Both FIRE and The Chronicle of Higher Education report that, mirabile dictu, yet another professor is in trouble for showing a picture of Muhammad—this time at San Francisco State University (SFSU). He hasn’t been fired, but he’s under investigation. FIRE is of course campaigning to nip this in the bud, and so they have both a blog post about it as well as a four-page letter they sebnt to SFSU letting them know that they’re violating the professor’s academic freedom and that even investigating him is chilling speech and violates the First Amendment (SFSU is a public school).
Here’s the backstory from the Chronicle (the “Muhammadgate” incident is at the very end, part of a longer article about academic freedom).
Maziar Behrooz, an associate professor of history at San Francisco State University, does not yet know what a teaching decision he made might cost him.
In the fall of 2022, Behrooz was teaching the history of the Islamic world between 500 and 1700 and showed a drawing of the Prophet Muhammad. He’s taught the course, and the image, for years. One student, a devout Muslim, strongly objected, outside of class. His main point, Behrooz told The Chronicle, was that it’s not permissible for an image of the Prophet Muhammad to be shown in any shape or form.
“This is the first time that this has happened,” Behrooz said. “I was not prepared for somebody to be offended, in a secular university, talking about history rather than religion.”
Behrooz said he told the student that, as the professor, he is the one who decides what’s shown in class. The student then complained to Behrooz’s department chair, who broached the issue with the professor, according to Behrooz. He said he explained to his chair that the student’s view is not uniform among all Muslims. The type of drawing he shows in class can be bought at markets in Tehran near holy shrines. Many Shiite Muslims have such drawings on walls in their homes, said Behrooz, who was born in Tehran and has written books on Iran’s political history.
The student also apparently complained to “authorities higher up” at the university, according to Behrooz. The professor said the institution’s office of Equity Programs & Compliance informed him in March that it would investigate the incident and asked him to attend a Zoom meeting.
A staff member in the vice president’s office at San Francisco State told The Chronicle in an email that she could not comment on specific reports or investigations. She instead described the process for assessing reports of potential misconduct. An investigator meets with the complainant to gather information and discuss options, she said. If it’s decided the conduct could violate the California State University nondiscrimination policy, an investigation begins, and both parties are notified.
The Zoom meeting is slated for early April. Behrooz said he’s not overly worried, though he thinks an investigation by this office — which fields reports of harassment and discrimination — is unnecessary. He’s not sure what the inquiry portends. “How it goes from here is anybody’s guess,” he said.
FIRE’s letter is very good, with all the legal citations and bells and whistles, implying that the investigation should end tout suite and requesting that SFSU should respond by April 13. I sense a lawsuit in the offing, and if SFSU doesn’t stop this investigation, they’ll be in a Hamline-University-like situation where they’ll get negative national publicity and a fat lawsuit filed against them by Dr. Behrooz. Remember, even an investigation for charges that don’t carry weight, as these don’t, serves to chill speech and is a form of punishment.
It looks like Behrooz is going to at least accede to giving trigger warnings, but he doesn’t seem sufficiently angry! From the Chronicle:
In the meantime, Behrooz is thinking through what, if anything, he should change about his teaching. As a principle, he said he doesn’t think religious groups, or students, should decide how an instructor teaches a course at a secular institution. “But one has to also take into consideration, I think, the sensitivities of some religious people, be it Muslim or otherwise.”
Should he talk about the drawing without showing it? Should he still show it, as he’s done for years? Or, should he offer a compromise — warn students that the image is offensive to some and perhaps allow them to leave the class and come back?
He hasn’t decided, but he’s considering the compromise.
Finally, if you want to send either a boilerplate message to SFSU objecting to this stuff, or confect your own letter (I did the latter), just go to this site (bottom of page) and fill in the form. I wrote my own short letter, which follows. Feel free to appropriate from it if you wish.
Subject: End Investigation into History Professor ImmediatelyDear President Lynn Mahoney (show details)
I understand that your university is investigating Professor Maziar Behrooz for showing a picture of Muhammad in a class about Muslim history. One student objected because some sects of Muslims consider this forbidden, and now SF State is investigating Behrooz.
I taught on the faculty of the University of Chicago for 36 years, and, unlike you, this university understands the meaning of the First Amendment and of academic freedom. Even investigating this didactic and proper use of the picture is itself a violation of the First Amendment, for it acts to chill speech.
I urge you to not go the way of Hamline University and try to punish this professor, for you will end up like they did: a national laughingstock and an academic embarrassment. Please stop this baseless investigation now.
This article, from Quillette, caught my attention because of the title. Is academia really disintegrating? It’s one thing to say it’s being infested by Critical Theory, or infused with postmodernism, but what is the “disintegration”? It turns out that author Mark Goldblatt really does think that academia, which to him means higher education, is going to fall apart—to experience a schism that will make much of it worthless. Goldblatt’s background, as limned in the article is this:
But I think his overall thesis is wrong. He maintains that much of academia, infested with postmodern ideas, holds there is no such thing as objective truth. This view is said to be pervasive in the humanities and social sciences which will, eventually, “cease to be higher education in the Enlightenment sense”. And there he may well be right. But he sees STEM fields as holding fast to the ideas that there is objective truth, and that will preserve them and their value in education—and cause a fatal schism in academia. It’s this last bit I disagree with.
Goldblatt is right that most science is still predicated on the idea of there being an objective reality that we can approach through our endeavors. But what he gets wrong is the idea that science is immune to attack because its endeavors are nearly free from ideological taint. There’s no way, he implies, that it could become postmodernist, or shirk its mission to find objective truth. .
That view is exaggerated. As amply documented, even on this site, many aspects of science (especially in biology) are being attacked because they contradict what people want to believe based on their adherence to a tribal ieology. Science is getting very woke very fast, and that, combined with the denigration of merit and elevation of identity and identity politics, and the scrutiny of all projects to see if they can cause “harm” or even violence, is curbing academic freedom in science, just as it is in non-science fields. Increasingly, grants are given for ideological reasons rather than scientific merit, and scientists can be fired, canceled, or denigrated for seeking truth. So I see academia as a whole eroding in quality and purpose—a trend that I fervently hope will reverse itself—but I don’t see it disintegrating through a schism of humanities and social sciences vs. the natural sciences, all involved in their willingness to embrace.
Click on the screenshot to read
I guess this idea started when Goldblatt, while approving a SUNY course on sociology from an LGBT perspective, nevertheless objected to the idea that students were expected in the course to develop a “greater acceptance of LGBTQ+ perspectives and rights.” He’s sympathetic to those perspectives and rights, but said that a course should not have the aim of ideologically indoctrinating its students. If they change their minds by learning the material, that’s fine, but accepting a certain perspective should not be required. This led to a fracas in a faculty meeting:
After expressing my general admiration for the course, I raised my misgiving in the following way (and this is nearly an exact quote): “We need to keep in mind that we’re a state university. Our mission is to pursue, ascertain, and disseminate objective truth, and to equip our students to do the same. Given that mission, I don’t think we can list a learning outcome that requires students’ assent on a matter of personal morality. The other learning outcomes are fine. You don’t need that one, so I’d just cut it.” My colleague was fresh out of graduate school and not yet tenured, which (theoretically) put her in a vulnerable position. Nevertheless, she became apoplectic; so angry, in fact, that she had difficulty getting out her first sentence. “I can’t believe people still think that way!” she spluttered. “Queer Theory has deconstructed objectivity!”
And that got Goldblatt thinking about how the jettisoning of “objectivity” is permeating all of humanities and social sciences, thanks largely to postmodernist philosophers like Jacques Derrida (shown above). He also sees the rejection of objectivity as self-nullifying, for saying that “there is no such thing as objective truth” is itself an objective statement about the impossibility of objectivity.
But Goldblatt was heartened by seeing that STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) retains its belief in objective truth and reject postmodern views:
My sense, based on hundreds of informal conversations I’ve had with STEM faculty, is that people working in the hard sciences tend to roll their eyes at the alleged insights of postmodernism. They inhabit a world in which truth is still gauged by correspondence between belief and reality, and in which reality exists independently of our beliefs about it. Generally speaking, they don’t give a rat’s ass about discourse communities and meta-narratives. They want to know if the equations balance, if the instruments work, and if their hypotheses match empirical outcomes. In other words, they are interested in discovering if what they believe to be true is objectively true. They are certainly not interested in the ethnicity, sexuality, or gender identity of the people making truth claims.
Ergo the schism:
Put all of that together, and you’ve got the makings of a schism. The humanities and social sciences are undergoing a mission reversion—they’re returning to a pre-Enlightenment view of the purpose of higher education. Prior to the Enlightenment, universities were sites of religious instruction that trained clergy. Harvard was founded in 1636, a mere six years after the settlement of Massachusetts Bay, to ensure that future generations of New England Puritans would be served by learned ministers. That goal is found among Harvard’s original “Rules and Precepts”:
Let every Student be plainly instructed, and earnestly pressed to consider well, the maine end of his life and studies is, to know God and Jesus Christ which is eternal life (John 17:3) and therefore to lay Christ in the bottome [i.e., at the base of the boat, to keep it steady in the water], as the only foundation of all sound knowledge and Learning.
That’s a version of what we’re seeing with the rise of the subjectivist movement in the humanities and social sciences. It is a new secular faith, a version of The Way. Instruction in radical progressive curricula is baptism by accreditation. It’s witness and testing. You gather for three hours a week to dwell in the spirit, commit yourself to individual rituals and collective causes, despair the fallen state of humanity, call out and cast out demons, immerse yourself in sacred texts and memorize venerable chants, then venture forth to spread the gospel. The end is performative, sacramental. Let me tell you the many ways you’re oppressed so that you may be a river to the masses.
Increasingly, that is the state of the humanities and social sciences at public universities in the US. Whatever you think of that development, it signals an existential crisis for higher education because instruction in the STEM fields at American universities remains traditional, objectively focused, and globally competitive. The reversion of the humanities and social sciences to religious preparation cannot coexist indefinitely with the Enlightenment mission of STEM instruction. Something has to give.
And so, as science clings to objectivity while other departments happily deny it, the university will fracture (I’m not sure what form this fracture is supposed to take). And no, nothing has to give, for science itself is eroding away—granted, not as fast as are the humanities. As I said, scientific merit is rather quickly being placed below below ideology and identitarian politics, so that the quality of research and researchers now often rests largely on political criteria (yes, deriving from postmodernism) rather than scientific merit. Because the whole of scientific progress depends on valuing science by its importance and innovative quality, and valuing researchers by how well they can do science, this will erode the field.
Increasingly, we see scientific journals like Nature and Science, as well as popular science journalism (Scientific American comes to mind) devoting their pages to “Social Justice” (capitalized à la Pluckrose and Lindsay to mean the authoritarian rather than the liberal and empathic brand), to word policing, and to promoting “progressive” ideology. Scientific ideas themselves are being attacked on ideological grounds. We’ve pretty much squelched the creationists and antivaxers, but even scientists themselves are making ideological arguments about there being more than two sexes in humans, about men and women being biologically identical in behavior and preference, that evolutionary psychology is bunk, that there are no genetic differences between human populations, that it’s unacceptable to dig up human remains because they belong to whatever indigenous people inhabit the land now, and so on. The NIH withholds data on ethnic groups from researchers because its use could cause harm. All of this, by chilling scientific practice, impedes science itself as well as the public’s knowledge about it.
I could go on and on about how science has been and is being held back by ideology, but I’ve just helped write two huge papers on that and can’t say more. Suffice it to say that science and the social sciences/humanities are not diverging, but converging, though science will never be as intellectually depauperate as aspects of those other fields known as “Studies”.
So although Goldblatt has a point about the decline of academia caused by infiltration of ideology, I don’t see the schism he foresees:
The disintegration of academia is coming. Whichever side precipitates the break, it will be a necessary development. Higher education is a serious intellectual endeavor, and nothing is less intellectually serious in contemporary academia than the suggestion that the pursuit of objectivity has been discredited. Empirical observation, mathematical inquiry, inductive and deductive reasoning, and falsifiability are the sine qua nons of higher education. As courses of study in the humanities and social sciences depart from such things, they cease to be higher education in the Enlightenment sense.
There will be a decline, but there will be no break, for ideology is pushing STEM closer to Studies. As I said, I hope that this tilting ship will eventually right itself, and if you’re an optimist you can find reasons to hope that it will.
But I tend to take the position of the Jewish optimist in the following classic definitions:
As you know, DEI (Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion) statements are increasingly required by colleges and universities for both hiring and promotion of faculty. And for a long time my law-school colleague Brian Leiter has argued that they should not be used, as hiring or promotion based on them constitutes illegal “viewpoint discrimination” by deep-sixing candidates that don’t have the “right ideological views.”
Leiter’s most prominent argument against the use of these statements, and one that is cited often, is his piece from the Chronicle of Higher Education (CHE) two years ago, “The Legal Problem with Diversity Statements.” His objection is this:
. . . some universities and departments are using scores on the diversity statement to make the first cuts in faculty searches. That would not be objectionable if it were only a device for weeding out candidates unwilling to work with a diverse student body: The ability to do so obviously goes to the core of a faculty member’s professional duties. The problem is that the new diversity statements go well beyond that, requiring candidates to profess allegiance to a controversial set of moral and political views that have little or no relationship to a faculty member’s pedagogical and scholarly duties.
I agree with him; it’s a form of sneaking ideology into the hiring and promotion process. To succeed we all know what we have to say, and it certainly isn’t “I have and will treat all undergraduates equally, regardless of who they are.” Nevertheless, the requirements for these statements are not only proliferating, but the weeding-out process, used most prominently by the University of California, is being used to cull those who don’t agree with the progressive view of DEI. Even here I’ve heard dark rumors that such statements are being used to cull those with unacceptable ideological views, but I don’t know for sure.
At any rate, there’s a new article in the CHE by Brian Soucek, a law professor at the University of California at Davis, that argues the feasibility of using DEI statements legally. (By so arguing this he admits that there are legal problems with these statements from the get-go, problems like those raised by Leiter.) The problem is that by rendering the statements legal, Soucek also removes the rationale for why many academics really want them: to assure that faculty conform to “a controversial set of moral and political views.”
Click to read:
You can see how the DEI statements must, according to Soucek, be “made legal”: by showing that they don’t violate academic freedom or constitute compelled speech because they do indeed require criteria necessary for a specific academic job. Further requirements for “legalization” mean ensuring that those judgments be made by the relevant scholars, not by administrators or diversity experts. Soucek:
Critics need to do more than point out that faculty are potentially getting judged on their viewpoints. What matters constitutionally is whether the views being judged are relevant to the position in question. One consequence: Prompts and rubrics that look for the same kinds of contributions to diversity no matter the job or discipline are less likely to be constitutional than those better tailored to the position at issue.
And indeed, for most academic jobs, specific commitments to forms of diversity are not relevant. Anything in science, and in most humanities jobs, are off the table; no specific views on diversity are crucial for performing those jobs well.
So who makes the requirements? Soucek:
. . . .So when critics call mandated diversity statements “an affront to academic freedom,” their accusations hit their target if and only if someone other than disciplinary experts are setting the terms by which faculty members are judged. For example, if the rubrics used to evaluate diversity statements are imposed by administrators top-down and university-wide, academic-freedom worries are going to compound the potential viewpoint discrimination concerns that arise when evaluative criteria aren’t tailored to the job at hand.
But of course nearly all such requirements come from the University, and must adhere to University standards and wording, futher rendering the statements irrelevant.
Soucek adds that there’s nothing wrong with compelled speech, and supports that by giving some ludicrous examples that are irrelevant to Leiter’s Constitutional concerns. Soucek:
Critics often say that public universities, bound as they are by the First Amendment, can’t discriminate against students and employees based on their viewpoints. This just isn’t true. Like most professors, I engaged in rampant viewpoint discrimination when I graded my student’s exams this month. (For example, if a First Amendment student expressed the view that viewpoint discrimination is always unconstitutional at public universities, I would lower their grade.) Hiring and tenure review both require judgments by applicants’ disciplinary peers about the quality of the conclusions reached in their scholarly work. And surely when a university hires someone to run an asylum clinic, or to direct its program on entrepreneurship, it can reject an immigration restrictionist for the former search, but not the latter, and favor someone who is pro-capitalism for the latter search, though not the former.
Soucek is a law professor, for crying out loud, and should know the difference between judging someone based on whether they’ve met the criteria for the job (or gotten decent grades) or whether extraneous political views are being tacked on for ideological reasons.
Soucek complains that critics “assum[e] rather than argu[e] that DEI contributions are not part of the job description for most academics,” quoting my observation that diversity has “little or no relationship to a faculty member’s pedagogical and scholarly duties.” Soucek omits, however, that I was explicitly criticizing Berkeley’s diversity requirement, according to which a job applicant’s diversity statement would get a low score if s/he “describes only activities that are already the expectation of Berkeley faculty (mentoring, treating all students the same regardless of background, etc.).” In other words, Berkeley’s diversity requirement explicitly distinguished a commitment to the diversity ideology from a faculty member’s other pedagogical duties.
Soucek suggests Berkeley and other UC campuses can avoid legal problems as long as diversity requirements represent “criteria experts within the discipline conscientiously judge to be relevant to the job.” That point would rule out most university requirements of diversity statements, which are administratively imposed. If different departments can genuinely decide on their own if actions in support of “diversity” (as distinct from the usual pedagogical duties of faculty, such as “treating all students the same regardless of background” as Berkeley put it) are relevant to the job, and if their disciplinary peers at other universities concur, then Soucek may be right that academic freedom protects such a decision.
Suppose, however, members of the economics discipline decided that actions in support of “capitalism” were “relevant to the job.” Does that mean economics departments at public universities could exclude candidates who do not demonstrate in practice their commitment to capitalism? One hopes that the courts would see through this pretextual form of viewpoint discrimination.
If you’re in academia, and able to see how these statements are being used, it’s clear that they are aimed at weeding out candidates who don’t conform to progressive Leftist ideology on race or gender (adherence to “structural racism/sexism” and so on). Needless to say, I agree with Leiter: it only weakens academics when departments in which adherence to a specific DEI requirements are irrelevant are still forced to adhere to those requirements. I’m surprised that the University of California has gotten away with these shenanigans, and I smell a lawsuit approaching from the wings.
Texas Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick has issued a statement describing his plans for the next session of his state legislature. Click on the screenshot to enlarge what’s written below. You will immediately realize that he is a Republican. (He’s been Lieutenant Gov. since 2014, and was re-elected in 2018).
As you see, he’s calling for the elimination of tenure, a mainstay of academic freedom. What about already-tenured professors? He says that they’ll be reviewed annually instead of every six years. Regular reviews for professors with tenure, or at least full professors, aren’t that common. After some years as a tenured associate professor, you’re evaluated for promotion to full professor, but once you make that, you’re at the top, and there’s no reason to “review” you except for your department to let you know how they think you’re doing or if you’ve committed some grievous offense or been grossly incompetent. Firing a tenured professor is very difficult.
So what Patrick is proposing here is to tell all new hires that they have is no employment security, and you’d better be careful what you say. You can be let go for reasons not specified in the above.
Finally, Patrick is “outraged” by a vote of the Austin campus’s faculty “in support of teaching critical race theory”. That, and his note that the UT system is being taken over by “tenured, leftist professors” shows you that he’s concerned more with ideology than with politics.
The Faculty Council at the University of Texas approved a nonbinding resolution Monday defending the academic freedom of faculty members to teach about race, gender justice and critical race theory.
The resolution, approved 41-5 with three members abstaining, states that educators, not politicians, should make decisions about what to teach, and it supports the right of faculty members to design courses and curriculum and to conduct scholarly research in their fields. The UT Faculty Council is an organization that represents the faculty members at the university.
Faculty members approved the resolution partly in response to legislation around the country seeking to limit discussions involving race in schools, colleges and universities. The resolution expresses solidarity with K-12 teachers in Texas who are seeking to “teach the truth in U.S. history and civics education.”
Patrick has clearly misrepresented the resolution, which was not only nonbinding, but was also not at all “in support of critical race theory.” What it supported was the right of faculty to teach that (or about race or gender justice); it did not give support to specifically teaching CRT! In other words, Patrick lied.
The UT Austin resolution was itself a response to the Republican-controlled state legislature—you know, the one that passed the unconstitutional “fetal heartbeat” antiabortion law—trying to prevent topics from being taught in secondary school:
The Legislature last year enacted restrictions on teaching certain topics in K-12 public schools, in an effort to target critical race theory — largely taught in colleges and universities — a Republican catch-all for what some see as divisive efforts to address racism and inequity in schools.
Gov. Greg Abbott signed House Bill 3979, which limits how teachers can discuss race and current events in social studies courses, and then expanded the restrictions to any subject in grades K-12, including ethnic studies courses, with the passage of Senate Bill 3 during a special session. Other states, such as Iowa, have prohibited the teaching of critical race theory and “divisive concepts” in higher education as well as K-12 education.
The Texas laws don’t mention critical race theory directly, but they forbid schools from requiring in courses concepts such as that “an individual, by virtue of the individual’s race or sex, is inherently racist, sexist, oppressive, whether consciously or unconsciously,” and an understanding of the 1619 Project, a New York Times series examining the role and legacy of slavery in the founding of the U.S.
There was no ban on teaching anything in higher education, i.e. in colleges. So Patrick’s call for teaching CRT to be cause for eliminating tenure in colleges is not only fatuous, but punishes something that’s already legal to do. And, as we know, “CRT” really is a slippery concept: it runs through teaching honest history about oppression in America to the full-blown Kendi-an version that calls for Constitutional Amendments to monitor racism everywhere.
That’s one reason why I oppose any of these anti-CRT bills. The the other is that you have to be very careful about telling people what’s legal and illegal to teach. It’s a violation of the First Amendment to teach creationism in science classes, and I wouldn’t favor teaching Holocaust denial in history classes, but that matter can be dealt with by universities themselves, not by the legislature, which is a blunt instrument.
Finally, the Academic Freedom Institute wrote an excellent response to this Teas proposal explaining why tenure is important and why banning teaching some subjects in college is a bad thing to do. Click on the screenshot to read their statement:
In case you’re not in academics and have forgotten or don’t realize why we have tenure (most jobs don’t), it’s because it’s a way to preserve academic freedom. To quote the AFA document (I’ve put the crucial part in bold):
Tenure protections for university faculty were adopted throughout American higher education in the twentieth century precisely in order to protect faculty from the efforts of politicians, donors, university administrators, and other faculty to suppress ideas that they do not like. The lieutenant governor’s proposals strike at the very heart of the academic enterprise by prohibiting the teaching of certain ideas, thus immunizing contrary ideas from intellectual challenge. This, in effect, establishes campus orthodoxies and forbids the expression of dissent. Few things are more toxic to intellectual life.
To fulfill their missions, universities must be places where controversial ideas can be freely debated and where ideas are tested and supported through the consideration of evidence, argument, and analysis and not by subjecting them to popularity contests at the polls, in legislatures, or anywhere else. A free society does not empower politicians—or anyone—to censor ideas they do not like and silence scholars of whom they disapprove.
. . . Tenure provides valuable practical protection for that freedom of critical inquiry. Principles of academic freedom and freedom of speech are empty platitudes if they cannot be effectively secured. If professors can be fired for teaching ideas of which the legislature disapproves, then state universities will cease to be engines of intellectual discovery and progress. If professors can be dismissed for teaching ideas that a majority of the Texas legislature dislikes today, then they can likewise be dismissed for teaching a completely different set of ideas that a different legislative majority in the future or in a state with a different political or ideological coloration finds objectionable. True intellectual diversity requires the freedom to think, teach and write without the threat of political reprisals against those who voice dissenting opinions. Academic excellence is impossible where politicians, administrators, other faculty, or anyone else place limits on what ideas can be discussed in a college classroom.
It’s manifestly clear that Lt. Governor Patrick is trying to get professors fired for teaching “liberal ideas”. But what it shows as well is that assaults on freedom of speech, as well as on academic freedom, come from both ends of the political spectrum. Here’s a Right-winger trying to restrict speech, and the Left often tries as well (see here and previous 19 pages). There is no ideological monopoly on authoritarianism.
Reader Duff called my attention to a piece by Jordan Peterson in—where else—Canada’s National Post, announcing that he’s quitting as a professor at the University of Toronto. You can read the piece by clicking on the screenshot below:
As I’ve said before, I know virtually nothing about Jordan Peterson, though of course you can’t be living in this bubble without occasionally hearing of his doings. Jordan Peterson refuses to agree to mandatory pronoun use. Jordan Peterson near death’s door from disease and depression in Russia. Jordan Peterson clashes with British t.v. host, trounces her. Jordan Peterson writes bestselling book on how to live. And so on and so on. When I’ve heard bits of his videos, I tend to agree with sp,e of what he says, but I claim no knowledge of his general views nor about his writings. (I tried to read his big academic book, and failed.) But I admire his honesty and his eloquence, though sometimes exercised in the service of causes I don’t support.
So I don’t have a strong reaction to the news above, nor endorse all that he says—except about the fulminating wokeness of academia, which is apparently what impelled him to resign. (I don’t think it hurt that he probably has about a gazillion dollars from his books and lecture fees!). I think he goes too far in indicting virtually the entire West for wokeness, though some of what he says rings true. Here’s one quote that I like.
We are now at the point where race, ethnicity, “gender,” or sexual preference is first, accepted as the fundamental characteristic defining each person (just as the radical leftists were hoping) and second, is now treated as the most important qualification for study, research and employment.
Need I point out that this is insane ? Even the benighted New York Times has its doubts. A headline from August 11, 2021: Are Workplace Diversity Programs Doing More Harm than Good? In a word, yes. How can accusing your employees of racism etc. sufficient to require re-training (particularly in relationship to those who are working in good faith to overcome whatever bias they might still, in these modern, liberal times, manifest) be anything other than insulting, annoying, invasive, high-handed, moralizing, inappropriate, ill-considered, counterproductive, and otherwise unjustifiable?
And this is credible; one of the reasons he resigned:
Second reason: This is one of many issues of appalling ideology currently demolishing the universities and, downstream, the general culture. Not least because there simply is not enough qualified BIPOC people in the pipeline to meet diversity targets quickly enough (BIPOC: black, indigenous and people of colour, for those of you not in the knowing woke). This has been common knowledge among any remotely truthful academic who has served on a hiring committee for the last three decades. This means we’re out to produce a generation of researchers utterly unqualified for the job. And we’ve seen what that means already in the horrible grievance studies “disciplines.” That, combined with the death of objective testing, has compromised the universities so badly that it can hardly be overstated. And what happens in the universities eventually colours everything. As we have discovered.
All my craven colleagues must craft DIE statements to obtain a research grant. They all lie (excepting the minority of true believers) and they teach their students to do the same. And they do it constantly, with various rationalizations and justifications, further corrupting what is already a stunningly corrupt enterprise. Some of my colleagues even allow themselves to undergo so-called anti-bias training, conducted by supremely unqualified Human Resources personnel, lecturing inanely and blithely and in an accusatory manner about theoretically all-pervasive racist/sexist/heterosexist attitudes. Such training is now often a precondition to occupy a faculty position on a hiring committee.
This is what I object to most about current academic culture: it forces people to either lie about their feelings or to shut up.
But, as critical as I am about DEI statements (he calls them “DIE statements,” which doesn’t help his cause), I still believe in affirmative action in some spheres, including academia. Since he’s uniformly opposed to it it any way, I can’t sign on to his views in toto. I can’t claim, for instance, that current efforts to diversify universities will “compromise them so terribly that it means the death of higher education.” Nor do I think that DEI initiatives will produce a generation of researchers “utterly unqualified for the job.”
I do, however, hate to see institutions dedicated to pursuing truth nevertheless lie and dissimulate about their motivations, and chill the speech of who would disagree with “conventional” (in academia, that’s “progressive liberal”) views.
I suspect many readers know a lot more about Peterson than I, so do weigh in below. One thing you have to hand the man: he says what he thinks, even if others disagree strongly with him. That’s opposed to the many academics who say (or are forced to say) what they don’t think, or keep their mouths shut rather than buck the latest ideology.
Matthew was recently watching the new Netflix series “The Chair“, whose first season comprises six 30-minute episodes. It’s basically “ER” set in a college—the fictional Pembroke University in New England.
Sandra Oh—the one character who’s very well acted plays Ji-Yoon Kim, the new chair of Pembroke’s English department, and has to face the usual travails of a chair: how to choose a distinguished speaker, dealing with faculty who don’t teach well, schmoozing the dean, listening to a colleague kvetch about poor office space, and so on. The plot is complicated by the fact that her ex-husband (Bill Dobson, played by Jay Duplass) is a professor in her department, is acting erratically since his second wife died, and he wants to reunite with Kim.
They’ve inserted some woke stuff to create drama, the main trope being Dobson’s quick Hitler salute when he mentions Hitler in a class. That, of course sets off a huge fracas.
I’ve watched the first three episodes (I guess there will be a second season), and I’ve pretty much had it. While Oh’s acting is good, much of the other actors overdo it, and the drama—sustaining a Hitler salute over the entire series (don’t read the Wikipedia summary if you want to watch it), is boring. I’m giving up. Matthew thought it was okay, but he’s recommended that I watch “The Wire” instead, and that’s what I’m going to do. It’s a much bigger investment—60 one-hour episodes—but it’s received universal critical acclaim.
In the meantime, you can see the official trailer for the “The Chair” below:
It was pointed out to me that Lehigh University in Pennsylvania has a website from 2016 that discusses the content of letters of recommendation written by academics. Part of our job is to write recommendations for our students or technicians—letters to go to graduate school, to medical school, for industry, for jobs as technicians, and so on. These are quite hard to write, especially if the applicant isn’t a star but is decent.
My policy has been that if a student is hopeless, I tell them that I simply cannot write a letter (without saying, “because I don’t want to ruin your career if others feel differently”). For borderline students who have both virtues and problems, I will agree to write a letter, and try to be as honest as possible. For uniformly excellent people who I really want to get the position, I’m famous for my long letters of recommendation that go into great detail about the person’s accomplishments, figuring that the length demonstrates how well I know the person. (It’s not unusual for such a letter to run six single-spaced pages, and of course nobody reads them in their entirety because there are always many applicants.) I think many faculty have a policy like mine.
Until now, I never worried about the specific words I used in my letters, but then I saw this website (click on it):
It says, and there’s research to show this, that some adjectives are associated with letters written females, and others for males. As you’ll see, adjectives about “competence” or “diligence” are female-associated words, while indications of “excellence” or “intelligence” are associated with letters for male applicants. This much we know. The Lehigh site says this:
Have you wondered if the letter you are READING- or the letters you are WRITING – are inadvertently perpetuating implicit biases that could reduce the likelihood of the candidate getting a fair chance at the new opportunity? This one pager summarizes some facts and ideas about letters of recommendation. You can also put your own letters through this online gender bias calculator.The calculator was inspired by presentations on research organized by AWIS; several articles and blog posts share personal reactions to learning of this phenomenon as well as the tool.
It’s worth taking this into account, with three caveats. But it does helps to know what words are perceived in what way by recipients, so the “one pager” is useful to read.
The problems are these. First, given that academia is now preferentially looking for female applicants (this will change as the proportion of male students in college keeps shrinking), a letter with female-biased words may not “perpetuate implicit bias”. More important, suppose you run one of your letters thorough the linked “gender bias calculator”, which you can find at the link above or by clicking on the screenshot below. It was made by Tom Force:
As a test, I ran through it a long letter I wrote a while back for one of my female undergraduate research assistants, who wanted to go to medical school. I got this result:
Here you can see the kind of words associated with female letters of recommendation (left column), emphasizing diligence and reliability. On the right are the words associated with letters for male applicants, and they’re about smarts and curiosity and high ranking. This bespeaks sexism, as far as I’m concerned. But I was happy to see that in this letter, for a women, I had roughly equal numbers in each column, with slightly more of the male words. (They don’t say whether letters with more female-associated words reduce the applicant’s chance of getting the position.)
And here’s from a letter in which I recommended a female technician for medical school (again an acceptance); most of the words are male-associated.
Again, what is the recommendation? Is this what you want for a letter for a female, or should I have added some more words about diligence which, after all, is an important characteristic for a future doctor? I don’t know, but she’s now an excellent doctor as well.
The second caveat is this: What are you supposed to do if the letter is imbalanced? For example, in the above letter, should I have cut out some of the female-associated words? (It turns out that the undergrad did get into medical school and is now a fine oncologist.) Are you supposed to ensure that the male-associated words are the predominant ones for either sex? They don’t tell you.
That leads to the third issue: what if you’re writing for a male whose prime virtues are diligence, reliability, and responsibility. There are some science jobs, like a technician, where some of the most important qualities are showing up, following orders properly, and doing the job diligently and well. Initiative is desirable, too, but that’s a bonus. In fact, one of my colleagues wrote a letter for a guy applying for a technician position, ran the letter through the calculator, and found out that it was imbalanced in favor of female-associated words. (This was after the fact, just like my letter.) What was my colleagues supposed to do: insert more “male associated” words? At any rate, this guy got the job, turned out to be a great technician, and improved in the “male associated” traits.
The main issue is this: what are we supposed to do about “balance” in such a letter? Is imbalance bad? Are “male-associated” words good? That’s the implication. But here we have a woman applicant with male-associated words.
I realize that these lists are based on data, and that one has to be cognizant of how adjectives are perceived with respect to sex. But I think there are some problems with this method that weren’t explicated.
If you write letters of recommendation yourself, you may try running one of them through the calculator, and letting us know how the result came out (the letters of course should not be shown).
This is a sad tale, because academics with an argument to make about diversity have scuppered themselves by comparing diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives (DEI) in American universities to the “race obsession” of Nazis, which led to the gutting and degradation of German universities before and during World War II. They argue that we are in danger of the same thing because, like Nazis, we’re “obsessed with race”. You can already see the fallacy of that comparison, but I’ll discuss this below.
. . . . this is a pretty serious conflict between, on the one hand, a professor who takes issue with his department’s policies about diversity and inclusion, and, on the other, students and alumni, who, outraged by the professor’s opinion, have taken steps, in a letter/petition, to get the professor severely punished for expressing his views on YouTube.
The whole issue is concisely summarized by my law-school colleague Brian Leiter on his website Leiter Reports (click on the screenshot):
The (associate) professor is Dr. Dorian Abbot in our Department of Geophysical Sciences, who posted four YouTube videos, with slides, taking issue with some initiatives about diversity and inclusion. His talks emphasized the need for a meritocracy rather than “quotas” of minority applicants, and as well as asserting that it’s not the business of universities to promote social justice. Unfortunately, although I watched the videos earlier, Abbot has taken them down, though his slides are still online [see here, here, here, and here].
Abbott believes, and still believes (see his Newsweek article below), contra the Zeitgeist, that merit should trump everything in hiring, and one shouldn’t give extra preference to candidates based on sex, gender, or ethnicity. I disagree with him to some extent in that I think we should give some advantage to groups previously handicapped by these factors—not because there is an inherent academic quality conferred by diversity itself (i.e., different “ways of knowing”), but as a form of reparations for previous bigoted behavior. That is, I accept a limited form of affirmative action. Abbott did not and does not. Ultimately, though, we need deep and expensive and laborious social intervention to give everyone equal opportunity from birth. That is the only long-term solution to assuring equality.
One can disagree on this (for example, how long should affirmative action last?), but that doesn’t matter. The point is that one should be able to debate these issues, particularly on the University of Chicago campus where freedom of speech trumps just about everything.
Sadly, Abbott didn’t get his debate, which he wanted, but rather outrage from his department and calls for punishment. Here’s more from what I wrote:
Have a look especially at the letter to Abbot’s department from 162 people affiliated with the University of Chicago and Geophysical Sciences (their names are unfortunately blacked out, though I think signers should make their names public). The letter demands all kinds of accounting and punishments for what Abbot did. These including giving Abbot’s graduate and undergraduate students a way to opt out of his mentorship and teaching, making a departmental statement that Abbot’s videos were “unsubstantiated, inappropriate, and harmful to department members and climate” (the exact “harm” that occurred isn’t specified), and measures like this:
[The department should] Implement accountability measures to address patterns of bigoted behaviour in both the department’s hiring/promotion/tenure process and teaching opportunities. For example, faculty who persistently engage in bigoted behaviour should be prevented from taking on teaching roles, new graduate students/post-docs/staff, and committee responsibilities.
This being the University of Chicago, the President, Bob Zimmer, refused to countenance any of these punishments, as Abbott was merely exercising his right to give a public opinion. So Abbott wasn’t officially punished, though he may have been shunned by faculty and students in his department. And even this resolution leaves something wanting, for, as Paresky says in her FIRE piece:
President Robert J. Zimmer is peerless in his staunch advocacy for a culture “where novel and even controversial ideas can be proposed, tested and debated.” The Chicago Principles (also referred to as the Chicago Statement) have been adopted in some form by more than 75 colleges and universities, largely with the help of FIRE. But if students and newly minted PhDs even at the University of Chicago ask the administration to sanction a professor whose ideas they believe “undermine Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion initiatives,” and even feel unsafe because his views run contrary to the prevailing view on campus, it demonstrates that even the most robust protections offered by a university administration are not enough. It takes more than just administrative leadership to create what Zimmer calls “an environment that promotes free expression and the open exchange of ideas, ensuring that difficult questions are asked and that diverse and challenging perspectives are considered.”
Abbot’s own account of the controversy can be found here. Note that he isn’t completely opposed to all DEI efforts, feeling that if there is implicit bias (something almost impossible to ascertain), it should be rooted out, and also supports expanding applicant pools, as do I—not because different groups have different “ways of knowing,” but because the bigger the applicant pool, the greater the chance of getting more talent and letting people know their applications are welcome. However, he also damned himself to the woke by adding this (from his statement):
I also strongly support expanding applicant pools as much as possible. I believe that diversity is healthy and good for a university because it tends to lead to more perspectives and debate that fully explores intellectual issues. That said, I would tend to emphasize a larger variety of types of diversity, including political, religious, and viewpoint diversity, than are currently being emphasized in most DEI efforts. What I am against is setting up systems where group membership is a primary aspect of a candidate’s evaluation.
Abbot, along with co-author Ivan Marinovic (an associate professor of accounting at Stanford Graduate School of Business) are courting further disapprobation by publishing a piece in yesterday’s Newsweek that basically says that merit must always trump diversity and inclusion. (Newsweek, of course, is on the Right; no left-wing venue would publish a piece like this. Click on screenshot to read:
Here’s a short summary of their point:
DEI violates the ethical and legal principle of equal treatment. It entails treating people as members of a group rather than as individuals, repeating the mistake that made possible the atrocities of the 20th century. It requires being willing to tell an applicant “I will ignore your merits and qualifications and deny you admission because you belong to the wrong group, and I have defined a more important social objective that justifies doing so.” It treats persons as merely means to an end, giving primacy to a statistic over the individuality of a human being.
It’s certainly true that if one hews to traditional considerations of merit, then yes, taking non-meritocratic factors into account will mean hiring candidates that are less academically “meritorious”. But, as I’ve emphasized, if there was a history of non-hiring based on sex and ethnicity, then there will be an underrepresentation of some groups, and, in my “reparations” view, one can start opening the door to more people by a bit of affirmative action, ensuring, of course, that hired faculty and accepted students are qualified for the position. (You would not, for example, hire at the expense of a serious reduction of merit.) Although we still have few blacks in evolutionary biology and ecology, the trend to hire women has been salubrious, for the performance of women faculty, a large and important part of our own department, shows that previous biases against them were misguided, and some preferential hiring to get the ball rolling was a good thing. It was such a good thing that we’re now at the point where the ball is rolling on its own.
Abbot and Marinovic also cite a recent Pew Poll showing that most Americans, while favoring diversity and its promotion, don’t think it should be taken into account in hiring and promotion. That is, most Americans seem to favor meritocracy, even if it erodes diversity. Here are the data from Pew:
But an issue like this is not one that should depend on the results of polls; it is an ethical issue, and a complicated one.
At any rate, the authors propose an alternative strategy:
We propose an alternative framework called Merit, Fairness, and Equality (MFE) whereby university applicants are treated as individuals and evaluated through a rigorous and unbiased process based on their merit and qualifications alone. Crucially, this would mean an end to legacy and athletic admission advantages, which significantly favor white applicants, in addition to those based on group membership. Simultaneously, MFE would involve universities investing in education projects in neighborhoods where public education is failing to help children from those areas compete. These projects would be evidence-based and non-ideological, testing a variety of different options such as increased public school funding, charter schools and voucher programs.
I of course am also against legacy and athletic admissions, which are done for pecuniary rather than academic reasons, but I still retain a tentative hold on some forms of preferential hiring based on group membership. That is not a “quota” system, but gives some weight to group membership. It simply does not redound to academia or its history to have all-white departments, or departments in which people from Spain are forced to count as “people of color” to maintain the fiction of diversity.
Sadly, at the end, Abbot and Marinkovic sabotage their entire program by comparing American DEI initiatives and their “obsession with race” with another regime, also “obsessed with race”, whose obsession destroyed academia in that country. Yes, it was the Nazis. The authors play the Hitler card! That is a really bad move, and one that undercuts their thesis, since the comparison is not at all valid, if for no other reason that the “obsession with race” went in the opposite direction in Germany: they wanted less diversity. By getting rid of a previously oppressed group (Jewish professors), they lost a huge amount of talent. But DEI initiatives in the U.S. are not trying to get rid of oppressed groups; they’re trying to include them. Whether that will affect academic quality is debatable, but the histories are not at all comparable.
But here: see for yourself. Had I seen this op-ed, I would have said, “For crying out loud, take out this damn paragraph!”:
The principle of this report, as summarized yesterday by my Chicago colleague Brian Leiter, is that our University should take no official position on any ideological, moral, or political issue except for those issues that directly impinge on our academic mission. The principle grew out of calls from faculty and students for the University to take positions against Communism, against the Vietnam war, and other issues du jour. The principle is there to guarantee that nobody is cowed from speaking their minds by “official” university statements that might chill one’s speech.
In response to several of us seeking clarification, President Bob Zimmer clarified last October that the prohibition against taking such positions applies not just to the University administration, but to its units: departments, schools, and so on. Nevertheless, many departments and statements from administrators continue to blatantly violent this prohibition (see a list of violations here). For reasons beyond my ken, the administration has yet taken no action to remove these statements. That means that the Kalven Principles are unenforced, are eroding, and may disappear. And if they go, so goes academic freedom at our school. What a pity that would be, since freedom of speech and academic freedom are points the University makes to sell our school to prospective students. It would be a shame if students came here under false pretenses.
Brian’s nice post quotes the Kalven report, and I think all universities should adhere to these words. I’ve put the crucial bit in bold:
A university has a great and unique role to play in fostering the development of social and political values in a society. The role is defined by the distinctive mission of the university and defined too by the distinctive characteristics of the university as a community. It is a role for the long term.
The mission of the university is the discovery, improvement, and dissemination of knowledge. Its domain of inquiry and scrutiny includes all aspects and all values of society. A university faithful to its mission will provide enduring challenges to social values, policies, practices, and institutions. By design and by effect, it is the institution which creates discontent with the existing social arrangements and proposes new ones. In brief, a good university, like Socrates, will be upsetting.
The instrument of dissent and criticism is the individual faculty member or the individual student. The university is the home and sponsor of critics; it is not itself the critic. It is, to go back once again to the classic phrase, a community of scholars. To perform its mission in the society, a university must sustain an extraordinary environment of freedom of inquiry and maintain an independence from political fashions, passions, and pressures. A university, if it is to be true to its faith in intellectual inquiry, must embrace, be hospitable to, and encourage the widest diversity of views within its own community. It is a community but only for the limited, albeit great, purposes of teaching and research. It is not a club, it is not a trade association, it is not a lobby.
Since the university is a community only for these limited and distinctive purposes, it is a community which cannot take collective action on the issues of the day without endangering the conditions for its existence and effectiveness. There is no mechanism by which it can reach a collective position without inhibiting that full freedom of dissent on which it thrives. It cannot insist that all of its members favor a given view of social policy; if it takes collective action, therefore, it does so at the price of censuring any minority who do not agree with the view adopted. In brief, it is a community which cannot resort to majority vote to reach positions on public issues.
One school that has just adhered to this principle is University College London, which of course probably isn’t even aware of Chicago’s avowed policy. During the recent fights between Israel and Palestine, UCL’s Provost has rightly decried bigotry of students against each other, but refuses to take a stand on the matter of the war. Click on the screenshot to read Provost Michael Spence’s take:
What he should have said and did say:
The first question concerns why my message of earlier this week called out antisemitic activity when issues of prejudice remain a problem for so many in our community, not least our Palestinian students. The answer to that question is that we had had several incidents involving direct threats of serious physical violence against Jewish students. That was a situation to which the University needed urgently to respond, and for which there was no immediate parallel.
However, it goes without saying that the University takes every form of discrimination with the utmost seriousness. In the last few days, I have been made aware of reports of Islamophobia, of prejudice against Palestinian students, and of some feeling unsafe. I want to be clear again that we unreservedly condemn abuse, harassment or bullying directed at any member of our community. There can never be a justification for this behaviour, and we will take action where necessary.
That’s very good: internecine bigotry of one group of students against another affects the University’s mission and can be properly criticized.
But what makes Spence’s position almost unique is what he says about any University position about the war itself:
The second question that has been raised with me is whether the University should adopt an institutional stance in relation to the current situation. Given that so many of our staff and students feel deeply about the conflict in Israel/Palestine, and some have personal experience of its effects, I understand the desire that we should. But it is my strong conviction that to do so would be incompatible with the purpose of a university in a liberal democracy.
. . .It follows from this conception of the university, which I share, that it is not a participant in public debate, but a forum in which that debate takes place. While our staff and students should loudly argue for their conceptions of truth and value, the university, as an institution, should refrain from doing so lest it chill the exercise of the ethical individualism of its staff and students. This does not mean that we have no strongly held normative positions about our own collective life; we must, and we should, do so. But it does mean that the University, as an institution, ought not to become an advocate in public debate. I believe this to be the case even, perhaps especially, where a majority of UCL staff and students are of one mind on a given issue.
For this reason, I do not think it would be appropriate for UCL to comment on the rights and wrongs of the current conflict in Israel/Palestine. That is a task for our staff and students. It is the University’s role to ensure that we remain a community of respectful debate in which it is possible for them to do so. And on that front, I remain deeply committed.
This is pretty much UCL’s version of the Kalven Principles, and I believe wholeheartedly that Spence is right. I’d recommend reading the rest of Leiter’s take on how the University of Chicago has dealt with the Kalven Principles lately; it’s a short read and you can find it here. I am not aware of any school other than ours that has an official policy of not taking institutional positions on ideological, political or moral issues that don’t affect the mission of the University: to teach, to learn, and to learn to think. If you know of such schools, do let me know.
This instance of free-speech suppression has a twist, as the victim is an endowed professor of gender and women’s studies at a public university. She’s Donna M. Hughes, who holds the Eleanor M. and Oscar M. Endowed Chair of Gender and Women’s studies at the University of Rhode Island (URI). She’s known for her work on human trafficking and sex work, but has now ventured into the minefield of transgender analysis. As Inside Higher Ed (IHE) reports, her university has, while grudgingly affirming her freedom of speech (always guaranteed at state schools), nevertheless done everything it can to demonize her and distance itself from her. Why? Because she feels—as do I—that there are some limits to the rights and privileges of transgender women considered as “women”. That makes Hughes, of course, a “transphobe”.
Click the screenshot to read the piece by Coleen Flaherty.
Hughes was somewhat out of mainstream feminist ideology when she wrote in the past that “there’s a fine line between sex work and sex trafficking and that legalizing prostitution helps only pimps and johns, not sex workers.” But that didn’t get her in nearly as much trouble as her February essay in 4W (a “fourth wave feminist” site), in which she not only called out QAnon, but made an analogy with that group and some of the proponents of the “transsexual women are fully women” view:
The political left is quick to denounce the campaign of disinformation that led to the Capitol riot on January 6. But fake news and harmful politicized beliefs leading to real harm are not solely a right-wing phenomenon. The American political left is increasingly diving headfirst into their own world of lies and fantasy and, unlike in the imaginary world of QAnon, real children are becoming actual victims.
The trans-sex fantasy, the belief that a person can change his or her sex, either from male to female or from female to male, is spreading largely unquestioned among the political left.
The trans-sex fantasy returns us to the question: “What is a woman?”. . .
. . .The trans-sex/“gender identity” ideology challenges same-sex rights, particularly those of women and girls. Interestingly, men and boys have had no attack on their rights. The biological category of sex, particularly women’s sex, is being smashed. Women and girls are expected to give up their places of privacy such as restrooms, locker rooms, and even prison cells. When biological males identify as trans-women, they can compete in women’s and girls’ sports. There are now cases of women being injured, some severely, by biologically larger and stronger biological men competing as “transwomen.” In the most well-known case in 2014, a transgender competitor broke the skull (linked video is graphic) of a female during a mixed martial arts (MMA) competition. In Fall 2020, World Rugby banned the participation of transwomen (biological males) in rugby citing the high risk of injury. Even Title IX, which granted women equal access to educational opportunities, such as those provided by sports and scholarships, are being taken away. It used to be when someone took unfair advantage, we’d call it cheating, but that is no longer recognized in this fantasy world.
The dystopian trans-sex/“gender identity” world claims that female mammalian characteristics should be redefined and disappeared from the female body to satisfy the feelings of biological males who identify as women. Basic biological words like breast and vagina are replaced by misogynistic, trans-sex/trans-gender language so that a female has a “front hole” instead of a vagina; females “chest feed” instead of breastfeed. All references to women disappear into terms such: “people who menstruate,” “people with uteruses,” “a pregnant person,” or “a birthing parent.” No such changes in terms are proposed for men’s bodies and anatomy. These redefinitions are hatred targeted at women’s bodies and their rights.
Strong stuff, but not irrational or hateful stuff. Nevertheless, that can’t be allowed to stand in a liberal university! And so, as IHE reports, the University of Rhode Island has issued the usual statement that criticizes the views of a faculty member while at the same time saying that it “honors and respects” her right of freedom of speech. That’s a form of hypocrisy. A good free-speech university, like the University of Chicago is at present, affirms that it will make no official statement supporting political, ideological, or moral views, and in response to the mob that’s descending on Hughes, would have said something like “Professor Hughes has the right to say whatever she wants, and the University supports that right.”
I find this statement weaselly to the extreme. While it’s entirely proper for the URI to have a page of resources and policies for supporting transgender students, faculty, or staff, it should not issue statements criticizing individual faculty members’ political views. (They even name Hughes!). What that does, as Hughes claims in the article, is to chill the speech of those who hold similar views, and it’s not at all “transphobic” to want a rational discussion about the extent to which transgender women (or men) are identical to biological women (or men). In other words, URI’s statement acts to squelch the speech of others—and they are many—who want a public discussion of the issue, and a discussion without being demonized as a “transphobe.” This is why the University of Chicago enshrined in the Kalven Report the principle of not officially endorsing political/ideological/moral views. (Faculty members and others, of course, are free to issue their own personal statements on the issue.) Imagine how brave you’d have to be to risk being named as a public enemy by your own university!
It’s no wonder that Hughes takes this as an affront. It’s a blatant attempt to stifle the speech of URI members who have views different from those of extreme pro-trans-rights people. The statement below says, in effect, that “Hughes can say what she wants, but she really shouldn’t have said this stuff”:
A faculty member’s First Amendment and academic freedom rights are not boundless, however, and should be exercised responsibly with due regard for the faculty member’s other obligations, including their obligations to the University’s students and the University community. As stated in the above referenced documents, faculty have a special obligation to show due respect for the opinions of others and to “exercise critical self-discipline and judgment” and “appropriate restraint” in transmitting their personal opinions.
In other words, her own University is calling Hughes irresponsible and disrespectful of the opinions of others, lacking “critical self-discipline and judgment” and “appropriate restraint”. If that’s not an attempt to stifle speech that’s not ideologically approved, I don’t know what is.
I could go on, but you can read the articles for yourself. Let me just add that Hughes has a lawyer, which means that a free-speech/academic freedom lawsuit may be in the offing. While the University may have had the right to publicly criticize Hughes’s views, and even name her, any respectable institution wouldn’t have done that, nor implied in the statement that there are limitations to freedom of speech and academic freedom. I have no respect for what URI has done to Hughes.
And here’s a statement she gave to IHE:
Via email, Hughes said it’s “just sad that we have reached a point in society where difficult issues cannot be freely and openly discussed without resort to personal attacks and calls for censorship.”
The marketplace of ideas, she added, “has broken down and increasingly, university faculty are terrified to speak out on a wide range of important issues for fear that — as seems to be happening here — they will draw criticism from their students and their institution will throw them under the bus.”
Bingo. No academic institution should make its members afraid to express views on political issues, nor try to enforce a political orthodoxy, no matter what it is. They can affirm that they won’t discriminate against various targeted groups (after all, that creates a climate for free discussion), but that’s as far as it should go.