Princeton students call for dismantling the student honor code because it “mirrors the criminal justice system”

January 31, 2023 • 10:15 am

Like all universities, Princeton has an Honor Code to reinforce academic integrity by preventing cheating, plagiarism, and other practices that allow students to claim credit for someone else’s work. This code is laid out at an online site that gives not only its stipulations, but the procedure to be followed if a student violates the code, and then the University’s punishments if a student is found guilty. Here’s the essence of Princeton’s code:

Article II. Violations

      1. The Honor Pledge
        1. The Honor Pledge is as follows: “I pledge my honor that I have not violated the Honor Code during this examination.” This must at all times be written in full on the examination paper and signed by the student on the examination. Any undergraduate who fails to write and sign the pledge on the examination paper will be reminded to do so by the instructor. If the instructor or the Committee cannot promptly obtain the written and signed pledge, the student will be reported to the Committee for investigation. Unwillingness to sign the pledge following notification by the instructor or the Committee will be prima facie evidence of a violation of the Honor Code.
      2. Violations
        1. Violations of the Honor Code consist of:
          1. Any attempt to gain an unfair advantage in regard to an examination, both inside and outside the examination room.
          2. Any attempt to give assistance, both inside and outside the examination room, whether the student attempting to give assistance has completed their own work or not.
        2. Specific violations include, but are not limited to:
          1. Tampering with a graded exam;
          2. Claiming another’s work to be one’s own; and
          3. Obtaining or attempting to obtain, previous to any examinations, copies of the examination papers or examination questions, or any illegal knowledge of these questions.
          4. Other actions in violation of the policies set forth by the professor.
      3. Dishonesty
        1. Committing dishonesty, defined as lying to or purposely misleading the Committee, is also a violation of the Honor Code. It will not be considered dishonesty for a student to maintain their own innocence.
      4. Findings of Responsibility
        1. A student will be found responsible if the Committee finds overwhelmingly convincing evidence that the student ought reasonably to have understood that their actions were in violation of the Honor Code.
      5. Reporting Suspected Violations
        1. Every student is obligated to report to the Honor Committee any suspected violation of the Honor Code that they have observed. The Committee will make every attempt to ensure the anonymity of reporting students. Students may make reports by emailing honor@princeton.edu, contacting the chair directly, or any member of the committee.

And there are two committees that adjudicite the various types of cheating that can occur:

All written examinations, tests, and quizzes that take place in class are conducted under the honor system. All violations of the honor system are the concern of the Undergraduate Honor Committee. Violations of rules and regulations pertaining to all other academic work, including essays, term papers, laboratory reports, and take-home examinations fall under the jurisdiction of the Faculty-Student Committee on Discipline.

The process of reporting and then judging violations given at the site seem to me eminently fair to the accused—far fairer than, say, Biden and Obama’s procedure for judging violations of Title IX. But you can read about Princeton’s procedures at the site.

Now, however, an op-ed at the Daily Princetonian, the student newspaper, says that code must be “dismantled”, and for two reasons. First, the Honor Code mirrors the procedures of a criminal justice system that, says author Emilly Santos, disproportionately hurts African-Americans and impecunious Americans.  Second, at Princeton the Code disproportionately affects first-generation low-income students (FLI), “students who often also belong to racial minorities.

The explicit message of Santos’s article is that the Honor Code should be ditched. But she never really follows that up, suggesting at the end just two changes that actually leave most of the code in place. This is deeply confusing.

Santos is identified as “a prospective physics major in the class of 2025, also pursuing certificates in Gender & Sexuality Studies and Portuguese Language & Cultures. 

Click below to read her piece:

The accusation: (“CJS” stands for America’s criminal justice system). Note that she calls for dismantling the code (bolding is mine).

Princeton’s Honor Code, tasked with holding students accountable and honest in academic settings, mirrors the criminal justice system in its rules and effects. It is harmful to the entirety of the Princeton community: the fear it instills in students fosters an environment of academic hostility. But it is often most damaging for first-generation low-income (FLI) students — students who also often belong to racial minorities.

Princeton, as an institution that aims to educate world leaders and brands itself with social justice discourse, must first address the existing parallels between the CJS and these smaller-scale systems we subscribe to. Specifically, we must re-examine the role of the Honor Code and Honor Committee in our community. The University should lead by example by dismantling the Honor Code system, which acts as a barrier to social mobility and a more equitable society. Only once such internal injustices are addressed can we make real-world changes.

. . . The process of reporting and investigating an Honor Code breach parallels the criminal justice system by mimicking processes of questioning, evidence gathering, witness depositions, and an eventual move to trial, or hearing. In the same way a criminal record haunts previous convicts, any Honor Code violation for which a student is found responsible follows them in their transcript, overshadowing the accomplishments of attaining a Princeton degree and making it difficult for students to find employment opportunities.

Pity, pity: Santos apparently wants no permanent record if you are found guilty of cheating. Does she favor abolishing criminal records as well? (Some already get expunged under rare circumstances.)

If you don’t cheat, you needn’t fear. This code no more instills fear in students than the criminal justice system instills fear in law-abiding citizens. And any system that punishes those who cheat will instill fear in those who want to cheat. Of course, students have to know the Code exists to understand what conduct is prohibited, but I’m pretty sure they learn about it during orientation and on syllabi for courses.

Now, Santos’s accusation that the Code causes inequities:

Previous reporting on the Honor Code has shown the negative effects of the Honor Code process on FLI students. There can be financial, social, and academic repercussions. When caught up in the Honor Code system, FLI students may not have the institutional knowledge on how to navigate such a process in the same way their white and wealthier counterparts might.

The severe punishments, ranging from a reprimand to expulsion, meted out to students accused of Honor Code violations negatively affect all students, but are especially harmful to FLI students. One common punishment for violating the Honor Code is suspension from school for a semester or more. However, the subset of suspended students who have to repeat semesters because of disciplinary action are not eligible for financial aid during their repeated term. This contingency makes the Honor Code a monumental threat to FLI students, who, without financial aid, would find themselves thousands of dollars in debt as a result of student loans, which are suggested as an alternative way of funding study at Princeton. These effects of the Honor Code can have devastating impacts on FLI students — students who rely on a Princeton education for the chance of upward mobility but instead find themselves deep in debt.

If you look at the two links in the first sentence, you’ll find no evidence that the negative effects of the Honor Code on FLI students are worse than their effects on non-FLI students, except in the financial hit that it causes. The second link (“has shown”) gives opinions and anecdotes but no evidence of disproportional harm to FLI students. The first link (“reporting”) simply makes an assertion based on financial burdens, and it’s from the Daily Princetonian as well:

Disproportionate impact on FLI students

One of the strongest criticisms leveraged against the Honor Code over the years points to how the system appears to put low-income students at a unique disadvantage. Leo said that, in his own experience, it felt as though the system “disproportionately affects students of color and FLI students.”

“Latinx and FLI students I’ve spoken with who have been called before the Committee discussed the extensive anxiety induced by the Committee’s initial phone call,” Soraya Morales Nuñez ’18 wrote in 2017 in a guest opinion piece for the ‘Prince.’ “Others who have testified before this Committee told me about experiencing severe intimidation as well as unnecessary mental and emotional distress at the hands of peers that walk the same halls as us.”

Yes, but any student accused of cheating and up for a hearing will be scared. Where’s the evidence that “Latinx” and FLI students have more anxiety? It goes on

Students receiving financial aid who are found responsible for an Honor Code violation also experience an added financial burden compared to students who pay full tuition.

“If you are required to repeat a semester for disciplinary reasons,” the University’s financial aid award terms state, “you will not be eligible for a University grant for the repeated term. Student loans may be requested to cover your need in this situation.”

This financial disadvantage may be true, but seems to me irrelevant to whether a student has committed an Honor Code violation and what the punishment should be. If you get financial aid and cheat and are suspended, it would be deeply weird if you’re paid for the semester during which you’re suspended. The aid is for attending college, not sitting out a semester because you transgressed. But Santos wants subsidized cheating breaks (see below).

Finally, there’s supposedly a disproportionate penalty in “loss of respect”:

FLI students, like many students, are often afraid of disappointing family and friends. A lack of community support in these situations also puts FLI students at a disadvantage compared to their wealthier peers, whose communities often include people who are college-educated and have been exposed to academic integrity systems similar to Princeton’s Honor Code, and may understand the process better.

This makes little sense to me.  Your friends and family should be disappointed if you’re found guilty of cheating, and the claim about “support networks” helping wealthier students more is mere speculation without evidence. As for FLI students not “understanding the process”, I noted above that I’m pretty sure that the students are told about the rules from the outset. Princeton students, you now, are not dummies, even the FLI ones, as the soft bigotry of this accusation implies.

After calling for dismantling the Honor code, Santos appears to become timorous toward the end and makes just two recommendations that, far from dismantling the Code, just tweak it a bit:

The University can, and should, take tangible steps towards making the Honor Code a more equitable aspect of Princeton. The University should make financial aid continually available to students who must repeat a term because of disciplinary punishment, as the punishment unfairly targets FLI students, who are unable to complete their Princeton education without access to financial aid.

Secondly, students convicted of Honor Code violations should have an option to attach a letter from a faculty member to their transcript, in which a faculty member can attest to their development since the violation. Finally, the University should offer sessions aimed at educating students on how the Honor Code works. These approaches can begin to limit the injustices FLI students face on campus and can better prepare every student to fight injustice outside the Orange Bubble.

I disagree with the first suggestion because people who cheat are not entitled to financial rewards during the period of punishment (when a person goes to jail, their salary isn’t paid while they’re in stir—except for Palestinians who are jailed for killing or wounding Israelis and are part of the “pay for slay” system). I’m not sure about the letter from a faculty member, which has the potential of being abused by a student choosing a sympathetic faculty member rather than an objective assessor.

I doagree with the last recommendaton: there should be at least some orientation about how the Honor Code works and where to look it up.  If that guidance doesn’t exist, it should. But remember that students learn from the beginning of elementary or middle school that cheating is wrong, and the Honor Code is in the student handbook. Again, Princeton students are the elite, entitled, and the smart. One can presume that they know that cheating is wrong, and if they have any questions it’s easy to get them answered.

h/t: Ginger

A bot discusses the relationship between science and religion

January 28, 2023 • 11:30 am

Matthew was trying out the ChatGPT site—the one in which an AI bot answers questions and writes essays on any specified topic. It’s being used widely, especially by students who get the bot to write their assignments—cheating, of course.  Here’s what Matthew did:

I gave ChatGPT an essay:  Science and religion are enemies. Discuss.”

Science and religion have long been considered to be in opposition to each other, with some arguing that they are outright enemies. However, this view is not entirely accurate and a more nuanced understanding is necessary to fully grasp the relationship between these two fields. In this essay, I will discuss the ways in which science and religion have been perceived as enemies, as well as the ways in which they can complement each other.

One of the main reasons why science and religion are often seen as enemies is due to the fact that they have different ways of understanding the world. Science is based on empirical evidence and the scientific method, while religion is based on faith and spiritual beliefs (Duarte, 2018). This can lead to conflicts, particularly when scientific discoveries challenge religious beliefs. For example, the theory of evolution has been met with resistance from certain religious groups who believe that it contradicts their creationist beliefs (Numbers, 1992). Additionally, the idea of an old earth and the Big Bang theory have also been met with resistance from religious groups who believe in a young earth and literal interpretation of the creation story in the Bible (Numbers, 1992).

Additionally, some argue that science and religion have different goals and aims. Science aims to understand the natural world through observation and experimentation, while religion aims to provide a sense of meaning and purpose in life (Pigliucci, 2002). These different goals can lead to tensions and conflicts, as some may see science as threatening to their religious beliefs. For example, the idea of naturalism in science, which posits that everything can be explained by natural causes, can be seen as a threat to religious belief in supernatural causes (Pigliucci, 2002).

However, it is important to note that science and religion do not always have to be in conflict. In fact, many scientists and religious individuals have found ways to reconcile their beliefs and integrate them into their understanding of the world (Polkinghorne, 2002). For example, some religious individuals have found ways to reconcile evolution with their religious beliefs by seeing it as a means through which God created life (Polkinghorne, 2002). Additionally, some scientists have recognized the limitations of science and have turned to religion for a sense of meaning and purpose in life (Polkinghorne, 2002).

Furthermore, science and religion can also complement each other in certain ways. For example, science can provide a deeper understanding of the natural world, which can enhance one’s spiritual experience (Polkinghorne, 2002). Additionally, religion can provide a moral framework that can guide scientific research and ensure that it is conducted ethically (Polkinghorne, 2002). For instance, religious moral principles such as non-maleficence and beneficence can guide the ethical conduct of scientific research, ensuring that it is done in a way that minimizes harm and maximizes benefit (Beauchamp and Childress, 2013).

In conclusion, the relationship between science and religion is complex and multifaceted. While there may be conflicts and tensions between the two, it is important to recognize that they do not have to be enemies. Instead, they can complement each other and provide a more holistic understanding of the world. It is important to approach the relationship between science and religion with an open mind and a willingness to consider different perspectives.

References:

    • Beauchamp, T. L., & Childress, J. F. (2013). Principles of biomedical ethics. Oxford University Press.
    • Duarte, J. (2018). Science, Religion, and the Meaning of Life. Springer.
    • Numbers, R. L. (1992). The Creationists: The Evolution of Scientific Creationism. University of California Press.
    • Pigliucci, M. (2002). De

(The bot quit before giving all the references, but they’re easy enough to look up.)

Can you tell that this essay, complete with references, was composed by a programmed AI machine? I can’t. Moreover, it makes sense and covers a number of relevant areas. In fact, I could have written the first paragraph! If this were part of a take-home essay exam, it would no doubt have earned a decent grade.

Now you see why ChatGPT is so beloved by students and so feared by educators. But there are ways around it, and teachers are finding them. You can give in-class exams, as I did, or ask questions that a bot simply could not answer. There are also ways of checking prose to gauge the probability that it was written by a bot, but as bots improve, those prose-checkers will become less useful.  I doubt that any of us could, by reading it along, tell that this wasn’t written by a human!

Hamline University reconsiders its stand on academic freedom; fired instructor sues the school

January 18, 2023 • 10:00 am

At the same time, academic freedom does not operate in a vacuum. It is subject to the dictates of society and the laws governing certain types of behavior. Imara Scott, in an April 2022 article published in Inside Higher Ed, noted that “academic freedom, like so many ideological principles, can be manipulated, misunderstood, and misrepresented…academic freedom can become a weapon to be used against vulnerable populations.”

—Fayneese Miller, President, Hamline University

The statement above was issued by the President of Hamline University in Minnesota after she fired an instructor, Erika López Prater, who showed the students in her art history class an ancient painting of Muhammad. The problem was that the painting, shown below, depicted the Prophet’s face. Different sects of Islam take different positions on whether showing Muhammad’s face is blasphemy, and there are many paintings, old and new, showing his face. The one López Prater showed, from the 14th century, is considered a masterpiece of Islamic art. (It shows the angel Gabriel dictating the Qur’an to Muhammad.)

Despite the instructor’s warning on the syllabus and also in class that this picture would be shown, some Muslim students, claiming that they were offended, objected, and López Prater was let go (rather, her contract was not renewed).  There were many objections to the firing, including from FIRE, PEN America, and lots of individuals (including Muslims), for Hamline had clearly violated the instructor’s academic freedom. The case is clear cut, and FIRE wrote the University taking them to task.  Hamline refused to re-hire the instructor or admit that it had erred, and Hamline’s President, in a statement excerpted above (see below the fold for her entire statement), dug in her heels.  See here for my previous reports on this shameful episode, including a video in which López Prater explains why she showed the painting and how the University reacted.

FIRE then reported Hamline University to its accreditation agency, and, according to the NYT article below, López-Prater sued the University. Further, as Inside Higher Education reported yesterday (second screenshot below), the University’s trustees issued a statement walking back what they did to the instructor.  For some rea$on they’ve had second thoughts.

Now, because the administration caved into the “offended” students, the school is in a whole heap of trouble. This is the second time the NYT wrote about the school, and Hamline is looking bad. What parent would want to send their kid to such a Pecksniffing school?  As I’ve said, it should be renamed Hamhanded University.

I suspect that the two articles that you can read below will lead to the instructor either being rehired (though she’s apparently had other job offers), or, more likely, a fat monetary settlement. And Hamline deserves to pay big time for firing someone who was not only doing their job, but doing it well—warning students in advance.

From the NYT:

And from Inside Higher Ed:

On January 13, Hamline’s board of trustees, clearly having rethought the actions against Lopez Prater, issued this statement:

As Minnesota’s first university we’ve learned a lot in our nearly 170 years. Recent events have required us to look deeply into our values. We are a beautifully diverse community committed to educating our students and ourselves, and sometimes that means we need to make space for hard conversations and serious self-reflection. This is one of those times. We are listening and we are learning. The Hamline University Board of Trustees is actively involved in reviewing the University’s policies and responses to recent student concerns and subsequent faculty concerns about academic freedom. Upholding academic freedom and fostering an inclusive, respectful learning environment for our students are both required to fulfill our Mission. We will move forward together and we will be stronger for it.

They are listening and learning, and now they have to pay. The statement clearly shows that they are “rethinking”, but they still refuse to admit that they violated academic freedom and that López Prater DID provide a respectful learning experience for her students.

The New York Times quotes a stronger “walkback” statement” from the head of the board of trustees:

Like all organizations, sometimes we misstep,” said a statement from Ellen Watters, the chair of the university’s board of trustees, and Fayneese S. Miller, the president. “In the interest of hearing from and supporting our Muslim students, language was used that does not reflect our sentiments on academic freedom. Based on all that we have learned, we have determined that our usage of the term ‘Islamophobic’ was therefore flawed.”

The statement added, “It was never our intent to suggest that academic freedom is of lower concern or value than our students — care does not ‘supersede’ academic freedom, the two coexist.”

At least Watters admits that there was a misstep. She still doesn’t realize, however, that academic freedom results in some students being offended or disturbed. You can’t always have both, and when they don’t coexist, academic freedom almost always takes precedence over “offense”, real or pretended.

Inside Higher Ed didn’t mention the lawsuit yesterday, so it must just have been filed because it’s described in today’s NYT:

University officials changed their stance after the lecturer, who lost her teaching job, sued the small Minnesota school for religious discrimination and defamation.

. . . The lawsuit, in Minnesota district court, states that Hamline’s actions have caused Dr. López Prater the loss of income from her adjunct position, emotional distress and damage to her professional reputation and job prospects.

In a statement, David Redden, a lawyer for Dr. López Prater, said that having had her actions labeled Islamophobic would follow her “throughout her career” and hurt her ability to obtain a tenure-track position.

According to the lawsuit, Ms. Wedatalla [an “observant Muslim student” who complained] “wanted to impose her specific religious views on López Prater, non-Muslim students and Muslim students who did not object to images.”

Mr. Redden said that the university’s new stance would not affect the lawsuit.

The lawsuit added that Hamline treated Dr. López Prater negatively because “she is not Muslim, because she did not conform her conduct to the specific beliefs of a Muslim sect, and because she did not conform her conduct to the religion-based preferences of Hamline that images of Muhammad not be shown to any Hamline student.”

As for American Muslims, they’re divided, though I’m heartened by reports that other Muslim groups had no objection to López Prater’s showing the painting, since not all Muslims object to depictions of Muhammad and because the instructor did provide a warning. From the NYT:

Muslim groups are also divided over the Hamline controversy. Jaylani Hussein, the executive director of the Minnesota chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), believes that showing the image was Islamophobic. But the national group disagreed.

“Although we strongly discourage showing visual depictions of the prophet,” the group said in a statement, “professors who analyze ancient paintings for an academic purpose are not the same as Islamophobes who show such images to cause offense.”

Finally, IHE gives two statements supporting the instructor:

The president emerita of Hamline, Linda N. Hanson, weighed in with a letter to the editor of The Minneapolis Star-Tribune.

“I am concerned about the effect on Hamline’s reputation from the recent incident in which an art professor’s contract was not renewed and the missed opportunity for students to understand and expand their knowledge of Islamic art and history,” the letter said. “This decision has sent the wrong message to Hamline faculty, alumni and the communities it serves. Since Hamline’s founding in 1854, faculty have taught within the principle of academic freedom and examined subjects through the lens of open inquiry and respect for the beliefs, rights and opinions of the students they teach. Generations of Hamline faculty have taught with the belief that adhering to the bright line of academic freedom and supporting students are not mutually exclusive.”

And the Hamline chapter of the American Association of University Professors this morning released a statement that said, “We deeply regret that a colleague was unjustly accused of being ‘undeniably inconsiderate, disrespectful and Islamophobic’ in a fall semester class. We reject this divisive public statement that has exacerbated the incident, and we call on the administration to do the same.”

The statement added, “To preserve the vibrant environment for open inquiry and free exchange of ideas that Hamline values, we also affirm the primacy of faculty discretion to choose how classes are taught, free from interference by administration. Such administrative respect for faculty judgment is essential to faculty being able to continue to provide innovative and challenging student learning opportunities, consistent with Hamline’s long history.”

The only people siding with the firing of López Prater, then, are University President Miller, who pretends that she didn’t fire the instructor (LOL: she didn’t renew her contract) and Jaylani Hussein of CAIR. Everybody else, clearly including the timorous trustees, seem to realize that letting the instructor go was a huge mistake—a violation of academic freedom that besmirches Hamline’s reputation.

Oberlin College in Ohio did a similar thing when it besmirched the local Gibson’s Bakery by defaming it with accusations of racism. Gibson’s asked for an apology an Obelin refused. The case went to court, an it cost Oberlin $36 million in damages.  López Prater is clearly entitled to a big chunk of change because her reputation has already been damaged, and even if she gets another job, she’ll be demonized by a subset of students. She won’t be able to stay at Hamline, because all those offended students are still there.

The only thing that would have made Hamline back off, as it has done, is a lawsuit. The next headline we’ll see is probably “Money talks, Hamline squawks.”

Best of luck to Professor López Prater! Many of us support you, and not because you’re “Islamophobic”, but because you were doing your job and suffered greatly for it.  As to the firing, the person who should really be fired (and perhaps will) is President Miller. I rarely call for someone’s job, as I believe in second chances, but in Miller’s case her second chance involved digging in her heels and mischaracterizing academic freedom. Having clearly misconstrued the nature of a University, Miller should get her pink slip.

h/t: Wayne. Greg

Click “read more” below to see the statement from Hamline’s President, Fayneese Miller:

Continue reading “Hamline University reconsiders its stand on academic freedom; fired instructor sues the school”

The NYT finally writes about the Hamline University/Muhammad story, and Kenan Malik offers his take

January 9, 2023 • 10:45 am

“Respect for the observant Muslim students in that classroom should have superceded academic freedom.”

—Fayneese Miller, President, Hamline University

And so Hamline University joins the Big Two of other liberal-arts schools that have embarrassed themselves via the administration’s defense of the indefensible: The Evergreen State College and Oberlin College. Evergreen defended thuggish students who were out to hunt down Bret Weinstein for saying he wouldn’t leave campus on the “Day of Absence,” while Oberlin defended three students who shoplifted wine and then beat up the store’s proprietor (Oberlin paid over $39 million for that unwise defense). Now, as I’ve written about twice, Hamline has gained the spotlight by firing an instructor who showed two pictures of Muhammed in an art class, one showing his face and the other his body with a veiled face. And the instructor, whom the NYT names below as Erika López Prater, warned the students before class about this so they didn’t have to come if they didn’t want to. But trigger warnings apparently don’t eliminate offense.

Further, as I mentioned before and as Kenan Malik notes below, it’s only a recent and more conservative strain of Islam that considers it blasphemous to show the Prophet or his face, so there’s a whole panoply of Islamic art showing Muhammad’s visage, something that art history professor Christiane Gruber, who specializes in Islamic art, pointed out while defending López Prater in New Lines Magazine. That didn’t matter, either.

Nevertheless, and even though the teacher apologized, the college President, quoted above, didn’t renew the instructor’s contract. Hamline and its administration are holding firm, even though FIRE has now reported the school to its accreditation agency and the school has been condemned by PEN America. Can a lawsuit be far behind?

Remember, you read it here first, and only now does the New York Times cover the story. Be aware, though, that the NYT’s coverage may be a good sign that it’s losing its wokeness, for it took ages for the paper to get interested in the Evergreen and Oberlin cases n. You can read the NYT story below by clicking on the screenshot:

Besides naming the victim as Erika López Prater, a name now all over the Internet, the paper gives a few facts I didn’t know (don’t expect a small website to have the investigating capacity of a huge newspaper!). Here are a few tidbits:

Officials told Dr. López Prater that her services next semester were no longer needed. In emails to students and faculty, they said that the incident was clearly Islamophobic. Hamline’s president, Fayneese S. Miller, co-signed an email that said respect for the Muslim students “should have superseded academic freedom.” At a town hall, an invited Muslim speaker compared showing the images to teaching that Hitler was good.

Remember: an invited speaker, clearly brought in to support the accusation of blasphemy. The President’s statement is beyond the pale.

This I’ve said before:

The painting shown in Dr. López Prater’s class is in one of the earliest Islamic illustrated histories of the world, “A Compendium of Chronicles,” written during the 14th century by Rashid-al-Din (1247-1318).

Shown regularly in art history classes, the painting shows a winged and crowned Angel Gabriel pointing at the Prophet Muhammad and delivering to him the first Quranic revelation. Muslims believe that the Quran comprises the words of Allah dictated to the Prophet Muhammad through the Angel Gabriel.

Note: earlier I said that the NYT didn’t show the picture at issue. I see now that it does, though you have to click on a dot to see it. (I missed that.) I’ve put the one that caused all the trouble below.

Here it is: the face that launched a thousand kvetches. You can see the picture and its painter here as well. It’s from the fourteenth century:

More from the NYT:

Omid Safi, a professor of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies at Duke University, said he regularly shows images of the Prophet Muhammad in class and without Dr. López Prater’s opt-out mechanisms. He explains to his students that these images were works of devotion created by pious artists at the behest of devout rulers.

“That’s the part I want my students to grapple with,” Dr. Safi said. “How does something that comes from the very middle of the tradition end up being received later on as something marginal or forbidden?”

I wonder if Safi is now in someone’s gunsights. More from the paper:

Dr. López Prater, who had only begun teaching at Hamline in the fall, said she felt like a bucket of ice water had been dumped over her head, but the shock soon gave way to “blistering anger at being characterized in those terms by somebody who I have never even met or spoken with.” She reached out to Dr. Gruber, who ended up writing the essay and starting the petition.

And get a load of this forum set up by the University to justify their heinous actions. (Aram Wedatalla, a student, complained about the picture-showing in the student paper and also filed a complaint with Hamline’s admnistration.)

At the Dec. 8 forum, which was attended by several dozen students, faculty and administrators, Ms. Wedatalla described, often through tears, how she felt seeing the image.

“Who do I call at 8 a.m.,” she asked, when “you see someone disrespecting and offending your religion?”

Other Muslim students on the panel, all Black women, also spoke tearfully about struggling to fit in at Hamline. Students of color in recent years had protested what they called racist incidents; the university, they said, paid lip service to diversity and did not support students with institutional resources.

The main speaker was Jaylani Hussein, the executive director of the Minnesota chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, a Muslim civil rights group.

The instructor’s actions, he said, hurt Muslim students and students of color and had “absolutely no benefit.”

“If this institution wants to value those students,” he added, “it cannot have incidents like this happen. If somebody wants to teach some controversial stuff about Islam, go teach it at the local library.”

The man is a peabrain who has no notion of academic freedom, nor does he recognize that it’s only fundamentalist Muslims who have the see-no-face policy.

Here’s one more bit describing how at least one Hamline professor spoke up against the lunacy, but was shusshed by the administration:

Mark Berkson, a religion professor at Hamline, raised his hand.

“When you say ‘trust Muslims on Islamophobia,’” Dr. Berkson asked, “what does one do when the Islamic community itself is divided on an issue? Because there are many Muslim scholars and experts and art historians who do not believe that this was Islamophobic.”

Mr. Hussein responded that there were marginal and extremist voices on any issue. “You can teach a whole class about why Hitler was good,” Mr. Hussein said.

During the exchange, Ms. Baker, the department head, and Dr. Everett, the administrator, separately walked up to the religion professor, put their hands on his shoulders and said this was not the time to raise these concerns, Dr. Berkson said in an interview.

But Dr. Berkson, who said he strongly supported campus diversity, said that he felt compelled to speak up.

“We were being asked to accept, without questioning, that what our colleague did — teaching an Islamic art masterpiece in a class on art history after having given multiple warnings — was somehow equivalent to mosque vandalism and violence against Muslims and hate speech,” Dr. Berkson said. “That is what I could not stand.”

Good for Berkson, a voice of sanity in the miasma of cowardice that is Hamline University. The bolding above is mine, showing again that Hamline’s administration DOES NOT WANT A DEBATE. They want others to confirm that they did the right thing by firing López Prater. (The good news is that she says she has other job offers.)

The journalist Kenan Malik, trained in biology as well as the history of science, and now a writer who’s devoted to free speech, has an eloquent piece in the Guardian defending López-Prater’s right to show Muhammad’s face. (He doesn’t name her.) You can read it for free by clicking the headline.

It’s full of nice pull quotes; I’ll give just three. Professor Berkson shows up again (note that the student paper removed his published letter, though you can see the link below):

David Everett, Hamline’s associate vice-president of inclusive excellence, condemned the classroom exercise as “undeniably inconsiderate, disrespectful and Islamophobic”. A letter written by Mark Berkson, chair of the department of religion, defending the instructor and providing historical and religious context for her actions, was published on the website of The Oracle, the university’s student newspaper, and then taken down because it “caused harm”. The instructor was “released” from further teaching duties.

What is striking about the Hamline incident, though, is that the image at the heart of the row cannot even in the most elastic of definitions be described as Islamophobic. It is an artistic treasure that exalts Islam and has long been cherished by Muslims.

. . . Yet, to show it is now condemned as Islamophobic because… a student says so. Even to question that claim is to cause “harm”. As Berkson asked in another (unpublished) letter he sent to The Oracle, after his first had been removed: “Are you saying that disagreement with an argument is a form of ‘harm’?”

That is precisely what the university is saying. “Respect for the observant Muslim students in that classroom should have superseded academic freedom,” wrote Fayneese Miller, the university’s president, and Everett in a letter to staff and students. In what way was showing the painting “disrespecting” Muslims? Those who did not wish to view it did not have to. But others, including Muslims who desired to view the image, had every right to engage with a discussion of Islamic history.

Universities should defend all students’ right to practise their faith. They should not allow that faith to dictate the curriculum. That is to introduce blasphemy taboos into the classroom.

I think the mantra “disagreement with an argument is a form of ‘harm'” should become the official slogan of the woke. It’s the most concise characterization of the illiberal Left that I’ve seen.

And Malik’s take on the diversity angle of this issue (bolding is mine):

Too many people today demand that we respect the diversity of society, but fail to see the diversity of minority communities in those societies. As a result, progressive voices often get dismissed as not being authentic, while the most conservative figures become celebrated as the true embodiment of their communities.

Here, liberal “anti-racism” meets rightwing anti-Muslim bigotry. For bigots, all Muslims are reactionary and their values incompatible with those of liberal societies. For too many liberals, opposing bigotry means accepting reactionary ideas as authentically Muslim; that to be Muslim is to find the Danish cartoons offensive and the depiction of Muhammed “harmful”. Both bigots and liberals erase the richness and variety of Muslim communities.

The Hamline controversy shows how the concepts of diversity and tolerance have become turned on their head. Diversity used to mean the creation of a space for dissent and disagreement and tolerance the willingness to live with things that one might find offensive or distasteful. Now, diversity too often describes a space in which dissent and disagreement have to be expunged in the name of “respect” and tolerance requires one to refrain from saying or doing things that might be deemed offensive. It is time we re-grasped both diversity and tolerance in their original sense.

I fear it’s too late, as we’re educating students to be both politically correct and authoritarian, and they will grow up to run America (and perhaps England). It will be decades, I fear, before society comes back to its senses. But by that time I’ll be one with the clay.

A misguided but abject apology from an Oxford Union student

December 2, 2022 • 9:45 am

Reader Cora sent me an archived link to this paper from the Times of London, which you can read by clicking on the screenshot below.

The skinny is that the Oxford Union, the group that officially represents students at the University, has one president and five vice-presidents. One of the latter was a “dedicated woman’s officer”, devoted to promoting an protecting women’s issues at the University. But as we know, the word “woman” has taken on a new meaning, including transsexual women, and that got the woman’s officer, Ellie Greaves, into trouble. Click to read:

Because transsexual women are considered by activists to be identical in every respect to biological women, including their issues and concerns, they had to change the name and the mission of the position. But Greaves had defended her position’s original mission, which espoused some concerns of biological women but not transsexual women. For defending that notion, she got huge backlash, the position was changed, and Greaves issued about as embarrassing a statement of contrition as you can imagine. Excerpts:

Greaves is a point of contact for students with issues relating to women’s health, sexual consent and night-time safety. She said last month: “I really hope the issues I’ve been talking about this year don’t fall into the background. I think there’s a risk that the removal of [the post] will send the message that ‘sexism is solved’, when it really isn’t.

“We’re not where we need to be in terms of women’s representation and I think there’s a risk of moves to tackle sexual violence being left behind. There’s a reason the role has been around for so long. I will continue to prioritise women.”

Sharon Udott, president of the Oxford Feminist Society, said: “It’s incredibly important to have a women-focused role in 2022. To say that it is redundant in this day and age is an incredibly privileged position to hold. From violence against women to advocating for increased support and funding for women’s health, these issues don’t change when the year does.”

Greaves also told the student newspaper Cherwell that “provision for conditions such as endometriosis and polycystic ovary syndrome are not accommodated in the way I would like to see”.

Well, you can’t go saying things like that, especially about biological-woman-limited medical conditions. And so the mob went into action, the position’s name was changed, and Oggsford (Gatsby’s term for the University) gave the “inclusion” reason:

Students took issue with some of her comments, The Oxford Student website said on Tuesday. She was asked at a student council meeting last week: “What do you have to say to the hundreds of students who were consulted regarding [the role review] . . . who agreed that this would be a good change for inclusivity, equality and the priority of intersectionality?”

Intersectionality is the theory that various forms of discrimination centred on race, gender, class, disability, sexuality, and other identities, do not work independently but interact to produce particularised forms of social oppression.

Thanks for the explanation, Times! goes on:

The union is replacing its women’s officer with a liberation and equalities representative from next year. The reorganisation of union leadership will keep the same number of roles — one president and five vice-presidents — but female students will lose a dedicated women’s officer. The union said this was because the role was created at a time when women could not get full degrees and colleges were segregated, and that the position prioritised one protected group over others.

Oxford Student Union said of changes to the women’s officer position: “The role has not been replaced but augmented to include more underrepresented and marginalised communities who currently do not have sufficient representation.”

Well, maybe, but the real reason is one we all know. And the new officer is going to have his/her hands full enforcing social justice as a whole: it’s a “liberation and equalities representative”.

And even if the position is redundant now (I’ll let the women be the judge of that), the worst part is Greaves’s abject and cringe-making apology. It’s like the Cultural Revolution in China, when those who transgressed accepted dogma had to wear signs around their necks and don paper hats shaped like cones. (Some were beaten and even killed, too.)

THE APOLOGY, with an explanatory note by the Times:

Greaves issued a statement on Tuesday, saying: “The comments I made in the article contribute to a bio-essentialist, narrow-minded narrative of what being a woman is, including the prioritisation of women over minorities. I cannot apologise enough for the damage and hurt I have caused the trans community.”

Bio-essentialism is the philosophy that biology plays a larger role in determining human psychology or development than social, economic, or environmental factors.

“My knowledge of the trans experience is very limited at the moment, and I will endeavour to educate myself further on trans inclusivity through more open engagement with LGBTQ+ Campaign and personal research,” she said.

Note the criticism of “bioessentialism”, which makes an unsupported claim. It’s not true that for all aspects of human development or psychology, social/economic/environmental factors play a larger role than do biological ones. It depends on which aspect of development you’re talking about. For example, biology plays nearly the entire role of determining whether you’re a male or female in the first place, and that affects secondary sexual traits like genitals, body hair, and vocal pitch.

But forget that. What’s reprehensible here is the way Greaves bowed and truckled to the trans activists with her statement about her ignorance and determination to “educate herself.” And I doubt that she really caused a lot of “damage and hurt” to the trans community. They will of course claim that, but what she said above could damage or hurt only those so easily triggered that they may need professional help. The dignified thing for her to have done was either resign the position, or accept it, do what the new position requires, and move on. As we all know, apologies like Greaves’s never work—they just further inflame the extreme progressives.

A metaphorical analogy to Greaves

Content warnings to the max: Princeton drama jumps the shark

November 21, 2022 • 9:15 am

Adamandi, a musical, was first performed at Princeton University on November 11, and continued until 8 days later. A description from the website:

A new horror musical in the genre of dark academia with book and lyrics by Mel Hornyak and Elliot Valentine Lee and music by Lee. The story focuses on three queer students of color at an elite college going to horrific lengths to prove their worth for a coveted graduation honor. The show features a score with baroque pop and dark cabaret influences. Performance on 11/18 features open captions. No tickets required.

And a photo by Larry Levanti:

But the humorous (and telling) part of this musical is the mammoth list of content warnings that accompanies it. You can see them all at the link below (click on screenshot), and I’ll reproduce most of them

 

Detailed Content Warnings

These content warnings are provided so that you can still consume the show if you want to avoid one or more of the content warnings. ‘Cues’ are visual changes onstage that you can use as a signal that a certain content warning will come up imminently. A ‘discussion’ is characters talking about the topic, while a ‘depiction’ involves an abstract staging of a character experiencing the topic (note that Adamandi does not feature any practical blood effects or gore). However, many of the content warnings are incorporated throughout the show, so please consider your overall comfort with murder, student death, Catholic guilt, and discussions of self-harm when deciding whether to see Adamandi.

Loud Noises

Loud noises (books dropped from a height/shouting) occur in scene transitions after Where Can I Run (Act I, cue: Vincent leaves the stage), A Little More In Love (Act I, cue: Quincy leaves the stage), and Quincy and Vincent’s discussion of Vincent’s project (Act I, cue: Quincy proposes they team up).

Self-harm through Exercise

Self-harm through exercise is discussed in Sound Body, Sound Mind (Act I, cue: Ambrose and his friends surround Vincent), and Me, Myself and I (Act I, cue: Quincy sings ‘Me, Myself, and I’ the first time), and depicted abstractly in the scene transitions after Where Can I Run (Act I, cue: Vincent leaves the stage), A Little More In Love (Act I, cue: Quincy leaves the stage), and Quincy and Vincent’s discussion of Vincent’s project (Act I, cue: Quincy proposes they team up).

Self-harm through Burning

Self-harm through burning is discussed during the scene where Portia and Quincy are on the stage left balcony (Act II), the scene after Quincy and Vincent talk to the Administration (Act II), and On The Other Side of Failure (Act II, cue: Quincy enters holding a broom). It is depicted abstractly during Litany of the Martyrs (Act II, cue: Saint Lawrence says “One life, one death, one hell’), and I Hate and I Love (Act II, cue: Quincy lights candles on the balcony).

Internalized Homophobia

Internalized homophobia is discussed in the scene where Ambrose and Vincent talk in the gym (Act I, cue: Ambrose leaves the Marmorei in the gym), throughout I Love You, I Swear, and depicted in the scene before I Love You, I Swear (Act I, cue: Beatrix and Portia finish their interview.)

Body/Corpse Mutilation

Body/corpse mutilation is discussed in Oh, Ms. Reporter (Act II, cue: Vincent sits down in a chair at the lip of the stage) and implicitly depicted in the final scene of Act II (cue: the pyre is wheeled in)

Murder

Murder is discussed in the scene between Beatrix and Vincent in the newsroom (Act I, cue: Beatrix unlocks the file cabinet) as well as throughout Act II, and depicted abstractly at the end of Act I (cue: The ensemble sings ‘Me, Myself, and I’), and the end of Act II (cue: Quincy sings ‘I Hate and I Love’ for the second time)

Suicide

Suicide is briefly discussed in Word to the Wise (Act I, cue: Quincy and Vincent are pushed towards the lip of the stage), discussed in Perfect at School (Act I, cue: Quincy stands from the interview table), Read All About It (cue: start of Act II), the scene after Student Body (Act II, cue: Vincent enters Quincy’s room with Ambrose), Where Can I Run (Reprise) (Act II, cue: Quincy holds out their hands to Vincent), and the scene that takes place on the Pyre (Act II, cue: the pyre is wheeled in).

Gender Dysphoria and Internalized Transphobia

Gender dysphoria and internalized transphobia is discussed in the scene after Sound Body, Sound Mind (Act I, cue: Ambrose leaves the Marmorei in the gym), throughout I Love You, I Swear (Act I, cue: Ambrose speaks to his girlfriend offstage), and Me, Myself, and I (Act I, cue: Quincy sings ‘Me, Myself, and I’ the first time).

I had to include this one:

. . . . Catholic Guilt

Catholic guilt is discussed in the scene after A Little More In Love (Act I), Me, Myself, and I (Act I, cue: Vincent leaves the newsroom), and throughout Act II.

What’s the issue with “Catholic guilt”?

There’s also a “note from the writers” at the bottom about heeding the warnings above, and how to leave the theater if you can’t take it any more.

Note that, as far as I can tell, not one of these items is actually depicted in the play; they’re all simply discussed.  If mere discussion of something like “murder” or “internalized homophobia” is enough to send you running from the play, or not going at all, then you shouldn’t be reading the news or browsing online. Or even getting out of bed. And life doesn’t give you trigger warnings when there are “loud noises”.

The data seem to show, at any rate, that if you have a phobia about something like these issues, the best way to overcome it not to avoid it forever but is to expose yourself to it (preferably with advice from a therapist). For you never know when something like murder or suicide will crop up in conversation or on the news. But this obtains for things you can actually see or experience, like videos of murder or mutilation—not simply discussion of such issues. The evening news imparts you a warning like this when something gruesome is shown: “Note: some of the following video might be disturbing,” which seems appropriate. But it doesn’t do that when simply reporting on murder or violence.

Are any of these trigger warnings necessary? I’d say that if these things were actually shown, a short description on the website might be appropriate; something like this: “Note, this play includes discussion of elements like murder, suicide, gender dysphoria, and Catholic guilt.” But a long list like the one above, describing exactly where the discussions are, vividly underlines the fragility of the students and the helicopter-playwright nature of artistry these days.

Readers might amuse themselves by imagining the trigger warnings that accompany plays like “Hamlet”, or books like Madame Bovary, Anna Karenina, or Crime and Punishment. And what in the world do you do with paintings? After all, they’re right there before you, and if they have a trigger warning next to them, well, it’s already too late.

Here’s a video: TRIGGER WARNING: CATHOLIC GUILT TO THE MAX. (I love this song: one of Billy Joel’s best. It was issued in 1977.)

h/t: cesar

Anti-Semitism rears its head at UC Berkeley

October 13, 2022 • 9:30 am

As you know, the “progressive” Left platform includes “anti-Zionism”, a code word for “the abolition of Israel as a Jewish state”. And that, in turn, means “the abolition of Israel and its replacement by Palestine”.  That is to be enacted through the “right of return”, i.e., all descendants of Palestinians who left Israel when the state was established in 1948 will come back to Israel as citizens. The “descendants” claim means that millions of Palestinians would move to Israel, and we all know what would happen then. Mass fighting and slaughter, to name two things. What Palestine—and the progressive Left—want is not a two-state solution, but a one-state solution, and that state would be Palestine.  If you doubt that, look at the ubiquitous slogan, “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free.” This means that Israel will be completely replaced by Palestine.

Israel isn’t perfect of course, but you don’t have to approve of all the Israeli government’s actions to support the country’s existence. What always baffles me about the “progressive” left is that Palestine is the real apartheid state, prohibiting Jewish inhabitants and oppressing women, gays, apostates, and nonbelievers, as well as frmenting terrorism against civilians. Where would you prefer to live as a nonbeliever, LGBTQ+ person, or a woman? Israel or Palestine?

Ergo the more Left-wing colleges have begun a campaign of demonizing both Israel and Jews themselves, called “Zios” because most Jews support Israel and the continuance of that Jewish state. This college-level anti-Semitism also manifests itself in support of the BDS (Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions) movement, also aimed at eliminating Israel. It’s worth adding that the U.S. government (yes, the Biden administration) is investigating the University of Southern California for civil rights violations of its Jewish students.

But Berkeley exceeded all college anti-Semitism this month when nine student groups decided to ban all speakers who were “supporters of Israel”. That is, a speaker who doesn’t say anything about Israel in his or her speech is still prohibited from speaking if they’ve expressed support for Israel in other places. It’s bad enough to ban speakers whose talk supports Israel, but far worse to punish speakers for the crime of having supported Israel in other places. You are not allowed to speak because you have the wrong sentiments. 

Steve Lubet, an emeritus professor of law at Northwestern, describes the situation in the article below from the Chronicle of Higher Education:

An excerpt:

The University of California’s Berkeley campus has been a hotbed of leftist politics since at least the early 1960s, so it is unsurprising that students at its prestigious law school have long embraced the cause of Palestinian rights. It was shocking, however, when the latest expression of anti-Israel sentiment veered into territory so extreme that even the law school’s progressive dean, Erwin Chemerinsky, observed that it could be seen as antisemitic. Although the students had not in any sense established “Jewish-free zones,” as some overheated commentaries called them, what they did was bad enough. Nine law-school affinity organizations, nominally representing a majority of the student body, adopted a bylaw providing that they will not “lend platforms to speakers” who “have professed or continue to hold” Zionist views.

Yes, you read that correctly. The bylaw does not simply prohibit pro-Israel presentations at the organizations’ events. It bans speakers on any topic who happen to support the existence of Israel — a category that encompasses more than 80 percent of the world’s Jews, and includes many Berkeley Law students and faculty. As Chemerinsky remarked in an email to students, “Indeed, taken literally, this would mean that I could not be invited to speak because I support the existence of Israel, though I condemn many of its policies.” For the same reason, I would also be unable to speak to the student groups about my research on 19th-century abolitionist lawyers, notwithstanding my decades of support for the anti-occupation movement within Israel. (Disclosure: I am a 1973 alumnus of Berkeley Law.)

You can see the gist of Dean Chemerinsky’s letter here; he’s Jewish, but by no means an unalloyed supporter of the Israeli government or its actions. Here’s part of what he said:

“I have learned that student groups have been asked to adopt a statement strongly condemning Israel and some have done so. Of course, it is the First Amendment right of students to express their views on any issues,” he wrote.

“It is troubling to broadly exclude a particular viewpoint from being expressed,” he added. “Indeed, taken literally, this would mean that I could not be invited to speak because I support the existence of Israel, though I condemn many of its policies.”

His email went on: “The principles of community for the Berkeley campus stress that we are committed to ensuring freedom of expression and dialogue that elicits the full spectrum of views held by our varied communities.”

Chemerinsky, speaking to J., [the Jewish News of Northern California] added this:

. . . “to say that anyone who supports the existence of Israel — that’s what you define as Zionism — shouldn’t speak would exclude about, I don’t know, 90 percent or more of our Jewish students.”

The reason for the ban, according to the penultimate link above, was “protecting the safety and welfare of Palestinian students”. That, of course, is bogus, a ridiculous playing of the “safety” and “harm cards.. No student would be “unsafe” because of a talk given by a speaker who supports Israel. (What they mean, of course, is that such a talk would “offend” them.) This is a mere show, one meant to express the students’ antisemitism and denigration of a supposedly “apartheid” state in favor of an oppressive theocracy that really practices apartheid.

Who are the groups who passed this resolution? This link gives the list:

. . . the Berkeley Law Muslim Student Association, Middle Eastern and North African Law Students Association, Womxn of Color Collective, Asian Pacific American Law Students Association, Queer Caucus, Community Defense Project, Women of Berkeley Law, and Law Students of African Descent.

In other words, it’s Progressives versus Jews. Now the UCB resolution is not really a violation of First-Amendment freedom of speech because the students have every right to invite their own speakers. But freedom of speech should extend beyond the First Amendment at universities; it should allow students to be exposed to controversial views for reasons best expressed by Mill in On Liberty. By widening “unapproved speakers” to “all speakers who have, at some time in their lives, supported the existence of Israel”, Berkeley Law has collectively stoppered its ears while crying ‘Nyah, nyah, nyah, nyah!”

Lubet suggests other ways to express disapproval of Berkeley Law, including asking all speakers to refuse to speak at the school on principle, or asking judges to not accept as law clerks ringleaders of this resolution. I certainly favor the first tactic, though I’ll never be invited to speak at Berkeley Law. I leave it up to the readers to judge the second.

But if you still think that actions like these are designed to express disapproval of the Israeli government’s actions, you’ve bought into one of the dissimulations of the Progressive Left. This has nothing to do with the Israeli government. The real purpose is to show disapproval of Israel as a state and of those who support its existence. It is “anti-Zio”, which is the same thing as anti-Semitism.

Maine Professor demonized for teaching that there are only two human sexes penalized

October 5, 2022 • 11:30 am

The other day I recounted the story of Christy Hammer, a professor of education at the University of Southern Maine, whose students walked out when Hammer accurately said that humans had two biological sexes. And I quoted from the Bangor Daily News:

Nearly two dozen graduate students at the University of Southern Maine are demanding their education professor be replaced after the professor allegedly said only two biological sexes exist.

The students said professor Christy Hammer’s remarks were inaccurate and transphobic.

After all but one student walked out of Hammer’s class on Sept. 14 in protest, they demanded a facilitated restorative justice meeting between the 22 students and their professor.

They got it, but, according to students, Hammer maintained her position saying non-binary biological sex designations are merely variations on male and female. Now they want Hammer gone.

Biologists believe there is a larger spectrum to sex than just the male-female binary.

That last sentence is totally inaccurate, of course, though there’s a spectrum of “genders”—chosen sex roles. But in humans roughly 99.98 people conform to the male/female biological sex dichotomy, which makes it as close to a binary as you can come. It also made Hammer a transphobe, according to her students.

But one student, Jennifer Gingrich, supported Hammer and started a petition supporting her. Jennifer tendered the remarks below as a comment on the earlier post, but I offer it as a followup to this ludicrous kerfuffle to allow you to sign the petition, if you wish, but mostly to show that the University did indeed punish Hammer for her “transphobia,” though they didn’t fire her.

Here’s Jennifer’s comment:

Thank you for addressing this, Dr. Coyne. I live in Portland, Maine, where the professor is under attack by her students and I have a petition asking the university to support her. I hope you don’t mind, but the petition quotes you (I put it up before you wrote this piece, so it quotes something you wrote a while back).

You can also click here to go to the petition; it’s near the 1,500-signature mark. If you agree with it, you might consider signing it (I have):

Jennifer added this:

Unfortunately, USM announced today that although they are not firing [Hammer[, they have created an identical class with a different instructor that students can attend instead, effectively leaving Dr. Hammer in an empty classroom (the one student who didn’t initially walk out has been pressured into apologizing for it).

The Bangor Daily News verifies Jennifer’s report: Hammer’s punishment is to teach a class which will surely have no students, while all the others flock to the identical class, apparently taught by someone who thinks that biological sex is a spectrum. If you go to Hammer’s class you’ll be seen as transphobic.

University of Southern Maine officials announced Monday that they would not replace a professor who allegedly told her class there were only two biological sexes.

The alleged incident upset much of professor Christy Hammer’s graduate-level education class, instigating a mass walk out and triggering a facilitated restorative justice meeting last month where many students demanded Hammer be replaced.

Instead, USM will make an alternative, identical class available.

“We have developed an alternative plan for this class and will be opening a new section of this course for those students who would like to move,” university spokesperson Gina Marie Guadagnino said. “The original section taught by professor Hammer will continue for any student who wishes to remain in that class.”

University officials didn’t specify how many students will be moving to the new section, nor did they comment on Hammer’s alleged statements. Hammer did not respond to phone and email messages.

Biologists believe there is a larger spectrum to sex than just the male-female binary.

Check out the link about what “biologists believe.” It is, of course, a screed in Scientific American, which regularly bends scientific truth to fit their faux-progressive ideology.

The article continues:

Student Elizabeth Leibiger, who instigated the walkout, is planning to take the alternative class.

“I think that the next step USM needs to take is being clear what accountability will look like for Christy Hammer,” Leibiger said.

. . .During the session at Bailey Hall on the Gorham campus, a free-for-all discussion erupted over both social gender and biological sex identifications, with one student and Hammer saying they believed only male and female biological sexes exist.

The rest of the class maintained both biological sexes and social genders are on a spectrum.

The heated discussion spilled over into the next scheduled class on Sept. 14.

A majority of the class then drafted a letter to the Department of Education and Human Development asking for a restorative justice meeting with Hammer.

The meeting took place Wednesday, and the sole student who had disagreed reportedly apologized to classmates. But Hammer maintained her position on the binary nature of sex.

Leibiger hopes the incident will be instructive for the class of future teachers.

“It’s our job as educators to grow and change, address our biases, and above all else, protect every one of our students,” Leibiger said.

Restorative justice my tuchas! What is to be restored—the bogus notion that biological sex in humans is a spectrum, a purely ideological position that is ludicrously wrong?

Well, at least they didn’t fire Hammer. But even doing this to her—leaving her with a student-less class—is punitive and humiliating. That’s why I signed the petition, though of course Change.org petitions usually accomplish little.

But if even 15% of our subscribers signed it, that would put the number near 10,000, and that is surely newsworthy.

The University of Southern Maine is hopeless, and someone needs to tell them that they shouldn’t punish teachers for simply uttering an undeniable truth about nature.

After students protest, NYU chemistry professor fired for grading too hard

October 4, 2022 • 10:30 am

A gazillion readers sent me a link to this NYT article, which I found horrifying. Others may not, and may characterize me as a grumpy old ex-professor who can’t change with the times. So be it; as Hitchens said, “I don’t need a second; my own opinion is enough for me.” But I think there will be plenty of seconds.

The article shown below recounts how New York University fired Maitland Jones Jr. , who was teaching organic chemistry as an adjunct professor after a tenured career at Princeton. Here’s a bit from his Wikipedia bio:

Jones’ field of expertise is reactive intermediates, with particular emphasis on carbenes. He has published extensively in the field of quantum organic chemistry, particularly focusing on the mechanism of quantum molecular reactions. His interest areas include carbenes, carboranes, and heterocycles. Over the course of almost forty years, he and his research group have published 225 papers, averaging some five papers per year or one paper per active group member per year. Jones is also the author of Organic Chemistry texts. He is credited with the naming of bullvalene, which is named after William “Bull” Doering, whom Jones was studying under during his time as a graduate student at Yale University.

After retiring from Princeton in 2007, Jones taught organic chemistry at New York University until spring 2022.

At Princeton he worked his way up to full Professor, holding that position at the school from 1973 until 2007, and then apparently retiring to teach at a variety of schools (not just NYU) throughout the world (see the Wikipedia bio).

Why was he fired? Apparently because he graded too hard and was not as “available” to students as they wanted. The students circulated a petition, and NYU canned Jones. (He’ll be okay, as he presumably has a pension from Princeton and was teaching at age 85 because he liked teaching.) His widely used book was Organic Chemistry by Jones and Fleming, now in its fifth edition.

Click on the screenshot to read:

 

Here are the details from the NYT. Note the article notes that Jones had considerable support from the chemistry faculty and some students students, and that even the students who petitioned against his teaching neither asked for nor expected his firing.

In the field of organic chemistry, Maitland Jones Jr. has a storied reputation. He taught the subject for decades, first at Princeton and then at New York University, and wrote an influential textbook. He received awards for his teaching, as well as recognition as one of N.Y.U.’s coolest professors.

But last spring, as the campus emerged from pandemic restrictions, 82 of his 350 students signed a petition against him.

Students said the high-stakes course — notorious for ending many a dream of medical school — was too hard, blaming Dr. Jones for their poor test scores.

The professor defended his standards. But just before the start of the fall semester, university deans terminated Dr. Jones’s contract.

The officials also had tried to placate the students by offering to review their grades and allowing them to withdraw from the class retroactively. The chemistry department’s chairman, Mark E. Tuckerman, said the unusual offer to withdraw was a “one-time exception granted to students by the dean of the college.”

Marc A. Walters, director of undergraduate studies in the chemistry department, summed up the situation in an email to Dr. Jones, before his firing.

He said the plan would “extend a gentle but firm hand to the students and those who pay the tuition bills,” an apparent reference to parents.

Firm hand extended to the students? It sounds like a warm handshake to me! And, of course, the handshake also went to “those who pay the tuition bills”—the parents.  What the school is doing here is to further a decadeslong movement to regard students not as humans to be exposed to one’s specialized knowledge, as well as taught critical thinking and a respect and thirst for knowledge, but as consumers.  With tuitions going stratospheric, students and their parents have come to expect a number of amenities beyond teaching and learning, foremost among them a certificate that enables one to get a job after college. And to get that certificate, you need good grades.

This accounts for grade inflation, something that’s hit nearly every American university I know of, including mine. Here’s a bar graph from a site about the issue (see also here and here). “2” corresponds to “C”, which used to represent the “average grade, “3” corresponds to a “B”, and 4 to the highest grade, an “A.” As you can see, in just the last three decades the average grade has risen from a C+ to nearly a B+. This, of course, reduces the variation in grades that used to reflect achievement, and a way to determine who was doing better than others. As the variance decreases, the ability to ascertain merit—at least as reflected in grades—decreases as well.

Like the NYU students, everybody not only wants high grades now, but expects them. In one liberal-arts class I know of (not here), the professor, being woke, allows the students to grade themselves. What you think happened? The expected: of 60 students, 59 awarded themselves “A”s, and one more humble student gave him/herself a B+.

 

More from the NYT piece:

The university’s handling of the petition provoked equal and opposite reactions from both the chemistry faculty, who protested the decisions, and pro-Jones students, who sent glowing letters of endorsement.

“The deans are obviously going for some bottom line, and they want happy students who are saying great things about the university so more people apply and the U.S. News rankings keep going higher,” said Paramjit Arora, a chemistry professor who has worked closely with Dr. Jones.

There you go. Although Jones did grade hard (the average on one test was 30%), and you might attribute the low grades to the pandemic, which has been used as a partial excuse for nonperformance (and, to be sure, it is harder to learn via Zoom lectures), Jones says the “loss of focus” started well before that:

Dr. Jones, 84, is known for changing the way the subject is taught. In addition to writing the 1,300-page textbook “Organic Chemistry,” now in its fifth edition, he pioneered a new method of instruction that relied less on rote memorization and more on problem solving.

After retiring from Princeton in 2007, he taught organic chemistry at N.Y.U. on a series of yearly contracts. About a decade ago, he said in an interview, he noticed a loss of focus among the students, even as more of them enrolled in his class, hoping to pursue medical careers.

And Jones did try to make adjustments for remote learning:

After several years of Covid learning loss, the students not only didn’t study, they didn’t seem to know how to study, Dr. Jones said.

That was not enough. In 2020, some 30 students out of 475 filed a petition asking for more help, said Dr. Arora, who taught that class with Dr. Jones. “They were really struggling,” he explained. “They didn’t have good internet coverage at home. All sorts of things.”

The professors assuaged the students in an online town-hall meeting, Dr. Arora said.

Many students were having other problems. Kent Kirshenbaum, another chemistry professor at N.Y.U., said he discovered cheating during online tests.

When he pushed students’ grades down, noting the egregious misconduct, he said they protested that “they were not grades that would allow them to get into medical school.”

There’s the rub. The students feel that they are entitled to grades that get them into medical school and a lucrative career.  Tell me, do you want doctors to be brought up in a system like this? Do you want doctors who aren’t chosen for their performance either before or in medical school. Or would you be happy with a random sample of applicants?

Even after Covid restrictions eased, Jones’s students seem to have lost interest, something that other faculty I know have noticed.

By spring 2022, the university was returning with fewer Covid restrictions, but the anxiety continued and students seemed disengaged.

“They weren’t coming to class, that’s for sure, because I can count the house,” Dr. Jones said in an interview. “They weren’t watching the videos, and they weren’t able to answer the questions.”

Students could choose between two sections, one focused on problem solving, the other on traditional lectures. Students in both sections shared problems on a GroupMe chat and began venting about the class. Those texts kick-started the petition, submitted in May.

“We are very concerned about our scores, and find that they are not an accurate reflection of the time and effort put into this class,” the petition said.

Now the students did complain about other aspects of Jones’s teaching, like reducing the numbers of exams and failing to offer extra credit (I never did that), but Jones has what seem to be reasonable explanations for these accusations. Read the article.

The article also reports, inadvertently, something that I see as disastrous. I’ve put it in bold below:

The entire controversy seems to illustrate a sea change in teaching, from an era when professors set the bar and expected the class to meet it, to the current more supportive, student-centered approach.

Dr. Jones “learned to teach during a time when the goal was to teach at a very high and rigorous level,” Dr. Arora said. “We hope that students will see that putting them through that rigor is doing them good.”

James W. Canary, chairman of the department until about a year ago, said he admired Dr. Jones’s course content and pedagogy, but felt that his communication with students was skeletal and sometimes perceived as harsh.

“He hasn’t changed his style or methods in a good many years,” Dr. Canary said. “The students have changed, though, and they were asking for and expecting more support from the faculty when they’re struggling.”

Well, you should listen to what students say, but just because they demand something doesn’t mean professors have to relinquish it. After all, who has more experience in pedagogy? But I’m not saying that faculty are always right. But I don’t see that, in this situation, Jones did anything wrong.

Other beefs: the article mentions “that Dr. Jones had been the target of multiple student complaints about his “dismissiveness, unresponsiveness, condescension and opacity about grading.”

But are course evaluations, which are heavily conditioned by the grades students get, a good way to evaluate teaching? We used to have a booklet with ratings available to all students, but that has been abandoned because of the overt hostility. When I was a young faculty member at the University of Chicago, full of desire for reform, I set up a system in which faculty in biology would randomly visit the classrooms of other faculty, in their departments, observe their teaching, and evaluate them. That fell apart because of the logistics and because faculty didn’t really want to be observed in the classroom by their colleagues. But really, when teaching is evaluated for promotion or tenure, who better to do it than other faculty, who also evaluate research performance and service?

Here John Beckman, a spokeperson for NYU, addresses “stumble courses” that have a higher percentage of lower grades.

. . . “Organic chemistry has historically been one of those courses,” Mr. Beckman said. “Do these courses really need to be punitive in order to be rigorous?”

What he’s really saying here is that rating students by grades, is a “punitive” practice.  I could counterargue that “it’s also rewarding to the students who do better,” but the fact is that grad schools need objective ways to evaluate students, and although grade-point averages aren’t perfect, they’re better than letters of recommendations (almost 100% positive), though perhaps not as good as Graduate Record Examinations (GREs).

According to the paper, Jones was fired in a note from the dean of science that said that Jones’s performance “did not rise to the standards we require from our teaching faculty.”

I’ll let one reader, who read the article, give the response that I would:

Thanks for the article! It was chilling. Absolutely chilling. These are tomorrow’s doctors, the people who will treat my kids when they’re older adults, and who will treat grandchildren if I have them. Organic Chemistry is a weed-out course–OF COURSE. As it SHOULD BE. Guess what? Not everybody who wants to be a doctor is capable of being a doctor. But now giving accurate grade is “punitive.”
Sometimes it’s a good thing for a student to not get into medical school, for the correlation between performance in grad school and med school with being a good doctor is surely positive. That’s why medical schools—well, at least until recently—had high standards for who was admitted, and weeded out students based on pre-med-school performance. After all, it’s patients’ lives at stake, and in such a field merit must surely be given the highest consideration.

 

This is why we shouldn’t adhere to the Dodo’s Dictum from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland that “Everybody has won and all must have prizes.”  Although merit is being widely debased as useless or even racist, I think that rational people realize that abjuring merit can only lead to disaster.

In the case of Jones, letting the students run the show will also drive teaching faculty out of colleges as well as deterring professors from teaching “rigorously:

Nathaniel J. Traaseth, one of about 20 chemistry professors, mostly tenured, who signed the letter, said the university’s actions may deter rigorous instruction, especially given the growing tendency of students to file petitions.

“Now the faculty who are not tenured are looking at this case and thinking, ‘Wow, what if this happens to me and they don’t renew my contract?’” he said.

Dr. Jones agrees.

“I don’t want my job back,” he said, adding that he had planned to retire soon anyway. “I just want to make sure this doesn’t happen to anyone else.”

NYU’s behavior was reprehensible.

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

September 9, 2022 • 10:25 am

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dear Obies,

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

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

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

Carmen Twillie Ambar
President

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

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

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

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

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

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