Writer excoriates the University of Chicago English Department for its opposition to free speech

March 6, 2020 • 12:30 pm

 Education should not be intended to make people comfortable; it is meant to make them think.

Hannah Holborn Gray, former president, The University of Chicago

 

Ben Schwarz is a well known editor and writer who was national editor of The Atlantic for 13 years after 2000, and won plaudits for his work, described in this bit from Wikipedia:

Schwarz was the literary and the national editor of The Atlantic from 2000 to 2013. In addition to writing, assigning, and editing prominent feature articles for the magazine, Schwarz ran, and wrote a regular column for, the Atlantic’s cultural and literary department, which under his editorship expanded its coverage to include popular culture and manners and mores, as well as books and ideas. The Los Angeles Times wrote that Schwarz had “reshaped the venerable magazine’s book section into the shrewdest, best-written and most surprising cultural report currently on offer between slick covers.” The writers he recruited to the Books section included Perry Anderson, Caitlin Flanagan, Sandra Tsing Loh, Christopher Hitchens, Cristina Nehring, Joseph O’Neill, Terry Castle, Clive James, and B. R. Myers.

Schwarz describes himself as politically heterodox, and is currently working on a biography of Winston Churchill.  I became acquainted with him when he wrote me with concerns about his son, who’s due to attend the University of Chicago this fall, and was planning on majoring in English. (His son describes himself as being on the political Left.) That is, until Schwarz fils saw the statement below on the U of C’s Department of English Language and Literature website (henceforth the “English Department”).

Click to access the site:

Now this is an “open letter” giving the opinion of 40 members of the department (a big majority of the faculty of 61), but, emblazoned on the departmental website, it has the cachet of being a kind of official statement. And it’s an opinion directly at odds with the Chicago Principles of Free Expression, which allow no exceptions to free speech except for the normal legal ones as well as speech that may disrupt the workings of the university:

The freedom to debate and discuss the merits of competing ideas does not, of course, mean that individuals may say whatever they wish, wherever they wish.The University may restrict expression that violates the law, that falsely defames a specific individual, that constitutes a genuine threat or harassment, that unjustifiably invades substantial privacy or confidentiality interests, or that is otherwise directly incompatible with the functioning of the University.In addition, the University may reasonably regulate the time, place, and manner of expression to ensure that it does not disrupt the ordinary activities of the University. But these are narrow exceptions to the general principle of freedom of expression, and it is vitally important that these exceptions never be used in a manner that is inconsistent with the University’s commitment to a completely free and open discussion of ideas.

There is no—repeat, no—exception for the so-called “hate speech” here, or for speech that involves bullying, racially charged attacks, nor for speech that “demeans, intimidates, or harms others.” We’ve discussed this many times, and I’ve given lots of examples (as does Schwarz in the article below) of how speech that articulates useful and discussable ideas can at the same time be claimed to “harm, demean, or intimidate others.”

Ben wrote me about his concerns. I read the statement and agreed with him that the English Department statement is directly at odds with the University’s own position.  While one could say that the English Department statement is just an expression of personal opinion and not official policy—which is true—it should not be a permanent fixture on a department website, because it’s intimidating and gives the impression that the English Department has values inimical to those of the University as a whole. In fact, when Ben’s son read that statement, he decided that while he’ll still come here next fall, he’s not going to major in English Language and Literature. So they’ve lost a student. The 40 woke professors should have just written a letter to the  student newspaper rather than having their views given permanence on their departmental website.

But then Schwarz père decided he’d confect a critical analysis of the statement above, taking it apart and showing how it contradicts the principles of our University. And so he wrote the article below in Spiked, which I recommend you read in its entirety. It’s not pleasant for me to see the University of Chicago, of which I’m proud, criticized in this way, but I have to say that it’s necessary. As our school becomes more woke, it’s essential that U of Cers like me stand up for the Chicago Principles to keep other departments from loosening the reins on free speech. (The administration still stands by the principles, thank Ceiling Cat.)

I’ll give a few quotes from Schwarz, but the four-page article (as I printed it out in 9-point type) needs a full reading. As one would expect from Schwarz, it’s hard-hitting and very well written. Some excerpts (indented):

Although the US News and World Report rankings (America’s most famous academic league table) place the University of Chicago’s English department as the best in the US, the department’s arguments and assertions evince sloppy writing and thinking. Who is to decide what constitutes ‘bullying’ or ‘racially charged attacks’? Who determines if and how speech ‘demeans, intimidates, or harms others’? Who deems what speech ‘has no place in academic life’? Would any individual who feels demeaned or harmed by speech have the power to exclude that speech from ‘academic life’? Is the English department proposing itself as the star chamber? The open letter states that ‘bullying’ and ‘racially charged attacks’ are just some of the ‘forms’ of ‘disagreement’ that are illegitimate and therefore deserving of expulsion from the academy (‘when disagreement takes such forms as…’, emphasis added). Who will decide what other ‘forms’ of ‘disagreement’ are considered worthy of banishment from campus? The department states that ‘the invocation of the right of free speech’ is illegitimate when ‘speech is no longer primarily a matter of the expression of ideas, viewpoints, or opinions’ and that only speech that ‘makes claims and articulates ideas’ is legitimate. Who is to determine what speech pursues these aims and falls under these categories? If the open letter’s signatories ‘condemn’ and ‘repudiate’ certain on-campus expression or activities, what form will that condemnation and repudiation take? The Chicago Principles ‘guarantee all members of the university community the broadest possible latitude’ of expression, but the English department seeks the opposite goal – not free speech, but licensed speech.

Moreover, the position articulated in the department’s proclamation is contradictory and therefore ambiguous. Speech that any person or group might construe, or misconstrue, as ‘bullying’, ‘racially charged’, ‘glorif[ying] violence’, ‘demean[ing]’, or ‘harm[ful]’ – forms of expression that the English department states should be expunged from campus – could simultaneously be ‘a matter of the expression of ideas, viewpoints, or opinions’ and constitute ‘speech that makes claims and articulates ideas’ — that is, forms of speech that the department deems permissible. Thus the position advocated in the proclamation, and any policies that might derive from that position, are irredeemably flawed. Furthermore, if the proclamation’s precepts are followed, any persons who feel that they have been ‘harm[ed]’ or ‘demeane[d]’ or that the content or manner of debate is ‘bullying’, ‘racially charged’, or ‘glori[fies]…violence’ can, in fact, ought to, shut down the offending debate or discussion. The department’s position would thus squelch free inquiry and potentially require any member of the university to be ‘condemn[ed]’ and ‘repudiate[d]’ (by the English department?) for articulating an argument because some unspecified party judges that argument to be offensive.

And the critical clash between the Chicago Principles and the English Department’s virtue-flaunting:

The English department asserts that ‘there is a crucial difference between speech that makes claims and articulates ideas, and speech that demeans, intimidates, or harms others’. But inevitably and unavoidably, expression ‘that makes claims and articulates ideas’ will be found by some – and in quite a few cases by nearly everyone – to be demeaning, hurtful and even intimidating. The Chicago Principles emphatically recognise this very point: ‘It is not the proper role of the university to attempt to shield individuals from ideas and opinions they find unwelcome, disagreeable, or even deeply offensive… [C]oncerns about civility and mutual respect can never be used as a justification for closing off discussion of ideas, however offensive or disagreeable those ideas may be to some members of our community.’ The Chicago Principles go on to declare unambiguously that ‘debate or deliberation may not be suppressed because the ideas put forth are thought by some or even by most members of the university community to be offensive, unwise, immoral, or wrong-headed’. In this way, too, the department holds a position incompatible with the principles of the university that houses and governs it.

. . . The English department affirms that all speech that can be interpreted as the ‘glorification of violence against those with whom one differs’, or as ‘hatred expressed in speech’, should be condemned and excluded from academic life. This blanket condemnation and exclusion would necessarily embrace within its ambit many important political statements and arguments. Will those who would approvingly cite the dictum ‘from the river to the sea Palestine will be free’ (a statement many believe advocates a genocidal programme against Israel’s Jews) be expelled from academic life? What about those who express Mao’s idea that ‘political power grows out of the barrel of a gun’? And what about those who invoke Thomas Jefferson’s idea that ‘the tree of liberty must be refreshed… with the blood of patriots and tyrants’?

Schwarz provides several other famous quotes that presumably would be criticized or deemed “hate speech” by the English Department, and he also discusses whether it’s exculpatory to have a simple “opinion” affixed to the website of the English Department (he and I say “NO!”). He also discusses the petition of many faculty and students calling to have Steve Bannon, invited to speak here in the fall of 2018, disinvited. (I wrote an op-ed in the Chicago Tribune defending Bannon’s right to speak.)

Yes, the administration is still holding the line on free speech here, and for that I’m grateful. But many of the Woke are edging their toes closer to that line, and there are palpable signs that my University is weakening on its free-speech commitment in several areas. (I think we, of all Universities, need to educate incoming students about free speech.) I’ve already called the English Department statement to the University administration’s attention (as has Schwarz), yet it remains on the website. So I say to the English Department, its faculty, and all its students, “English Department: Tear down that statement!”  If you must, send it to the Chicago Maroon, but don’t leave it as a permanent part of the Department website. It creates a chilling climate for students (in English, of all places!), and has already frozen out Ben’s son from that department.

And it’s directly at odds with Hannah Gray’s statement at the top of this post.

 

More on authoritarian diversity statements at the University of California

December 30, 2019 • 11:00 am

Last month I reported on a controversial essay written by Abigail Thompson, chair of mathematics at the University of California at Davis. In that essay, posted in the Notices of the American Mathematical Society (NAMS), Thompson, while favoring initiatives to increase diversity in her field, decried the mandatory “diversity statements” that the University of California now requires of all scholars applying for jobs. These were, she said, almost like the old loyalty oaths that the U of C used to require, as unless you adhered to a rubric provided by the University, you had no chance of getting a job. In these statements, you have to show tangible commitment to diversity, a track record of increasing diversity, and a plan for promoting diversity at the UC campus where you’re hired. As Thompson wrote:

Nearly all University of California campuses require that job applicants submit a “contributions to diversity” statement as a part of their application. The campuses evaluate such statements using rubrics, a detailed scoring system. Several UC programs have used these diversity statements to screen out candidates early in the search process.

A typical rubric from UC Berkeley specifies that a statement that “describes only activities that are already the expectation of Berkeley faculty (mentoring, treating all students the same regardless of background, etc)” (italics mine) merits a score of 1–2 out of a possible 5 (1 worst and 5 best) in the second section of the rubric, the “track record for advancing diversity” category.

The diversity “score” is becoming central in the hiring process. Hiring committees are being urged to start the review process by using officially provided rubrics to score the required diversity statements and to eliminate applicants who don’t achieve a scoring cut-off.

She decried this practice as a test of one’s political views:

Why is it a political test? Politics are a reflection of how you believe society should be organized. Classical liberals aspire to treat every person as a unique individual, not as a representative of their gender or their ethnic group. The sample rubric dictates that in order to get a high diversity score, a candidate must have actively engaged in promoting different identity groups as part of their professional life. The candidate should demonstrate “clear knowledge of, experience with, and interest in dimensions of diversity that result from different identities” and describe “multiple activities in depth.” Requiring candidates to believe that people should be treated differently according to their identity is indeed a political test.

The idea of using a political test as a screen for job applicants should send a shiver down our collective spine. Whatever our views on communism, most of us today are in agreement that the UC loyalty oaths of the 1950s were wrong. Whatever our views on diversity and how it can be achieved, mandatory diversity statements are equally misguided. Mathematics is not immune from political pressures on campus. In addition to David Saxon, who eventually became the president of the University of California, three mathematicians were fired for refusing to sign the loyalty oath in 1950. Mathematics must be open and welcoming to everyone, to those who have traditionally been excluded, and to those holding unpopular viewpoints. Imposing a political litmus test is not the way to achieve excellence in mathematics or in the university. Not in 1950, and not today.

This of course caused a big kerfuffle, with mathematicians and academics furiously gathering signatures on petitions and writing letters to the NAMS. You can see all of them by clicking on the screenshot below. These occupy 21 pages, most of the space taken by signatures on the two big petitions: one supporting Thompson’s stand and the other criticizing it and favoring diversity statements. There are also individual letters, most of them supporting Thompson. I won’t summarize these as you can read them for yourself. 

It would help clarify this mess if one could actually see the rubrics that the University of California uses to judge candidates. Fortunately, the one used by UC Berkeley is online, and lists the way they “grade” three aspects of a candidate’s diversity statement: their “knowledge about diversity, equity, and inclusion”; their “track record in advancing diversity, equity, and inclusion”; and their “plans for advancing diversity, equity, and inclusion.” You can get from 1-5 points in each of the three areas, with a minimum score of 3 and a maximum of 15. Apparently the university uses cutoffs, so that if a candidate’s diversity score falls below a threshold, they would be removed from consideration without looking at their c.v.s or other information. (I am not 100% sure about this, but Thompson implies that this is the case.)

If you want to see how these things are scored, click on the screenshot below (there are two pages in the document; don’t try to read the tiny print!):

After looking over this draconian document, I find that I agree even more with Thompson. To get passable scores, you simply cannot just have been in favor of increasing diversity, or have done only activities “that are already the expectation of faculty as evidence of commitment and involvement” (i.e., welcoming students to a lab regardless of background, or mentoring women students without having an outreach program to bring them in). That is, if you are gender- and color-blind, and treat everyone equally, or even mentor minorities or women without outreach, you’re not going to make the cut.

To get scores of 4 or 5, you must have a pretty deep knowledge of diversity and intersectionality (along with data about them), a long track record of promoting diversity in multiple ways, and specific ideas of how you would advance equity and inclusion at Berkeley. You must also agree “to be a strong advocate for diversity, equity and inclusion within the department/school/college and also their field.” That specifically means that you have to swear fealty to an ideology, and act on that fealty. I invite you to read these two brief pages to see the kind of nonacademic and ideological requirements for getting an academic job in the UC system.

I hasten to add that I am in favor of diversity in academia as both an innate good and as a way of compensating groups who have been held back by oppression, racism, or sexism. I favor a limited form of affirmative action in hiring, which means, to put it plainly, that there are occasions when academic quality must bow before other needs. But I do not favor the UC’s brand of ideological purity test, in which candidates must not only swear their commitment to diversity, but have a long track record of promoting it.

Track records will of course differ depending on many things, including a candidate’s involvement in academic matters or in useful activities that don’t directly increase diversity (popular writing, lectures in high schools, and so on). And I favor initiatives on the part of departments and colleges to increase diversity. But let us not have these purity tests, loyalty oaths, and cutoffs if your record of social justice activity isn’t up to snuff. That is a recipe for authoritarianism, for stifling needed discussions and free speech, and, not least of all, it’s an invitation to lie and distort. I still can’t accept that the purpose of universities should be to engineer society in specific ways beyond teaching the current knowledge in all fields and helping students learn how to think clearly.

One of the signatories of the anti-Thompson letter is Chad Topaz, a professor at Williams College whom we met before. He actually runs an organization that, in return for your donations, will help one or two people you designate write a diversity statement*. How honest can a statement be if you write it with the “help” of an organization that specializes in crafting diversity statements in return for money?

*Note: this link is likely to disappear, as Topaz, a real piece of work, redirects links from people he considers “white supremacists” (i.e., me) away from his site and to the Southern Poverty Law Center. But try copying this link into your browser (it won’t connect directly because Topaz is an ass): https://qsideinstitute.org/2019/11/20/if-you-donate-we-will-give-pro-bono-support-to-job-candidates-regarding-writing-diversity-statements/

UPDATE: In response to a reader question, Topaz does seem to think I’m a white supremacist. Here’s a screenshot from his Facebook page that appears on someone’s website:

h/t: BJ

UC Davis math professor demonized for criticizing required “diversity” statements for academic jobs

November 24, 2019 • 11:00 am

Abigail Thompson is a well known professor (and department Chair) of mathematics at the University of California at Davis, specializing in topology. Six years ago she became an inaugural fellow of the American Mathematical Society (AMS), and now she’s a vice president.

But in the December issue of the Notices of the American Mathematical Society, she set herself up for public pillorying by publishing an essay criticizing the mandatory diversity statements that must accompany applications for academic jobs at some colleges and universities, including hers. You can read her short essay by clicking on the screenshot below:

Dr. Thompson is certainly not against increased diversity in math departments or colleges in general, nor against efforts to increase diversity. She just doesn’t think that “diversity statements” are the way to do it:
Mathematics has made progress over the past decades towards becoming a more welcoming, inclusive discipline. We should continue to do all we can to reduce barriers to participation in this most beautiful of fields. I am encouraged by the many mathematicians who are working to achieve this laudable aim. There are reasonable means to further this goal: encouraging students from all backgrounds to enter the mathematics pipeline, trying to ensure that talented mathematicians don’t leave the profession, creating family-friendly policies, and supporting junior faculty at the beginning of their careers, for example. There are also mistakes to avoid. Mandating diversity statements for job candidates is one such mistake, reminiscent of events of seventy years ago.

What are these statements? I came of age in academia without the existence of such things, but they are required essays or statements that accompany professorial job applications, outlining your history of diversity-promoting efforts and proposing how you’ll increase diversity if you’re hired. And, as Thompson reports, they’re actually scored at the University of California using a point system. If you don’t say the right stuff, or come off as sufficiently enthusiastic about promoting diversity, you’re not going to get the job.

Thompson:

Nearly all University of California campuses require that job applicants submit a “contributions to diversity” statement as a part of their application. The campuses evaluate such statements using rubrics, a detailed scoring system. Several UC programs have used these diversity statements to screen out candidates early in the search process. A typical rubric from UC Berkeley specifies that a statement that “describes only activities that are already the expectation of Berkeley faculty (mentoring, treating all students the same regardless of background, etc)” (italics mine) merits a score of 1–2 out of a possible 5 (1 worst and 5 best) in the second section of the rubric, the “track record for advancing diversity” category. [JAC: note that “treating everyone the same” doesn’t get you much credit.]

The diversity “score” is becoming central in the hiring process. Hiring committees are being urged to start the review process by using officially provided rubrics to score the required diversity statements and to eliminate applicants who don’t achieve a scoring cut-off.

Now clearly “diversity” here means “ethnic diversity”, but I don’t think they say that explicitly. But those applicants who propose to increase political viewpoint diversity by, say, trying to promote conservative values and accept more conservative students, are simply not going to be hired!

If, like me, you find it worthwhile to promote equality of opportunity—and, to some extent, in outcome—in academics in general, and in STEM and math in particular, why object to diversity statements? Thompson argues, and I agree, that they are ideological statements, weeding out candidates according to whether they align with certain non-academic goals. She compares them to the “I am not a communist and will not overthrow the US government” statements once required as a condition for taking a job at University of California campuses. (I had to sign one when I became a postdoc at UC Davis in 1979.) Thompson explains:

Why is it a political test? Politics are a reflection of how you believe society should be organized. Classical liberals aspire to treat every person as a unique individual, not as a representative of their gender or their ethnic group. The sample rubric dictates that in order to get a high diversity score, a candidate must have actively engaged in promoting different identity groups as part of their professional life. The candidate should demonstrate “clear knowledge of, experience with, and interest in dimensions of diversity that result from different identities” and describe “multiple activities in depth.” Requiring candidates to believe that people should be treated differently according to their identity is indeed a political test. The idea of using a political test as a screen for job applicants should send a shiver down our collective spine.

. . . ‘Mathematics must be open and welcoming to everyone, to those who have traditionally been excluded, and to those holding unpopular viewpoints. Imposing a political litmus test is not the way to achieve excellence in mathematics or in the university.

I have to agree with Thompson here. I am a believer in at least some affirmative action in university hiring, for I see diversity of all sorts as a net good. (I haven’t yet decided how one should balance diversity versus academic quality when they conflict.) But I believe even more strongly in “affirmative action in opportunity“: that is, making sure everyone, regardless of gender, ethnicity, politics, or background, gets an equal opportunity from the beginning of their lives to follow their interests and to study and achieve without discrimination. We are a very long way away from that.

But I don’t believe those goals should be achieved by these coercive “diversity statements”, which are indeed chilling. You can imagine how candidates struggle to write a successful statement, and surely there exaggeration pervades many of them. Most academics who aren’t bigots simply haven’t done that much in their pre-job lives to promote diversity. And Thompson’s right: these statements are political, aimed at turning a university’s mission toward social engineering and away from teaching students how to think and how to absorb and assess the knowledge is in their chosen field.

But you’re taking your career and your reputation in danger if, like Dr. Thompson, you dare question diversity statements—even if you’re in favor of increasing diversity. This article in Inside Higher Ed (click on screenshot), describes the reactions of academics, pro and con, of requiring such statements.

The statements have sometimes been characterized by a kind of academic doublespeak, as described in that article:

The University of Maryland, Baltimore County, for instance, mentions connectedness, inclusion and diversity throughout its mission and vision statements. It also requires faculty applicants to submit diversity statements. But Autumn Reed, assistant vice provost for faculty affairs, said, “My stance is that I don’t even like to call them diversity statements. The language we use is statements on commitment to inclusive excellence in higher education.” Such wording moves the discussion away from embodied characteristics of diversity to issues of pedagogical diversity and even diversity of perspective and thought, she added.

Well, let’s see if UMBC favors hiring professors who work to promote the hiring of more conservatives, libertarians, or Ayn Randians! I’m for all sorts of diversity, but in practice, as I said, the word tends to mean ethnic diversity.

Yet if you think diversity is a net good, as I do (and as the Supreme Court decided in its Bakke ruling), then you want good people from all sorts of backgrounds. To suppose that ethnicity is a marker of viewpoints, and thus diversity of ethnicity is a good surrogate for diversity of views, is patronizing, for it assumes that members of certain ethnic groups are relatively ideologically homogeneous as well as ideologically different in a predictable way from members of other groups. In other words, to use statistical theory, this view presumes that most of the variation (diversity) in thought among Americans will be explained by variation in their ethnicity.

But never mind. As you can predict, Thompson’s non-inflammatory criticism of diversity statements angered some of the woke. There have been petitions criticizing Thompson’s equation of diversity statements with McCarthy-esque “I’m not a Commie” statements, as well as statements calling for letters to her department and demands that she step down as chair of mathematics at Davis.

A particularly nasty and vitriolic example of the latter came from Chad Topaz, a professor of mathematics at (you guessed it) Williams College. On his public Facebook page, Topaz posted the following call for public censure of Thompson:

Nothing like “good ‘ol public shame”, eh? (The apostrophe goes after the “l”, by the way.) What a nasty piece of work this Topaz fellow must be!

Topaz also wrote the article shown below on his own diversity organization’s website, QSIDE. But there appears to be a conflict of interest here. Topaz funds that organization in part by giving donors the gift of “diversity statement help” from his organization [UPDATE: link removed– see here for reason why]. To wit:

Donate any amount. For every $100 raised, we will provide one hour of consulting to a graduate student or postdoc who is on the job market for tenure track jobs right now, or who will be next year. Specifically, we will give feedback on any existing diversity statement the candidate has written, and/or we will help develop an equity/diversity/inclusion plan in concert with the candidate.

For any individual who donates $500 or more, the benefactor can, if they wish, designate two people who should receive one hour of consulting services.

. . . The use of the pro bono services will be completely confidential, meaning that we will never share any information about who we help (other than the total number of individuals).

Thus, by promoting requirements for diversity statements, Topaz is also plumping for donations to his own organization. Further, the undisclosed use of outside help in writing your diversity statement seems to me more than a bit sleazy, like relying on those organizations that charge for helping college students write admissions essays. It may not be illegal, but it doesn’t seem right, since your statements are supposed to be your own, not the thoughts of others.

At any rate, here’s Topaz’s new statement on his QSIDE website [UPDATE: Link removed– see here for reason why]:

The article lists several courses of action that Topaz recommends vis-à-vis Thompson’s statement, following those given on his Facebook post. They include 1) advising your math students not to go to UC Davis; 2) emailing the AMS criticizing its publication of Thompson’s piece (he has a boilerplate letter of complaint, including the statement “I believe you have made a grave and very damaging mistake by publishing Thompson’s essay.“); 3) punishing the AMS journal by not writing or “doing favors” for it; 4) “spreading the word about this debacle on social media and in your workplaces” (the call for social-media crucifixion); 5) contacting the UC Davis math department demanding that they dump Thompson as chair; and, most self-aggrandizingly, 6) donating to Topaz’s own organization (my emphasis).

And of course Topaz tweeted, because all manner of social media must be used when shaming the Ideologically Impure:

But Topaz was hoist with his own petard. In a heartening display, people called him out for being authoritarian and McCarthy-esque himself (you can see the thread here). This was the result:

Further, there’s a new essay in Psychology Today by a social psychologist (!) and Chair of Psychology at Rutgers that gives more examples of those enraged by Thompson’s essay while at the same time defending her criticism of mandatory diversity statements (click on screenshot):

Jussim’s ending is a model for the way that we, as liberals, should deal with diversity on one hand and mandatory diversity statements on the other:

I have a sincere Diversity Statement that I chose to put online at Rutgers, which you can find here. I am pretty sure I was the first Rutgers Psych Professor to have such a statement. This was by my choice; no one urged or pressured me to do it. Rutgers has a very demographically diverse student body, and it is genuinely important to me that students know that, regardless of their racial, ethnic, political, religious, or other identity backgrounds, they are welcome here and in my lab.

However, I also respect faculty who would rather not provide a diversity statement. People who strive for excellence in their field of expertise, say, teaching and research for many academics, should not be excluded from positions because they are not sufficiently fluent in the lingo of social justice.

I also have one here, in which I point out the politicized nature of such required statements. Here are some excerpts:

I am not afraid of social justice.

I am afraid of those who will punish others for not subscribing to a toxic and oppressive view of social justice. I am afraid, not of actual social justice, but of what some people are willing to do, and are in fact now doing, in the name of social justice.

This reads almost like a prediction for what is happening to Thompson.

Amen, comrades! The second link, here, goes to another piece by Jussim, published in Quillette, that underscores the maladaptive effects of “Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion” statements. It’s worth a read.

Georgetown University protestors shut down talk by head of Homeland Security

October 9, 2019 • 1:15 pm

Here’s another instance of deplatforming by the Left, which should be embarrassed since, in the last few years, far more speakers have been disinvited or deplatformed by the Left (traditionally the party of free speech) than by the Right (go back five years in FIRE’s disinvitation database, where the ratio for just this year is about 2:1).

Click on the screenshot to read the New York Times piece:

From the article above:

Kevin K. McAleenan, the acting secretary of homeland security, was forced offstage at Georgetown University’s law school by demonstrators who shut down his planned keynote address as they protested the Trump administration’s immigration policies.

Almost immediately after Mr. McAleenan was introduced to give a speech hosted by the Migration Policy Institute, nearly a dozen advocates and law students in the crowd stood up holding signs saying, “Stand with immigrants” and “Hate is not normal.” Standing at the lectern in front of the packed auditorium, Mr. McAleenan tried to start speaking but was drowned out by chants of: “When immigrants are under attack, what do we do? Stand up, fight back.”

The protesters also read the names of the migrants who have died after being detained at the border.

. . . On Monday, Doris Meissner, the director of United States immigration policy at the Migration Policy Institute and a former commissioner of the Immigration and Naturalization Service, pleaded with protesters to allow Mr. McAleenan to speak. She told them they were “robbing” other members of the audience who came to hear him. The demonstrators said that people at the border were being robbed of their lives.

Mr. McAleenan waited for the chants to quiet down and tried to speak at least three times. Visibly frustrated, he thanked Ms. Meissner before walking off the stage. Some people in the audience also expressed disappointment with the protesters. Mr. McAleenan was scheduled to take questions from attendees after his remarks.

“There are some very serious issues that we can talk about in candor in a real dialogue, or we can continue to shout,” Mr. McAleenan said. “I’d like to take our dialogue today above the politics and the daily news cycle and talk about the challenges and efforts that we’ve faced over the past year.”

Here’s a C-Span video of the deplatforming. Clearly, Georgetown needed to call security to clear out the disruptors, who look like petulant children.

Clearly, talk about immigration is considered “hate speech”, or at least speech that shouldn’t be heard. This is an embarrassment to Georgetown, which apparently had no security in place to quiet the protestors and prevent the de-platforming.  Whatever you think about Trump’s immigration policy (and of course I think that much of it is reprehensible), McAleenan should have the chance to make his case.  What kind of University is Georgetown? Clearly not The University of Chicago! Where were the administrators and security personnel?

Even more embarrassing is that students and faculty demanded McAleenan’s removal, and, when they didn’t get it, decided on mob action (my emphasis):

“It’s our belief that no institution should be elevating, normalizing or legitimizing any of the Trump immigration officials who are quite honestly carrying out policies that are rooted in the white nationalism that Donald Trump and Stephen Miller are so blatantly trying to institutionalize,” said Nicole Regalado, the campaign director at Credo Action, an advocacy organization, which helped organize the protest.

She said more than a dozen organizations sent the organizers of the event a letter requesting that Mr. McAleenan’s invitation be rescinded. About 350 Georgetown law students, faculty members and alumni also signed a separate petition asking for his removal.

Why on earth would a Trump official speaking about immigration policy “normalize” that policy? It expresses the administration’s policy, but to say that it has “normalized” those views implies that the audience is brainless, can’t think for itself, and will be swayed toward Trumpism if they simply hear an administration official speaking. This is patronizing: the deplatformers claim the right to determine what everyone should be allowed to hear. (And, of course, it’s only their views.) Have they not heard of free speech and then counterspeech? Do they not think that counterspeech is effective, so that they must quash free speech? The answer is, of course, “yes.”

“Normalizing”, like “nuance,” is a word you should be very wary of in discussions of free speech.

Williams College’s indoctrination of its students

July 24, 2019 • 11:15 am

During the last academic year, I posted quite a bit about Williams College, as it is rated as one of America’s top liberal-arts schools and yet it was publicly melting down along the lines of The Evergreen State College. This summer, a college committee recommended a free-speech policy to help quell last year’s unrest and set some principles in stone, but the policy is flawed and, at any rate, will almost surely do nothing to address the issues that will arise when students return this fall— along with two of their woke heroes who were on medical leave last year.

I’ve now found that students entering Williams College must fulfill a requirement in the following area by taking at least one course concentrating on “Difference, power, and equity” (click on the screenshot to see the College’s webpage on this:

The summary (the emphasis is mine):

Williams College recognizes that in a diverse and globalized world, the critical examination of difference, power, and equity is an essential part of a liberal arts education. The Difference, Power, and Equity (DPE) requirement provides students with the opportunity to analyze the shaping of social differences, dynamics of unequal power, and processes of change. Courses satisfying the DPE requirement include content that encourages students to confront and reflect on the operations of difference, power and equity. They also provide students with critical tools they will need to be responsible agents of change. Employing a variety of pedagogical approaches and theoretical perspectives, DPE courses examine themes including but not limited to race, class, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, and religion.

All students are required to complete at least ONE course that has the DPE designation. Although this course, which may be counted toward the divisional distribution requirement, can be completed any semester before graduation, students are urged to complete the course by the end of the sophomore year. The requirement may be fulfilled with a course taken away from campus, but students wishing to use this option must petition the Committee on Educational Affairs (CEA) upon their return by providing a clear and detailed explanation of how the course taken away from Williams fulfills the DPE requirement.

This, of course, is an attempt to inculcate the students with intersectionalism, identity politics, and an overarching narrative of oppression—with the explicit aim of making students “responsible agents of change”, especially in areas of race, class, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, and religion. (If you doubt me, have a look at the list of courses at the link given below).

Of course I’m probably on board with much of what the administrators want to happen to society, but should a college curriculum be designed to make the students behave in ways the administration wants them to behave? Clearly, the students are getting inculcated with the kind of politics the administrators would like them to adopt. Despite the college President’s recent insistence on free speech, free discourse, and mutual respect, it is clear precisely which ideology the college considers acceptable: the ideology of identity politics and differential power based on the intersectionalist hierarchy.

You can see a pdf of the DPE courses here. Now there are 292 pages of courses that fulfill the requirement, and many sound innocuous (including “The Tropics,” the only science-related course I found). And I haven’t looked at all the courses because there are so many of them. But you might be amused by going through the list, as it’s a veritable all-you-can-read buffet of Woke Culture.

Granted, this is only one requirement, and to fulfill it students need take only a single course.  But those courses are almost all about oppression narratives, and all would appeal to the Authoritarian Left. To my mind, they’re intended, as is the requirement, not to convey knowledge or to get students to question things critically—I haven’t found a single course that takes a conservative point of view—but to inculcate students with an Authoritarian Leftist attitude in order to get the students to become agents of change. That means agents who will enact the social changes that their professors and administrators want. In other words, puppets of social change.

My view of a college’s mission is to teach students to be critical thinkers, to love learning, and to instill an appreciation of knowledge that will turn them into lifelong learners and truth-seekers. If that causes them to become “responsible agents of change”, well, that’s a side benefit. But under no circumstances is a college—except, of course, for religious schools—supposed to instill into students a specific worldview or ideology. The purpose of a nonreligious college is education, not indoctrination. Williams doesn’t seem to have realized that.

Jon Haidt has laid much of the blame for the victimhood culture of colleges not on the students themselves, but on the administrators (nearly all on the Left) who perpetrate a certain view of the world comprising these three “Great Untruths”, taken from Haidt and Lukianoff’s book The Coddling of The American Mind:

1.)  We young people are fragile (“What doesn’t kill you makes you weaker.”)

2.) We are prone to emotional reasoning and confirmation bias (“Always trust your feelings.”)

3.) We are prone to “dichotomous thinking and tribalism” (“Life is a battle between good people and evil people.”)

After looking at Williams’s requirement above (many college may have such requirements, but I haven’t investigated), I think Haidt and Lukianoff are right. The blame is largely at the door not of the students, but of the administrators and professors.

The Wall Street Journal on Oberlin vs. Gibson’s

June 28, 2019 • 11:47 am

The WSJ is a conservative paper, of course, but it would be hard for anyone to defend Oberlin College’s  behavior toward Gibson Bakery and Market when the college itself engaged in demonizing the local business, cut off commercial relations with it, and tried to characterize the Bakery as racist. The outcome: a local jury awarded Gibson’s $11 million in compensatory damages and $33 million in punitive damages. That award will almost surely be reduced later, but it’s still a huge hit, and a public embarrassment, for Oberlin. But, as the evidence showed, the College was guilty of libel. Gibson’s was not racist, did not engage in racial profiling, and yes, the College did try to damage the business.

The WSJ’s take doesn’t say much that’s new, but there is one telling sentence uttered by Oberlin’s President. The article is behind a paywall but I’ve managed to get a copy.

You might also be interested in reading Oberlin’s self-serving document “Facts and Background About the Lawsuit Filed by Gibson’s Bakery Against Oberlin College,” which, in my view, is a whitewash of what Zefrank 1 would call “the true facts”. The document even minimizes the College’s own attempt to placate the students by temporarily cutting off business with Gibson’s:

Why did the College temporarily suspend its baked goods orders with the Gibsons after the protest?

Among students, tensions remained high. Administrators sought to de-escalate that tension and looked for opportunities to rebuild trust between students and members of the community. A primary point of contention for students was the College’s continuing business relationship with Gibson’s. In an effort to remove issues that might provoke further confrontation, the College temporarily suspended its daily baked goods order with the Gibson’s on November 14, 2016.

During the suspension, students were still able to use Obie Dollars to purchase items at Gibson’s, and faculty and staff could still use departmental funds to pay for baked goods and other items.

Really? The College decided to “rebuild trust between students and members of the community” by punishing the bakery? What befuddled administrator had that idea?

A college with neurons would not have taken this step, admittedly designed to placate the students who were outraged that Gibson’s apprehended three black students for shoplifting and assault. (It came out in the trial that Gibson’s did not engage in racial profiling and had no history of racism.) A college with neurons would also have been aware of the legal consequences of such an action. A college with neurons would not have tried to incite the students in demonstrating against Gibson’s, or tried to placate students making untrue complaints. (The students, of course, were free to engage in legal demonstration and counter-speech. The College was not free to engage in damaging Gibson’s.)

The excerpt from the WSJ is below, and I’ve bolded the curious part:

The student protesters were only the proximate cause of Oberlin’s problem. The jury wasn’t particularly interested in the student protesters or their accusation of “racism,” which presumably remains protected opinion.

What really interested the jury was the actions of senior managers at Oberlin College as they related to the protesters’ other accusation against Gibson’s Bakery—that it practiced racial profiling, which is a substantive act, not mere opinion.

After the protests erupted, Oberlin suspended the college’s baked-goods orders with the Gibsons. In its official fact sheet about the event, Oberlin says it suspended the bakery “in an effort to remove issues that might provoke further confrontation with the students.”

. . . Oberlin’s president, Carmen Twillie Ambar (who was appointed nine months after the incident), visited the Journal’s editorial page Wednesday to discuss the decision and hopefully, she said, some issues on which “conservatives and progressives could agree.”

She told us Oberlin hasn’t decided whether it will appeal, but decried “using the legal system to punish opinion.” Not many in the opinion business would disagree with that.

But President Ambar also said: “You can have two different lived experiences, and both those things can be true.”

Well, Gibson’s bakery and Oberlin’s students might have experienced different emotions, and if “having divergent emotions or reactions” is a “truth”, then yes, that’s true. But President Ambar is implying here that one group of students can see the bakery as racist and the bakery can see itself as not racist, and they can both be right.

This, however, is not a matter of opinion, but of fact: the students’ “lived experience” does not in fact correspond to reality. It was a delusion, fueled by their unfulfilled social-justice rage. Oberlin helped fuel that rage, and colleges do not have “lived experience.”

The jury recognized that, and that jury, which apparently has more sense than President Ambar, decided that there were facts to be sorted out rather than just throwing up its hands and saying “both sides are professing truth.”

President Ambar has clearly bought into the worst form of “wokeness”: the claim that there is no objective truth and that “lived experience” is the arbiter of reality. But this postmodern cant didn’t fly with the local folk on the jury.

President Ambar says in the interview that Oberlin has not yet decided whether to appeal (this is harder in a civil case like this than in a criminal case). I hope, though, that no matter what they do, Oberlin will have to dig deep in their pockets to pay out Gibson’s. It’s time that colleges recognize that there’s a price to be paid for placating student outrage at the expense of the truth.

h/t: cesar

Williams College melts down in a big way

May 8, 2019 • 9:45 am

Williams College is truly going the way of Evergreen State, and the trouble is happening today on three fronts. The College administration has lost control of the both the students and the faculty, and a student sit-in will happen this week. Here are the issues:

1.) Campus Security Officer pushes back against unfounded student complaints about university security. In a poignant letter addressed to students in the campus newspaper the Williams Record, Nancy MacCauley, a campus safety and security (CSS) officer, who happens to be black, has chastised the students for claiming that her office isn’t doing their job and is making the students unsafe. This comes from the customary accusations leveled against campus security and police  when students feel they are victimized and unsafe. (My theory, which is mine, is that when students are unsettled, they blame the cops and campus security for their insecurities and grievances. Perhaps that’s because of the name “campus security.” )  In fact, as far as I know, Williams CSS is doing a good job and has not been found culpable of anything. (We see the same criticism of the campus police by students at the University of Chicago.) One of the student demands in the CARENow list (the list compiled by the Aggrieved, Offended, and Entitled Students) is this:

9. Fund a thorough external independent investigation into the practices and interactions CSS has with students, namely minority students.

Here’s part of MacCauley’s letter (my emphasis):

Dear Williams Students,

I see you, I hear you, I have helped many of you and I have been here for you. Therefore, I feel the need to share how disheartened I am about the recent article in the Record [JAC: I believe she’s referring to this article, which makes a lot of accusations against CSS but gives no specifics] and the negative perception about Campus Safety and Security. Not sure how this all happened, this change in perception. I have lived in Williamstown and walked on this campus since 1957. This college has brought me so much joy.

Since I was 10 years old, the students at this campus have had my attention. I witnessed the Hopkins Hall takeover. There have been so many new student faces, decades of history, and conversations which have always been about giving you the tools to change the future.

The allegations made against the men and women who work hard to keep you safe from yourselves and outside the purple bubble [JAC: Purple is the official college “color”.] saddens me deeply.

We didn’t ask to be a part of your struggle. You put us in it because it was easier to blame us. You didn’t work to make change in a productive manner that this college stands for. You fail to communicate.

I was raised, as a Black woman, to communicate my frustration and work for solutions. You choose to blame and not see it worthy to come to the table and meet us as people. You say, “why do I have to, we shouldn’t have to.”

I would suggest that you look at yourselves and history. Talk to those of us who have experienced racism, fear, struggles and injustice so that you can learn. It’s a journey. We’ve all taken it. . .

. . .Disappointed, saddened I am for you…
Respectfully,
Nancy Macauley
Campus Safety and Security

I’ve omitted some in the interest of conserving space. Note that MacCauley says “it was easier to blame us”, supporing my theory that campus security is somehow responsible for soothing sooth student anxiety. I have to add that MacCaulay is brave for doing this. Even though she’s an African-American woman, she’s now going to be demonized for telling the students that they are both wrong and overreacting. Her job might even be on the line. But she could hold her tongue no longer. Kudos to this woman (this information is on the CSS public page:

2.) Two English professors have a big public fight about racism.  This is documented in both the article below, by the paper’s editors, as well as a letter in the newspaper from two students (Jamie Kasulis and Emily Zheng) who witnessed the altercation. The altercation involved a white English professor, Katie Kent, and a “woman of color” professor, Dorothy Wang, who is Asian. Once again it involves so-called “violent practices” and “structural racism” in the college. The fight broke out when Wang asked Kent if they were going to discuss these issues at a faculty meeting vis-à-vis another English professor, Kimberley Love, who took medical leave because of “structural racism”.  The altercation is almost humorous in the extremity of the claims made, except this is not at all good publicity for Williams. From the article by the paper’s editors:

On April 17, two students saw Chair and Professor of English Katie Kent behave aggressively toward Professor of American Studies Dorothy Wang, a woman of color, in an approximately 15-minute verbal confrontation in Hollander Hall.

Wang, a former faculty affiliate in English, had approached Kent on her way to a departmental meeting to ask Kent if the meeting would discuss the recent leave of Assistant Professor of English Kimberly Love. Love had cited the College’s “violent practices” as a reason for her departure at the beginning of the spring semester. Wang had previously expressed concerns about the cancellation of recent English department meetings. For her, they were reflective of the department’s unwillingness to discuss what she sees as its longstanding history of hostility toward faculty of color (FoC) – a concern that had compelled Wang to disaffiliate from the department several weeks ago.

The two students who witnessed the event – Jamie Kasulis ’20 and Emily L. Zheng ’20 – have met with Dean of the Faculty Denise Buell and President of the College Maud Mandel about Kent’s behavior. The two have called for Kent’s resignation, citing her role in what they perceive to be issues of structural racism in the department. Kent wrote notes of apology to Wang, Kasulis and Zheng, but all three found the apologies insufficient and disingenuous.

The incident is then described for a second time in the same article:

According to Wang, Kasulis and Zheng, Kent reacted immediately and negatively, saying that sufficient conversations around Love had already been held.

“Professor Kent got immediately irritated,” Kasulis said. “She took a defensive posture. She raised her voice.” When Wang mentioned the particular relevance of Love’s departure for the English department, given Love’s critiques of feeling unsafe and unwelcome, Wang said that Kent responded, saying, “‘She was talking about the College, Dorothy. She wasn’t talking about the department; she was talking about the College.’”

For Wang, that statement was emblematic of what she sees as the English department’s continual inability to reconcile with its historical and present-day manifestations of racism.

Kent briefly left after making that statement, and Wang said to Kasulis, “This is why I disaffiliated from English.” Upon hearing Wang’s comment, according to Wang, Kasulis and Zheng, Kent immediately turned around and made an incensed statement closely resembling, “Are you talking shit about me to your students?”

“She was literally yelling in the hallway,” Kasulis said. At that point, Zheng, who had been listening from a chair across the hallway, walked up to Wang and Kasulis.

“I came over as soon as I heard her run back into the hallway and yell profanities,” Zheng said. “I didn’t really want to intrude … but I did so only after she started raising her voice, because that was alarming. I stood up because I couldn’t just sit there while she verbally attacked my friend and my professor.”

Zheng said Kent’s tone and physical posture made her fear for the safety of Wang and Kasulis.

If there were a National Enquirer for colleges, this would belong in it.

Kent is not going to resign: the dean asked her to write an apology and she did. I would love to have been a fly on that wall. The issue of Kimberly Love has already been settled—she’s taken paid medical leave for the semester—but Wang won’t let it rest. My best inquiries and investigations have not led me to find evidence for any structural racism in either the college or the department. In my view, this is an issue of unhinged faculty and of entitled students who want to be offended.

There’s a lot more in the article, but the upshot is that the students won’t accept Kent’s apology: they want her GONE. And the students are arguing that this yelling by professor Kent is an example of the “violence of the institution” and the “toxic culture” of the English Department. Meanwhile, the students are now going to have a sit-in about this. This should be interesting:

Students have organized a protest, “Love and Accountability: Occupy Hollander for FoC,” for Friday from 12:30–1:30 p.m., calling for recognition of what the organizers call “violent racism” in the College’s treatment of FoC [Faculty of Color]. Students have also invited the community to express gratitude and support for FoC, and have called for Mandel and administrators to address issues of racism at the College against people of color (PoC).

3.) Williams students refuse to recognize a pro-Israel student organization though they’ve already recognized a pro-Palestinian one. The college gives the pro-Israel group secondary status, probably without perks. 

Meanwhile, as I reported a few days ago, the Williams College Council (the student governmental body) refused to recognize as a registered student organization (RSO) the group Williams Initiative for Israel (WIFI), even though they had recognized the Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) as an RSO. As I said, this is manifestly unfair, constituting viewpoint discrimination. I also reported that President Maud Mandel made nice noises about approving the existence of WIFI, but didn’t demand that the students give it equal status to SJP. Mandel said this (my emphasis):

We’ve always expected the Council to follow its own processes and bylaws. I’m disappointed that that didn’t happen in this instance. College leaders have communicated to the organizers of Williams Initiative for Israel that the club can continue to exist and operate without being a CC-approved RSO. This is not a special exception. It’s an option that has been open to any student group operating within the college’s code of conduct. Even without CC approval, WIFI or any other non-CC organization can still access most services available to student groups, including use of college spaces for meetings and events. I see the communication of this fact to WIFI as a basic matter of fairness and people’s right to express diverse views. Differences over such views are legitimate grounds for debate, but not for exercising the power to approve or reject a student group.

Mandel’s tepid response has been called out by both The College Fix, which points out that the only guiding principle of WIFI is that Israel has a right to exist, and by The Algemeiner in the article below, which quotes a statement from the college rabbi:

Rabbi Seth Wax, Jewish chaplain at Williams College, told The Algemeiner on Thursday that while he is concerned about the CC’s decision, “by and large, it will not affect how the group functions.”

“WIFI organizers have been meeting with me, faculty, staff, and administrators since the decision last week,” he said. “Stakeholders at the college have made it abundantly clear that the club can exist without being an RSO, and I can assure you that it continues to do so.”

“The group can access almost any service available on campus, including campus spaces for meetings and events, even without RSO status,” Wax added.

He expressed particular gratitude to the college administration for supporting WIFI’s existence, and “viewing it as a matter of fairness and the students’ right to express their views.”

Gratitude to Mandel for allowing WIFI to exist, even with secondary status? This is like Jews in a ghetto licking the hand that gives them inferior rations. A group not recognized by the College Council, I’ve discovered, has no ability to request money from the College Council. Thanks for nothing, President Mandel, and thanks to you and Rabbi Wax for pretending that every group is equal (but some groups are more equal than others.)

Williams College Student Leaders Deny Recognition to ‘Pro-Israel’ Group, Prompting Calls for Inquiry

I wrote Rabbi Wax (my letter is below the fold) politely expressing my dissatisfaction with his tepid words, but of course I haven’t heard back from him. The biggest issue is whether the second-class status conferred with sweet words by Mandel on WIFI denies them the financial support offered to registered student organizations like SJP. The College Fix reports that “Williams has not answered College Fix queries about what benefits are only available to ‘registered student organizations.'”

The pro-Israel organization Stand With Us wrote a strong letter to President Mandel, also protesting the unequal treatment of WIFI versus SJP, and saying that this hypocrisy violates Williams’s own non-discrimination policy, its code of conduct, and the Student Council’s own protocols. And they’re right. What Williams is tolerating here is discrimination against a pro-Israel organization in favor of a pro-Palestinian one. That’s in line with Authoritarian Leftist sentiments, but not with fundamental principles of justice, equality and decency. All groups should be treated equally.

Yet some students are objecting in the other direction: they don’t want WIFI recognized at all. The letter below from three students, which just appeared in the student paper, tries to justify why SJP is okay but WIFI is not. This straining at gnats is laughable:

Although it is the first time a club has been denied in years, it is also the first time someone has attempted to start a nationalist club. Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) organizes around issues related to Israel-Palestine; however, they are not interested in defending the interests of some hypothetical Palestinian state. [JAC: Hypothetical? That’s what SJP is pushing for!] Instead, SJP takes a human rights-based approach to the conflict; it is deeply troubling that WIFI could not commit to doing the same. It is this inability to take a human rights approach to the conflict that factored heavily into WIFI’s request for recognition being denied.

Failures of Mandel’s WIFI statement: How her words are being weaponized against students

Clearly, Williams is melting down on multiple fronts, and everyone is to blame from the President and the administration, to the professors, and to the students, who are becoming unhinged and are not being reined in by faculty or administration.

If Williams doesn’t want its reputation to vanish the way Evergreen State’s has, they need to act now. President Mandel needs to stand up to unreasonable student demands and emphasize that there is no evidence for structural racism or violence at Williams. And if the administration finds no malfeasance on the part of Campus Security, they need to publicize that and tell the students to shut up about it (in nice words, of course). Finally, Williams needs to stop discriminating against the pro-Israel organization in favor of the pro-Palestinian one, and give them equal status and equal access to the perks allow for all registered student organizations. Unless the administration stops catering to this whining mob of entitled students, Williams will no longer be a place where parents will want to send their kids. After all, parents want their kids to get an education, not a course in grievance studies.

My letter to Rabbi Wax (of lesser interest) is below the fold:

Continue reading “Williams College melts down in a big way”

Free speech continues to die at Middlebury College

April 30, 2019 • 9:00 am

As I reported recently, Middlebury College in Vermont, scene of an Outrage Brigade protest against Charles Murray in 2017 (the student riots injured one of his hosts on the Middlebury Faculty), just had another free-speech kerfuffle. This time it was over Ryszard Legutko, a right-wing Polish professor scheduled to talk at Middlebury about his recent book The Demon in Democracy: Totalitarian Tendencies in Free Societies. Shortly before Legutko was to arrive at Middlebury, he was informed by the administration that the university had canceled his talk. The reason, said an email issued by the Provost and Dean of Students, was this:

 “In the interest of ensuring the safety of students, faculty, staff and community members, the lecture by Ryszard Legutko scheduled for later today will not take place. The decision was not taken lightly. It was based on an assessment of our ability to respond effectively to potential security and safety risks for both the lecture and the event students had planned in response.”

A few days later,  an audio recording (long version here) of aggrieved students accosting three administrators became public. It was horrifying to hear how outraged the students were simply because a right-wing speaker had been invited, and how vehemently they demanded apologies from the administrators. What’s even scarier is to hear the administrators abase and debase themselves, apologizing profusely as they affirm the students’ outrage and promise that Middlebury would “do better.” It’s a prime specimen of college authorities groveling to aggrieved students.

As the Quillette article below reveals (the author is the brave Middlebury undergraduate Dominic Aiello), those administrators were Sujata Moorti, incoming dean of the faculty, Baishakhi Taylor, Dean of Students, and Renee Wells, director of education for equity and inclusion.  Aiello adds his own take on the shameful behavior by both students and faculty:

As my recording of the event shows, it was a call-and-response performance starring outraged protestors and three highly sympathetic administration members—two of them being both deans and gender studies professors. The whole thing resembled a modern day Struggle Session, with kids literally weeping over the “violence” that supposedly had been brought to campus through the vessel of Legutko. The response of the administrators was an endless expression of sympathy and guilt, as well as pledges to make things right. The students actually demanded that the administrators take notes. And like an obedient underling, one of the professors whipped out her phone to record every demand (all of which were subsequently published in manifesto form).

The three faculty members spoke openly about their desire to block speakers with certain viewpoints from coming to campus, and discussed plans for an extensive background-check scheme that would allow Middlebury officials to systematically analyze speakers beforehand. I recorded all of this because I’m passionate about free speech—and I felt it was my duty to show other students that members of their own administration were explicitly advocating for a system that would allow them to restrict speech on campus in accordance with their own privately held biases.

After about an hour, three more college officials entered the room, and students again jumped up to the whiteboard to list their demands. At this point, I felt I had seen enough and decided to go home, where I listened to the 40 minutes of audio I’d recorded. I was stunned by the realization that the school was no longer run according to any coherent set of ideas set down by the administration, but rather by the knee-jerk diktats of a small group of radicalized students operating in open alliance with like-minded staffers.

Read the rest below (click on screenshot); it’s even worse than that. The letter I wrote the other day to the President, Provost, and Dean of Middlebury has of course gone unanswered.

And now (this is getting to be the normal drill), the Student Senate, the students’ governing association, has produced a list of 13 demands (well, “proposals”, though the blackmail threat outlined below takes them into the realm of demands) in the Middlebury Campus, the student newspaper:


Note that who is supposed to get “healed” here is not the community, but the offended students.

There are the usual calls for structural changes in the college, but the one below struck me especially hard. While it does not explicitly ban “offensive” speakers, it requires that all speakers be vetted by filling out a “due diligence form” to determine whether a speaker’s views “align with Middlebury’s community standards”. It also requires that academic departments publicize invited speakers a month an advance so they can be vetted by the student body. (My emphases in these demands). I quote:

  • Any organization or academic department that invites a speaker to campus will be required to fill out a due diligence form created by the Office of Institutional Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in coordination with the SGA Institutional Diversity Committee. These questions should be created to determine whether a speaker’s beliefs align with Middlebury’s community standards, removing the burden of researching speakers from the student body.
    1. Additionally, administrators will ask Faculty Council to require all academic departments to have Student Advisory Boards which will have access to a list of speakers invited by the department at least a month in advance. The Student Advisory Boards’ purpose will be to ask the student body for potential community input when necessary.

This is absurd. What are, exactly, Middlebury’s “community standards”? Presumably they align with those of the Authoritarian Left: no questioning of things like affirmative action, abortion, blank-slate-ism, Leftism, and so on. You know the kind of speakers this is designed to get rid of: those like Charles Murray, Ben Shapiro, Christina Hoff Sommers, Heather Mac Donald, Legutko, and all Republicans.  In other words, they are pressuring the University to invite only speakers who conform to approved campus ideology.  This is just short of a ban, and certainly has a chilling effect on inviting controversial speakers.

One more demand. I myself would try to learn and use preferred pronouns of students (although in a class of 100+, it’s really hard to remember names, much less pronouns), but the following “demand,” especially the ideologically-themed required and recurrent “bias training”—and the McCarthy-esque publication of names of those who refuse that training—smacks of pure Stalinism.

Recurrent bias training will be provided to all hired staff, faculty, administrators, as well as all students, with implementation beginning in the 2019-2020 school year. The names of any faculty, staff, or administration members who do not participate in bias training should be publicly available to students so that they can make informed decisions on courses and interactions.

  1. In this bias training, participants must learn about the importance of preferred gender pronouns. All faculty must ask students’ names and pronouns on the first day of each new semester, and preferred names and pronouns must be respected.

What makes these demands rather than requests is the blackmail described below: the student government will resign en masse if these requests are not implemented and a town hall meeting with the President not convened by today. Therefore, they are demands

These proposals were created in consultation with the student body and we expect each to be fulfilled as stated. We would like to give the administration time to consider adequate ways to address our proposals. As such, we ask the President to address students at a town hall on Tuesday, April 30. If tangible plans to implement these proposals are not released, a majority of SGA Senators will resign such that the SGA Senate will no longer be able to make quorum, effectively dissolving the body. More importantly, students will witness again the continued inaction of the current administration.

We await the administration’s response.
SGA Senate

My view about this is: LET THE STUDENTS RESIGN! Perhaps their seats will be filled by those less demanding and more conciliatory. (There are 18 senators in total.)

Here’s the article in the student newspaper about the threat (click on screenshot); note that the article characterizes the “proposals” as “demands.”

SGA Senators Threaten Mass Resignation If Administration Doesn’t Meet Demands

Were I a parent, I wouldn’t send any of my kids to Middlebury, a place where studying apparently takes back seat to social engineering. I now anoint Middlebury and Williams as joint holders of the title “Evergreen State of the East.”

Finally, in a section of his weekly New York Magazine column, “Free Speech at Middlebury, Part Two,” Andrew Sullivan, who is gay, defends Legutko’s right to speak at Middlebury despite the speaker’s apparent homophobia. Sullivan also faults the administration more than the students, as apparently many students didn’t want Legutko’s talk to be canceled, but they did want to protest his appearance. (Note that the students in the audio recording above, however, did want Legutko to be disinvited and for such a thing to never happen again.) Counter-protest, of course, is the students’ absolute right, and perhaps the cancelation of the talk on “safety grounds” may have been an excuse cooked up by the administration to avoid the whole controversy. However, it takes only a handful of violence-prone students to destroy a talk.

Sullivan also draws unflattering parallels between Middlebury and the Polish Communist government:

After Legutko’s invite, the administration convened an emergency meeting with students. And in another encouraging sign, a rebel student secretly recorded it. Check out his video here and here. You can hear PC students arguing that gay students are too fragile to engage arguments against homosexuality, so distraught by even the idea of it that they could not study anything at all. Seriously. All those pioneering activists for gay equality, who risked their lives and careers for their cause and brought their arguments directly to the face of their opponents, should shudder at the insult.

Legutko, of course, is no stranger to having his speech threatened. In Poland, the Communists did it, with the power of the state. Communist students would berate professors in class with the same arguments against a liberal education that today’s “social justice” activists make. Legutko remembers them: “Why teach Aristotle who despised women and defended slavery? Why teach Plato whom Lenin derided as the author of ‘super-stupid metaphysics of ideas’? Why teach Saint Thomas Aquinas, who was propagating anti-scientific superstition? Why teach Descartes who in his notion of cogito completely ignored the class struggle?”

In America, with the First Amendment, he is far freer. But it’s quite clear that college administrators, following critical race, gender, and queer theory, did all they could to silence him, just as the Polish Communists did. In the same samizdat tape, one professor, responding to the outrage at even inviting Legutko to speak, told the students: “You should be outraged and we should acknowledge that and apologize for it.”

I disagree with Andrew on one point here: he sees the Middlebury students’ claim that they were not demanding the censorship of Legutko as a positive sign: a pushback against the Authoritarianism that’s effacing free speech on American campuses. I am not so hopeful or so sanguine. Given the students’ behavior with respect to Murray, there may well have been the threat of violence, one perceived by the administration when they canceled Legutko’s talk. That, of course, is spineless and shameful: their job is to allow the talk to proceed and provide sufficient security so that Legutko could talk without being shut down. The administration was also, I think, acting out of fear of its own reputation: another Murray-like demonstration would further besmirch Middlebury’s appearance.  So I can’t agree with Sullivan when he says this, though I’d like to:

I’ve long believed that at some point students would rebel against their new ideological overlords, like students always have. The desire to learn by engaging uncomfortable arguments rationally has been a deep one in the human psyche, since Socrates was executed for it. It is the root of liberal democracy. It is what universities are for. More and more are deciding to back the Chicago Principles, which guarantee that no speech can be suppressed on campus, within First Amendment limits. Sixty-two other institutions of higher learning have now adopted this principle, and the list is growing. If you’re a student denied a free education by the social-justice fanatics, ask your college administrators if they would agree to sign on.

As I used to say: know hope.

I know what hope is, but I don’t entertain it with respect to the college Zeitgeist, at least with respect to freedom of expression.

h/t: Simon

Williams College considers ways to water down free speech

April 23, 2019 • 10:30 am

As Professor Luana Maroja wrote on this site some time ago, Williams College (where she teaches) is embroiled in a debate about whether to adopt the Chicago Principles of Free Expression, a university policy outlining First Amendment guidelines for free speech on campus, and one that has been adopted by over fifty American colleges.

Unfortunately, Williams College, as I’ve documented several times (e.g., here, here and here), is rapidly become the Evergreen State College of the East, with many students and faculty openly rejecting the Chicago Principles and, indeed, free speech itself.  Along with this comes the usual demands, not for a change in American society, but for improvements in the lives of the students themselves: a change in the curriculum incorporating more “ethnicity” courses, the hiring of more mental-health counselors, free weekend trips to Boston and New York, and housing segregated by race (euphemistically called “affinity housing”).

An article in today’s Insider Higher Ed (“IHE“; click on screenshot below) documents this student pushback (supported by some pusillanimous faculty) and describes the halfhearted attempt of Williams, in the face of aggrieved and offended students, to enact some kind of speech code.

Originally, as the article describes, about half the Williams faculty signed a petition favoring adoption of the Chicago Principles, and then met to discuss the issue. (They weren’t voting on it, just talking about it.) That’s when the student pushback against free speech began:

[Maroja] said a group of about 20 students showed up, some carrying signs proclaiming “free speech harms” and other similar sentiments. Maroja said the students were disruptive and eventually started yelling at white, male professors to sit down and “acknowledge their privilege.” Maroja said she attempted to engage the students — as a Hispanic woman, she said she understood prejudice — and told them that shutting down speech they find offensive would only invigorate bigoted speakers.

The students were unpersuaded.

“Students were just screaming that we were trying to ‘kill them,’” Maroja said.

The students had put together and brought with them a lengthy statement, which has since morphed into a counterpetition, that argued the Chicago principles — and more broadly, unfettered free speech — harms minority students. [JAC: The “counterpetition” seems to be unavailable.]

These claims that free speech is violence, or “kills” people, are ridiculous hyperbole.  What these students want is for everyone to shut up and listen to them, and then enact their demands. This, and their claims that even discussing the idea of speech as violence itself constitute violence, is a form of intimidation. And it’s worked for, the Williams administration, despite having formed a committee to examine free speech, is already saying that the committee should balance freedom of expression with the “harm” that such expression could cause to minority students.

This is part of a larger movement that wants to water down free speech because they consider it inimical to “diversity and inclusion”. As the article notes,

Those who disagree with basing policies on the Chicago principles don’t dispute the importance of free expression, especially in academe. But these critics say that reliance on the principles alone can ignore the role of a college in promoting inclusivity and diversity.

Well, if that’s the case, then the First Amendment is inimical to the equality guaranteed Americans by the Constitution!

Such dilution of the First Amendment, of course, goes against every interpretation that the courts have made of the Constitution. Speech, say the courts unanimously, cannot be censored by the government just because it offends people, even if it offends them deeply. (The only exceptions to freedom of speech are speech that causes imminent harm that cannot be prevented by non-censorious means, slander and libel, personal harassment, false advertisements. And, of course, private institutions can enact their own policy: the First Amendment is about government restrictions.) I won’t go over the arguments again for not censoring “hate speech”, you can read a fuller discussion in Nadine Strossen’s new book Hate: Why We Should Resist it with Free Speech, Not Censorship (Strossen is former head of the American Civil Liberties Union), or listen to Christopher Hitchens’s powerful defense of First-Amendmen-style free speech.

Of course Williams is a private college and so can make what rules it likes, but I see no good argument for a private college carving out exceptions to the kind of free speech mandated at public universities. But that is what many students at Williams want, and so they made their own rebuttal to the free-speech petition. IHE reports further:

In their rebuttal, the students, who called themselves the Coalition Against Racist Education Now, or CARE, wrote that the faculty petition “prioritizes the protection of ideas over the protection of people and fails to recognize that behind every idea is a person with a particular subjectivity. Our beliefs, and the consequences of our actions, are choices we make. Any claim to the ‘protection of ideas’ that is not founded in the insurance of people’s safety poses a real threat — one which targets most pointedly marginalized people. An ideology of free speech absolutism that prioritizes ideas over people, giving ‘deeply offensive’ language a platform at this institution, will inevitably imperil marginalized students.”

The student group did not respond to requests for comment. But in an opinion piece in the student newspaper, The Record,CARE representatives wrote that they had no interest in the “free speech debate.” They said these issues come down to trust among students, professors and administrators. The students called the free speech argument a “discursive cover.”

“For this reason, we refuse to accept the terms of this debate. Instead, let’s see the faculty petition for what it is: an institutional manifestation of a national anxiety towards a more diverse student and faculty population, not an invitation to a dialogue,” they wrote. “Prejudice cannot be talked away; more ‘dialogue’ is not the answer. Oppression can’t be fixed with rational debate because oppression is not rational.”

Welcome to Stalin’s Russia (or Mao’s Cultural Revolution): a land of doublespeak. Oppression must be fixed with censorship!

These students are benighted, for they fail to realize that the protection of people and minorities has occurred because of free speech, and also that there already exist rules, both university and government ones, that prevent racism and bigotry. What CARE wants is the censorship of “offensive” language that, it’s said, will “inevitably imperil marginalized students.”

It won’t. What it will do is occasionally offend marginalized students, but will also offend non-marginalized students. But as Van Jones said in this powerful video filmed at the University of Chicago (required watching!),

“Learn how to deal with adversity. I’m not going to take all the weights out of the gym. That’s the whole point of the gym. This is the gym. You can’t live on a campus where people say stuff you don’t like? . . . . This is ridiculous b.s., liberals. . . I want you to be offended every single day on this campus. I want you to be deeply aggrieved, and offended, and upset, and then learn to speak back. Because that’s what we need from you in these communities.”

Well, many at Williams are aggrieved, offended and upset, largely about phantoms in their own head, but they want to shut up others instead of speaking back. It’s just takes too much emotional energy for them to speak back.

And so Williams is trying to balance free speech against offended students—a losing proposition, as we learned from the fate of Evergreen State. I predict that the Williams “free speech code”, if there ever is one, won’t even come close to the Chicago Principles. For listen to what the chairperson of the committee has to say. At first it sounds good, but you can see that she is trying to actually chill free speech by warning people that some speech is not recommended and may cause harm:

The committee on free speech that President Mandel formed is due to make its recommendations in about a month, said Jana Sawicki, its chairwoman and a philosophy and rhetoric professor. My emphases in the following:

[President Maud] Mandel charged the committee with developing policies and an overarching philosophy about campus speakers and free expression, but Sawicki said she views the group’s mission more broadly, including to rework the institution’s approach toward inclusivity. Committee members have met with alumni, professors and students and have read students’ answers to an online survey on free speech. Sawicki said about 530 students responded to the survey.

Sawicki said the committee is close to drafting recommendations. The goal is to not restrict who can speak on campus but to prompt the students who invite those guests to consider whether they have academic value and whether individual speakers’ views would offend minority students or make them feel harmed, she said, adding that speakers brought on campus by student groups are generally the most controversial.

One idea the committee floated was involving faculty advisers to student clubs in more of the discussions about which speakers to invite to the campus, Sawicki said. If a student group wanted to host a controversial speaker, the adviser could talk with the club members about whether they’d thought through how the speaker’s views would affect their peers, she said. The advisers, who currently are not involved in club operations, would never stop the students from hosting a speaker they wanted, Sawicki said.

How patronizing! They can’t stop the students from inviting speakers, but they can ask them to “consider the harm it would cause”. No pressure there!

Sawicki said she initially signed the faculty petition to support the Chicago principles — a no-brainer, she thought — but rescinded her name when she saw the students’ reaction.

“What needs to be bolstered here is trust in the institution, and the institution needs to deserve that,” Sawicki said.

What an invertebrate! She withdraws her support of free speech when some aggrieved students oppose such speech. “Trust in the institution”, which apparently means “nobody gets offended”, appears to be a higher priority than freedom of expression. This is the way to destroy a college.

 

A Sarah Lawrence professor describes the cowardice of his fellow faculty

March 20, 2019 • 12:30 pm

About a week ago I described the situation of Samuel J. Abrams, a professor of politics at the swanky and expensive Sarah Lawrence College in Yonkers, New York. Abrams, a conservative, had penned an op-ed in the New York Times giving the results of his survey of the political leanings of 900 American college administrators. He found that they were overwhelmingly on the Left (12:1 liberal:conservative), more so than college faculty (6:1) and even more so than incoming college students (2:1). Abrams decried this trend as eroding “viewpoint diversity” and leading to programs that indoctrinated college students with Leftist ideology. People have questioned the rigor of Abrams’s survey, but nobody doubts that the trend he descried is real.

The editorial is pretty tame, but of course Abrams was vilified. As I wrote, a group called the Diaspora Coalition immediately took the opportunity to issue a list of demands, some of them reasonable but most unattainable, impractical, or fatuous (the latter includes free detergent and water softener for students to use).

But the most invidious demand was for a review of Abrams’s tenure, even though he’s already tenured:

In the article below from the Spectator (click on screenshot), Abrams described further defamation as well as threats to him and family and nasty signs put on his door (the same thing happened recently at Williams College, which is going down the Evergreen State/Sarah Lawrence road to perdition). Here are some of the signs:

I ask you: what kind of twisted ideologue would put up signs like that, calling a professor an “asshole” and demanding that he quit? This kind of entitled and unforgiving attitude is spreading on American, Canadian, and UK campuses; read Abrams’s editorial if you want to see how disproportionate and unhinged the students are.

And Abrams, expecting some support from his fellow faculty, didn’t get much. Click below:

Because an earlier survey by Abrams showed that 93% of professors supported freedom of academic inquiry, Abrams expected some support against the tsunami of hatred. Instead, he got tepid support. As he describes,

While the college president eventually issued a perfunctory statement noting that I had ‘every right, and the full support of the college, to pursue and publish this work,’ the faculty’s support was minimal.

The college’s faculty ‘Committee on the Conditions on Teaching’ attempted to draft a strong declaration supporting the right of all faculty to free speech, but it was eventually watered down to into a weak message that simply supported the official statement that had already been issued by the president. Only 27 members of the faculty community signed the document, roughly 7 percent of the total faculty. Thus, to my shock, a proclamation in defense of academic freedom, freedom of speech and mutual respect clearly was deemed controversial and not overwhelmingly supported by my own colleagues.

Now, six months later, with the Diaspora Coalition’s latest attempt to attack academic freedom, the Sarah Lawrence faculty could have redeemed themselves and been galvanized to support free expression. Instead, they opted for silence — and, what’s worse, many of them were supportive of the student protesters’ demands.

As of this writing, 40 professors signed on and endorsed the Diaspora Coalition’s demand list. While not a huge percentage, 12 percent of the faculty — more than the number who supported the general statement about free speech back in October — endorsed the students’ demand to challenge my tenure and my right to free speech and the expression of ideas. All this, mind you, because I wrote an opinion piece based on original survey data, which was vetted and published by the New York Times.

What shocked me here is that only 27 faculty members signed a free-speech document tacitly supporting Abrams’s right to say what he wanted, but 40 of them signed onto the Diaspora Coalition’s list of demands, which include a tenure review for Abrams conducted by the Diaspora Coalition itself and at least three faculty of color. Talk about a Star Chamber!

If you’re a student or professor at Sarah Lawrence, and you haven’t defended Abrams’s right to say whatever he wanted (and yes, you are welcome to criticize what he said: that’s what free speech is also about), then you are derelict in your duty.  Too many professors and students are becoming cowed and afraid to speak because they fear repercussions of the type Abrams experienced. It’s shameful.