Oberlin gives up fighting Gibson’s Bakery, starts coughing up dough

September 9, 2022 • 10:25 am

I’ve written about the fracas between Gibson’s Bakery and Ohio’s Oberlin College since the affair began in late 2016 when three black Oberlin students were caught for shoplifting wine from the Bakery. Despite the student’s admission of guilt and court conviction, Oberlin punished the bakery, calling it racist, refused to apologize, and cutting off commercial relationships with the bakery, which previously supplied Oberlin’s food services.  Gibson’s asked for an apology, Oberlin refused (always saying they were “upholding their values”), and finally Gibson’s sued. After a 6 year battle, they won—the Ohio Supreme Court recently refused to hear Oberlin’s appeal against the huge civil damages (see below).

But Oberlin apparently remained reluctant to dig into their pockets and pay off the settlement. Now, however, according to both the NY Times and Legal Insurrection (articles below; click on screenshots), the College is coughing up what it owes. This may in part be due to Lorna Gibson’s plaintive piece on Bari Weiss’s Substack site, “Will I ever see the $36 million Oberlin College Owes Me?“, which shamed the College. (Her husband David and in-law Allyn Gibson died during the trial.)

Here are the pieces saying that Oberlin has given up and will pay off. Click on the screenshots below to read them:

First, a brief summary of the case from the NYT in case you haven’t been following it:

The incident that started the dispute unfolded in November 2016, when a student tried to buy a bottle of wine with a fake ID while shoplifting two more bottles by hiding them under his coat, according to court papers.

Allyn Gibson, a son and grandson of the owners, who is white, chased the student out onto the street, where two of his friends, also Black students at Oberlin, joined in the scuffle. The students later pleaded guilty to various charges. [They got Gibson down on the ground and were kicking him and punching him when the cops arrived.]

That altercation led to two days of protests; several hundred students gathered in front of the bakery, accusing it of having racially profiled its customers, according to court papers.

The lawsuit filed by Gibson’s contended that Oberlin had defamed the bakery when the dean of students, Meredith Raimondo, and other members of the administration took sides in the dispute by attending the protests, where fliers, peppered with capital letters, urged a boycott of the bakery and said that it was a “RACIST establishment with a LONG ACCOUNT OF RACIAL PROFILING and DISCRIMINATION.”

Gibson’s also presented testimony that Oberlin had stopped ordering from the bakery but had offered to restore its business if charges were dropped against the three students or if the bakery gave students accused of shoplifting special treatment, which it refused to do.

But Gibson’s had no history of racism at all, and the accusations were without merit.

Here’s the legal outcome, including damages (total $36.6 million):

In the spring, a three-judge panel of the Ohio Court of Appeals confirmed the jury’s finding, after a six-week trial, that Oberlin was liable for libel, intentional infliction of emotional distress and intentional interference with a business relationship — that it had effectively defamed the business by siding with the protesters. The original jury award was even higher, at $44 million in punitive and compensatory damages, which was reduced by a judge. The latest amount consists of about $5 million in compensatory damages, nearly $20 million in punitive damages, $6.5 million in attorney’s fees and almost $5 million in interest.

In its ruling, the Court of Appeals agreed that students had a right to protest. But the court said that the flier and a related student senate resolution — which said that the store had a history of racial profiling — were not constitutionally protected opinion.

The Gibsons don’t even have to pay the attorney’s fees, and they do need the money. The Bakery’s business has tanked since the episode, and, as Lorna Gibson said:

If I got the money from the college, I wouldn’t buy a house, or go on vacation, or leave Ohio. I would replace the compressors for the refrigerators and replace the fryers and proofers that we use for our dough. I would pay off the mortgages on my properties that I’ve taken out in the past few years. I’d hire back employees and ramp up production. While the Ohio Supreme Court’s recent decision has made us hopeful, if the money doesn’t come through within the next couple months, I’ll be forced to declare bankruptcy and shut the doors of Gibson’s for good.

There’s no doubt that Oberlin’s own reputation has been damaged by its refusal to apologize, its vindictiveness against Gibson’s, and its unfounded cries of racism against Gibson’s. But Oberlin has a big endowment and can afford the hit. The NYT notes:

The college acknowledged that the size of the judgment, which includes damages and interest, was “significant.” But it said that “with careful financial planning,” including insurance, it could be paid “without impacting our academic and student experience.” Oberlin has a robust endowment of nearly $1 billion.

Still, there will be repercussions, with universities less likely to uncritically accept the rage of offended students:

“Such a large amount is certainly going to make institutions around the country take notice, and to be very careful about the difference between supporting students and being part of a cause,” said Neal Hutchens, a professor of higher education at the University of Kentucky. “It wasn’t so much the students speaking; it’s the institution accepting that statement uncritically. Sometimes you have to take a step back.”

Here’s the Legal Insurrection piece, which reproduces the College’s statement and its letter to its students and alums:

The College’s official statement from Scott Wargo, Oberlin’s Director of Communications:

Oberlin College initiates payment of awarded damages in Gibson’s Bakery case

Oberlin College and Conservatory has initiated payment in full of the $36.59 million judgment in the Gibson’s Bakery case and is awaiting payment information from the plaintiffs. This amount represents awarded damages and accumulated interest, and therefore no further payments are required.

On August 30, the Ohio Supreme Court issued its decision not to hear Oberlin’s appeal. Oberlin’s Board of Trustees has decided not to pursue the matter further.

We are disappointed by the Court’s decision. However, this does not diminish our respect for the law and the integrity of our legal system.

This matter has been painful for everyone. We hope that the end of the litigation will begin the healing of our entire community.

We value our relationship with the City of Oberlin, and we look forward to continuing our support of and partnership with local businesses as we work together to help our city thrive.

Oberlin’s core mission is to provide our students with a distinctive and outstanding undergraduate education. The size of this verdict is significant. However, our careful financial planning, which includes insurance coverage, means that we can satisfy our legal obligation without impacting our academic and student experience. It is our belief that the way forward is to continue to support and strengthen the quality of education for our students now and into the future.

As author Jacobson says, though, “Notice what is not in the statement: An apology. Oberlin College still appears not to understand or accept what it did wrong. It considers itself the victim.”  Indeed it does!

And that is perhaps the most reprehensible part of Oberlin’s behavior: they have never apologized to Gibson’s once, though what the College did was clearly wrong. The matter has been “painful for everyone” simply because Oberlin, by its intransigence, made it so.  We’ll see if they “partner” with Gibson’s bakery in the future!

Here’s an email to the whole college from Oberlin’s president, expressing no contrition for their actions—only assurance that the endowment will remain intact. What a callous place this “social justice” school is!

Dear Obies,

Today, Oberlin College and Conservatory initiated payment in full of the $36.59 million judgment in the Gibson’s Bakery case, an amount that represents the awarded damages and interest owed. Please see the college’s public statement below.

While this outcome is a disappointment, our financial plans for this possibility, which included insurance coverage, mean that this payment will not impact or diminish our academic or student life experience, or require us to draw down Oberlin’s endowment.

Like me, the majority of the campus was not here at the beginning of this matter in 2016. But it is also true that this case has been difficult for all of us who love this institution and its hometown. I am looking forward to all that is ahead, and remain focused on Oberlin’s core mission of providing a truly excellent liberal arts and musical education.

Carmen Twillie Ambar
President

I guess Oberlin can’t bear to say to its community “we were wrong.” That is an insensitive email, but of course the Woke never apologize. It’s not part of their playbook.

Now contrast that with this statement from Owen Rarric, one of the Gibsons’ lawyers:

We are happy to hear that full payment on the judgment is forthcoming, allowing the 137-year-old Gibson’s Bakery to move forward continuing to serve its community.  David Gibson was always hopeful that the family bakery’s relationship with Oberlin College could one day be restored. Though he was not able to see that day come to pass, his widow Lorna Gibson continues to say: “Oberlin College faculty, staff, and students have always been, and will always be, welcome in our store.” To that end, Lorna is willing to meet with President Ambar and her senior staff to discuss resumption of a long-term relationship whenever the College feels appropriate.

They’re still seeking reconciliation, and I sure hope that they’ll get an apology from the President. But I’m not holding my breath.

Here are David Gibson and Allyn W. Gibson at trial. Both died before their final victory in court.

[Photo credit Bob Perkoski for Legal Insurrection Foundation]
h/t: cesar and several other readers

Richard Dawkins writes to New Zealand’s “friends of science and reason”

December 10, 2021 • 9:15 am

As I’ve written a couple of times, New Zealand is undergoing a dilution of its science education since the increasingly woke government and university administrators have decided that indigenous ways of knowing, called “mātauranga Māori”, should be taught as coequal with science in both high school and university science classes. But the Māori “ways of knowing” are a mixed bag. There’s some “practical” science there, like how to determine which areas are likely to flood, and how to catch eels, but there’s also a whole bunch of mythology and superstition that are simply refuted by modern science. These include a creationist view of existing plants and animals. Teaching both in a Kiwi science class is like teaching evolutionary biology alongside creationism in an American evolution class: it’s a recipe for confusion and divisiveness—and an impediment for those Māori who want to become scientists.

Of course “mātauranga Māori” should be taught in some academic venue, as Māori culture is pervasive and influential in New Zealand.. But the venue should involve anthropology or sociology, not science.

A short while ago, seven professors from Auckland University wrote a letter objecting to the proposed coequal teaching of science and mātauranga Māori. Called “In Defense of Science,” it was published in a weekly magazine called “The Listener”, and you can see it here. In response, the Royal Society of New Zealand is considering punishing or expelling the two signers who are members of the Royal Society of New Zealand. And many NZ academics signed a petition objecting to the letter (do read it; it’s inoffensive to anybody who’s sapient). Dawn Freshwater, the Vice-Chancellor of Auckland University, calling attention to the letter and its signers, declared this:

A letter in this week’s issue of The Listener magazine from seven of our academic staff on the subject of whether Mātauranga Māori can be called science has caused considerable hurt and dismay among our staff, students, and alumni.

While the academics are free to express their views, I want to make it clear that they do not represent the views of the University of Auckland.

As I’ve said, it’s not clear whether the Vice-Chancellor has any authority to declare what the “views of the University of Auckland” are, nor whether there are any official views. It’s clear she is demonizing the professors at the same time she says well, they have the right of free speech—but note that the University can officially criticize them and the Royal Society can punish them! As for the Vice-Chancellor emphasizing the “considerable hurt and dismay” at the University, I consider that a ludicrous form appeal to emotion rather than reason. Are you, as a Kiwi, hurt or dismayed by that letter? Too bad. If you have counterarguments, express them, not your emotions.

In response to the threat of punishment of the letter signers by the Royal Society of New Zealand, which has made that society into a joke, Richard Dawkins wrote a letter to the then chief executive of the Society (you can see his letter here), and also issued a tweet:

Now, in response to a request from some of the letter’s signers, Richard has tweaked his letter and aimed it at the people of New Zealand, not at the Royal Society of New Zealand. It has just appeared in the online version The Listener (bad screenshot below), and will be in the paper edition this weekend. I have permission to publish it, and so have put it below. The original title that Richard gave it was, “Dear New Zealand friends of science and reason,” which the editors changed in the published version below. (They also eliminated a reference to “bollocks”.) I like the original title better.

SCIENCE IS SCIENCE

Since the subject of mātauranga Māori was raised through Letters in July, a global response has been building against the ludicrous move to incorporate Māori “ways of knowing” into New Zealand’s science curricula, and the frankly appalling failure of the Royal Society of New Zealand to stand up for science – which is, after all, what the society exists to do.

The Royal Society of New Zealand, like the Royal Society of which I have the honour to be a Fellow, is supposed to stand for science. Not “Western” science, not “European” science, not “White” science, not “Colonialist” science. Just science. Science is science is science, and it doesn’t matter who does it, or where, or what “tradition” they may have been brought up in. True science is evidence­based, not tradition-based; it incorporates safeguards such as peer review, repeated experimental testing of hypotheses, double-blind trials, instruments to sup­plement and validate fallible senses, etc.

If a “different” way of knowing worked, if it satisfied the above tests of being evidence-based, it wouldn’t be different, it would be science. Science works. It lands spacecraft on comets, develops vaccines against plagues, predicts eclipses to the nearest second, dates the origin of the universe, and reconstructs the lives of extinct species such as the tragically destroyed moa.

If New Zealand’s Royal Society won’t stand up for true science in your country, who will? What else is the society for? What else is the rationale for its existence? I hope you won’t think me presumptuous as an outsider (who actually rather wishes he was a New Zealander) if I encourage you to stand up against this nonsense and encourage others to do so.

Richard Dawkins, DSc, FRS
Emeritus Professor of the Public Under­standing of Science, University of Oxford

I especially love the one sentence, “If a ‘different’ way of knowing worked, if it satisfied the above tests of being evidence-based, it wouldn’t be different, it would be science.” That’s classic Dawkins.

Screenshot of above in online version:

If you are a Kiwi scientist who has the bollocks (or ovaries) to stand up to the government’s, universities’, and Royal Society’s nonsense, and to stand up for reason and the value of science in the only institutionalized “way of knowing”, I ask you to join Richard and the “Satanic Seven.” Yes, I know there are real threats of reprisal should you defend evidence and reason. And you remain silent out of fear, I won’t criticize you. But I suggest that you consider joining Dawkins and the Satanic Seven, lest New Zealand science go down the loo.

University of California at Santa Cruz also pronounces on Rittenhouse verdict

November 23, 2021 • 11:15 am

Now that the Vice-Chancellor of the University of California at Irvine has apologized for taking a public and official stand on the Kyle Rittenhouse verdict (he didn’t like it), will the University of California at Santa Cruz (UCSC) be next? For here’s their own statement, posted on the University website and signed by UCSC’s Chancellor and by the Executive Director of the Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion.

This one is even more over the top than the UC Irvine statement, for it makes absolutely no bones about their opposition to the verdict, calling it a “failure of accountability.”

Dear Campus Community,

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.

If you are feeling impacted by these events, please do not hesitate to reach out to campus services for support. Staff in our colleges, resource centers, and Counseling and Psychological Services provide assistance for students. Our Employee Assistance Program offers counseling and support to employees. If you need to report discrimination on the basis of protected characteristics, please contact the Office of Equity and Equal Protection.

Sincerely,

Cindy and Judith

Cynthia Larive
Chancellor

Judith Estrada
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?

UC Irvine Vice Chancellor retracts and apologizes for his official pronouncement on the Rittenhouse verdict

November 23, 2021 • 9:15 am

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.

Sincerely,

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.

Cordially,
Jerry Coyne
Professor Emeritus
Dept. Ecology & Evolution
The University of Chicago

White Virginia Tech professor apologizes for her race (and racism) on course syllabus

September 14, 2021 • 9:15 am

(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.

More histrionic and harmful political statements from university departments

August 10, 2021 • 9:15 am

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And THAT is harm, however you define it.

NYT article: Princeton professor calls for an end to studying classics because they promote white supremacy. Andrew Sullivan issues a strong critique

February 6, 2021 • 10:30 am

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.

Free speech fundamentalism?

January 30, 2021 • 11:00 am

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?

And this:

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*.

* See H. L. Mencken’s wonderful review of Thorstein Veblen’s prose.

A groveling apology from a professor who simply called for more college football, which is apparently racist

September 30, 2020 • 10:15 am

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 FordJoy 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).

Matthew Mayhew, now toast

h/t: Eli

 

An open letter to the University of Chicago’s English Department

September 21, 2020 • 9:00 am

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 Stone explained 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.

Cordially,
Jerry Coyne