We are disheartened and dismayed by this morning’s not guilty verdict on all charges in the trial of Kyle Rittenhouse. The charges included fatally shooting two unarmed men, Joseph Rosenbaum and Anthony Huber, and wounding Gaige Grosskreutz at a Black Lives Matter rally in Kenosha, Wisconsin, in August 2020. We join in solidarity with all who are outraged by this failure of accountability.
We also acknowledge that this same week the prosecution and defense concluded their case in the trial of three white men charged with chasing and killing Ahmaud Arbery, a 25-year-old unarmed Black man, in February 2020, south of Brunswick, Georgia.
Trials such as these that have race-related implications can cause our BIPOC communities distress and harm. This is harm that is endured everyday through acts of racism, the pervasiveness of white supremacy and a flawed justice system.
We firmly believe in our Principles of Community and our collective responsibility to continue to disrupt systemic racism. It is important to publicly reaffirm our shared values and to ensure that those who are experiencing distress and impact have access to supportive resources. We reaffirm these values each day through our actions in our own spheres of influence. The Office of Diversity Equity and Inclusion is here to help support community members in the work of building a more inclusive climate.
Executive Director, Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion
Interim Chief Diversity Officer
Note as well the claim that it is everyone at the university’s responsibility to “continue to disrupt systemic racism.” I don’t think so. They also say “we affirm these values each day.” Who is “we”? Is it everyone at UCSC on board with this? Did the signers ask everyone if they’re affirming the University’s expressed values? Were they equally outraged when O. J. Simpson was pronounced not guilty for the murder of two people?
This statement should not have been made. Like the UCI one, for which the issuer later apologized, it is an unseemly pronouncement on a jury verdict coupled with a huge dollop of virtue signaling. It also assumes that the Rittenhouse case was all about white supremacy and race—a proposition of which I’m not yet convinced.
The University of Chicago has (so far) issued no official pronouncements on the verdict. And that’s the way it should be.
UPDATE: A friend I showed this to wrote me the following:
Here’s one detail about the latest pronouncement: it’s signed “Cindy and Judith.”
What does that tell us? The chancellor and vice-chancellor at Santa Cruz appear desperately afraid to be perceived as embodying official authority. In effect, they are masquerading as students––part of the unanimous groundswell against “systemic racism.” Now, how pathetic is that?
The other day I posted a statement by the Vice Chancellor for Equity, Diversity & Inclusion and “Chief Diversity Officer” of the University of California at Irvine, who took it upon himself to make an official pronouncement about, and criticism of, the “not guilty on all charges” verdict given to Kyle Rittenhouse. Just to remind you, here’s the statement that Vice Chancellor Douglas Haynes issued to the entire UCI community:
The trial of Kyle Rittenhouse versus the State of Wisconsin concluded earlier today. The jury returned not guilty on all five counts of the original indictment (a sixth count was previously dismissed by the judge), including the murder of two people and the wounding of a third on August 25 in Kenosha, Wisconsin. The relief of the Rittenhouse family in this verdict was met by the heavy burden of the families mourning the absence of loved ones and the continuing trauma of the lone survivor.
The conclusion of this trial does not end the reckoning about systemic racism in the United States. If anything, it has simply made it more legible. Kyle Rittenhouse did not live in Wisconsin, but in Antioch, Illinois. He traveled to Kenosha during protests against police violence in the wake of the shooting of Jacob Blake while in police custody. Blake was shot seven times in the back. The Kenosha event continued protests in response to the killings of George Floyd on May 25, 2020 in Minneapolis and Breonna Taylor in St. Louis on March 13, 2020 in Louisville. These multi-racial protests were grounded in a call for racial justice and the end of police brutality. Rittenhouse imposed himself on the protests in Kenosha. His assistance was not requested. It was as much about resisting the calls of protestors as it was to defend property and render first aid.
For this reason, the verdict conveys a chilling message: Neither Black lives nor those of their allies’ matter.
UCI will continue its whole university approach to recognizing and responding to anti-Blackness as an existential threat to our mission as a public research university. Learn more on the UCI Black Thriving Initiative website.
I described why this statement, and similar statements making debatable political, ideological, or moral pronouncements should not be made officially by universities or colleges—either by administrators, departments, or other units of the school. (Such statements should be made privately and emphasized as the personal opinion of individuals.) It has to do with chilling of speech, which has to do with freedom of speech, and you can read more about my views at the original post. The rationale for prohibiting such statements is embodied in the University of Chicago’s “Kalven Report”, passed in 1967.
Well, apparently I’m not the only person who objected to Haynes’s statement, and he has now apologized for what he said—in effect retracted it. It’s not a lame apology either: he admits what he did wrong and says that it’s “uncomfortable and embarrassing to him”. Reader Michael posted it on the original thread, and I’ve now verified that this is a real statement.
Dear campus community,
Last week I shared my reflections on the announcement of the Rittenhouse verdict. Like the national conversation, my message generated a range of reactions and responses. As a university leader and educator, I would be remiss if I did not consider and reflect on this input. Listening is a critical skill that is important to our mission as a great public research university and valued by the many communities that we serve. Here, I want to acknowledge to the UCI community that I am listening.
Two criticisms stand out about my message. I appeared to call into question a lawful trial verdict. I also forced a relationship between the specific facts of the case to the unique dimensions of the racial reckoning in the United States. These criticisms are valid. While uncomfortable and embarrassing, I acknowledge and apologize for these mistakes. I prepared this message out of a desire to emphasize the importance of listening and learning as our society continues to face critical issues that challenge us.
I look forward to our continued campus dialogues in pursuit of inclusive excellence.
Douglas M. Haynes, Ph.D. (Pronouns: he/him/his)
Vice Chancellor for Equity, Diversity and Inclusion
Chief Diversity Officer
Director, ADVANCE Program
Professor of History
I have two things to say about this. First, Haynes left out the most important part of the apology, which was to say “I am sorry for making an official political statement as a representative of the University of California at Irvine.” Irvine, like all schools that purport to allow freedom of speech, have to buttress that by another stricture saying that Universities should not suppress or chill speech by making their own statements on politics or ideology.
Second, I don’t think Haynes is telling the truth when he says “I prepared this [presumably the first] message out of a desire to emphasize the importance of listening and learning as our society continues to face critical issues that challenge us.” I think he prepared the message as a sign of personal and institutional virtue signaling, and to show that he objected to the Rittenhouse verdict. There is nothing in his original statement that says its purpose was to emphasize listening and learning!
Despite these beefs, I’ll take the statement, as it’s better than nothing. Someone should send Haynes the Kalven Report, and all free-speech universities should adopt a version of it. In fact, I’m going to do that now.
UPDATE: I sent Dr. Haynes this email and enclosed our Kalven Report.
Dear Dr. Haynes,
I’ve been following your statement about the Rittenhouse verdict and your apology for issuing it, and I want to congratulate you for having the courage to admit when you made a misstep. Further, your apology was not hedged: it was honest and straightforward.
Here at the University of Chicago we have a policy embodied in the Kalven Report stipulating that no university administrator or department can make official pronouncements on ideology, politics, and morality, and I enclose a copy. The reason we do this is that the Kaven Report buttresses our Chicago Principles of Free Speech. If departments, units of the University, or administrators make such official statements, it leads to chilling of free speech: what untenured faculty member or student would dare take issue with an official university statement on, say, politics, or even the Rittenhouse trial? I really do think that more colleges and universities should adopt statements like the Kalven Report, and I urge you to read it; it’s short and (like your apology) to the point.
I wish you good luck in your endeavors.
Dept. Ecology & Evolution The University of Chicago
(Note: this report comes from a right-wing college-monitoring site and I haven’t been able to verify it. However, I don’t have reason to doubt it, either. Should I give similar caveats—from the opposite political direction—when citing PBS, the New York Times, and so on?)
This is what the madness on campus has come to: Crystal Duncan Lane, an “instructional faculty member” at Virginia Tech’s Department of Human Development and Family science, apparently handed out her syllabus for a course (I can’t find the exact course, but a student says it was “about disabilities” and the major lists “An Introduction to Disability Studies“, which must be the one). At any rate, Campus Reform, which has carried many reports that I independently gave on this site, says that Lane’s syllabus included this introduction to the instructor:
I am a Caucasian cisgender female and first-generation college student from Appalachia who is of Scottish, British, and Norwegian heritage. I am married to a cisgender male, and we are middle class. While I did not ‘ask’ for the many privileges in my life: I have benefitted from them and will continue to benefit from them whether I like it or not. This is injustice. I am and will continue to work on a daily basis to be antiracist and confront the innate racism within myself that is the reality and history of white people. I want to be better: Every day. I will transform: Every day. This work terrifies me: Every day. I invite my white students to join me on this journey. And to my students of color: I apologize for the inexcusable horrors within our shared history.
Given that this is a course on disabilities, it’s odd that she doesn’t mention that she’s also privileged by not being disabled (assuming she’s able bodied). But the most disturbing part is the implication that all white people are innately racist. This could have been written by the team of Kendi and DiAngelo.
The worst part is that education is supposed to teach people about things and about how to think and criticize, not propagandize them as Lane has done in her “introduction”. She tells them that she (and all the white students) are participating in a massive “injustice” right now. And really, is it a matter of student interest that she tells them that every day, in every way, she’ll get better and better? This is what the kids call “TMI“.
Yes, we have the written equivalent of a penitente, those Catholics who go around scourging their backs with whips until the blood streams down, all to imitate the Biblical trials of Jesus and to punish themselves for being sinners.
In the article, two students (one gives her name) beef about this statement, one saying this: “It hurts that someone says I was born with ‘innate racism’ because of my skin color. [It] makes me feel like I should hide and worry about everything I say.”
And well she should. The chilling of speech by colleges and professors setting forth what statements are ideologically acceptable on campus and in class severely diminishes the value of education. And we already know it’s widespread. Inside Higher Ed reports the results of a survey from September of last year and gives a disturbing graph:
Sixty percent of students have at one point felt they couldn’t express an opinion on campus because they feared how other students, professors or college administrators would respond, according to a survey report published Tuesday by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, or FIRE, a campus civil liberties watchdog group, and RealClearEducation, an online news service. The survey of 19,969 undergraduate students from 55 colleges and universities was administered from April to May by College Pulse, a research company.
Note below that all comfort levels are below 25%. It’s instructors like Crystal Duncan Lane that create a climate like this.
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).
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.
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:
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.
My dislike of the New York Times is growing daily. Sometimes I wonder if it’s just me becoming more critical and splenetic—either with age or because of the pandemic—but lately I’m pretty sure it’s because the paper itself is becoming terminally woke, with Critical Theory (mostly Critical Race Theory) seeping into every article, and a growing number of features, like the one below, concentrating on race and oppression. It’s not just the topics covered, either—it’s that the way the topics are presented aligns with ideologically correct views. I could spend a whole day writing four or five posts about the mishigas going on at the Times, but I’ll apportion out my spleen in installments.
For example, the following article is about Dan-el Padilla Peralta, a highly regarded Professor of classics at Princeton. He’s black, was born in the Dominican Republic, and at a young age fell in love with Greek and Roman literature, winding up getting degrees from Princeton, Oxford, and Stanford, then returning to Princeton to teach. At some point in this odyssey (which also involved a hard childhood), he decided that the classical literature he loved and taught was actually being used to undergird racism and white supremacy. In fact, he claims that it’s had that effect since the Enlightenment. He’s now thinking about leaving the field, perhaps after he’s contributing to dismantling it.
It’s manifestly clear that the author of the piece, Rachel Poser (an editor at Harper’s) sympathizes with Padilla’s crusade to ditch the Greeks and Romans. Although she presents critics of his view, most notably Mary Beard of Cambridge University, the article is heavily slanted toward the view that yes, classics have been the pillars of racism, slavery, and white supremacy throughout history. Read for yourself.
One way you can get an idea of where the writer’s sympathies lie is how she ends the article. And here’s Poser’s ending:
On Jan. 6, Padilla turned on the television minutes after the windows of the Capitol were broken. In the crowd, he saw a man in a Greek helmet with TRUMP 2020 painted in white. He saw a man in a T-shirt bearing a golden eagle on a fasces — symbols of Roman law and governance — below the logo 6MWE, which stands for “Six Million Wasn’t Enough,” a reference to the number of Jews murdered in the Holocaust. He saw flags embroidered with the phrase that Leonidas is said to have uttered when the Persian king ordered him to lay down his arms: Molon labe, classical Greek for “Come and take them,” which has become a slogan of American gun rights activists. A week after the riot, Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene, a newly elected Republican from Georgia who has liked posts on social media that call for killing Democrats, wore a mask stitched with the phrase when she voted against impeachment on the House floor.
“There is a certain kind of classicist who will look on what transpired and say, ‘Oh, that’s not us,’” Padilla said when we spoke recently. “What is of interest to me is why is it so imperative for classicists of a certain stripe to make this discursive move? ‘This is not us.’ Systemic racism is foundational to those institutions that incubate classics and classics as a field itself. Can you take stock, can you practice the recognition of the manifold ways in which racism is a part of what you do? What the demands of the current political moment mean?”
Padilla suspects that he will one day need to leave classics and the academy in order to push harder for the changes he wants to see in the world. He has even considered entering politics. “I would never have thought the position I hold now to be attainable to me as a kid,” he said. “But the fact that this is a minor miracle does not displace my deep sense that this is temporary too.” His influence on the field may be more permanent than his presence in it. “Dan-el has galvanized a lot of people,” Rebecca Futo Kennedy, a professor at Denison University, told me. Joel Christensen, the Brandeis professor, now feels that it is his “moral and ethical and intellectual responsibility” to teach classics in a way that exposes its racist history. “Otherwise we’re just participating in propaganda,” he said. Christensen, who is 42, was in graduate school before he had his “crisis of faith,” and he understands the fear that many classicists may experience at being asked to rewrite the narrative of their life’s work. But, he warned, “that future is coming, with or without Dan-el.”
In other words, there’s a straight line from Aristotle to Trump. That is simply nuts. And, in the last sentence above, the “future” means either the end of classics or a revision of how it is taught: presenting it as a highly politicized discipline, taking care at every turn to point out how the ancients promulgated whiteness and bigotry.
Poser’s NYT article presents Padilla’s case in extenso of why the classics are racist, with only a tiny bit of dissent allowed from fellow classicists. In other words, what Poser gives us is not an “objective” piece on the arguments for and against dismantling the teaching of classics, but a lecture by Padilla on why they should be dismantled. The piece would have been far more interesting had more counterarguments been presented, or had someone made the case for the value of the classics and their misuse to buttress white supremacy.
But that argument fell to Andrew Sullivan in his latest issue of The Weekly Dish. (Click on screenshot below, though it’s a pay site and you can’t read it unless you subscribe. I’d recommend subscribing, as the $50 per year comes out to less than 14 cents per day.)
I thought of going after the article and Padilla’s views myself, but my knowledge of the classics is very scant, and without that one can’t assess his thesis. (I was of course aware that both the ancient Romans and Greeks kept slaves, which I guess are now called “enslaved people,” and that their deep thoughts resulted in part of the freedom they derived from oppressing others. But in those societies slavery was based only minimally on race, and strongly on conquest of foreigners. I have no idea if they even had the concept of “whiteness” as opposed to Athenian or Roman supremacy.) Sullivan, on the other hand, read Latin from when he was a young Catholic lad, and used it to read a ton of classics in the original. He’s also read the translations of Greek classical literature. And, basically, he sees Padilla as full of crap.
If you know classics—and I’m sure many readers here have that knowledge—you should read both pieces and judge for yourself. I won’t repeat all the arguments, but will give just a few quotes from Sullivan about why he sees this NYT article as “deranged” (he’s opposed not only to Padilla’s views, but to the slant of the article). Sullivan’s title, taken from Kundera, is also good:
In fact, I’ll give just one long quote from Sullivan, and hope that you can read the rest:
But I read in the New York Times this week, as one does, that, in fact, I was deluding myself. Rather than being liberated, as I felt I was, I was actually being initiated into “white supremacy”. And there is now a broadening movement in the academy to abolish or dismantle the classics because of their iniquitous “whiteness”.
Racial “whiteness” as a concept would, of course, have been all but meaningless to all the ancient writers I grew to love. It’s beyond even an anachronism. How on earth do you reduce the astonishing variety and depth and breadth of texts from an ancient Mediterranean world to a skin color? How do you read Aristotle and conclude that the most salient quality of his genius was that he was “white”?
You can arrive at this deranged conclusion, it seems, in two contrived ways. One is to view the ancient world as some kind of founding proof of the superiority of the “white race”, whatever that means. Imperialists and fascists have always loved this theme; Mussolini was especially fond of it. The very word “fascism” comes from the Roman “fasces”, a bound bundle of logs that was used to signify the authority of the state. In the same NYT piece, we are reminded that the “marchers in Charlottesville, Va., carried flags bearing a symbol of the Roman state; online reactionaries adopted classical pseudonyms; the white-supremacist website Stormfront displayed an image of the Parthenon alongside the tagline ‘Every month is white history month.’”
This dreck is not just bigoted; it’s ahistorical, anachronistic, and reductionist, and it ignores the vast range of classical thought, in which radicals and liberals have found as much intellectual nourishment as conservatives and reactionaries.
The other way to see the classics as a form of “white supremacy” is to embrace critical race theory. Some now argue that the study of ancient Greece and Rome “forms part of the scaffold of white supremacy” that endures to this day. This is because Western democracies can trace many of their formative ideas back to Greece and Rome — and many of these same democracies went on to practice imperialism and even slavery, thousands of years later. Some even justified their brutality with reference to classical texts. This intwining [sic] of the white supremacist assumptions of the Enlightenment with ancient Greece and Rome means the classics are therefore fatally tainted.
I’m sorry, but that’s it? That’s the argument? An entire, diverse, multi-faceted, multicultural civilization that sprawled from Turkey and North Africa to the borders of Scotland — a source of fascination to people of all political persuasions and races over the centuries — cannot be taught because some racists in the past abused its texts? That’s like saying that science should no longer exist because some scientists once practiced eugenics.
In fact, there are those who say that the teaching of evolutionary biology and human genetics should be extensively modified because “some scientists once practiced eugenics”. Although the only kind of “eugenics” promoted in my field these days are suggestions about using CRISPR to snip genetic defects out of human embryos—not an odious idea—some of my colleagues have suggested not only new courses in the history of eugenics (not a bad idea), but also apologies by entire science departments for being tarred with the legacy of eugenics. As Padilla does for classics, they suggest that our field has been used to prop up racism, and is still doing so. That’s not in fact the case, and as a geneticist I reject the idea that my work is at all besmirched with eugenics and racism because some of my predecessors used genetics to buttress their own racism. And I deny that my area of study, speciation, or the way I analyze my data, have a racist legacy.
But I digress. If you know the classics, at least read Poser’s New York Times article and weigh in below.
As many on the Left try to dismantle freedom of speech, urging us to jettison the courts’ interpretation of the First Amendment so that we can ban “hate speech,” we’ll increasingly see articles like the one below, which calls those of us who adhere to the First Amendment “free speech fundamentalists.” Using the terms “fundamentalist” or “fundamentalism,” as Judith Shapiro does in this Inside High Ed op-ed, is a way of denigrating those who adhere strictly to the First Amendment. It’s the same tactic that religionists use when using the term “fundamentalist atheists” for those who don’t accept the notion of a god. But “fundamentalism” is just a red herring here. What is Shapiro’s argument against free speech?
She doesn’t have one, except the usual palaver that it can be offensive and dangerous. And again, without examples, that’s not an argument, or not much of one. We’ve always argued about whether “offense” or “harm” are sufficient reasons to exercise censorship, and I think most of us have concluded that they aren’t. Banning hurt feelings or the dissemination of misinformation cannot possibly outweigh the benefits of free expression, and, at any rate, who would be the one to determine what speech should be banned? That answer is always this: the person calling for the banning—in this case Shapiro.
Shapiro, by the way, was the former President of Barnard College, so she was an academic heavyweight. She now serves on various academic and think-tank boards and committees.
Click the screenshot to read her short article.
There are three big problems with her article—problems endemic to the writings of those who urge caution about free speech. The first is that she gives no concrete examples of speech that she considers unworthy of being said. Not one example! While she does mention that the punishments of faculty for speaking their minds have been sometimes disproportionate, the main thrust of her article is an unspecific discussion of how free speech can conflict with “other values.”
The second problem, connected with the first, is that she doesn’t limn those areas where one needs to be careful when exercising free speech. The implication is that those are areas that could purvey either “fake news” (i.e., lies) or hurt people’s feelings. But her lack of specificity is annoying—and probably deliberate.
Finally, Shapiro doesn’t mention who is the person or group that should be responsible for deciding what speech is acceptable or unacceptable. The whole piece is maddeningly unspecific, and winds up with the reader thinking that “Shapiro doesn’t really like a hard-line adherence to the First Amendment, but I don’t know why.”
A few quotes to demonstrate the vaporous nature of the argument:
As important as freedom of speech may be, the failure to put it in the context of other values leads us to some serious problems for our society and, more specifically, for our educational institutions.
In terms of our national political life, we have seen the consequences of defending freedom of speech while attending insufficiently to other essential matters, notably the difference between truth and lies. We face a difficult task if we are to rise to the occasion of saving our form of government.
Does this mean that free speech cannot include lies? Well, the law already prohibits some lying like “false advertising” or “defamation,” and we free-speech fundamentalists agree with that. Or does she think that the lies are okay but we need to attend to those lies more? If that’s the case, there are plenty of people attending to them—like the entire liberal media. Free speech is free because you can call out other people’s lies. Holocaust denialism is a good example of that. Many people think that, like some European countries, we should ban such speech, but I feel it’s very important not to, for the arguments back and forth acquaint us with what the evidence really was for the Holocaust (and also “out” those bigots who engage in denialism).
But wait! There’s more! Tell me what she’s talking about here, since she gives no examples:
As important as freedom of speech may be, the failure to put it in the context of other values leads us to some serious problems for our society and, more specifically, for our educational institutions.
In terms of our national political life, we have seen the consequences of defending freedom of speech while attending insufficiently to other essential matters, notably the difference between truth and lies. We face a difficult task if we are to rise to the occasion of saving our form of government.
Ten to one she’s talking about Trump. Why, then, doesn’t she say so?
In addition to emphasizing the importance of speech supported by facts, sourcing and an interest in truth, faculty members need to teach their students — and themselves — how to engage most effectively with those holding different views. They should help students resist the attractions of indulging in self-righteous disdainful abuse. Trying to find out why a person holds certain beliefs is a necessary ethnographic step in the process of dialogue.
Again, this is pious moralizing. None of us want to be abusive, and, as I’ve said, psychologizing can often be a distraction from valuable arguments. You don’t need to diagnose Trump’s mental problems to counteract his claims about “fake news” and ballot fraud.
Finally, when one reads “arguments” like the ones below, one wonders whether Dr. Shapiro really wants colleges to abandon the First Amendment. Public universities must of course adhere to its stipulations, but private ones, like Barnard, should as well. Is there a good reason for private colleges to move away from the First Amendment?
Our attitudes to free speech are part of a wider, uncritical cultural celebration of “freedom” abroad in our land. And thus we see many of our fellow citizens refusing to wear masks during a dangerous pandemic and some of our legislators insisting on their right to carry firearms when they report for their day jobs.
An unreflective approach to freedom of speech is often paired with promotion of a “marketplace of ideas.” Let us note, however, that a marketplace is where you can sell anything — anything — that someone else is willing to buy. That may be a less than helpful or inspirational way to think about a democracy, or, for that matter, a society more generally.
We have already followed the path from First Amendment/freedom of speech fundamentalism to Citizens United, a major contribution to turning our democracy into an oligarchy. Will we follow it to where it undermines what education itself is supposed to give to us?
Not wearing masks has nothing to do with “free speech”, though both can be the object of libertarian diatribes. But believe me, it’s not adherence to the First Amendment that makes people go without masks. The same people who urge caution about free speech are the same people who call for more wearing of masks! And, at any rate, bringing up masks is irrelevant to the First Amendment: one has to do with public health, the other with public discourse.
At the end, Shapiro implies that First-Amendment “fundamentalism” has led to Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission—the 2009 case in which the Supreme Court made a bad decision, arguing that the First Amendment allowed corporations and other groups to make unrestricted campaign contributions. In effect, the 5 Justices construed corporations and associations as “individuals”. This is bad law: a 5-4 decision reflecting a conservative Supreme Court. That’s not the fault of the First Amendment, and has nothing to say about the free speech of individuals. Citizens United is not one stop on a discernible pathway to dismantling our democracy, as Shapiro implies. It was a bad one-off decision that isn’t paving the way for the Third Reich. In fact, I’d say that the path to Reichsville leads through arguments for banning speech.
Does the former president of Barnard not know how to write a coherent essay, or did she just take to the pages of Inside Higher Ed to express vague discomfort with the First Amendment, or is Shapiro covertly suggesting that we might censor some forms of speech now considered legal? I’m not willing to take the “necessary ethnographic step” of finding out what she really believes, and why. Expressing herself clearly is her responsibility, and it’s not my job to figure out what the sweating professor is trying to say*.
What follows is one of the most ridiculous and embarrassing instantiations of wokeness I’ve seen anywhere, much less in colleges.
If you want to see the equivalent of a full, self-abasing confession in the religion of Wokeness, then read the second article below from Inside Higher Ed. When I initially read it, without reading the forerunner article, I thought it was a joke—so over the top and groveling was it.
But it wasn’t at all a joke. It was from a professor who had written a pretty innocuous article (with a grad student co-author) on the education website, an article that simply called for college football to resume (with proper pandemic precautions) as a way of bringing people together. Though I’m not a fan of college football, it didn’t ruffle my feathers a bit, as I know many people—especially Ohio State fans—are rabid addicts to college football.
It turns out, though that the first author, Matthew Mayhew, must have been inundated with emails and social-media posts, as well as a letter to Inside Higher Ed by another professor (below), all claiming that Mayhew’s position was blatantly racist. It was not.
But read the pieces in order, starting with his pro-football editorial (with Musbah Shaneen). Click on the screenshot below. Here’s the description of the authors:
Matthew J. Mayhew is the William Ray and Marie Adamson Flesher Professor of Higher Education at Ohio State University. He has published more than 75 peer-reviewed articles in journals and is a co-author of How College Affects Students: Volume 3. Musbah Shaheen is a Ph.D. student in higher education and student affairs at Ohio State and a research assistant in the College Impact Laboratory.
In their article, Mayhew and Shaheen simply argue that football is something that can bring diverse people together in a time of trouble. For example:
Although many concerns remain about the health and safety of players and spectators, we happen to agree: college football may be an essential element of our functioning democracy. Here’s why.
That’s way over the top, for democracy in America would do just fine without football, but Mayhew really means that football narrows the divisions between people:
Essentializing college football might help get us through these uncharacteristically difficult times of great isolation, division and uncertainty. Indeed, college football holds a special bipartisan place in the American heart.
At a time when colleges and universities have been placed under extreme scrutiny, many people are questioning the very value and purpose of higher education. College football reminds many Americans of the community values that underscore higher education and by extension America itself. One Wolverine does not have to know another one by name — but the sight of maize and blue accompanied by “Hail to the Victors” unites anonymities through these shared experiences.
. . .This election season has demonstrated how stifled, polarized and dangerous our political differences have become, and college football can remind us of respect — even in the wake of deep disagreement. We can root for different teams, scream at the players, argue with the refs and question the coaches, but win or lose, at the end of the day, we leave the stadium, watch party or tailgate with a sense of respect for the game and the athletes that train so hard, leaving it all out on the field every time. Indeed, if a player is injured, the entire stadium usually applauds, not just fans from one team.
Deep difference doesn’t have to lead to disrespect.
The authors add that athletes shouldn’t risk their lives to entertain fans, and that strict enforcement of pandemic guidelines are needed.
And that’s pretty much it. Nothing is said about black people or race save for this statement that isn’t racist at all:
In addition, football players become beloved community figures beyond the boundaries of the stadium or campus. Football gives players a platform to make statements about issues they care about. We have seen student athletes taking part in protests and making demands for racial equity. We have seen student athletes kneel to protest police brutality. Colleges and universities should take many more steps to empower athletes to engage with the community. Depriving them the opportunity to play doesn’t accomplish that goal.
In other words, canceling football deprives players of the chance to make statements against police brutality and for racial equity. In what sense is that racist?
Yes, the original article is a bit silly, and pretty anodyne, and should have passed in silence. But something happened, and Mayhew immediately tendered a long and groveling apology on the site, castigating himself repeatedly as a racist. Read his ludicrous, back-whipping apology and see if you can figure out how the first article got him canceled:
Some of the apology (it embarrasses me to even reproduce Mayhew’s statements, but this is only a small bit of his groveling:
I recently led a piece in Inside Higher Ed titled “Why America Needs College Football.” I am sorry for the hurt, sadness, frustration, fatigue, exhaustion and pain this article has caused anyone, but specifically Black students in the higher education community and beyond.
I am struggling to find the words to communicate the deep ache for the damage I have done. I don’t want to write anything that further deepens the pain experienced by my ignorance related to Black male athletes and the Black community at any time, but especially in light of the national racial unrest. I also don’t want to write anything that suggests that antiracist learning is quick or easy. This is the beginning of a very long process, one that started with learning about the empirical work related to Black college football athletes.
Rather than make excuses, I should talk about which facets of the article that I have recently learned are harmful — through my students, wider social media community and distinguished academics like Donna Ford, Joy Gaston Gayles and Gilman Whiting.
I learned that I could have titled the piece “Why America Needs Black Athletes.” I learned that Black men putting their bodies on the line for my enjoyment is inspired and maintained by my uninformed and disconnected whiteness and, as written in my previous article, positions student athletes as white property. I have learned that I placed the onus of responsibility for democratic healing on Black communities whose very lives are in danger every single day and that this notion of “democratic healing” is especially problematic since the Black community can’t benefit from ideals they can’t access. I have learned that words like “distraction” and “cheer” erase the present painful moments within the nation and especially the Black community.
Then the self-castigation begins, and oy, is it embarrassing!
Upon such beginnings of reflection, I have also learned that my love for Black athletes on the field doesn’t translate into love within the larger community — that I have been dismissive of Black lives in moments not athletically celebrated. I have learned that I have taken pleasure in events that ask Black athletes to put their bodies on the line and take physical risks. I have been entertained by Black men who often are conditioned by society and structural racism in ways that lure them into athletics where the odds of making it are slim to none.
I am just beginning to understand how I have harmed communities of color with my words. I am learning that my words — my uninformed, careless words — often express an ideology wrought in whiteness and privilege. I am learning that my commitment to diversity has been performative, ignoring the pain the Black community and other communities of color have endured in this country. I am learning that I am not as knowledgeable as I thought I was, not as antiracist as I thought I was, not as careful as I thought I was. For all of these, I sincerely apologize.
I know it’s not anyone’s job to forgive me, but I ask for it — another burden of a white person haunted by his ignorance. To consider the possible hurt I have played a role in, the scores of others whose pain I didn’t fully see, aches inside me — a feeling different and deeper than the tears and emotions I’ve experienced being caught in an ignorant racist moment.
It goes on way beyond this, with thanks to those who helped professor Mayhew understand his racism, and his “plan for antiracist change”. My response: nobody was harmed by your fricking words. If they said they were harmed, they were either lying or need help.
Reading the original letter again, I still couldn’t understand this wailing, weeping apology, but then I found that Andrew McGregor, a Professor of History at Dallas College, had written a letter to Inside Higher Ed called “Mythic, misguided view of college football.” McGregor happens to be white, but that’s no bar to virtue-signaling, which McGregor does big time in his letter. Sure, Mayhew was over the top in claiming that college football is an essential part of American democracy, but McGregor whips him over and over again by asserting, falsely, that college football is instead “a symptom of the deep-seeded issues that have contributed to political polarization, racial unrest, the devaluation of education, and prolonged devastation of the COVID-19 pandemic.” (By the way, the term is “deep-seated,” not “deep-seeded”.)
But how did college football become so nefarious? McGregor argues that the lucrative nature of football has debased the intellectual mission of colleges, and that some college coaches, like Dabo Swinney, make unfounded statements about science and history. Well, I won’t wade into that morass, and can’t be arsed to look it up anyway, because that argument is irrelevant and can’t explain Mayhew’s fulsome apology.
No, McGregor argues that football by its very nature is racist because it demands that black athletes put their lives on the line to entertain white folk:
Amateurism and the very structure of college athletics is caught up in the United States’ system of racial capitalism. The problems of COVID-19, police brutality, and the policies currently being enacted by our political leaders all have a disproportionally larger impact on racialized folks. So too does college football. As the recent decision by a grand jury in Louisville reminds us, the status quo does not value Black Lives above apartment walls. For the Power Five, and apparently the authors, Black Lives Matter insofar as they are on the field playing an inherently risky game. In this regard, they are right: resuming college football is in line with America’s “democratic” tradition.
. . . Black athletes are embraced on the gridiron and in the community as a way to assuage white guilt.
WTF? Assuage white guilt?
And that’s about it. No matter that both blacks and whites play together on college teams, that a football scholarship is a way for disenfranchised minorities to get an education, and that it’s also one of the only routes to becoming a player in the National Football League: a way to get success and big money in sports. Sure, most college players don’t get that call from the NFL, and we can argue about whether college players should get paid for their efforts and how much “education” football players really get. But none of that is relevant to McGregor’s accusations of racism against Mayhew. McGregor is just spouting off to show that he’s a deacon in the Woke Religion.
Here’s a photo I got when I Googled “Ohio State football team 2019). The team won against the Washington Huskies in that year. The team looks pretty integrated to me, though clearly black players are represented in a proportion higher than among the general population (and surely than among students).
It’s not clear how much pushback Mayhew got from other people, but I’m sure he was inundated with emails and social-media criticism. McGregor’s letter alone doesn’t seem sufficient to elicit such a bout of groveling and tooth-gnashing.
Had I been Mayhew, I wouldn’t have responded to McGregor at all, as no response was needed. Instead, Mayhew has crumpled, spouting mea culpas as he goes down. Like so many, he was so stricken when called a racist that he immediately confessed to Father Kendi.
The rest of us should pity Mayhew. The whole affair is laughable, save that Mayhew has been devastated and, indeed, may have had his career derailed. We shall see. But so long as people like Mayhew grovel, truckle, and beg for forgiveness for an innocuous statement, then so long will the Woke continue their tactics of demonization. As John McWhorter said, it’s time to either ignore or mock these jokers (I’m referring to McGregor, not Mayhew).
There’s been considerable negative publicity about the University of Chicago English Department’s “woke” statement adhering to Critical Race Theory, and their concomitant decision to admit graduate students next year in only one area: Black Studies. In response, the English Department has engaged in somewhat mendacious behavior. Yesterday I found that once again they’d altered their Faculty Statement of July 2020—the second change—without indicating that they’d done so. Rather than just put up a conventional post, I decided to write an open letter to the Department. I won’t send it to them, as they’d pay no attention, but I’m sure they’ll find out about it. Here goes:
Dear University of Chicago Department of English,
In the past several weeks you’ve taken it upon yourselves to make a department-wide political statement committing the English Department to a specific form of anti-racist belief and action, as well as asserting that not just your faculty, but the entire University of Chicago faculty (and perhaps that of other schools) must undertake the same actions pledged by your group. As your Faculty Statement of July 2020 asserts:
In light of this historical reality, we believe that undoing persistent, recalcitrant anti-Blackness in our discipline and in our institutions must be the collective responsibility of all faculty, here and elsewhere.
You also pledged to accept graduate students for the next year only in one area—Black Studies. Until two days ago, the July 2020 statement said this:
Note: For the 2020-2021 graduate admissions cycle, the University of Chicago English Department is accepting only applicants interested in working in and with Black Studies. We understand Black Studies to be a capacious intellectual project that spans a variety of methodological approaches, fields, geographical areas, languages, and time periods.
This differs from the initial version of your statement (same date), which said this: “As part of our commitment to funding and fostering scholarship in Black studies, in the coming academic year (2020-2021) we are prioritizing consideration of applicants who work in and with Black studies for admission to our PhD program.”
What was once a priority has now become a requirement. I have no beef with your decision to funnel all students into one area of study, for this is a curricular decision that is the purview of all departments. However, as Benjamin Schwarz pointed out in Spiked, your decision about graduate study smacks of prioritizing your curriculum based on your ideological views. This is not the way a curriculum should be designed.
More important, as both Schwarz and Alan Dershowitz noted (the latter in Newsweek), your department’s statement violates our University’s Kalven Report (one of our Foundational Principles), which mandates that the University must make no official political, ideological, or moral statements—the one exception being about issues that bear directly on the mission of the University to foster free and untrammeled speech and to operate smoothly.
Those principles make clear that the appropriate unit of opinion and dissent is the individual student or faculty member—not departments, schools, or administrators acting in their official capacity. As our former Provost and Law School Dean Geoff Stoneexplained during the controversy about investing in Darfur, even the Law School should not make political statements, for the law school, like the English Department, is an official moiety of the University where speech can be chilled by official statements. And the University has made no such statements—not during calls to defend accused Communists in the McCarthy era, not during demands to decry the Vietnam War, and, tellingly, not during the Civil Rights crisis of the 1960s. Individuals, of course, made statements, but the the University remained silent. Why, then, do you think the present situation is different—different enough for you to violate the Foundational Principles of our University?
I happen to agree that there is persistent racism in America that needs to be eliminated, and that people should work towards equality and equity for all. But that is my personal opinion as a faculty member, and I would never dream of asking my department to post an unsigned statement of solidarity to that effect. Such statements, like yours, impose an ideological uniformity upon a department that stifles dissent and discussion—the very result that the Kalven Report was designed to prevent.
While it’s a judgment call, I won’t criticize your department’s decision to restructure the curriculum so that all incoming graduate students can work in only one area. Others disagree and see this as a curricular decision growing out of a departmental ideology. It is still curious, though, that your statement about the new graduate policy was just moved to a separate page, presumably to make it look like your July 2020 statement of solidarity had no connection with the curricular decision. This is the second change you’ve made in that statement. But this one hardly fools anyone familiar with the history of your statement. In fact, that statement has now been changed twice since the original formulation, yet still bears the same title and date. I’m surprised that, of all departments, the English Department makes post facto emendations of official statements without noting that it’s done so. I thought that writers were supposed to note when statements had been changed, especially when the statement’s date remains unchanged.
But what I do criticize is your use of the English Department’s webpage to blatantly violate the Kalven Principles, ascribing collective responsibility to your department and to the entire University, and calling for collective action. This is an official statement, and will serve to quash any speech that dissents from your message.
I respectfully request that you either remove that statement from your webpage or append a list of signatories, making it clear that this represents the personal sentiments of a group of named people. If some people refused to adhere to that statement, that should also be noted.
Reader BJ not only sent The Atlantic article below, but also archived it (here), for he thought that, given the articles’ message, the authors might change or even retract it. Apparently that hasn’t happened, though I haven’t compared the archived version with the latest published version (click on screenshot below to see that one).
Why did he think that? Because the tenor of the article, unless both BJ and I misunderstood it, is that not only has censorship increased on the Internet to prevent dissemination of medical misinformation, and not only have companies like Facebook and Twitter (with government approval) begun monitoring our interests and web activities, but also that Chinese-style monitoring and censorship is a good thing, and that it’s also good to censor “harmful speech” to allow a smoothly functioning America.
The authors, as it notes above, are two law professors, Goldsmith at Harvard (expertise: “terrorism, national security, international law, conflicts of law, and internet law”) and Woods at the University of Arizona (expertise: “cybersecurity, the regulation of technology, and international law, both public and private”). These are no slouches, and in fact I’m surprised that they seem to approve of increased censorship in the U.S.
Now there’s no doubt that the monitoring of Americans by both the government and private companies has increased. Goldsmith and Woods’s article give the gory details, which I won’t repeat. If you use Facebook, for instance, you’ll already know. More and more security cameras are being put up by state and local governments, and, combined with facial-identification software, they’ll soon be able to be monitored citizens as the Chinese do, though I doubt the government will give us a “social credit” score. The sweating professors ascribe the beginning of the call for censorship to Edward Snowden’s ferreting out of the U.S. government’s monitoring of the Internet, and to Russia’s interference in the last Presidential election through fake social-media accounts.
Further, companies like Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube already exercise censorship, getting rid of tweets, posts, and videos that they don’t like, or that are deemed to violate “community standards”. (My own tweets are often hidden on Twitter, even when the content is completely innocuous.) But what the law professors don’t seem to realize, or at least don’t mention, is that we still adhere to First Amendment principles where they’re supposed to apply: in public speech—not on the sites of private companies like Facebook.
Although Facebook has the right to eliminate content with bad advice about coronavirus, for example, it can’t eliminate bad medical advice on other sites (Goop comes to mind), nor can it prevent people from touting quack science in public so long as they don’t market products with false claims (“false advertising” of products is not protected by the First Amendment). And so we have Alex Jones, Dr. Oz, and Deepakity Chopra flogging bogus products, while even the President of the United States can go on national television and suggest that people might fight coronavirus by inserting lights into their nether parts. And I can still stand on the street corner and rail against the government without fear. Further, unlike China (see the subheading above), American newspapers can and do publish regular criticisms of the government. Goldsmith and Woods, in their approbation of increasing censorship, don’t tell us whether they want more government censorship of the news media.
Not only do the authors see an inexorable increase in censorship, but they seem to think that’s good. But here, read for yourself (my emphasis):
As surprising as it may sound, digital surveillance and speech control in the United States already show many similarities to what one finds in authoritarian states such as China. Constitutional and cultural differences mean that the private sector, rather than the federal and state governments, currently takes the lead in these practices, which further values and address threats different from those in China. But the trend toward greater surveillance and speech control here, and toward the growing involvement of government, is undeniable and likely inexorable.
In the great debate of the past two decades about freedom versus control of the network, China was largely right and the United States was largely wrong. Significant monitoring and speech control are inevitable components of a mature and flourishing internet, and governments must play a large role in these practices to ensure that the internet is compatible with a society’s norms and values.
American courts have already worked out what speech in the public sphere is “compatible with a society’s norms and values”, so what are the authors talking about? Of course private companies like Facebook can control their content, but what content can the government censor on my own website? Only the content that’s already prohibited: slander and libel, child pornography, posts that call for and are liable to produce immediate violence, and so on. Beyond that, I can say what I like. So what, exactly, are Goldsmith and Woods calling for to preserve society’s “norms and values”? (That excuse, of course, is the usual reason given for banning speech, ranging from the blasphemy laws of many countries, through criminalizing Holocaust denialism, to calls for banning “hate speech”—a slippery term if ever there was one.
One more quote:
What is different about speech regulation related to COVID-19 is the context: The problem is huge and the stakes are very high. But when the crisis is gone, there is no unregulated “normal” to return to. We live—and for several years, we have been living—in a world of serious and growing harms resulting from digital speech. Governments will not stop worrying about these harms. And private platforms will continue to expand their definition of offensive content, and will use algorithms to regulate it ever more closely. The general trend toward more speech control will not abate.
The article, I note, is surprisingly poorly written for an Atlantic piece with two fancy professors as authors, and it’s not easy to ferret out its point. But given its subtitle, and (if you think the authors didn’t write it) the affirmation of its subtitle in the first quote above, as well as the repeated emphasis on “harmful speech”, I suspect the authors are in favor of weakening the First Amendment. Of course private companies are free to do what they want, but to suggest that the government itself start clamping down on “harmful speech” (apparently defined by the authors) is completely misguided. False advertising of products is already prohibited, as are actions like harassment in the workplace. Beyond that—beyond the courts’ largely settled construal of the First Amendment—we should not go.
A bad reason to invite Charles Murray to Middlebury College is to incite violence, which is what happened when he was last invited three years ago (see several of my reports here). Although Murray wasn’t going to talk about race or intelligence then, that didn’t matter: he’s been forever deemed a racist for co-authoring The Bell Curve. (I strongly doubt that more than 1% of the protestors had ever read that book [I haven’t]; they were going on social-media outrage). During Murray’s last visit, his talk was interrupted (eventually it was livestreamed from an empty hall) and both he and his host were attacked, with the host, Allison Stanger, sustaining a neck injury and, as I recall, a concussion. Along with other “cancel culture” incidents at Middlebury in the past few years, this has given the college somewhat of a bad reputation. It was becoming The Evergreen State College of the East.
A good reason for inviting Charles Murray is twofold: so the students can hear what he has to say, and so they can be tested to see if they’ve grown up. If the latter is the case, Middlebury’s reputation will be somewhat restored, and the students will have learned the art of peaceful protest. Or (my recommendation), they shouldn’t protest if they don’t know anything about Murray’s work, but simply ignore his talk, though that’s not so great, either. Actually, they should go to his talk and ask questions.
At any rate, Murray has been re-invited, though the College is now closed because of coronavirus. And the students and faculty are beginning to ramp up their protests, at least according to this letter to the editor (sent to the Middlebury President and her Senior Leadership Group) in the Middlebury Campus, the student newspaper. The letter is written by two named faculty as well as a lot of faculty too scared to divulge their identities (see below). Click on the screenshot to read about the protest.
The authors are a sociology professor and a film and media culture professor (humanities profs, of course: scientists don’t do this stuff). The rest of the signatories are part of the “Middlebury Faculty for an Inclusive Community” (MFIC), whose website says this:
Rather than generating a list of signatories, we offer some specific contacts for different areas of our work and representatives on relevant committees. Not all of members of our group want to identify themselves publicly, but here are many who feel comfortable doing so.
What a bunch of cowards—and they are professors! At any rate, the letter gives four reasons why Murray should not have been invited. Only one is partly valid, and another is weakly valid. The rest is bunk.
The first reason is the usual—Murray’s presence will “endanger members of our community”, “cause significant psychological stress”, and other ridiculous claims:
We believe that over the past three years, our campus has grown significantly in becoming a more inclusive, self-aware and responsive institution, that is open to frank conversations about racial and other inequities that structure our community and broader world. A lecture by an ultimately insignificant, debunked pseudo-scholar, arguing that race, class, and gender inequalities are a product of genetics rather than social systems and practices, would typically be a laughable and easy-to-ignore event. However, the presence of this particular insignificant, debunked pseudo-scholar reopens many wounds that we have worked hard to heal over the past three years.
We write to our administrative colleagues in Old Chapel seeking answers that we hope to receive in a public forum. The largest question that dogs us is, “How did you allow this to happen?” As stewards of Middlebury’s institutional culture, mission and reputation, you certainly recognize the many ways that this is a bad idea — no matter how events might play out on March 31, the event will cause many of us significant psychological distress, provoke in-fighting, generate bad publicity, potentially endanger members of our community, waste hours of time planning and stressing, and ultimately yield nothing beyond rekindled hostility. We believe you could — and should — have taken steps to stop this event from happening on the grounds that it was not in the best interest of the institution and goes directly against our core values of integrity, inclusivity and intellectual honesty. Murray’s talk seems predicated on the “pillar” of academic freedom, but also contradicts our other two pillars of integrity and respect.
I am so tired of rebutting this malarkey. First, Murray wasn’t (and probably isn’t) going to talk about the genetics of IQ and race. Ergo, you can’t censor him based on a 26-year-old book about those topics that you haven’t even read. Second, there’s the implicit and shabby claims that free speech is great BUT in this case Murray isn’t a valid scholar and is also purveying hate speech.
As for the psychological damage and stress, my advice to the students is this: DO NOT GO TO THE TALK! Is that so hard? Why torture yourself?
A more valid complaint by the writers is that only three people invited Murray to speak, and even the College Republicans, whom they represent, didn’t get a say. If that’s the case, the procedure for inviting speakers has been violated. Whether that should mandate cancellation is above my pay grade.
The third reason is that the College Handbook says that a full-time faculty or staff member must be the advisor of the inviting group. However, the advisor of the College Republicans is an “Executive in Residence,” one James Douglas—one of the inviters.. However, Douglas happens to be the former (Republican) governor of Vermont, the state where the College resides. According to the MFIC’s letter, such a man can’t possibly have an understanding of the impact of the decision. That’s dubious, but if the College wanted to censor a speaker based on a technicality, they have this and the reason above to lean on. But those seem like lame excuses for censorship.
Finally, the letter says that Murray’s talk would require significant “security and facilities staffing”. Sadly, the College requires student organizations to “bear full responsibility for arranging and financing any Department of Public Safety Services that may be necessary in connection with controversial speakers.” That should not be the case, for it prevents groups from inviting the very speakers the students need to hear: controversial ones. Middlebury needs to ditch that rule immediately. And besides, if the College Republicans can fund security, why should the MFICers beef?
However, WHY would they need significant security? It’s because the protestors could wreak havoc and possibly attack the speaker and his supporters. This would not be an issue if the protestors were peaceful, or simply had a counter-event or didn’t go to the talk. A group should never be afraid to invite a controversial speaker because the protestors might be violent. If they are, they should be arrested or suspended. (As I recall, some of the protestors of Murray’s last talk were sanctioned by the College, but their punishment was never revealed.) And no group should be the costs of inviting a speaker, or at least the costs should be equalized among student groups.
In the end, because I don’t know Murray’s work or the topic of his prospective talk, I can’t judge the wisdom of inviting him. But it least it will be a test of whether Middlebury truly tolerates free speech, and whether the students and faculty have grown up. Judging by the letter above, they have a ways to go.
I’ll end with a comment made on the article by one writer: