Chicago Maroon op-ed editors abase themselves, apologize for posting a letter criticizing anti-Semitism

April 8, 2022 • 12:00 pm

In this week’s Chicago Maroon (our student newspaper), there’s the longest op-ed I’ve ever seen there: a full-two page spread by two op-ed editors. Their goal was to apologize for having published a short op-ed letter by two students that criticized a pro-Palestinian campus group.

But let’s back up.  A while ago, Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), a notoriously anti-Semitic organization that calls for the elimination of Israel, demonstrated on campus against classes taught by Israeli Jews. On their Instagram page, SJP called for a boycott of classes about Israel or taught by “Israeli fellows,” as people who take those classes show “complicity in the continuation of Israel’s occupation of Palestine” (they consider Palestine to be “from the river to the sea”, i.e. all of Israel, not just the West bank). Their post is below, and of course SJP has the right to post such a thing as well as to demonstrate on campus in favor of it. Yes, they’re misguided, yes, they’re hateful, and yes, I see them as anti-Semitic.  And of course this kind of behavior divides people, but so it goes.

Here’s the SJP post with their addendum

In response, two students wrote a protest (click on screenshot below) whose contents I’ve put below the fold at the bottom of this post. The authors, Melody Dias and Benjamin ZeBrack, characterize SJP’s Instagram post as anti-Semitic, divisive, deliberately ill-timed (they argued that it overlapped with Holocaust Remembrance Day) and, by coercing students not to take classes about Israel or those taught by Israelis, a violation the University’s free speech policy. Although I would have written a different letter (the “timing” issue isn’t that relevant, and we don’t know if SJP did that deliberately), I see the Instagram post as pretty odious and anti-Semitic (or “anti-Zionist” as SJP would say).

You can also see student’s letter objecting to the call for boycott by clicking on the screensho below. It takes you to the letter on the Maroon‘s website. That’s very odd, for the pro-SJP op-ed editors who published it said that they removed the letter on the grounds of factual inaccuracy.  (See below.) They apparently didn’t! (This is why I reprint that letter below the fold.)

After this letter appeared, SJP was furious (see Cravatt’s article below) and demanded that the Maroon take down Dias’s and ZeBrack’s letter be taken down–and other things as well. This is described in Cravatt’s description of the affair from the Jewish News Syndicate (click on screenshot below)

Cravatts reports this:

SJP then demanded of the Maroon’s editors, “in response to these offenses,” the “immediate deletion of the article,” a “public apology issued by the Maroon to SJP UChicago and to Palestinian students for the dissemination of misinformation and the disregard of journalistic integrity and factual reporting,” and, most ominously, “a public recommitment to ensuring that all columns and articles abide by expected standards of accuracy and truth, particularly those written by Zionist authors or on behalf of Zionist organizations.”

Astoundingly, in response to SJP’s absurd demands, two feckless editors—Kelly Hui and Elizabeth Winkler—not only deleted the offending op-ed but published a craven, apologetic editorial of their own. In it, they dissected the op-ed for its perceived factual inaccuracies and justified their decision by claiming that it was the op-ed written by the pro-Israel supporters that could be the source of campus enmity, not the original action of SJP in calling for a boycott of courses about Israel.

Cravatts is not exaggerating here. The craven, apologetic editorial from the op-ed editors is at the screenshot below (click on it). The two editors say they actually removed the letter by Dias and ZeBrack, but it’s still online, so I’m puzzled. But they did cave to all of SJP’s demands:

Let me give a few quotes from this ridiculous “apology”, a disgusting piece of self-abasement (and denigration of Israel) fully worthy of China’s Cultural Revolution:

As Viewpoints editors and members of the UChicago community, we stand against hate and strive to create a productive platform for opinions. On February 17, 2022, we failed in this mission. We made the choice to publish an op-ed that contained factual inaccuracies. These factual inaccuracies, contrary to Viewpoints’s goals, flattened dialogue and perpetuated hate toward UChicago’s chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP UChicago), Palestinian students, and those on campus who support the Palestinian liberation struggle. We failed as Viewpoints editors and as members of the UChicago community when we published this article, which was not fact-checked as thoroughly as it should have been. We deeply regret this oversight and the harm that our decision inflicted. We apologize to every member in SJP UChicago and all others who were affected by this decision, and we vow to take concrete steps, which we enumerate in this letter, to prevent this from happening again.

After further reflection on what we believe the role of opinion journalism should be, we have taken this op-ed down. We do not take this action to hide our mistakes but rather to take responsibility for the damage the op-ed has done and to prevent further harm. Below this apology, we include corrections to the factual inaccuracies in the op-ed and the text of the op-ed itself as context for those corrections and as documentation of our errors and our commitment to redress them.

The “factual inaccuracies” are risible (including the “timing issue”, which is irrelevant), and at any rate factual inaccuracies have never before stopped the Maroon from publishing letters before. What Hui and Winkler are doing are truckling to the SJP, denigrating Israel, promoting Palestine as a victim of Israeli aggression, and getting rid of contrary opinions by (suposedly) deleting the offending letter. Of course the factual inaccuracies promulgated by the SJP (e.g., the “apartheid state” myth) are ignored.

What’s really funny is that Hui and Winkler actually say they’re supporting the U of C’s free-speech policy by taking down the letter:

Viewpoints is a space that intends to facilitate free speech on campus and in the surrounding communities, and a large part of that facilitation is diligent fact-checking. It is our editorial responsibility to ensure that our writers’ words are grounded in facts, and by choosing to publish this op-ed, we did not fulfill this responsibility. As a result of this failure, the factual inaccuracies in this op-ed were used to delegitimize and undermine SJP UChicago’s campaign and the larger movement on campus and beyond for Palestinian liberation and self-determination.

That’s about as disingenuoous as you can get.

But bit of rhetoric really baffles me as they purport to support free speech (my bolding):

As Viewpoints editors, we seek to break the pattern of anti-Palestinian rhetoric in The Maroon.  As student journalists, we are learning from our mistakes and committed to growing into more thoughtful and ethical writers and editors. In working toward this goal, we acknowledge the same damaging pattern within many journalistic institutions, particularly in mainstream news outlets, and we seek to combat this within our own newspaper. We must include conversations about power and safety in our decisions about how we should platform the voices in our community, and we must reexamine the idea of journalistic objectivity. As Viewpoints editors, we believe that our commitments to journalistic integrity and The Maroon’s mission require us to take political and cultural contexts into account in our coverage. We are committed to free speech and to considering opinions submitted from all sides of a story—free speech cannot be opposed to critical thought and nuance. We must acknowledge the potential for our coverage to perpetuate imbalances of power and to threaten the safety of members of our community. We want Viewpoints to be a space in which students and community members can express their opinions freely, without creating an environment in which other students are no longer safe to share their opinions and realities.

Yet they’ve just violated their pledge, presumably because the innocuous objections of Dias and ZeBrack, who stand AGAINST hate, are considered as promoting hate.  This next paragraph is bizarre:

In working to achieve this goal of inclusion and productive discourse in Viewpoints, we must acknowledge that our decision to remove the op-ed may affect Jewish students on campus. The factual inaccuracies in the op-ed were used to support Zionist and racist sentiments that relied on oversimplified narratives, setting Jewish people and Palestinian people at odds and presenting both communities as generalized monoliths without any acknowledgement of the multifaceted identities we know to exist in these communities. Given this narrative, we understand that removing the op-ed from the website could be seen as stifling Jewish voices, but that would go against our values of inclusion and free speech and contribute to the antisemitism that is already all too present in the lives of our Jewish peers. We want to emphasize that we are committed to providing a welcoming platform for dialogue that is founded on facts. We have removed the op-ed in accordance with the values we described above and because of the factual inaccuracies we detail below.

Short take: “we favor free speech unless we find any inaccuracies in it. And we deplore hate (see below), except when that hate is directed by SJP against Israel and classes about Israel. If there are violations, we simply censor the offending speech and grovel for harming the feelings of SJP members.”

Yes, free speech is fine so long as it doesn’t cause harm, as Hui and Winkler note below:

Additionally, we recognize that The Maroon as an institution has a history of publishing and contributing to anti-Palestinian sentiments on campus and beyond, and SJP UChicago has compiled and protested articles they see as fitting this pattern. Within this history, Viewpoints has particularly failed in seeking out and representing the voices of Palestinian students. Although we cannot undo these harms, especially the role of Viewpoints in contributing to said dangerous rhetoric, we are committed to doing better through a larger and ongoing reevaluation of our editing processes for opinion pieces.

. . . We stand against hate in all forms. We condemn the pitting of Jewish and Palestinian students against one another, and we deeply regret the extent to which the op-ed’s factual inaccuracies—which we should not have published—perpetuated such a harmful dynamic. We support both Palestinian and Jewish communities and condemn anti-Palestinian and antisemitic rhetoric on campus and beyond.

Did it even cross their minds that the SJP’s post was really the vehicle of hatred, harm, and rhetoric, implicitly anti-Semitic and explicitly divisive? Nope, they forgot about that in their desire to bend their knees to SJP. And they don’t stand against “hate in all forms”; that is an arrant lie. For they don’t say a word about the hatred and inaccuracies promulgated by Students for Justice in Palestine.

I don’t know what world Hui and Winkler live in, but it’s a world in which only beleaguered Jews can create “hate” by objecting to anti-Semitism. The hatred of pro-Palestinians for Israel is ignored, and the anti-Semitism itself, characteristic of SJP, is perfectly fine. It’s clear that these op-ed editors are deeply biased—so biased that it’s wrecked their usefulness as editors. Indeed, the main editor of the newspaper has sanctioned them, adding this to the beginning of their apology:

Note from Gage Gramlick (editor-in-chief) and Yiwen Lu (managing editor): Viewpoints maintains partial editorial independence from The Maroon. This means that the following apology does not constitute an institutional perspective and represents only the views of the current Viewpoints Head Editors. TheMaroon is committed to serving our community in its entirety: We condemn hate of all kinds, and we are committed as individuals and as an institution to engaging meaningfully and completely with the subjects of our coverage and all community voices. We hope that this apology generates further conversation, and we strongly encourage readers to respond. Additionally, as per Viewpoints policy, the writers of this apology will be barred from editing any submissions pertaining to the removal of the op-ed, the apology itself, or Students for Justice in Palestine at the University of Chicago.

Of course Gramlick had to give the obligatory “we condemn hate” statement, but the operant result is that Hui and Winkler can no longer deal with articles about the SJP or with any further letters about the group’s behavior.

The upshot: everybody had a right to say what they said; it’s free speech, Jake! But Hui and Winkler behaved unprofessionally in their duties as editors, and I think their punishment was both justified and fair. There are no new letters to the editor so far, but there are eight comments after the “we were bad editors” apology, and all eight are critical.

I should add this: over the last 10 or 15 years, I’ve see anti-Semitism growing at the University of Chicago, just as it’s growing in many colleges and, indeed, widely in America. I don’t ask the University of Chicago to condemn it, for that is taking a political/ideological stand that may violate our Kalven principles. And I have to add that it may be that the anti-Semites and Israel haters have simply become more vocal. But what I do know is that I haven’t seen Jewish students attack Palestine or give demonstrations against it, while the reverse is not the case. The hatred goes largely one way, and Hui and Winkler have got the direction wrong.

Click “read more” to see Dias’s and ZeBrack’s letter:

Continue reading “Chicago Maroon op-ed editors abase themselves, apologize for posting a letter criticizing anti-Semitism”

University of Virginia student paper criticizes freedom of speech

March 23, 2022 • 1:15 pm

. . . well, not all speech—just the speech that the editors of the student newspaper The Cavalier Daily don’t like.

But first, remember Emma Camp? On March 7 I mentioned her and her NYT op-ed in the Hili dialogue:

*An article to read: an op-ed in the NYT by Emma Camp, a senior at the University of Virginia: “I came to college eager to debate. I found self-censorship instead.

I went to college to learn from my professors and peers. I welcomed an environment that champions intellectual diversity and rigorous disagreement. Instead, my college experience has been defined by strict ideological conformity. Students of all political persuasions hold back — in class discussions, in friendly conversations, on social media — from saying what we really think. Even as a liberal who has attended abortion rights protests and written about standing up to racism, I sometimes feel afraid to fully speak my mind.

In the classroom, backlash for unpopular opinions is so commonplace that many students have stopped voicing them, sometimes fearing lower grades if they don’t censor themselves. According to a 2021 survey administered by College Pulse of over 37,000 students at 159 colleges, 80 percent of students self-censor at least some of the time. Forty-eight percent of undergraduate students described themselves as “somewhat uncomfortable” or “very uncomfortable” with expressing their views on a controversial topic during classroom discussions. At U.V.A., 57 percent of those surveyed feel that way.

She got a lot of pushback on this from social media, with some people even saying she was a white supremacist because they thought she was photographed at the statue where the Charlottesville riots started. (In reality, her article had a picture of her in front of the Rotunda, the main building of the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, where Ms. Camp is a senior.) But that kind of pushback is free speech, even if it’s erroneous speech.

Anyway, any time someone says their speech is being chilled (especially if they’re conservatives), they get piled on by progressive Leftists who deny the existence of cancel culture. But the fact is that Camp called attention to a serious problem afflicting the majority of American college students: they’re afraid to speak their minds for fear of offending people, particularly woke people.

And now Ms. Camp’s own school has struck back at her in a remarkably stupid op-ed in the student paper. I learned about it from Camp’s own tweet:

And, sure enough, most of the editorial board of the paper, consisting of “the Executive Editor, the Editor-in-Chief, the two Opinion Editors, their Senior Associate and an Opinion Columnist,” wrote the piece below, which is basically a “free speech for me but not for thee” piece. When will they ever learn?

Click on the screenshot to read:

Right off the bat, Ms. Camp gets a brickbat:

Most recently, a University student made national headlines for lamenting the state of free speech at the University. More often than not, this speech was defended by claiming a need for intellectual diversity. In looking at each of these instances, we as an Editorial Board found ourselves questioning what should be protected under the premise of “diversity of thought” and more importantly, what values we choose to accept on Grounds. For us, the answer is simple. Hateful rhetoric is violent — and this is impermissible.

Two things to note here. First, the desire to ban “hateful rhetoric,” which turns out to be right-wing rhetoric (Mike Pence is their prime example). Second, the false equation of “hateful rhetoric” with “violence”, which it’s not. “Violence” has become one of those words whose meaning is deliberately watered down to turn what comes out of one’s mouth into the equivalent of a fist in someone else’s face. Nobody should accept that kind of rhetoric. When you hear it, just tell the speaker that they’re wrong.

So let’s abandon the stupid idea that offensive speech is “violence” and see what The Cavalier Daily considers offensive speech.  Their archetypal example is. . . Mike Pence:

A student organization recently announced its plans to host former vice president Mike Pence this April to speak in Old Cabell Hall. For Pence, gay couples signify a “societal collapse,” Black lives do not matter, transgender individuals and immigrants do not deserve protection and the pandemic should not be taken seriously. Nevertheless, the University has accepted Pence’s visit as an “opportunity to hear from, and engage with, leaders and experts from a wide variety of fields and perspectives.” So-called “perspectives” should not be welcomed when they spread rhetoric that directly threatens the presence and lives of our community members. The LGBTQ+ individuals Pence has attacked, the Black lives he refuses to value and the successful stories of immigration he and the former president hope to prevent — these very people are our peers, our neighbors and our community members. We refuse to condone platforming Pence.

Even if everything they say about Pence is true (and I suspect he wouldn’t sign on to all of that), it doesn’t matter. He is not calling for violence; he’s standing for Republican values. As odious as the man is, his values are held by roughly half of the American public. Does that mean that anyone espousing Republican politics should be considered a hatemonger and banned from the campus? Apparently so. There is no room for debate about Black Lives Matter, what “rights” transgender individuals have, or about how do deal with the coronavirus. It’s the editors’ way or the highway. (Of course I’m much more likely to be on their side than on Pence’s side, but that’s not the point.)

But wait! There’s more!

Pence is further tarred by being equated not just to Donald Trump (and remember, Pence finally admitted that the election was fair), but also to the white supremacists who congregated and rioted at Charlottesville in 2017. My emphasis below:

While Pence’s stop at the University may be part of a lecture series, it is undeniable that his presence means something fundamentally different here than on other college campuses. Pence plans to “take a stand for America’s founding.” Given recent history, this should sound warning bells. Four years ago, hundreds of white supremacists flocked to Charlottesville to express their racist and violent beliefs. While they descended upon the Downtown Mall in a violent and deadly rally, we must remember — their first stop that weekend was here. We cannot forget this fact — the first place white supremacists felt comfortable expressing themselves was through a torch-lit march on our Grounds. Let us be clear — we must seriously consider the environment we wish to tolerate. Let us not forget that for four years, Pence served alongside the man who called those same white supremacists “very fine people.” Pence’s presence on Grounds signifies a tolerance of rhetoric that has already harmed our community — in fact, the very building that Pence will speak in was constructed to hide Black citizens so as not to disrupt the landscape of Grounds. Though Pence’s language may not be as overt as the white supremacy expressed during the events of Aug. 11 and 12, we must all be concerned about the message his rhetoric could imply we accept.

So Pence doesn’t have freedom of speech at U. Va. (a state school, which means it has to obey the First Amendment) because of his association with Trump, who praised white supremacists. This is third-hand demonization.

And so, the privileged and condescending editors of the Cavalier Daily conclude that there are specified “values” of the University of Virginia (are there? really?), and anybody opposing those values loses their right to speak on campus:

Simply put, there is a blatant dichotomy between the values that Pence and the University hold. Once so-called politics turn into transphobia, homophobia and racism, they are no longer mere political beliefs — but rather bigotry that threatens the well-being and safety of students on Grounds. The Cavalier Daily’s Editorial Board does not condone platforming an individual that not only denies the existence of our diverse community, but participates in the violent rhetoric that perpetuates harm against these individuals. To our administration — we implore you to do better. Protect your students. To our fellow students and community members, particularly those who have been adversely affected by Pence — we stand with you.

They might as well have written: “To our administration, we implore you to invite only those speakers with Progressive Democratic viewpoints. Protect your students from hearing anything that might offend them.”

It’s particularly galling when a newspaper, especially one at a government-funded school, comes out against the First Amendment. For make no mistake about it: the kind of speech that the newspaper would ban (if they could) is absolutely permitted under the First Amendment.

What we have here is a pack of bawling morons who don’t understand freedom of speech, all editing a newspaper. Such are college campuses these days, where only certain “values” can be articulated, and anything that questions those values is seen as both hateful and violent.

Infantile Yale Law students disrupt campus free-speech event

March 17, 2022 • 1:00 pm

A colleague called my attention to this article, which is from a pretty conservative site, the Washington Free Beacon, but who else would print it? The veracity of the report is demonstrated by photos, by a YouTube video that I’m unable to watch but I’ve embedded anyway, and by photos of the event at a Daily Fail article which largely repeats the Beacon prose. You be the judge. Knowing the way these things go, however, I don’t doubt that this happened pretty much as described. (See below; I’ve just found that the event was described in the Yale Daiy News as well.)

Click on the screenshot below to read. And remember, these are students at one of the nation’s most prestigious law schools, attending a debate about free speech that features both a liberal and a conservative looking for common ground (their organizations even worked together on the same side in a Supreme Court free-speech case). You’d think the law students would at least let the event proceed without interruption.

Not a chance.

An excerpt:

More than 100 students at Yale Law School attempted to shout down a bipartisan panel on civil liberties, intimidating attendees and causing so much chaos that police were eventually called to escort panelists out of the building.

The March 10 panel, which was hosted by the Yale Federalist Society, featured Monica Miller of the progressive American Humanist Association [AHA] and Kristen Waggoner of the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), a conservative nonprofit that promotes religious liberty. Both groups had taken the same side in a 2021 Supreme Court case involving legal remedies for First Amendment violations. The purpose of the panel, a member of the Federalist Society said, was to illustrate that a liberal atheist and a conservative Christian could find common ground on free speech issues.

“It was pretty much the most innocuous thing you could talk about,” he added.

That didn’t stop nearly 120 student protesters from crowding into the event.

The rest is pretty much predictable. About a hundred protestors—most of the audience— stood up when Waggoner was introduced, many holding signs protesting ADF. That organization helped appeal a case you’ll recall—that of Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, when the cakeshop objected to designing a wedding cake for a gay couple. In 2018, the Supreme Court, by a 7-2 vote, decided in favor of the cakeshop, but on the narrow grounds that “that the Commission did not employ religious neutrality, violating Masterpiece owner Jack Phillips’s rights to free exercise.”

Waggoner argued the case on behalf of the cakeshop (the defendant); the two votes against were Ginsburg and Sotomayor, while liberal Kagan and middle-ist Breyer joined the other five in the majority vote.

You can argue about whether the owners of the cakeshop could justify their refusal on freedom-of-religion grounds (I disagree), but it is a debatable issue and, at any rate, not one that was even relevant at Yale given what the debate itself was about.

The debate was moderate by Kate Stith, a professor of criminal law at Yalel, and the protest wasn’t silent:

As they stood up, the protesters began to antagonize members of the Federalist Society, forcing Stith to pause her remarks. One protester told a member of the conservative group she would “literally fight you, bitch,” according to audio and video obtained by the Washington Free Beacon.

With the fracas intensifying, Stith reminded the students of Yale’s free speech policies, which bar any protest that “interferes with speakers’ ability to be heard and of community members to listen.” When the protesters heckled her in response—several with their middle fingers raised—she told them to “grow up,” according to video of the event obtained by the Free Beacon.

The comment elicited jeers from the protesters, who began shouting at the panelists and insisting that the disturbance was “free speech.” Eventually, Stith told them that if the noise continued, “I’m going to have to ask you to leave, or help you leave.”

Bravo for Stith!

The protestors left noisily (and without comment or rebuke by Ellen Cosgrove, the associate dean of the law school who was in the audience), but proceeded to stomp, yell, and shout slogans outside the lecture hall. As the FB reports, “The din was so loud that it disrupted nearby classes, exams, and faculty meetings, according to students and a professor who spoke on the condition of anonymity.” Note that those who spoke about the “din” were so cowed about this that they wouldn’t give their names!

Finally, the panel concluded (I don’t know whether it produced any useful debate given the noise), and the cops showed up and escorted both Miller and Waggoner to safety, as there was some indication that there might be physical violence. (The cops were called by Heather Gerkin, dean of Yale Law School.)

Note too that Monica Miller is theLegal Director and Senior Counsel at the AHA’s Appignani Humanist Legal Center and Executive Director of the Humanist Legal Society,” an organization that many of us support and some even see as too woke. I’ve been at several of their events, and pitting her against Waggoner would have been something to see. But I can find no report about the substance of the debate.

The AHA and ADF were in fact on the same side in a recent Supreme Court case, Uzuegbunam v. Preczewski, which decided last year by an 8-1 vote that a person whose free speech was violated, in this case a Christian who wanted to proselytize on campus but was prevented from doing so, has a right to sue for nominal damages. As the Beacon notes:

The American Humanist Association was one of several progressive groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union, that filed amicus briefs in support of Uzuegbunam. But it was the Alliance Defending Freedom that actually argued the case before the Supreme Court, which ruled 8-1 in Uzuegbunam’s favor.

The one dissenting vote, curiously, was by Chief Justice John Roberts—a conservative who cast the only lone dissenting vote of his tenure to date.

Finally, there were the usual sequelae: a raft of accusatory letters and petitions as the entitled and angry students used the event to air their pet peeves:

In the two days following the panel, more than 60 percent of the law school’s student body signed an open letter supporting the “peaceful student protesters,” who they claimed had been imperiled by the presence of police.

“The danger of police violence in this country is intensified against Black LGBTQ people, and particularly Black trans people,” the letter read. “Police-related trauma includes, but is certainly not limited to, physical harm. Even with all of the privilege afforded to us at YLS, the decision to allow police officers in as a response to the protest put YLS’s queer student body at risk of harm.”

Signed by 417 students, the letter also condemned Stith for telling the protesters to “grow up,” and the Federalist Society for hosting the event, which “profoundly undermined our community’s values of equity and inclusivity.”

Whatever you think, the campus police weren’t there to inflict violence on “Black LGBTQ people,” but to escort the debaters peacefully from the venue.

This is an embarrassment to Yale, but of course Yale has shown itself immune to embarrassment over the last couple of years.  And think of our future Yale lawyers, surely many of them participants in this idiocy. 60% of them signed the letter, noted above, supporting the “peaceful student protestors”! Peaceful my tuchas: they waved placards, interrupted the speakers rudely, and made a big ruckus outside the lecture hall. Do these future lawyers even know the meaning of words like “peaceful”, much less the principles of free speech? I think not.

I just found this tweet by Nicholas Christakis (remember him and the Yale Halloween Costume Brouhaha?):

So the Yale Daily News verifies the gist of what happened as well. It’s amusing that the protestors took Kate Stith to task for telling them to “grow up.” For growing up is exactly what they need to do. If you don’t even realize that you need to grow up, you won’t. It’s just like the realization that one is an alcoholic is necessary to effect a lasting cure.

Here’s the video, which I can’t watch. You can tell me what’s in it. 

The world’s Wokest university

February 7, 2022 • 1:00 pm

I would have guessed that the world’s Wokest university would be—given what I know about North American and British universities—The Evergreen State College. But I know almost nothing about the ideologies pervading schools in other countries, especially Africa, Asia, and South America.  From Grania I knew about the “decolonization” movement against science at The University of Cape Town in South Africa (henceforth UCT), a city I’ve always wanted to visit (Grania lived and went to school there). But lately I’ve heard little, for Americans are a parochial people and tend to ignore what happens in other places. This article from Quillette, however, makes the case that no university in the entire world is more “progressive”—and by “progressive,” author David Benatar. means “woke”—then The University of Cape Town.

You may have heard of Benatar before: he’s a South African philosopher—in fact, used to be the head of the Department of Philosophy at the very university he decries.[A commenter below has noted that Benatar probably resigned the chairmanship in 2021.] Benatar also wrote a controversial book called Better Never to Have Been: The Harm of Coming into Existence, which makes the case that producing more human beings creates greater harm, for the very fact of existing is a harm. He is thus an “antinatalist.”

Benatar is the son of Solomon Benatar, a global-health expert who founded the Bioethics Centre at the University of Cape Town. Not much is known about Benatar’s personal life as he deliberately guards his privacy. He has held antinatalist views since his childhood.

If he didn’t guard his privacy, he’d probably be killed (see the video he includes with his article.) In fact, there appears to be only one photo on the Internet, but as reader “NG” tells us in the comments below, it’s not Benatar.

We’ll leave biography aside, though, for here we have a rare case of a well known professor in a good university criticizing that university publicly. And what he says is horrifying. 

According to Benatar, the University is rife with bullying and unfounded accusations of racism, many of them by black students against black students. There is deplatforming, harassment, and even suicide caused by the climate of entitlement and the students’ aspirations to “decolonize” everything.  The behavior of some people is even criminal, but UCT overlooks it. The downfall began when UCT started capitulating to student demands and bad behavior around 2015.

Why is this happening? An obsession with race drives much of this, and Benatar describes why:

Post-apartheid South Africa remains obsessed with race. Technically, nobody is racially classified by the state any longer, but the implementation of extensive racial preference legislation presupposes continued acceptance of those categories. So, while people are not officially categorized by race, they are in practice, sometimes against their will. Racial preferences in South Africa have acquired two distinctive features that distinguish them from the forms of affirmative action common in, for example, North America.

First, racial preferences in South Africa are much stronger. Many of the racial preference policies and practices permissible in South Africa, such as quotas, would be illegal in the US or Canada. Some of the racial preferences practised in South African universities may even be illegal under South African law, but are sufficiently covert to avoid legal challenge.

Second, the beneficiaries of South African racial preferences constitute a large majority of the population and of students at the University of Cape Town. Blacks are not yet a majority of the academic staff, but it was always going to be difficult to get the demographics of the professoriate to reflect the demographics of the country after hundreds of years of anti-black racism. This has become an even more challenging task because the quality of primary and secondary schooling has declined since the advent of democracy.

Benatar has written a book about this, which he mentions when he starts listing some of the lunacy inflicting UCT:

In my book, The Fall of the University of Cape Town, I offer a detailed account of what has been happening at (and to) Africa’s leading university since the #FeesMustFall protests began in October 2015. On multiple occasions in 2015, 2016, and 2017, the university was shut down for weeks at a time by a relatively small group of activist students demanding “decolonized” higher education and an end to increases in student fees. In ostensible pursuit of these goals, protesters set fire to historic artworks, university vehicles, and the vice-chancellor’s office, and vandalized university buildings with human excrement.

More worrying still, they intimidated hundreds of people with threats of violence backed by instances of assault. An activist used a sjambok to whip a cellphone out of a fellow student’s hand, a vice-chancellor was punched, students and staff who defied the protesters were pushed and shoved, a security guard was beaten with a steel rod, and another had to be hospitalized after a rock was dropped onto his head. No one was ultimately held accountable, either by the university’s disciplinary system or in the country’s courts. (When charges were laid, they were later withdrawn.)

Furthermore, the behavior of activists indicates that racial abuse is now compatible with the pursuit of social justice, so long as the recipients of such abuse are either pale-skinned and/or insufficiently progressive in their politics. One student protester wore a t-shirt bearing the phrase “Kill All Whites”; a memorial to soldiers killed in both World Wars was daubed with the words “Fuck White People”; a senior academic who referred to a junior colleague as “just another fucking white woman” was appointed to a senior administrative position shortly thereafter. Darker-skinned students and faculty, meanwhile, who do not toe the party line, have been denounced as a “coconuts,” “sell-outs,” “colonial administrators,” and “porch negroes.”

On July 27th, 2018, Professor Bongani Mayosi, Dean of the UCT Faculty of Health Sciences, committed suicide after he was persecuted by activists disrupting the campus. Professor Mayosi’s sister did not hesitate to hold the #FeesMustFall protesters morally responsible for this tragedy. “He was hardly two weeks in his new position and the protests broke out,” she told the Sunday Times. “The vitriolic nature of the students and their do or die attitude vandalised his soul and unravelled him. Their personal insults and abuse cut him to the core, were offensive to his values and were the opposite of everything he was about.”

There’s a lot more, with bullying from both the top down and bottom up, and accusations of racism flying right and left.  What to do about it? All he can do is shake his head and mourn his school:

It may be that the University of Cape Town only seems more extreme because I am seeing it up close. My book offers a detailed account of what has happened here so that others can compare my experience with their own. Those comparisons will be illuminating. I am, however, convinced that concerns about a conservative and liberal moral panic at UCT are misplaced. Such accusations are used to dodge moral responsibility and to justify cruelty, violence, and vandalism in the name of self-righteous indignation.

Well, I’m not sure what the difference is between living in a moral panic and behaving badly because of that panic, but so be it. “Othering” breeds hatred and immorality.  However, Given Benatar’s views of his school and his anti-natalism, I’m surprised he’s still alive. One wonders why the students haven’t done him in, or why he hasn’t done himself in. The good news is that he’s still here, and so can tell us about what’s going on at UCT. Not that it’s especially cheerful.

Benatar’s article contains a video showing a security guard being violently attacked by UCT students, and it’s really scary to see this latent and then overt violence. But I’d prefer to show this well known video from 2016; showing students telling the science faculty that “science must fall”. It has to be scrapped and begun all over again with “folk wisdom”  Sound familiar?

But if you’re a dispirited science teacher in New Zealand, worried about whether you’ll be able to teach your science in the face of ideology, do cheer up a bit. You could, after all, be a science teacher at UCT! The students want to do away with science in toto! What chance do these kids have for a decent education when they come to college already claiming to know everything about everything?

h/t: David

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.


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.


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.