Emory Law School student government denies request for a free speech society, claiming that it might cause “harm”

January 13, 2022 • 9:15 am

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) puts up a lot of news, but you can read it on their webpage. This piece, however, I found worth calling to your notice. Click on the screenshot to read:


This stunt is especially surprising because Emory University, in Atlanta, Georgia, has gotten a “green-light” rating from FIRE, which is FIRE’s highest rating for free expression within a university. But, as we know, fighting for freedom of expression is a never-ending task—especially these days when “harm” (meaning “offense taken”) is often judged to trump freedom of speech. And that’s apparently what happened at Emory:

ATLANTA, Jan. 10, 2022 — Emory University’s laudable free speech promises mean nothing to the Emory Law Student Bar Association, which denied recognition to a free-speech-focused student group because open discussion could cause “harm.”

Today, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education called on Emory Law to promptly process the Emory Free Speech Forum’s application for a charter. FIRE first wrote to the school on Nov. 1 and received no response.

“The rejection of the Emory Free Speech Forum exemplifies the exact reason why this club must exist,” said Michael Reed-Price, president of EFSF. “Emory Law School’s Student Bar Association values free speech only so long as the ideas are in line with their viewpoint. The SBA need not agree with our ideas, they must merely tolerate our right to express them.”

Emory University is one of the few institutions in the country to earn a “green lightrating from FIRE for its speech-protective policies. Seeking to bolster this commitment to free speech, EFSF is a non-partisan student group “devoted to fostering critical discourse and open dialogue surrounding important issues in law and society.” In October, the group applied for a charter from the SBA, which would allow EFSF to seek university funding and use university resources.

EFSF satisfied all criteria for recognition. However, several SBA members objected to the speakers the group sought to host, the group’s decision to forgo moderators for its discussion-based events, and the group’s perceived similarity to the Federalist Society and the American Constitution Society.

The SBA ultimately rejected EFSF’s application, citing the “nature of this group” and speculating that EFSF’s discussions “will likely give rise to a precarious environment – one where the conversation might very easily devolve.” The SBA admitted it was “hesitant to issue a charter when there are no apparent safeguards in place to prevent potential and real harm that could result from these discussions[.]”

I wonder if other student organizations are required to specify safeguards against “potential and real harm”.  For, as you know, you can get “potential and real harm” these days from something as seemingly innocuous as a chess club.  If you read the second link above (“called on”), you’ll see a peeved FIRE writing to Emory’s President, General Counsel, and Dean asking them for an answer, and enclosing a nine-page letter that they sent on November 1 (pdf here).

You can read it for yourself, but I think Emory will have to cave, for, as FIRE points out, this student decision violates the University’s own free-expression policy:

Emory Law makes affirmative, robust commitments to its students’ freedom of expression. As a private institution, the law school is not required to make these commitments by virtue of the First Amendment. However, Emory Law has a legal and moral duty to adhere to the promises it makes.

Emory Law incorporates Emory University’s “Respect for Open Expression Policy.” That policy affirms “an environment where the open expression of ideas and open, vigorous debate and speech are valued, promoted, and encouraged,” including “these freedoms of thought, inquiry, speech, and assembly.” The policy explicitly notes that the university “respects the Constitutional rights of free speech and assembly.” While the policy recognizes that “[c]ivility and mutual respect are important values,” and calls upon Emory’s constituents to consider these values, it makes clear that these values “do not limit the rights protected by this Policy.”

Further, the Emory Law Student Handbook recognizes “that the educational process of our institution requires diverse forms of open expression – including freedom of thought, inquiry, speech, activism, and assembly,” and “affirms the rights of members of the community to assemble, demonstrate peaceably, respectfully express views on controversial social and political issues and engage in any other activities that are protected by the University Respect for Open Expression Policy.” This policy notably applies to students, and student groups specifically, providing that: “The University shall not deny recognition to an organization because of disagreement with its mission or the viewpoints that it represents.” Likewise, the policy states that “[e]xpression that communicates a viewpoint, regardless of form, is protected as long as it does not violate the guidelines of this Policy. This includes protest, dissent, and any other communicative activity, whether or not it occurs in the context of a Meeting or Event.”

This policy notably applies to students, and student groups specifically, providing that: “The University shall not deny recognition to an organization because of disagreement with its mission or the viewpoints that it represents.”19 Likewise, the policy states that “[e]xpression that communicates a viewpoint, regardless of form, is protected as long as it does not violate the guidelines of this Policy. This includes protest, dissent, and any other communicative activity, whether or not it occurs in the context of a Meeting or Event.”

Emory is a private university, and doesn’t have to abide by the First Amendment. However, once it guarantees certain rights to its students, abrogating those rights is the violation of a contract. I’m confident that the Emory Free Speech Forum will prevail.

I think that Coyne’s Mandate of having every entering university student take a brief course on freedom of speech, must also now have a subsection, specifying that offense, or “harm” is NOT a reason for limiting speech.

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

December 10, 2021 • 9:15 am

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SCIENCE IS SCIENCE

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

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

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

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

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

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

Screenshot of above in online version:

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

What should a university do when a rabid anti-Semitic student calls for the killing of Jews?

December 8, 2021 • 1:15 pm

This article about anti-Semitism on a U.S. campus is taken from the Jerusalem Post. Sent to me by a Jewish colleague, it raises a conundrum for hard-line free speech advocates like me. It’s not because I’m Jewish, but because the proper action of a University in a case like this is not completely clear. This is a fuzzy area. I’ll offer tentative opinions, but want to hear readers’ thoughts.

Click on the screenshot to read:

Yasmeen Mashayekh, the USC student under consideration, is a pro-Palestinian activist who made repeated anti-Semitic tweets, and when called out, she doubled down. Those tweets including calls to murder Jews, and her own desire to murder Jews.

Over the course of the last few weeks, a Palestinian student at the University of Southern California, Yasmeen Mashayekh, has come under intense scrutiny for her antisemitic and violent tweets, which include sentiments such as “Curse the Jews” (in Arabic), “Death to Israel and its b**ch the US,” and repeatedly expressing her “love” for US-designated terrorist organization Hamas and its members, even instructing others on how to assist the terror group online in the fight against Israel. She also celebrated violent attacks on Jews by Arabs, joking about how Jews were set on fire, and in May, Mashayekh tweeted, “I want to kill every mother****ing Zionist.”
When multiple groups drew attention to Mashayekh’s violent tweets, she doubled down, replying to the criticism with “Oh no how horrifying that I want to kill my colonizer.” She also attempted to argue that the phrase she used in Arabic meaning “curse the Jews” was simply a “Zionist” mistranslation, and in fact, she just meant “occupiers” – an explanation that left Arabic speakers of all backgrounds laughing.

Yasmeen also had a position of authority among students involving DEI:

Ironically, Mashayekh was a student senator for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion at the USC Viterbi School of Engineering, was allegedly employed by the university, and held multiple positions of leadership. Naturally, USC is now facing tremendous pressure to act, including from dozens of faculty who signed an open letter condemning Mashayekh’s comments. But instead of taking action, they issued a statement claiming they won’t share what they are doing because of “privacy concerns,” and that while they don’t support her comments, her statements are “protected speech.”

My colleague and the Jerusalem Post (the piece was an op-ed) thinks that the University may have violated the First Amendment by allowing a student to issue unprotected speech, didn’t punish her by firing her (she was removed as a DEI student senator and given a different job at the same salary), and at the very least assert that USC should have issued a statement condemning Mashayekh’s statements and affirming their support of Jews as well as denouncing anti-Semitism.

Several questions arise.

Did Mashayekh violate the First Amendment?  My answer is “no.” The First Amendment allows one to call for extirpation of groups, including statements like “Gas the Jews,” and “Kill the Jews.” The only circumstances in which such calls for violence are prohibited (as construed by the courts) are when those statements are liable to cause predictable, imminent, and foreseeable harm to others. That was not the case here. Mashayekh made her statements on social media.

As a private university, USC isn’t required to abide by the First Amendment. But because it espouses free speech in its own principles, see below, it should adhere to the First Amendment and not punish Mashayekh. In fact, USC says that it does adhere to the First Amendment:

From the USC speech policy: (my emphasis):

USC has long had established policies protecting the free speech rights and academic freedom of faculty and students.

In both policy and practice, when USC faculty speak or write as citizens, they are free of institutional censorship or discipline.  And academic freedom at USC protects all faculty. We vigorously defend these principles for faculty of every status and type of appointment.

. . . Our longstanding policies also declare that the University of Southern California is committed to fostering a learning environment where free inquiry and expression are encouraged and celebrated and for which all its members share responsibility. Dissent — disagreement, a difference of opinion, or thinking differently from others — is an integral aspect of expression in higher education, whether it manifests itself in a new and differing theory in quantum mechanics, a personal disagreement with a current foreign policy, opposition to a position taken by the university itself, or by some other means.  The university is a diverse community based on free exchange of ideas and devoted to the use of reason and thought in the resolution of differences.  The university recognizes the crucial importance of preserving First Amendment rights and maintaining open communication and dialogue in the process of identifying and resolving problems which arise in the dynamics of life in a university community.

Now the Jerusalem Post quotes Alan Dershowitz saying there was a violation here:

Even under the US Constitution, Mashayekh’s comments are not protected speech. Harvard Law Prof. Alan Dershowitz stated unequivocally that the comment about killing Zionists “is not protected speech for a university student,” and argued that should USC do nothing, they could be subject to losing federal funding.

I think he’s wrong, even though he’s a real lawyer and I just play one on television.

Should Mashayekh be banned from social media? According to their own principles, they can indeed ban her.  Whether they should do so is a complex question, for I also think that social media should adhere to the First Amendment as far as possible. But since they have the right to ban her, they can and should because her words violate their policies. What the real policies should be is above my pay grade. But the Jerusalem Post goes further, saying that Mashayekh’s statements violate other aspects of USC policy:

First, according to social media hate speech standards, Mashayekh’s comments are absolutely a violation of Twitter’s hate speech policies. Second, at USC, codes of conduct for university students prohibit expressing an intent to “kill” a minority group. For example, Mashayekh’s comments clearly violate the policy on prohibited discrimination, harassment and retaliation, which states, “the University prohibits discrimination on the basis of actual or perceived race, color, ethnicity, religion (including religious dress and grooming practices), creed… political belief or affiliation… and any other class of individuals protected from discrimination under federal, state, or local law, regulation, or ordinance (Protected Characteristics).”

The link to the quote is wrong in the paragraph above; the words are correct but the USC policy is here.  However, spewing hatred on social media does not constitute “discrimination,” “harassment” (which is meant to apply to individuals, not to groups), or “retaliation” (hateful words are not a form of retaliation, as they are not directed towards individuals who harmed Mashayekh). The miscreant was giving her opinion not on campus or at work, but on social media.

Should Mashayekh be fired from her student job?  I think USC did the right thing in transferring her to a different job at the same pay. In that way there was no retaliation, but her hateful behavior was not upholding the tenets of her position and therefore she did not deserve to continue on as a DEI counselor.

Should USC have condemned Mashayekh by naming her? Once again my answer is “no.” She did not violate USC’s speech codes, which are the First Amendment, and therefore condemnation by name or implication is a form of retaliation.

Should USC have called for tolerance and amity towards Jews?  Here I had to stop and think.  But since a divided campus with warring factions of students is not conducive to the function of a University, then yes, I think USC should have reaffirmed its principles of civility, respect, and comity. Everybody would know what this is about. The only other question is whether they should have mentioned the Jews.  This is a two edged sword, for if you just issue a general call for peace, it will offend the group who is seeking redress—the Jewish students, who would ignored or given lower status. On the other hand, if you mention that there is anti-Jewish rancor that impedes the University’s well-being, then all other groups, including Palestinans, will say “Well, why don’t you mention us when there’s anti-Palestinian sentiment?” And they have a point.

However, given the degree of anti-Semitism at USC and how it was inflamed by Mashayekh’s statements, I do think that mentioning the Jewish students as a particular target in a  University statement is warranted, and the right thing to do. That doesn’t mean that everyone should always get such call-outs, as it really depends on the degree of division at the time. A stingle student who complains, for example, does not warrant a University statement calling for people to be nice to him/her.

Whether you agree or not, weigh in below.

The harm caused by radiator installation at Oberlin College

October 20, 2021 • 9:20 am

This has been reported by the right-wing media, of course, but I’d prefer to go to the source itself: the student newspaper of one of the wokest colleges in America: Oberlin College in Ohio. You may remember that Oberlin tried to destroy Gibson’s Bakery because the bakery’s owners called the cops on some students for shoplifting. Gibson’s won a huge judgement against the College—over $30 million including attorney’s fees. But the case, which began in 2016, is still going on, and even has its own Wikipedia page (Oberlin had to post bond for the judgement, but hasn’t paid up).

Today, however, we have an Oberlin student living in a dorm named Baldwin Cottage, of which two floors are devoted to people with particular genders and sexual preferences. As the letter writer notes in an op-ed published in The Oberlin Review (click on screenshot):

Baldwin Cottage is the home of the Women and Trans Collective. The College website describes the dorm as “a close-knit community that provides women and transgendered persons with a safe space for discussion, communal living, and personal development.” Cisgender men are not allowed to live on the second and third floors, and many residents choose not to invite cisgender men to that space.

This means that some cisgender men, at the residents’ invitation, can be on the second and third floors. And thereby lies the issue:

The trouble begn when John Mantos, the area coordinator for Multicultural and Identity-Based Communities, emailed the residents of Baldwin Cottage that there was an imminent installation of radiators before winter began. From the op-ed:

“I am reaching out to you to give you an update on the radiator project,” Matos wrote. “Starting tomorrow (Friday, 10/8) the contractors will be entering rooms between 10 a.m. and 8 p.m. to install the radiators. This will mean that they will be in your room for a period of time to complete the work.”

I had not been contacted about any sort of radiator installation before this email, so right away the word “update” stood out to me as untrue. I grew concerned reading the second line, which informed me that I had less than 24 hours to prepare for the arrival of the installation crew, and I was further perturbed by the ambiguous “for a period of time.”

In general, I am very averse to people entering my personal space. This anxiety was compounded by the fact that the crew would be strangers, and they were more than likely to be cisgender men.

Would Fray-Witzer be happier if the crew were women or transgender men? Peter doesn’t say, but goes on for a full page kvetching about the lack of warning, the fact that the Cisgender Radiator Men returned the next day to check the installation, how harmed he was, and so on. The author would have preferred this:

I was angry, scared, and confused. Why didn’t the College complete the installation over the summer, when the building was empty? Why couldn’t they tell us precisely when the workers would be there? Why were they only notifying us the day before the installation was due to begin?

The accusation of misbehavior by Oberlin and the harm done to Fray-Witzer goes on and on. One more excerpt:

I couldn’t help but think that, though there were other dorms affected by the installation, Baldwin Cottage was one of the worst places for it to occur. There are myriad reasons to want to be housed in Baldwin Cottage, but many people — myself included — choose to live there for an added degree of privacy and a feeling of safety and protection. A significant portion of students choose to live in Baldwin because they are victims of sexual assault or abuse, have suffered past invasions of privacy, or have some other reason to fear cisgender men.

You can read the rest for yourself. All I can say is that I sympathize with those residents who have experienced sexual assault and abuse, but those people have to live in the real world, and that world is full of cisgender men, even including some who install radiators. If the students can’t tolerate an hour’s worth of work by such men in their dorm room—Peter left for class and they were gone when he returned (I’m not sure of the right pronoun here)—then they need therapy.  After all, if they feel unsafe from a radiator crew, they can surely leave for an hour.  What kind of adults will these students grow up to be if they’re afraid of the whole world and get no therapy to deal with that?

A scathing takedown of a ham-handed attempt to rename “Huxley College”

October 7, 2021 • 11:15 am

Here we have a fairly short but scholarly and passionate piece by Nick Matzke, whose name may be familiar to you—he used to work at the National Center for Science Education and posted often on the Panda’s Thumb website. As you see from the article’s screenshot below (click on the image to see the piece or get a pdf), Nick now teaches biology and does research at The University of Auckland.

The backstory, which I’ve written about three times (here, here, and here) involves a wokeish but completely misguided attempt to rename the well known Huxley College of the Environment at Western Washington University (WWU) in Bellingham, Washington. Huxley College is noted by Wikipedia as one the University’s “notable degree programs“, and it was “the first College dedicated to the study of environmental science and policy in the nation.”

Why the renaming? Because, as I’ve explained in my previous posts, the College’s namesake, Thomas Henry Huxley (1825-1895), was supposed to be a racist and a eugenicist. (If you know your history of evolutionary biology, you’ll remember Huxley as “Darwin’s bulldog”, a staunch defender of his friend Charles, who was too timorous to defend his own theory set forth in The Origin.) But Huxley did a lot more than that. He was actually an anti-racist, an opponent of slavery, and a friend of women and workingmen (he campaigned for suffrage half a century before British women got the vote, and gave free lectures on science to poor working people).  All of these facts, in particular Huxley’s antiracism, are explained in Nick’s piece, which is infinitely better than the “case for denaming” put on the WWU President’s website. The latter piece is embarrassingly bad and even, in parts, illiterate.

Click below to read Matzke’s vigorous nine-page defense of keeping the name. Another benefit of reading it is that you’re going to learn a lot about Thomas Henry Huxley, and, I hope, will be appalled at how WWU distorted and degraded his legacy to make him look like he was an ardent racist. (Nick has also posted the essay in full at The Panda’s Thumb.)

Now let it be admitted that Huxley, like Darwin, did make sporadic statements that, by today’s lights, would be considered unacceptably racist. All of them come from a single essay he wrote in 1865.  But that was early in his career, and by its end he’d established himself as one of the rare progressives in Victorian England, favoring the abolition of slavery, the establishment of women’s rights, and acting out of concern for the “lower” classes.  A few other points in Nick’s report:

a.) Several of the important assertions in the President’s report are simply dead wrong—in fact, the opposite of what Huxley said or what genetics says.

b.) Some of these errors were taken straight from the creationist literature. It appears that WWU leaned on the creationist denigration of Huxley that they’ve used for years to impugn all of evolutionary biology (“See?” they say, “Evolutionary biology is racist.”)

c.) Huxley engaged in three separate anti-racist campaigns that, in fact, made him anathema to the real British racists of his time.

d.) The report tries to tar Huxley by dissing his grandson, Julian Huxley, for being a racist eugenicist. While Julian had some views that could be interpreted as “reform eugenics”, he was an anti-racist. As Matzke notes:

Julian was also the founding director of UNESCO in 1946, and helped draft UNESCO’s famous anti-racism declarations in 1950 and 1952. The Encyclopedia of Evolution says, “largely due to his efforts, the UNESCO statement on race reported that race was a cultural, not a scientific, concept, and that any attempts to find scientific evidence of the superiority of one race over another were invalid.”

But it’s madness to conflate Julian with his grandfather, and mentioning Julian, no matter what his views, was completely irrelevant.

I’ll give one quote from Nick, but you should read his piece:

How does it serve justice to treat T.H. Huxley as if he were [the vicious British racists] James Hunt or Governor Eyre, when he actually was their vehement opponent?  Removing Huxley’s name from the College would in fact be removing the name of a pioneer for educational inclusion, a key figure in scientifically establishing that all humans are one species, and undermining the concept of biological “race.” Doing so while relying on propaganda deriving from fundamentalist creationists and other right-wing provocateurs would be falling into the exact trap arranged by these provocateurs: namely, to drive a wedge between science and the causes of social and racial justice. Helping to drive this wedge deeper cannot help increase diversity, equity, and inclusion in science. Imagine creationists, for the next several decades, going to legislatures and state school boards with a line like: “Evolution is a racist theory. After all, Western Washington University acknowledged this when they removed the name ‘Huxley’ from their College of the Environment.”

WWU hasn’t decided formally on the renaming, but, as I noted, they appear to have put it off until December so it would look like it wasn’t a rush to judgment.  Look at this duplicity! (bolding is mine)

. . . One Board member suggested voting at the October meeting. The president suggested it would be better to do so at the December meeting, or it will look like it was all worked out in advance. Several others concurred and suggested that the October meeting focus on communicating the rationale for the denaming.

It was worked out in advance, and what we have here is the appearance of due diligence without the diligence itself. It’s a case once again of a university truckling to a mob who knows virtually nothing about the salient issues.

By my own standards, in which a name should be kept if two criteria are met, Huxley College should definitely NOT be renamed. But tell that to the administration, who must meet the demands of WWU’s Black Students Organization as well as many other students.  I venture to guess that almost none of those calling for Huxley’s cancellation knows anything about the man or what he really did.

My criteria for keeping a name or a statue:

1.) Does the name or statue honor the good things that the person did?

2.) Was the person’s life a net good, making a positive difference in the world?

For Thomas Henry Huxley, the answer to both questions is, “Hell, yes!”  Huxley College should not be renamed. But I’d bet big bucks it will, for you know how these campaigns go.

Huxley:

A rise in targeting of scholars for political and ideological reasons

September 10, 2021 • 9:15 am

There’s a longish report at the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) that summarizes how scholars have been reported to authorities (“targeted”) for saying or writing “offensive” stuff over the last 6 years. You can read the report by clicking on the screenshot below:

It’s a bit tedious to read in its entirety, but the results are interesting. I’ll skip the definition of scholars and most of the methodology, except to say that the report relied on eight sources (below). These don’t include FIRE’s famous “disinvitation database“, as that reports deplatforming or disruptions of talks of speakers at colleges, not targeting and attempted punishment of individuals at universities. The sources of data:

  • Lee Jussim’s list of “Threat(s) to Academic Freedom … From Academics”
  • Jeffrey Sachs’ list of “The US Faculty Termination for Political Speech Dataset (2000-2020)”
  • The “Free Speech Tracker” from The Free Speech Project at Georgetown University
  • Duke Law School’s “Campus Speech Database”
  • The National Association of Scholars (NAS) list of “Tracking ‘Cancel Culture’ in Higher Education”
  • National Review’s list “Tracking ‘Cancel Culture’ in Higher Education”
  • The “Retraction Watch Database”

Trawling of this dataset using the analysts’ methods turned up 456 “targeting incidents” between January 1, 2015 and July 31, 2021, so it’s up to date. A “targeting incident” is one in which a person or people call for sanctions on a scholar for what he or she said or did.

The main results are these (I’ve omitted some of the report’s key findings.

a. Most of the incidents did result in some kind of sanction. 74% of the 456 reports resulted in either an investigation (considered a sanction) or a punishment like suspension or firing. That is very high, especially given that nearly all the incidents involved speech that, if uttered in a public university, would be protected by the First Amendment. (The article gives some examples.)

b. Targeting incidents have risen substantially in the last 6 years. Here’s a plot by year with the incidents in yellow and sanctions in red. There were 24 incidents in 2015, 113 in 2020, and 61 incidents already in the first half of 2021.

 

c. When the researchers could determine whether the targeting originated from positions to the Left or Right of the Speaker, it was most often from the Left. (This is what you’d predict from the Disinvitation Database). A graph:

Of course most students are on the Left, but so are most professors. But remember: this is a plot of reports of whether the accusations came not from the Left or Right by themselves, but really “from the Left or Right of the accused.” And, in fact, many of the accused were already on the Left. The reports from the Right did an uptick in 2017, and that may be the result of Donald Trump’s election when the Right felt empowered.

d. The percentage of sanctions is, as I said, high (64%); most of these are investigations, but terminations and suspensions of scholars are quite common.  Here’s a bar chart of the various outcomes when someone is “targeted”:

e. When it comes to being targeted, race is by far the issue involved most often, with partisanship, gender, and international policy behind. This again is not surprising, since race has been dominating the national discourse, but particularly on campuses. Here’s a graph:

f. When scholars are terminated (i.e., fired), race and institutional policy issues are the most common causes.  (Institutional policy is expected because it’s a clash between scholars and the policy of their academic homes:

g. Finally, the sources of the targeting are different depending on whether the attack came from the Left or the Right of the person targeted. The graph below shows the three most frequent sources of attack with “from the left” being the three bars on the left and “from the right” being the three bars on the right. (This is a confusing graph.) The most obvious difference is that attacks from the Left come from students (undergrads especially frequent) and other scholars, while attacks from the Right come from the public, the administration, and politicians.  This is not that surprising given that most scholars are on the Left, while attacks on the right are more likely to come from non-academics.

There are several other results that I won’t delve into, but merely mention. The disciplines in which targeting incidents occur most often are those “at the core of a liberal arts curriculum: law, political science, English, history, and philosophy.” That’s again not surprising, as those are the areas in which scholars are most likely to say something offensive. It’s a lot harder to say something offensive when you’re teaching science or math.

Finally, here’s an argument for universities adopting the Chicago Principles of Free Expression:

Campuses where the most targeting incidents have occurred tend to also have severely speech-restrictive policies, and are unlikely to have adopted the Chicago Principles guaranteeing the preeminence of free speech.

An article like this would be dry without a few examples, and it gives three instances of controversial scholars who were targeted: Mike Adams (who ultimately killed himself after being attacked for impure tweets), Gordon Klein (a particularly unfair case), and Columbia University adjunct law professor Elizabeth Lederer, targeted for prosecuting in court the Central Park Five, who were ultimately exonerated for raping and badly injuring a woman. Lederer ultimately had to resign from Columbia.

The lessons from this, given that most of the targeting was by mob vigilantes who wanted someone’s head (i.e., job), and that most of those attacked were exercising free speech, are obvious, but I’ll let FIRE summarize them for you:

. . . If scholars are unable to ask certain questions because they fear social or professional sanctions, particularly from their students and colleagues, then the advancement of human knowledge will be hindered. We may unknowingly continue to pursue important societal goals using ineffective means and policies because scholars fear the consequences of investigating whether such means and policies help us achieve what they are intended to.

Such a state of affairs should worry anyone with a vested interest in American higher education because it undermines academic freedom and open inquiry, threatening academia’s ability to ensure the furtherance of knowledge. One need not agree with a scholar’s research or teaching to nevertheless respect that scholar’s right to research and teach how they see fit. Distinguishing support for one’s speech from one’s right to speech is often lost in today’s culture wars and the “Scholars Under Fire” project reveals that when censorship spreads rampantly, it does not restrict itself to views and people one opposes; it also comes, sometimes with even more fervor, for those who hold similar views.

Selling term papers

July 16, 2021 • 2:00 pm

I had heard that you can buy term papers online, though I never encountered one in my classes (I didn’t assign term papers in undergraduate evolution classes). But a ping on one of my posts, in particular the one criticizing Agustín Fuentes’s Science op-ed indicting Charles Darwin for sexism and racism, alerted me that one outfit, Grand Term papers, is selling a “adjudicate this issue” term paper.

Click on the screenshot to see the odious offer:

Here’s how you order. Mind you, they aren’t plagiarizing me: this particular form of perfidy involves a student taking credit for the work of a professional (?) writer. In other words, this is arrant cheating.  I have to say, though, that the topic is a good one for a student’s original paper.

And this is how they justify it:

What we Do

A majority of students suffer from demotivation, physical, mental or personal problems that can hurt their studies. In most instances, the source of stress is associated with a bulk of incomplete assignments with demanding turnaround times. Unfortunately, the lack of energy and non-prioritizing academic studies can hurt the results of any coursework. When all these factors accumulate, they can directly impact how an individual learns and put them under unnecessary strain. However, at _.com, we have all the necessary resources to support students learn more deeply, perform better in their coursework and produce high-quality and well-researched academic assignments. We have a large team qualified in diverse subject areas and topics to assist you with all academic writings. To access our services, click here and make the first step towards a successful educational journey.

Note the “at __.com”, suggesting that this is itself boilerplate copied from another source. The English is itself a bit wonky (“a bulk of incomplete assignments,” “make the first step” and so on). Perhaps they’re not written by native English speakers.

Since the writing is supposedly original, you can’t detect this by looking for plagiarism via Google. I’m not sure how one would find out that a student’s paper wasn’t written by the student, but I’m sure there are ways. Has anybody had any experience with this form of cheating? It rankles me a lot because it’s academic cheating.

University of Chicago student government refuses to retract pro-Palestinian, pro-BDS, anti-Zionist statement

June 8, 2021 • 10:30 am

Six days ago I reported that the incoming University of Chicago Undergraduate Student Government (USG) issued a statement in conjunction with the anti-Semitic organization Students for Justice in Palestine. This is an official position of the U of C’s student government (click on document to enlarge or to see it in situ).

The support for BDS and anti-Zionism I see as manifestations of anti-Semitism, and, as I wrote yesterday about a Scientific American op-ed, this statement, leaving out the malfeasance of Palestine itself, is grossly misleading, if not an arrant lie. And of course saying “From the river to the sea, USG supports a Palestine that is free” is precisely the student government’s calling for the elimination of Israel.

The University of Chicago is, as per its Kalven Principle, politically and ideologically neutral (not always in practice, though), so as I wrote in my last article:

In a response issued yesterday by President Zimmer and Provost Lee, “Campus discourse and international conflict,” the University administration affirms its neutrality in this issue but condemns bigotry on all sides, which is in accordance with the Kalven Report, one of our founding principles that affirms official University neutrality on moral, ideological, and political issues.

Now the student government, which is an elected body and not an official unit of the university, can bloody well make all the statements it wants. I’m not going to report them or say that they’re violating University principles. But the statement above made me feel, for the first time in 35 years, that I’m surrounded by students who would damn me just for being a Jew who supports the existence of Israel (i.e., a “Zionist”).  I’m not of course a religious Jew but a secular Jew from a religiously Jewish background, and at any rate nobody deserves to be criticized solely for their ethnicity.

When Jewish students and student organizations like Hillel objected to this resolution, the student government decided to vote on this statement again as well as decide whether to apologize to Jewish students for it. As our campus newspaper, The Chicago Maroon, reported two days ago, this attempted retraction and the apology, both failed. The statement above stands, and I am an apostate. The student government at the University of Chicago officially professes anti-Semitism. Let this be known to the donors and parents of prospective students!

Click on the screenshot to read:

The vote was made by email, and the results will not be made public. Now that is pure cowardice! Even the votes of American congresspeople are public, and don’t students deserve to know how their representatives voted?

This is a shameful resolution, though it violates no University regulations. It shows that our student body is just as wokey, au courant, and ignorant about current affairs as are the editors of Scientific American.

Stanford University tries to block student from graduating for publishing a satirical post, fails on First Amendment grounds

June 3, 2021 • 10:40 am

Here’s a pretty blatant violation of the First Amendment by Stanford University as reported by Slate. But to know how it’s a violation, you have to know two pieces of law. Click on the screenshot to read:

In short, a third-year student at Stanford Law School, Nicholas Wallace, decided to make fun of the conservative Federalist Society, some of whose members agreed with the January assault on the U.S. Capitol, by publishing some satire on a listserv:

The flyer promoted a fake event, “The Originalist Case for Inciting Insurrection,” ostensibly sponsored by the Stanford Federalist Society. It advertised the participation of two politicians who tried to overturn the 2020 election, Missouri Sen. Joshua Hawley and Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton. “Violent insurrection, also known as doing a coup, is a classical system of installing a government,” the flyer read, adding that insurrection “can be an effective approach to upholding the principle of limited government.”

Reader Paul found a screenshot of the flyer:

The Federalist society urged Stanford to formally investigate Wallace. When the school did, Stanford put a hold on Wallace’s degree and forbade him from graduating, asserting that Wallace may have violated the University’s code of conduct.  But Stanford, and especially its law school, should have realized two things, which apparently were caught by the estimable Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), whose own statement is here.

On Tuesday, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education sent a letter to Stanford urging the school to “immediately abandon its investigation and commit to procedural reforms to protect the expressive rights Stanford promises to its students.” FIRE pointed out that California’s Leonard Law requires private universities to comply with the First Amendment, and there is no real question that Wallace’s email is shielded by the First Amendment. The Supreme Court has held that satire, including offensive and hurtful expression, constitutes protected speech, and Wallace’s email is obviously satirical. “No reasonable person familiar with the email’s context would understand it to be sincere,” FIRE wrote, noting that it advertises an event that occurred 19 days earlier and is “laden with figurative language intended to impugn national political figures.”

(FIRE’s own statement is here.)

If you knew about the Leonard Law, and that satire is considered free expression, you’d realize that Stanford shouldn’t have even begun an investigation of permitted speech. Indeed, the Federalist Society itself promotes free speech on campus, so why is it doing this? Wallace suspects, correctly, I think, that this is pure retaliation.

But, as the NBC News ends every evening, “There’s good news tonight!”  Yesterday evening Slate updated the article with this:

Update, 9: 30 p.m.:  Stanford has concluded that Nicholas Wallace engaged in protected speech, dropped its investigation, and lifted the hold on his diploma. Wallace has confirmed that he will be allowed to graduate.

What’s especially ironic is that a left-wing school went after a student for making fun of a right-wing organization, all the while violating the freedom of speech that Stanford is required to adhere to.

h/t: Scott

U. Chicago student government demands elimination of Israel, but University administration refuses to take stand on Israel/Palestine war

June 2, 2021 • 11:30 am

I’ve been at the University of Chicago for 35 years now, but never have I felt so alienated, at least politically, from the student body.

As the Chicago Maroon (our student newspaper) reports, the incoming University of Chicago Undergraduate Student Government (USG) released a statement in conjunction with the blatantly anti-Semitic organization Students for Justice in Palestine, a statement you can find at the paper’s link below or read here (click twice to enlarge to readable size):

It is clear that this statement is calling for the obliteration of Israel as a country, not just University “divestment” from Israel. SJP wants Israel gone, as does BDS, as evidenced by the statement “From the river to the sea, USG supports a Palestine that is free.” This is our student government calling for the elimination of Israel. (Note the dissing of the “ideology of Zionism,” another sign of anti-Semitism.)  And although the statement decries the deaths of Palestinians, there’s not a word about Hamas’s rockets and the first strikes by Palestine. This is hypocrisy of the most blatant kind, combined with arrant ignorance and an adherence to an ideology and history they know nothing about. The combination of SJP and our student government is particularly toxic. Really, students: are you willing to say this publicly that you want the state of Israel wiped off the map?

Now, however, the student government is having second thoughts, and is planning to vote about whether to retract this statement and even apologize to the University’s Jewish community (which, by the way, has never called for the obliteration of the Palestinian territories). From the Maroon:

USG will vote this week on a resolution to retract a statement released last Friday in support of Student Justice for Palestine (SJP) and to issue an apology to the UChicago Jewish community from the members of incoming USG involved in the creation of the statement.

. . . The resolution, introduced Monday night, greets an already-tense campus embroiled in debate over Israel-Palestine relations. The same night the statement was released on Twitter, a group of Jewish students reported that as they returned from a service at UChicago Hillel, a passerby drove by them and “repeatedly yelled out ‘F*ck Jews.’” In the days following the release of the SG statement, seven Jewish groups on campus signed an open letter by UChicago Hillel addressed to the incoming student government. The letter accused the incoming student government of using antisemitic language, saying “Student Government unequivocally rejects Jewish people’s right to self-determination.” Like the resolution, Hillel’s letter called for USG to retract the statement and extend an apology to Jewish students. Additionally, a group of 452 students, parents, alumni, and faculty signed a petition in opposition to the USG statement and requesting a retraction and apology.

It’s hard for me to accept that the student government is, in effect, not only anti-Israeli, but anti-Semitic, which, as I said, is what’s really behind the call for condemning Zionism and “freeing Palestine”.

In a response issued yesterday by President Zimmer and Provost Lee, “Campus discourse and international conflict,” the University administration affirms its neutrality in this issue but condemns bigotry on all sides, which is in accordance with the Kalven Report, one of our founding principles that affirms official University neutrality on moral, ideological, and political issues. (This issue was treated the same way by University College London in late May: a condemnation of anti-Semitism and anti-Islamic bigotry along with a refusal to take sides in the controversy or to condemn either side.)

Here’s the statement:

To: Members of the University Community
From: Robert J. Zimmer, President and Ka Yee C. Lee, Provost
Subject: Campus Discourse and International Conflict
Date: June 1, 2021

We have received a number of inquiries and objections regarding a statement by the incoming Undergraduate Student Government on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The subject of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is painful for many, and one that is intensely personal for many members of our community. The University of Chicago does not have an institutional position on international conflicts, in keeping with our longstanding practice against taking positions on social or political issues outside the University’s core mission. This position was developed in accord with the enduring principles articulated in the Kalven Report.  [JAC note: Decrying bigotry that may affect the working of the University does not violate University policy or Kalven; see below] As outlined in that report, the University’s position preserves the freedom of faculty and students to argue for or against any issue of social or political controversy and thus requires “a heavy presumption against” collective political action by the University itself.

One important corollary to freedom of expression on campus is that no individual faculty member speaks for the University as a whole. This is equally true with regard to student expression, and thus while Student Government representatives are elected by undergraduates, neither Student Government nor any other student group speaks for the University or for all students on any issue. As stated in its own Constitution, the mission of the Student Government (SG) is “to further the interests and promote the welfare of the students at the University of Chicago; to foster a University community; … and to represent the body more effectively before University authorities and the community at large.”

We are deeply disturbed by recent cases of anti-Semitism that have taken place in our country and across the world. These acts are deplorable and antithetical to our values, including our deep commitment to open and free inquiry, and our welcoming of people of all backgrounds.  These values compel our steadfast opposition to discrimination in its many potential forms, including rejection of anti-Semitism, anti-Palestinian bias, and other forms of bias that are also incompatible with our commitment to diversity and inclusion. The University does not tolerate violence, threats, intimidation or harassment directed at individuals or groups, as reflected in University Policy. We are committed to taking action to prevent such behavior and to address any cases that arise. Anyone who has experienced or witnessed a bias incident is encouraged to report it to the Bias Education & Support Team (BEST).

We continue to support the wellbeing of all members of our community, and to provide an environment for faculty and students to engage freely and openly on this and other issues. Our University is at its best when we treat each other with care and mutual respect, build on shared values, and come together to ensure people of all backgrounds and beliefs can thrive on campus. For those seeking additional support, UChicago Student Wellness offers undergraduate and graduate students accessible, high-quality, and culturally sensitive mental health services. The Staff and Faculty Assistance Program offers support for University personnel.

Contrast this with the statement of UCLA’s Asian-American Studies Department on the same issue, a statement of strong support for Palestine and a blanket condemnation of Israel. This is the incursion of politics into academic that should not be taking place. Have people forgotten that the mission of a University is teaching, learning, and apprehending how to think and analyze, not to engage in social engineering? Stanley Fish argued that point in his book, giving it the title “Save the World on Your Own Time.” (I’ve just read it.)

The only possible quibble I have with Zimmer and Lee’s letter is the first sentence in the fifth paragraph: “We are deeply disturbed by recent cases of anti-Semitism that have taken place in our country and across the world.”  This refers not to an issue relevant to the University’s mission, but to what’s going on in the country as a whole. Had they just said that anti-Semitic acts are “antithetical to our values and impede the University from performing its mission,” it would have been more in line with what the Kalven Report intended. But this is a minor plaint. And while it may look neutral and laudable, one can argue whether people should be disturbed by cases of anti-Semitism. Many people aren’t!

I only wish that the President and Provost had made such a strong statement about the many pronouncements of our departments that also violate the Kalven report, like those on this listWhile President Zimmer has affirmed that departments and official units of the University must adhere to the no-politics-ideology-or-morality principles limned in Kalven, many of these statements still violate Kalven. They need to be taken down pronto.

But it hurtsme quite a bit to see our own student government passing resolutions born of ignorance, hatred, and ideological conformity. I hope the SG/SJP statement gets rescinded.  (And since many donors are Jewish, this will also hurt the University in its pocketbook.)