. And why did God wait so long between the stromatolites and the appearance of humans?. But Hedin, who makes no calculations, just says that the fine-tuning and limited-time-and-space arguments convince him that God Did It. And yes, it is God:

The intelligent design movement does not endorse a particular religion per se, just that all this could not have happened by accident, correct?

That is the main thrust, although my own personal conviction is that the designer is the God of the Bible. That comes through in a few places in the book but I don’t start with that.

No of course not. He wouldn’t want to reader to think his book is tendentious!

Finally, why do so many scientists reject Hedin’s claim that life absolutely proves the existence of God? He has an answer: atheists are religious!

It’s been said that it takes more faith to be an atheist. Why do your peers in the scientific community ignore all the evidence that points to design in life and nature?

Atheism has some similarities to a religion. The teaching of evolution and the teaching of naturalism is ingrained in the sciences and the educational system. There are people who want to keep it that way because they know if it didn’t happen naturally, then it’s happening supernaturally, and that opens the door for a divine designer and they are very opposed to that. A lot of times they think, “Well, we just need to keep studying and we will find some, almost vital force, some emergent system of complexity that explains it all naturally, even though what we already know dictates against that.” That was why I called my course at Ball State “Boundaries of Science.” There are boundaries to what nature can accomplish naturally.

You can see why Hedin’s course at Ball State was a violation of the First Amendment.  And he doesn’t explain why religious scientists like Ken Miller or Francis Collins are firm adherents of evolution. In fact, there are a fair few religious scientists who accept evolution. I guess Hedin would say they’re just conforming to the predominant view to be able to get along. But if you know Miller or Collins, you wouldn’t say that!

Meanwhile, over at the Discovery Institute’s Evolution News, Klinghoffer touts the interview and Hedin’s book:

Physicist Eric Hedin talked with Jennifer Kabbany at The College Fix about Hedin’s recent book, Canceled Science: What Some Atheists Don’t Want You to See. She asked him to estimate the chances that life originated without intelligent guidance. His answer: a bold zero.

. . .  As Kabbany points out, Hedin was “canceled before the term cancel culture was even coined.” Atheists led by Jerry Coyne at the University of Chicago meddled with Hedin’s department at Ball State University in a pretty despicable power play. Read the rest at The College Fix.

Despicable power play my tuchas! All I did (along with the FFRF) was call the University’s attention to a potential legal violation of its academic program. Ball State and its President did the rest.

More histrionic and harmful political statements from university departments

August 10, 2021 • 9:15 am

I recently wrote about an matter involving Anna Krylov, a professor of chemistry at the University of Southern California (USC).  Fed up with the politicization of science, Krylov published a letter in the Journal of Physical Chemistry Letters, which you can read by clicking the screenshot below.

Krylov’s point was to show the similarity between the scientific censorship and “erasure” in the Soviet Russia of her youth with academic censorship of scientists in the West today. I’ll give one quote from her article showing the kind of “erasure” of scientists that Krylov deplores (I’ve omitted the references save for a self-aggrandizing one):

As an example of political censorship and cancel culture, consider a recent viewpoint discussing the centuries-old tradition of attaching names to scientific concepts and discoveries (Archimede’s [sic] Principle, Newton’s Laws of Motion, Schrödinger equation, Curie Law, etc.). The authors call for vigilance in naming discoveries and assert that “basing the name with inclusive priorities may provide a path to a richer, deeper, and more robust understanding of the science and its advancement.” Really? On what empirical grounds is this based? History teaches us the opposite: the outcomes of the merit-based science of liberal, pluralistic societies are vastly superior to those of the ideologically controlled science of the USSR and other totalitarian regimes. The authors call for removing the names of people who “crossed the line” of moral or ethical standards. Examples include Fritz Haber, Peter Debye, and William Shockley, but the list could have been easily extended to include Stark (defended expulsion of Jews from German institutions), Heisenberg (led Germany’s nuclear weapons program), and Schrödinger (had romantic relationships with under-age girls). Indeed, learned societies are now devoting considerable effort to such renaming campaigns—among the most-recent cancellations is the renaming of the Fisher Prize by the Evolution Society, despite well-argued opposition by 10 past presidents and vice-presidents of the society.(20)

For writing her piece in the journal, Krylov of course received considerable pushback, for there are people whose raison d’être is to sniff out any bad things that famous scientists did, and then use that as an excuse to vilify them and remove any honorifics attached to them. (The shabby treatment of Ronald Fisher by the Society for the Study of Evolution is but one example; another is the impending removal of Thomas Henry Huxley’s name from an Institute at Western Washington University).

A while back, Krylov and a large number of her USC colleagues wrote to the USC administration. concerned about the treatment of USC undergraduate Rose Ritch, forced to resign her position as Vice-President of the USC student government because Ritch, a Jew and Zionist, was subject to unrelenting harassment by student anti-Semites who oppose Zionism. The University President deplored the harassment and promised reform. But, as Krylov and colleagues say in a new letter, it never came:

In the wake of the Rose Ritch affair, we have been promised that a series of activities will be implemented to improve our campus climate. We were hoping to see educational activities that aim to combat zionophobia and antisemitism, as well as other forms of hate and discrimination, to reaffirm our commitment to tolerance and inclusion, and to enable discussion of controversial issues in a respectful environment. We are still waiting for concrete actions from the administration.

Now the attacks on Israel are back again, prompting another letter from Krylov and her colleagues.  This new letter was a reaction to a political letter signed by many university departments, programs, and centers concerned with women’s and gender studies, including the Department of Gender and Sexuality Studies of the University of Southern California. Click below to read the latter letter.

The letter above comprises the usual overblown rhetoric and misleading statements about Israel, including the characterization of Israel as an apartheid state, a call for the “right of return” that would destroy Israel, and a call for solidarity of these feminist departments with Palestine, stating that “Palestine is a Feminist Issue.”

Well indeed it is, but not in the way the authors think. The culture of Palestine, unlike that of Israel—except for Orthodox Jews)—is deeply misogynistic, with women oppressed and treated as second-class citizens. It’s ironic, and highlights the blindness of this faction of the Left, that these women believe that supporting Palestine against Israel is a “feminist stand.” How nuts can you get? But so it goes.

Enough palaver; I won’t summarize the letter above because it’s short and you can read it for yourself.

The salient point for Krylov and her colleagues was not that academics were taking a pro-Palestinian and anti-Israeli stand, which is their right, but that entire academic departments and units were speaking as a whole, presumably on behalf of their members. Yet surely not everyone in these many departments throughout the US share the histrionics about Israel. But, if they dissent, what can they do? Their dissenting views are lumped together with the opposite views of their colleagues.  What this does is chill the speech of the dissenters. What grad student, undergraduate student, or untenured professor in these departments would dare take a stand against their department as a whole?

It is this chilling of speech—this promulgating of official ideological, political, and moral views by departments of universities, indeed of universities as a whole—which led the University to issue the Kalven Report in 1967 and deem it one of our “Foundational Principles“. The Kalven Report, named after the committee’s chairman, expressly forbids the University from taking any official stands on political and ideological issues, though of course individual faculty are encouraged to do so. (There were also a few exceptions when the University may take a stand on an issue affecting the educational mission of the University itself.) The reason for the Kalven Report: because taking such stands chills the speech of dissenters and quashes free expression. Here’s a paragraph from the Report:

In October of last year, in response to inquiries from several of us, President Robert Zimmer affirmed that the Kalven Report extended to departments and units of the University. While faculty can take stands and sign their names to them, entire departments are forbidden from doing so for the reasons described above.  Despite that, several departments still have such statements on their websites, and they haven’t yet taken them down (nor does the University seem keen to force them to).

So Krylov and her colleagues, in their letter to the USC administration responding to the feminist calls for solidarity with Israel, promote principles identical to those limned by our Kalven Report: units of universities should not engage in wholesale political grandstanding lest it act to repress free speech: the lifeblood of any good university. The letter by Krylov and colleagues can be seen by clicking the screenshot below.

And here’s the crucial statement, which aligns very well with my University’s own stand. Note as well the misguided criticisms of Israel contained in these “official” statements:

We do not know whether such departmental declarations of political support are legal, but they are certainly unethical. They have nothing to do with freedom of speech of individuals; rather, they fall under compelled speech because they appear to speak on behalf of all members of the department (e.g. faculty, staff, and students), many of whom are untenured or supervised by more senior members and thus not in a position to openly disagree. Most concerning, this signing implies endorsement by USC itself. Thus, we call on USC leadership to publicly rebuke the practice of USC departments (or units) making statements for specific political agendas that have nothing to do with the University’s educational and research missions. The Statement above contains extreme, indeed fabricated, claims that criminalize the very creation of the State of Israel and, by implication, indict all its citizens and supporters, including us. Not doing so, would make USC complicit in comments within the Statement that describe the State of Israel as “settler colonialism”, “ethnonationalist violence”, “ongoing ethnic cleansing”, and “apartheid”. If USC’s implicit support stands, many Jewish students and others who believe in Israel’s right to exist will be reluctant to attend our university.

Do you think that USC will rebuke the posting of official departmental statements about issues having nothing to do with the departments’ educational mission? Will they make the departments take the statements down? I wouldn’t count on it. Even the University of Chicago, in response to repeated pleas by people like me, lets departmental political statements stand at the same time arguing that such statements violate university policy. I suppose it’s one thing to declare a policy, but another to tell a department that they’ve violated it and take “restorative” action.

Nevertheless these statements are examples of compelled speech applying to everybody in the units and departments, even if no individual signatures appear.

In these fraught times, such statements, which often seem to be a form of virtue signaling, aren’t uncommon. Here’s one issued not long ago by nine departments and programs (and some individual faculty) at the University of California at Davis. Like the USC statement, it’s a misguided and politically heated heap of denunciation of Israel and valorization of Palestine (click on the screenshot):

The statement was “updated” by adding a disclaimer at the top: “The statements below are part of our educational mission and reflect the views of the faculty in the department and not official University policy.”

But that’s deeply unclear. Why is demonizing Israel and lauding Palestine (the usual accusations against Israel, like “apartheid state” are pervasive) part of UCD’s “educational mission”? There are, of course, many political statements that could have been made: against Iran, China, North Korea, and so on, but the usual suspect is, of course, Israel. Further, the disclaimer says that the statements “reflect the views of the faculty in the department”.  Well, which faculty? ALL the faculty? Or only some? If the latter, then only the faculty who agreed should have signed, not entire departments and programs.

UCD, like USC, is violating its education mission by chilling speech, by allowing official units to take political and ideological stands (a pretty misguided one in this case) that will brook no dissent. No wonder that more than half of college students, at least in a recent survey, said they felt intimidated from speaking:

A majority—53%—also reported that they often “felt intimidated” in sharing their ideas, opinions or beliefs in class because they were different from those of the professors. A slightly larger majority feared expressing themselves because of differences with classmates.

Even accounting for shy people, that figure is way too high.

As for UC Davis, the administration basically took the coward’s way out, pretending that their refusal to prohibit compelled speech was actually a way of ensuring free speech. How’s this for doublespeak?

A spokesperson for the university told J. [the Jewish News of Northern California] in an email Wednesday that Davis “is committed to ensuring that all persons may exercise their constitutionally protected rights of free expression, speech, assembly and worship, even in instances in which the positions expressed may be viewed by some as controversial and unpopular.”

The spokesperson, Melissa Lutz Blouin, wrote that UC Davis had “consulted with University lawyers and learned that, provided that these statements do not engage in electioneering, including advocating for or against political candidates or ballot measures, these statements do not violate the law.” [JAC: they may not violate the law, but they still act to impede freedom of speech.]

She added that campus leadership is “consulting with campus stakeholders about whether there needs to be more regulation” in the area of “who may speak for a department” and “what may be posted on academic websites.”

The answer, UCD, is YES, there needs to be less promulgation of compelled speech.

I wonder if this politicization of universities is only a temporary phenomenon, and will one day be looked at as a sad overreaction to the George Floyd Era. Or is it here to stay?  Because if it’s here to stay, you can kiss academic freedom of speech—and academic freedom itself—goodbye.

And THAT is harm, however you define it.

The uselessness of land acknowledgments

April 7, 2021 • 10:30 am

We’ve all heard classes and talks preceded by “land acknowledgments”—admissions that the land on which the speaker is standing was stolen from others, usually indigenous people like Native Americans. Several examples are given in the article below by Adam Ellwanger at Critical Discourses. (Click on the screenshot.)

Ellwanter is a professor of English here in Texas—at the University of Houston downtown, and knows whereof he speaks.

Now we’ve discussed land acknowledgments before, including their uselessness except as a way of expiating guilt, as well as the confusion involved since American land has been taken over many times by various groups and tribes, who displaced each other, before the “colonists” got it. (It would be even worse in Europe, where you’d have to begin a string of acknowledgments with, “I acknowledge that this land has been taken from “Homo erectus, and then Homo sapiens neanderthalensis. . . “, and so on.)

And of course these disclaimers accomplish absolutely nothing, as they’re the epitome of virtue signaling: a lot of words that accomplish nothing except display the “high social consciousness” of the speaker or writer.

Whenever I hear one of these, I think to myself, “Well why the hell don’t you give the land back to the original occupants, then?”  But it’s a bit more complicated than that, for, as Ellwanger says in the piece below, many Native Americans had no conception of “owning” the land. That, of course, doesn’t make it right for settlers to have displaced them, but if people were serious about land acknowledgments, they’d either allow the descendants of previous occupants to move back onto the land, or give them an amount of money equal to the present value of the land.

At best, besides signaling the virtue of the speaker, they remind people of history—except that that history is usually truncated given multiple occupancy of territory over time.

Read on:

Ellwanger begins by criticizing those people who identify their pronouns, not those who do it as a way to show that they’re different from the usual cis-gender designations, but those who do it for two other reasons:

a. “to compel compliance from those who might not be willing to cooperate with the increasingly complicated lexicon that grows out of the pronoun wars.”


b. “to signify one’s membership in the priestly castes of university life: those intellectuals who, by mastering a complex vocabulary that eludes the grasp of regular people, demonstrate their superior respect for human dignity and their deeper concern for the many marginalized communities in the racist, fascist, homophobic, xenophobic, misogynous hellscape some people still insist on calling “America.”

This introduction may undercut Ellwanger’s thesis a bit, as I wouldn’t want to die on Pronoun Hill, but he does it to segue into land acknowledgements, for he feels that once everybody is using pronoun specifiers—and this is pretty much true in academia—then you have to find another way to demonstrate your moral superiority and membership in The Elect. That way is to precede every talk or class you give with a land acknowledgment.

Here are two specimens of land acknowledgments given by Ellwanger: from Queens University and The Unversity of Texas.

Why are these statements multiplying? Here’s Ellwanger’s explanation:

The fact that these statements imply a moral duty to acknowledge facts that are already well-known is a primary indicator that the Land Acknowledgement Statements are performing some function beyond merely “acknowledging” land ownership. One covert purpose is to put students on notice as to which worldview and ideology will be privileged in a given course. By immediately drawing an audience’s attention to “historical injustice” in a context of, say, a chemistry class, the instructor signals to students that they are in a space where the politics of grievance will be honored and encouraged. Further, the Land Acknowledgement Statement serves to compel a certain penitential attitude that is a prerequisite for the functioning of “critical pedagogies.” By clarifying that the university is a beneficiary of a program of cultural violence, Land Acknowledgement Statements make it clear to students that they are “complicit” in this legacy of violence and exclusion merely by matriculating at the school in question.

Who can deny the truth of what he said?

But there are problems with these acknowledgements. First, as I noted above, they don’t deal with successive occupation of the land:

. . . the statement from University of Texas names no fewer than ten tribes before concluding the sentence with an embarrassed “etcetera,” which acknowledges “all the [other] American Indian and Indigenous Peoples and communities who have been or have become a part of these lands”. The truth of the matter is that any piece of land in the modern-day United States was likely held by various native tribes over the course of the Pre-Columbian era and the early American republic. In other words, we can’t even be sure who needs to be “acknowledged” for the land: much of the information is lost to history.

And, more important, Ellwanger emphasizes that many Native Americans did not share our capitalistic preoccupation with “owning” land. He gives several examples; here’s one:

Massasoit Sachem (leader of the Wampanoag confederacy) is reputed to have asked “What is this you call property? It cannot be the earth, for the land is our mother, nourishing all her children, beasts, birds, fish and all men. The woods, the streams, everything on it belongs to everybody and is for the use of all.”

And he adds this:

Thus, by “acknowledging” the native claims to a piece of land and implying that these claims supersede and negate the claim that modern local and federal governments make upon the territory, the Land Acknowledgement Statements erase the very particularities of Native American cultures that these academics purport to honor and preserve. In short, the non-Native academics speak on behalf of the people whose dignity they claim to uphold: by appropriating the right of those people to speak, they inadvertently inflict the very sort of cultural violence that they profess to abhor.

This all makes sense, but of course even if Native Americans didn’t have our concept of “property”, they were still displaced from their lands by settlers. To me that seems just as bad, especially when they were forcibly driven to desolate reservations. I don’t know the solution to this, except to say that Native Americans continually displaced each other by the same methods (war, broken treaties, and so on), and we are just part of that history.

To me, land acknowledgments are the height of performative wokeness: statements that accomplish absolutely nothing save to call attention to your heightened consciousness—and perhaps impart a history lesson, but why is that part of a talk or a syllabus?  If you’re on stolen land, then give it back instead of moaning about it. It’s as if one began a class by saying “I’m using a laser pointer I stole from Professor Jones, but I’m not going to give it back to him.”

Ellwanger ends by citing the two lessons that land acknowlegments impart:

1.) “Recall that the primary purpose of these statements is not to do justice to the victims of historical oppression but rather to signify one’s affinity for the performative rituals of academic wokeness. The first lesson, then, is that the intellectual elite who fetishize the tragic stories of marginalized groups in America are less interested in redressing those sufferings than they are using them to maintain their membership in an elite group that is far removed from the plight of the “Other” (as they might say).”


2.) The second lesson is a darker one; one that the progressive left would do well to learn. Enamored as they are with the postmodern tradition of critical theory which they name-check when “speaking truth to power,” they miss one of the central insights of postmodern philosophy: that one can never get outside the network of power to speak truth to it. In their enthusiasm for condemning or humbling the entities that they identify as culturally-empowered ones, they forget that any gesture like a “Land Acknowledgement Statement” is itself an exercise of power. Through their attempts to honor the culture of historically-marginalized groups to which they do not belong – trying to create a space for those cultures to speak on their own behalf – they only end up speaking for them. In this way, they reenact the same legacies of privilege and appropriation that they disdain. So much for checking one’s privilege.

Whenever I read about stuff like land acknowledgments, I remember Grania’s test for the efficacy of social-justice statements and actions: Do they really accomplish something for the group that is marginalized? Land acknowledgments don’t do this, although sometimes a pittance is given to Native Americans as a token of apology. But imagine how much the lands owned by the University of Texas are worth!

And if you’re a reader who wants to defend these acknowledgments, why aren’t you preceding every one of your comments with the statement that your house or office is sitting on land previously occupied by people driven away by settlers? Because surely it was.