Is social-media criticism by professors bullying and a violation of academic freedom?

March 28, 2021 • 1:00 pm

Here we have a back-and-forth in The Chronicle of Higher Education between two professors at Portland State University (“PSU”; a public college). The first piece is by Jennifer Ruth, a professor of film studies, and the second by Peter Boghossian, a philosopher, anti-woke writer, atheist, and one of the three people involved in the “Grievance Studies Affair“.  Ruth complains that critics of Critical Theory have been bullies by engaging in social-media pile-one (does she know how the Woke do that much more often?), and refers specifically to Boghossian and another professor, Bruce Gilley, who has argued that colonialism is good for the colonized, which of course caused a huge fracas.

As far as I can determine, what happened here is that a student (none of the principals already named) took pictures of some slides in a teacher education course which “offended” him/her because they were of the “Math is Racist” genre, and put the slides on Twitter. Boghossian and Gilley retweeted the slides. Apparently, though, some of the first names of students were on the slides, and so the dean asked Gilley and Boghossian to take down the tweets. They did so immediately. But apparently others joined in on the discussion, and that was considered bullying by Dr. Ruth.

Click on the screenshots to read.

Why was this considered “bullying”? According to Ruth:

[The professor who showed the slides] is shocked, then, to find her name and picture tied to the phrase “math is racist” — shorn of any context or any reference to the CNN article — and posted on Twitter by two of her male colleagues. It is picked up by the anti-woke warrior Chris Rufo, who tags the professional provocateur Joe Rogan and Fox’s voluble and influential Tucker Carlson. She has now become the latest exhibit in a national right-wing campaign to frame university professors as the new apparatchiks of a racially motivated totalitarianism. She shares an article with her students, and she is cast as one of Stalin’s henchmen. She is one of the “new racists.”

Anyone who has lived through one of the right-wing rage-gasms of the past decade — and they are disproportionately women and faculty of color — knows how terrifying they can be. All you have to do is say, “It’s true that the Greeks painted their statues,” or, “Hmm, it seems that the far right is appropriating a lot of medieval imagery,” and you can find yourself in the cross hairs, subject to doxxing, hate mail, physical harassment, and death threats.

Note that neither Gilley nor Boghossian engaged in this pile-on and did not encourage it; others took up the issue and (I didn’t follow this) there was a social media pile-on—one of the kind with which we’re familiar but apparently coming from the anti-woke. Nevertheless, Gilley and Boghossian suffer the consequences and take the blame for the mob. Peter, by the way, is a classical liberal, not “right-wing”.

Ruth continues:

The two men who circulated the “math is racist” meme were outsourcing the harassment of a colleague to the legions of trolls flying from Mr. Potato Head to Dr. Seuss to rapping librarians to the next faux-outrage fury-fest. Every time this happens, the targets of right-wing rage can only hope that a shiny new object will come along to distract their tormentors. But there is always the possibility — given the apocalyptic rhetoric that higher education’s attempts to reckon with systemic racism constitute a Maoist Cultural Revolution — that one of these stunts will get someone hurt.

The above scenario is not a hypothetical. It happened at my university, Portland State, and was instigated by our very own anti-woke warriors, Bruce Gilley and Peter Boghossian. Gilley and Boghossian have been working this beat for years now, on Twitter and on blogs. And they claim to be doing so in the name of academic freedom.

No, Boghossian and Gilley—and no, I don’t agree with Gilley’s thesis, but he has the right to his opinion—did not outsource harassment or encourage it. They were simply exercising the right to criticize ideas like “math is racist.” That is both free speech (PSU must adhere to the First Amendment and academic freedom). And the “math is racist” meme certainly does deserve examination, criticism, and, to my mind, a fair amount of ridicule.

As for the worry that “one of these stunts will get someone hurt”, it’s ironic that Ruth is part of the group who is always claiming that speech itself is considered harm. She’s already been hurt!

The details of this kerfuffle are described in a document by the Oregon Association of Scholars. which links to the following resolution of the PSU Faculty Senate which was the result of the two retweets (click on screenshot):

Part of the resolution:

While we all have the right to express our opinions in accordance with The First Amendment of the United States Constitution, there are limitations to free speech when it violates our laws and when it results in a true threat for an individual or a group of individuals or incites actions that will harm others. It is crucial to ensure that the members of our academic community can learn and work in an environment that is free of hate and hostility.

Whereas When faculty become active in, or even endorse or tacitly support, public campaigns calling for the intimidation of individual colleagues they disagree with, or with an entire faculty they disagree with, they are undermining academic freedom. Intimidation and explicit or implied threats to physical integrity are not accepted as academic methods.

. . . . BE IT RESOLVED

As Faculty, we must be thoughtful in our exercise of academic freedom and guard against its cynical abuse that can take the form of bullying and intimidation. This kind of abuse of academic freedom destroys academic freedom by eroding the trust that makes possible open dialogue, which is a central tenet in university intellectual life as well as in the practice of participatory democracy more broadly.

Again, this meeting was occasioned solely by the two taken-down retweets by Gilley and Boghossian who, needless to say, are not greatly beloved at PSU. And the resolution accuses them, though it doesn’t mention them by name, of intimidation, making threats, and academic bullying.

None of that was true; remember that this comes from just two social media posts taken down at the behest of the Dean. This is, pure and simple, chilling of free speech and academic freedom (which, though Ruth claims are not the same thing, are so closely related—identical in this case—that one must be careful about distinguishing them).

At any rate, Peter (full disclosure: he’s a friend of mine) wrote a response to Ruth’s piece in the Chronicle, and it’s quite good. The take-home lesson is in the title, and we should all make this a mantra:

I’ll give two quotes. Given that two retweets brought down official opprobrium of PSU on Boghossian and Gilley, Peter is quite measured in his response (the bolding is mine):

By claiming that criticism of published ideas and pedagogical models is harassment, and by creating institutional mechanisms that erect barriers to wholly appropriate critique, entire lines of scholarship become exempt from scrutiny. The academic process depends on having the freedom not only to state ideas but also to criticize other ideas. Limiting criticism in academia is tantamount to telling potters they can make all the clay pots they want so long as they never use clay. This is particularly disturbing because the claims in question — almost always about race, gender, and sexual orientation — are presented as knowledge and then used to influence public policy.

It is worth noting that criticism is framed as harassment only by academicians working in certain domains of thought that are in Critical Theory’s orbit. Civil engineers are not claiming that criticism of truss bridge design is harassment. Physicists are not claiming they’re being persecuted when their contributions to quantum theory are criticized. Philosophers are not claiming victimization when their arguments about free will are scrutinized. Claiming criticism is harassment occurs when a discipline’s North Star is not Truth, but ideology.

The internal rationale for calling criticism “harassment” is as simple as it is absurd: because these Critical Theories are believed to proceed from one’s “social position” as an occupant of some “identity category,” the person and her ideas are treated as though they overlap. They do not. Thinking they do is a dangerous mistake for anyone to make, not least institutions that are nominally devoted to Truth. The backbone of rational thought is separating people from ideas to protect the dignity of the former while being free to criticize the latter.

Boghossian defends the use of Twitter as a way of alerting people to what’s going on inside the academy, and also as a way of making arguments—not the best venue for extended discourse, though! However, scholarly journals aren’t accessible to the public. Boghossian ends like this:

There’s a dual irony in Ruth’s accusations. First, if there’s an institutionalized rule that criticism of academic work is harassment, how would Critical Theory, which is entirely predicated on criticizing existing systems, have emerged? It would not have. The ability to criticize has enabled the existence of disciplines in which my colleagues work, and from which they have framed criticism as harassment. Second, Ruth is doing to Gilley and me exactly what she claims we are doing to our colleagues — criticizing us. The only difference is, she takes aim at us, while we take aim at ideas.

Pinker on the Worser Angels of our Nature

March 15, 2021 • 12:15 pm

You needn’t tell me that the title is grammatically incorrect; it’s on purpose.  While Steve Pinker is known for documenting material and moral progress in our species over the last five centuries, and analyzing why it’s happened, there’s one area where he’s not so optimistic. And that’s the increasing “illiberalism” on American college campuses.

Pinker’s pessimism, based on events that you’ve seen documented repeatedly on this site, was expressed in a new interview in the Brown Daily Herald, the student newspaper of Brown University. (Brown is known as a “woke school”.)

Click on the screenshot to read.

Much of this you’ve heard before, like the fracases at The Evergreen State College and Middlebury College, but some stuff is new. For example:

A) Pinker dates the beginning of “political correctness and cancel culture” to the publication of Ed Wilson’s Sociobiology in 1975, which inspired a lot of pushback from those who thought Wilson’s views on human behavior (i.e., it has a genetic/evolutionary component) were retrograde and right-wing. I was at Harvard at the time and witnessed some of that, though I wasn’t there when a protestor threw a cup of water on Wilson and shouted, “Wilson, you’re all wet!”

B) The “cancellation” trend is increasing. The article cites data from FIRE’s “disinvitation database” showing that the last five years have witnessed a 36% increase in these disinvitations over the five years before that. I’ve also documented that this increase has been accompanied by an rise in the proportion of disinvitations and shouting-down events coming from the Left.  In the earliest data coming from 1998 and the subsequent ten years, there was a roughly equal number of cancel-culture things from the Right and Left, but now they’re heavily from the Left.

C) Pinker gives two reasons for the increase. First, “a backlash on the left against Donald Trump.” That is, people have supposedly realized that Enlightenment ideals have failed to rescue us from tyrants like Trump and his minions, and so resort to “some fairly radical responses.” I don’t think this is all that plausible, for wokeness has not obviously diminished—indeed, it’s increased—since Biden took office. It’s early days, but I see the storm clouds gathering.

His second explanation is that it comes from “several generations of professors having indoctrinated their students in an ideological mixture of postmodernism and Marxist critical theory”, which has now reached the tipping point into college insanity. This seems more likely to me. And then there’s my own theory, which is probably not mine, that the pandemic got a lot of people restive, and they took this out by policing others, as well as by trying to control their environment by gaining power.

One take by Pinker on this mess:

It’s not that every college administrator or professor shares these views, though, Pinker says. But few are daring enough to express their opposition. When faced with an issue of this sort, colleges too often choose flight over fight. Groveling has become the default setting. “It’s rather disturbing to see the people in charge of our institutions of higher learning repeating clichés and slogans,” Pinker said. “For university administrators, (acquiescence) is often the path of least resistance since a small number of noisy student protestors can make a university president’s life miserable.”

Student activists have learned how to game the system. Claims of mental and physical harm are used to advance political agendas. Statues are taken down. Disfavored speaking events are shut down, and those opposing such moves are treated as though they agree with the content of the speech rather than the principle of free speech itself. But it’s mostly a tactic, Pinker says. “It’s not that we have a generation of snowflakes. Although, there may be some of that. But it’s not so much being wounded but it’s the pretext of being wounded,” which is used as a means to exert power and conscript others into conforming to the ideology.

And, contrary to those who say this is a tempest in a teapot, and that the kids will settle down when they get into the “real world,” well, we already know that’s a bogus claim. Newly hatched Wokies are infesting mainstream media, corporations, and academia itself, and bringing their college views with them.

From the article:

The result is that fringe student activists can and do wield an inordinate amount of power on campus. Universities have become political in the extreme, and we should be worried.

“Contrary to the cliché sometimes attributed to Henry Kissinger that ‘academic disputes are so fierce because so little is at stake,’ I think a lot is at stake,” Pinker says. “Not only (because) it’s college graduates who populate and control all of our institutions … but the entire academic ecosystem is at stake.”

Steve, the eternal optimist, says that there are some solutions. The first one I really like, because it’s the abandonment of my own University’s principles, currently in progress, that will eventually bring us down—maybe to the level of Princeton, but I hope not to the level of Smith:

But there are some slam-dunk moves universities and students can take to improve the culture, Pinker says. The number one priority of each and every campus bureaucracy must be to advance the mission of the university. Administrators must also continuously reiterate “the principles that underlie the existence of the university, namely acquisition of knowledge where knowledge inherently involves humility and skepticism.”

Part of the mission of the University of Chicago is to foster not just the acquisition of knowledge, but the acquisition of the ability to evaluate knowledge and arrive at positions through free and open inquiry. That too requires humility and skepticism. In this view of life, one must cling tenaciously to the principles of freedom of speech and academic freedom.

While I’m not sure how many students at a place like Smith are “unwoke” and appalled by its balkanization, the last sentence below is vitally important. We have to speak up against the dying of the light, no matter how many people hurl insults like “racist” or “bigot” at us. Saying what you feel might not make you popular, but, like atheism, rationality spreads faster the more people are willing to speak out against irrationality.

On the student side, Pinker is optimistic. “I’ve been surprised by how many students are actually appalled by the stifling of debate and the deplatforming of speakers.” But, by and large, these students have watched the battles on campus from a safe distance. “(They) aren’t bringing in the bureaucrats to shut down those they disagree with, they’re not protesting, they’re not setting off fire alarms during lectures,” so we don’t really know how prevalent these views are. But repairing the culture requires that they be more vocal.

Whether these kinds of changes are coming anytime soon, Pinker is unsure. But he rejects the notion that the pendulum will swing back from gravity alone.

“I think it could happen and will happen but only if we make it happen. It won’t happen by itself.”

h/t: Rick

 

Deep-sixing the SATs: the misguided Left discards a valuable tool

March 6, 2021 • 12:15 pm

If you’re not a Yank, you may not know that not too long ago, the SATs (originally the Scholastic Aptitude Tests) were required of nearly every high-school student wanting to attend college. There were two sections: verbal and math, with the highest score being 800 on each. When I took them back in the Devonian (1966), nobody paid for the expensive test-preparation courses that many students take now. But as Andrew Sullivan writes in his Substack column this week (I urge you to subscribe), those prep courses don’t do much anyway, raising scores a paltry 5-20 points.

It’s a good piece this week, and there’s another longish piece on the new movie The Mauritianian, a dramatization of the true story of Mohamedou Ould Salahi, imprisoned in Guantanamo for 14 years, and how he was tortured abused, and mistreated, but eventually won his freedom. The movie stars Jodie Foster, Tahar Rahim, Shailene Woodley, and Benedict Cumberbatch, and that’s a good cast. I expect I’ll be watching it.

I like the reach and diverse interests of Andrew Sullivan, and find his site the most absorbing of all the Substack sites for demonized journalists (I subscribe to his and may to McWhorter’s). Click on the screenshot below to go to the SAT story:

Now many colleges have dropped the requirements for these standardized tests: the University of Chicago dropped the SAT and ACT (another standardized test) requirement in 2018, ostensibly to attract a wider pool of applicants. I’m not sure how that would work unless some qualified applicants couldn’t afford to take the tests (and I believe you can take them for free if you’re poor).  Other schools dropped them for a year or so because of the pandemic (you take them in a big room with lots of other students), and say they’ll “revisit” the requirement after the virus is gone.

But I don’t believe that for a minute. I’d be willing to bet that no school that dropped the SAT/ACT requirement “temporarily” will reinstate it. In fact, the tests are being dropped for another reason:  they show an achievement gap between races, and that is too meritocratic for the Woke. And yet, as Andrew argues—and I think he’s right—dropping the tests is actually harmful to minorities, for it eliminates the one way we can identify smart kids on a nearly level playing field. I wish colleges would be honest about why they’re dropping these requirements, but not a single one has told the truth.

Sullivan:

Behind the Covid19 news, outside the 1619 wars, far more important than Dr Seuss, and much more far-reaching than dismantling the classics, a real line is being crossed in American education, and therefore American society as a whole. It’s the accelerating abandonment of standardized tests, the one objective measurement of students’ ability and potential in our society and culture: 77 percent of high school seniors sent in SAT scores in 2019-20; only 44 percent this year; and many schools want to keep it that way. What was initially a temporary suspension of tests because of Covid has become an opportunity to tear down the entire system.

The rationale for the SAT abolition movement is — surprise! — critical theory, which insists that any measurement that results in different outcomes among ethnic or racial groups is a priori racist. (Except for all cases when non-whites and non-Asians do better than whites or Asians, in which case, never mind.) In the words this week of Congressman Jamaal Bowman of New York: “Standardized testing is a pillar of systemic racism.”

His argument is pure Kendi: the results are solely and exclusively what determines if a test is racist. Not the test itself; not evidence about its fairness or otherwise; not data about how it is constructed; not studies that examine its effects alongside every other way of measuring academic potential. Just the results.[JAC: Sullivan is right here about what Kendi would say, for he says that any inequity, or inequality in performance, among races is prima facie evidence of a racist policy.]

There is no countering this argument because it is not an argument. It is a threat. All it tells us is that the power of the term “white supremacist” will be ruthlessly deployed to shut down anyone who dares to argue that the SAT is, in fact, the least culturally biased of all measurements, the one thing wealthy kids cannot buy, and the most helpful tool in discovering the potential of poor, first-generation immigrant, black and Hispanic children, and rescuing them from the restrictions of class as well as race.

Sullivan then summarizes some misconceptions about the tests, and I’ll summarize his summary:

a.) The tests are still the best predictor of academic success in college (better than high-school grades) as well as of “life success” (e.g. $$).  And this predictive ability holds for all demographic groups, all minorities.

b.) The tests aren’t biased against any groups. They used to be somewhat biased against “cultures”, but a lot of work has gone into making them “standardized” with respect to culture and ethnicity. Note as well that the highest scorers are Asian-Americans—and not just the ones whose families have been here for generations. That belies the “cultural bias” narrative against people of color.

c.) Sullivan gives data showing that nearly half of students admitted on the basis of their SAT scores were poor or first-generation students (those who were the first in their family to go to college). As Sullivan says, “almost half of the SAT places were from minority or poor kids, who would otherwise have been hidden from view. Why on earth would you surrender that tool?”

d.) The ethnic-group inequalities highlighted by the tests begin much earlier than college.  As I’ve said incessantly, true equality demands expensive and yearslong efforts diverting money from the richer to the poorer. That offends many Americans’ sense of fairness, but is it fair to have permanent minority underclasses as a legacy of slavery and discrimination? Here’s Sullivan’s fix:

If you want to increase black and Latino representation in higher education, tackle the real problems, not the fake ones. Insist on higher standards from the very beginning in our failing schools; find ways to strengthen the stable nuclear family among blacks and Latinos, which is by far the most significant advantage Asian-American kids have; challenge the street culture that tells minority kids that reading and studying is “acting white”; make the SAT mandatory for everyone, make it easier to take, and make it free.

Those are good suggestions. The nuclear family issue, though, tends to bridle the Left. When I brought it up in a discussion with a liberal and antiracist friend about cultural differences that impede achievement (he was the principal of a largely black secondary school), he simply shut me down, saying “We’re not going to discuss that.” Now I don’t know offhand the hard evidence that two-parent families are better for the achievements of their kids, but I’m pretty sure it’s there. In his book How to Be an Antiracist, Ibrahm Kendi simply denies this effect.

We need to bring these tests back. In their desire to eliminate the meritocracy, the Woke have removed from colleges a tool to identify minority kids who deserve admission and could not have been singled out by grades alone.  It’s an example of how people have simply ignored the data in favor of their ideology, and, in a desire to be performative anti-racists, have hurt the very groups they are trying to help.  I’ll finish with Sullivan’s conclusions.

. . .many on the left want to get rid of the SAT altogether. They insist, against all the evidence, that the nuclear family is irrelevant to success. They are telling black and minority kids that things like perfectionism, hard work, and turning up on time are just “white supremacy culture,” and standards are racist. They are setting up black kids for failure, while telling them that failure is actually success, and then discriminating against Asian kids to cover up for the racial imbalance these policies create.  [JAC: He’s referring in part to the affirmative-action lawsuit filed by Asians against Harvard, which is still wending its way through the courts.]

Standardized testing has always been a progressive idea. It disrupts class and race, unseats entrenched privilege, and offers the poor and the marginalized their best chance of social mobility. And it seems to me deeply depressing that progressives would rather posture about “white supremacy” than do anything to actually help minorities progress in childhood, without condescending, neo-racist discrimination in their favor, long after the die has been cast.

A creationist writes in: Eric Hedin resurfaces

March 4, 2021 • 10:15 am

This morning I got the following email, occasioned, I suppose, by the appearance of a new book by Eric Hedin published by the ID creationist outfit The Discovery Institute. The DI is promoting it heavily, as it’s not selling very well; and I haven’t mentioned it, although one of its main topics is the alliance between me and the Freedom from Religion Foundation (FFRF) in trying to get Hedin to stop teaching intelligent design in a public-university (Ball State) science class. We succeeded, helped by the reporting of Seth Slabaugh at the Muncie (Indiana) Star Press, who pulled no punches about Hedin.

I won’t recount in detail the story of our interactions with Hedin and Ball State, but they took place in 2013. After the FFRF wrote a letter to Ball State warning them about teaching religion in a science class (after all, it was before that, in the Kitzmiller v. Dover case, that a federal judge declared that Intelligent Design was “not science”), they deep-sixed Hedin’s course, which was full of religiously-based readings. At no time did any of us call for Hedin to be fired. What we wanted was simply the cessation of teaching a religiously-based idea in a public university classroom. That is not freedom of speech, but a violation of the First Amendment as well as the abnegation of every professor’s duty to teach the subject as it is understood by experts.

Hedin got tenure at Ball State, and I did not oppose that, either. He seemed to be a competent professor in his area (physics and astronomy), and I don’t believe in trying to ruin people’s careers just because they teach one misguided course. Nevertheless, Hedin eventually left Ball State and wound up at a school more attuned to his religiosity: the evangelical Christian Biola University (an abbreviation for its former name: “Bible Institute of Los Angeles.” There he isn’t forced to teach the Satanic topic of evolution. And his new book, which I haven’t read, and won’t, is apparently One Long Kvetch about how he was bullied and canceled by me and the FFRF. It was that incident that nabbed me the Discovery Institute’s 2014 “Censor of the Year” award—one of the proudest achievements of my life.

I asked the author of the email, William Wegert, if I could post it here and include his name, and, to his credit, he said yes, as “It’s part of free inquiry and rationale [sic] dialogue.” Only after I answered him did I look him up and found out why he’s interested in l’affaire Hedin.

Wegert’s email was copied to me and was actually sent to the Provost and President of Ball State University, where Hedin no longer teaches.

Dear President Mearns and Provost Bracken,

I wish to thank Ball State University!  I recently learned of the university’s cancellation of Dr. Eric Hedin’s “Boundaries of Science” course following the intervention of Dr. Jerry Coyne.

After reviewing the information available on the web and from Dr. Hedin’s own words, his popular honors class was an exercise in critical thinking in which students were invited to read the works of materialists as well as those believing that specified complexity might have an intelligent cause.  For any right thinking person, this is what institutions of higher education should be doing, giving students opportunities to consider scientific evidence that lends support to both positions, as well as everything in between.  Apparently, Dr. Coyne and Ball State think otherwise. They must have been fearful of something, but I would not have expected them to share those fears openly.

For what reason?  The First Amendment?   Anyone with a high school understanding of American history knows that such an issue has absolutely nothing to do with our Founders’ concerns in that Amendment.

So looking for another rationale for cancelling the class, let us say the class lacked a scientific basis, at least in the minds of Ball State administrators.  If that is the case, I suggest that those decision-makers have some research to do to get caught up on a plethora of research projects, peer-reviewed articles, and major books coming out of the Intelligent Design movement.  They are quite behind the times, something not becoming to publish-or-perish faculty, wouldn’t you agree?  You see, week-by-week, article-by-article, research project-by-research project, evidence mounts that Darwinism and Neo-Darwinism have both been hung in the balance and found wanting as a tenable explanation of the complexity of life, starting with the genetic code.

The reason I thank you is that I have a popular presentation I make to students and parents around the US and overseas entitled the “Six Surprising Benefits of Attending a Faith-Based University.”  Ball State’s actions in cancelling this course has allowed me to add a seventh benefit!  At faith-based institutions, where I have nearly 40 years of experience, by the way, we provide students with both sides of these kinds of arguments and let them evaluate the evidence for themselves.  There is no fear of where the evidence might lead.  Students are going to be stepping out into the wide world soon enough and will come to their own conclusions anyways.  Why not challenge them in the area of sound critical thinking during the college years?   Dr. Coyne and Ball State give every evidence of being afraid of where that evidence may lead.

So, thanks to your actions, I get to add yet another benefit for attending a faith-based institution.  This kind of fear does not exist at such schools.  Free inquiry is invited and there is no fear of what the students might be exposed to.  Faith-based colleges and universities take seriously the mission of preparing students to think for themselves based on the facts, including results of scientific studies..

Welcome to the Cancel Culture, Gentlemen.  And thank you for enhancing my presentation and giving me a nice Ball State University/University of Chicago case study to present to eager listeners.

William E. Wegert
Monroe, VA

Well, I said my piece above about why professors should not teach intelligent-design as if it were science. For one thing, it’s illegal at state schools. But it also is a lie. It’s as if a European history professor denied the Holocaust in her classroom. I have no objections to creationists speaking at Universities in public lectures, and when one spoke here a few years back, I didn’t try to stop it. But it’s a different matter to teach it in a biology classroom as if it were accepted science.

Wegert’s antepenultimate paragraph about working at a faith-based institution, piqued my interest about who Wegert is. And it didn’t take long to find this on LinkedIn (click on screenshot):

He works at Jerry Falwell’s evangelical Christian Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia, where evolution IS NOT EVEN TAUGHT! Instead, they teach “Creation Studies“, and not in a way that promotes students’ independent thinking. And it teaches the most ridiculous form of creationism, YOUNG EARTH CREATIONISM, which is a triple lie since it distorts geology and chemistry as well as biology.

Here’s the “purpose” of its teaching of Creation Studies:

Purpose

The purpose of the Center for Creation Studies is to promote the development of a consistent biblical view of origins in our students. The Center seeks to equip students to contend for their faith in the creation account in Genesis using science, reason, and the Scriptures. The minor in Creation Studies provides a flexible program with broad training in various disciplines that relate to origins as well as the Bible. Students in both science or non-science majors will benefit from an in-depth study of creation and evolution.

Really, objective, Mr. Wegert, right? Really an exercise in critical thinking for the poor Liberty University students, right? Nope; it’s lying propaganda to turn biology students into parrots of Genesis 1 and 2.

After I found this out, I wrote back to Wegert saying this:

You failed to mention that you are at Liberty University. Do they teach Darwinian evolution there?
What I see is “Creation studies”.
I suspect you don’t teach Darwinian evolution and “let the students make up their own minds”, do you?
Although Wegert replied within minutes when I asked permission to publish his letter, so far I haven’t gotten an answer to this one.

I invite readers to respond to Mr. Wegert. After all, he’s seeking discourse! Just remember to be polite.

Bret Stephens writes another dangerous column

March 2, 2021 • 10:15 am

I swear, Bret Stephens is bucking for a New York Times pink slip and a slot on Substack along with the other canceled columnists. Not long ago, Stephens wrote a column for his paper about the firing of his colleague Donald McNeil, concentrating on the Times‘s excuse that McNeil deserved firing for using the n-word (even didactically), because “intent was not relevant”.  The point of Stephens’s piece wasn’t to defend McNeil’s language but to say that journalism must take intent into account. As he wrote then:

Do any of us want to live in a world, or work in a field, where intent is categorically ruled out as a mitigating factor? I hope not.

That ought to go in journalism as much as, if not more than, in any other profession. What is it that journalists do, except try to perceive intent, examine motive, furnish context, explore nuance, explain varying shades of meaning, forgive fallibility, make allowances for irony and humor, slow the rush to judgment (and therefore outrage), and preserve vital intellectual distinctions?

Journalism as a humanistic enterprise — as opposed to hack work or propaganda — does these things in order to teach both its practitioners and consumers to be thoughtful. There is an elementary difference between citing a word for the purpose of knowledge and understanding and using the same word for the purpose of insult and harm. Lose this distinction, and you also lose the ability to understand the things you are supposed to be educated to oppose.

As I reported, the NYT, which considered the column critical of its staff, refused to publish it and Stephens’s piece got printed in the New York Post instead. I don’t think that made the editors happy.

Well, they’re not going to like the new column by Bret Stephens, either. Although the title is conservative in tone, Stephens is a conservative columnist. And, as we saw, the paper just published a pretty good piece on the racial troubles and administrative malfeasance at Smith, so this shouldn’t be a topic that’s off the table (and apparently isn’t, as this column didn’t get spiked). Still, I sense a Substack in Stephens’s future, simply because he tells the truth about both Wokeness and the effect of Critical Race theory on colleges, which is a divisive one. Further, Critical Race theory is beginning to infiltrate the paper itself, so this can be taken as further criticism of the NYT, though Stephens doesn’t make that comparison.

After going through l’affaire Smith College, Stephens asks the critical question:

Still, the most interesting aspect of the drama at Smith has less to do with the details and more to do with the location. To wit, why is it that racial tensions keep boiling over at some of the nation’s most emphatically progressive-minded institutions, whether it’s at Smith, YaleNorthwesternBryn Mawr or the Dalton School? Why does the embrace of social justice pedagogies seem to have gone hand in hand with deteriorating race relations on campus?

It’s especially interesting because, as Stephens implies, these schools are emphatically not bastions of structural racism, and have done about everything possible to both placate protestors and ensure that there is no obvious inequality on campus.

This implies that Wokeness is a concomitant of “privilege”, which is to some extent true. It’s the educated people, who can afford these schools and have their life success well on track, that have the time to not only learn about Critical Race Theory, which is often taught at these schools, but also the leisure to agitate and make demands and petitions. Importantly, the students also have the ability to threaten prestigious schools in a way that could damage their reputations. After all, Yale, Bryn Mawr, Smith, Harvard, and The Dalton School can charge huge tuitions because of their reputations. That’s why Smith, which stands to lose its reputation because of people like Stephens, is now in trouble, just as Evergreen State was in trouble a few years ago (Evergreen lost lots of students and had to cut back on faculty hiring and programs).

And here are Stephens’s answers to his question, which are pretty accurate.

One answer is that if many students are enjoying a diet of courses on critical race theory, and employees are trained on the fine points of microaggressions, they might take to heart what they are taught and notice what they have been trained to see.

Another answer is that if those who report being offended gain sympathy, attention and even celebrity, more accusations may be reported.

Those are both likely reasons; you can read about the advantages of claiming victimhood in a recent article in Quillette.

But the most important answer comes from realizing that all of these colleges, like nearly all American colleges, have administrators and staff that lean mostly to the Left (you will find few people at the schools named above, for instance, who will admit to being conservative). Stephens:

The deeper answer, I suspect, is that the Woke left has the liberal left’s number. It’s called guilt.

The telling line in Powell’s story comes from a letter the Black Student Association wrote to McCartney, Smith’s (white) president, saying its members “do not feel heard or understood. We feel betrayed and tokenized.” Tokenized, most certainly: Behind every affirmative action program at every liberal institution is a yearning for moral redemption — admission to its present ranks is granted in exchange for absolution for past sins and acceptance of its ideological assumptions.

The Woke left doesn’t want to be a party to this bargain. Absolution is off the table. And the liberal ideals themselves are up for renegotiation.

In place of former notions of fairness toward individuals regardless of race, the Woke left has new ideas of “restorative justice” for racial groups. In place of traditional commitments to free speech, it has new proscriptions on hate speech. In place of the liberal left’s past devotion to facts, it demands new respect for feelings.

All of this has left many of the traditional gatekeepers of liberal institutions uncertain, timid and, in many cases, quietly outraged. This is not the deal they thought they struck. But it’s the deal they’re going to get until they recover the courage of their liberal convictions.

I’m not sure I agree with Stephens’s notion that liberal academics feel deeply cheated because they’re not being let off the hook for favoring affirmative action. What is important here, and what Stephens only touches on, is not guilt but fear. In particular, fear of being called a racist. It’s the same fear (and guilt) that you read about in Tom Wolfe’s portrait of the Black Panther fund-raiser at Leonard Bernstein’s home: “Radical Chic.”

What is true is that the Woke does have the liberal left’s number. For the fear of being called a racist, and the fear of people saying you are “erasing” or “othering” them, causing “harm” and “violence”, is a strong motivation for change among the Left. And, as John McWhorter realized, absolution is indeed off the table. You go Ibram Kendi’s way or the highway; there is no middle way.

For paragraphs like this to appear in the New York Times is amazing. But you will hear them only from the mouths of conservative columnists, not from centrists and certainly not from anyone else at that liberal newspaper. That the Woke has the Left’s number is palpably true, but nobody dares say it, just like nobody dares stand up to the kind of racialized fascism that did in Jody Shaw at Smith.

I fear that Stephens’s tenure at the Times will soon come to an end, for they can’t bear to hear stuff like this. In fact, they don’t like their conservative columnists at all, as we’ll see when we look at Donald McNeil’s recently published (and horrific) account of the toxic atmosphere at the paper. In truth, the Times administration is no different from the Smith College administration: they are autocrats who expel people accused of racism. For the Times editors, dealing with McNeil, and now reading Stephens, is too much like looking in the mirror.

h/t: Greg

 

Update on Shaw v. Smith College

March 1, 2021 • 10:15 am

Jodi Shaw hasn’t yet brought her legal case against Smith College, but one seems to be impending, as she’s filed a complaint with the state of Massachusetts (see below). Her GoFundMe page has also reached the total below (click on screenshot), heading towards twice her original goal.

And she really does seem to be sequestering everything above $150,000 for helping others in similar situations. Here’s a new addendum to her page (her emphasis):

***Therefore, any monies over $150K will be placed in an escrow account to be disbursed as needed to individuals I know or who have reached out to me who are trapped in hostile workplaces, including in the workplace of my own former employer. ***

As February 22, together with monies contribute to my private PayPal account, we have raised $85K for this escrow account alone.

This is important as there are many others in the wings who are thinking about or preparing to take action and could really use the help.

That escrow money has now grown to over $127,000! Clearly, a lot of people are on her side—or the side opposing strict application of Critical Race Theory in universities—and I don’t think that all of them are white supremacists. Surely many of them are the sympathetic folks who are afraid of “outing” themselves.

Shaw also added this yesterday:

Hi everyone,

I have some news to share. I sent my complaint to the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination (MCAD) last week. This is the first step in the process of bringing a suit against Smith College. Although the MCAD has yet to certify it, I wanted to share a preview with all of you who have so generously supported this cause.

https://jodishaw.net/documents/

Thanks again for all your support. Words cannot express my gratitude. This is truly a community effort.

The document in question, a complaint to the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination, was prepared with the help of a lawyer. At 18 pages long, it has a lot more information than what we’ve learned already, and it all reflects pretty badly on Smith (remember, though, Shaw is an opponent of the College’s policies, and the document is a legal one). You can read it by clicking below, or going to the link above. You can read successive pages by clicking the arrows at the bottom of the screen.

Here’s the beginning:

 

Smith meltdown: NYT reports honestly, for once (but Rolling Stone doesn’t)

February 25, 2021 • 10:30 am

Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve reported on the case of Jodi Shaw, the employee of Smith College who was driven out for making YouTube videos about Smith’s climate of toxic racial divisiveness—a climate that affected her personally.  Shaw turned down Smith’s offer of a financial settlement in return for Shaw’s silence, and started a GoFundMe campaign to keep her and her two kids alive since she doesn’t have a job. The money will also go for a lawsuit against Smith and to help other Smith students.  The campaign has raised nearly $241,000—$90,000 over its original goal (Smith says she’ll use any excess over $150,000 “to help others exercise their right to be free from a hostile work environment”).  To me, this quick and generous response means that there are a lot of people out there (not all of them Republicans!) who share Smith’s worries about the infusion of Critical Race Theory into colleges. Smith College appears to be a particularly toxic example of that infusion.

Rolling Stone published a snarky attack on Shaw, which is short on facts (it completely neglects the atmosphere of Smith reported in detail in the New York Times article below), and paints Shaw as a “cancel culture martyr.” The hit piece, which you can read by clicking on the screenshot below, ends this way:

Fortunately for Shaw, she appears to have gotten her money’s worth: a fundraiser to help her with living expenses has raised more than $214,000, proving that one of the quickest routes to success in the age of social media is to publicly and dramatically claim you’ve been canceled.

I highly doubt that Shaw went through all this tsouris to become a martyr and to gain “success in the age of social media.” Rolling Stone‘s reporting is both inaccurate and execrable, and we’ll move on.

I’m amazed that the New York Times covered the story not just of Jodi Shaw, but of the fulminating racial toxicity at Smith, which of course was the reason Shaw was exposed to the “racial sensitivity training” that started the whole incident. And the Times’s story is long, complete, and fair. It pulls no punches when it comes to describing Smith’s toxic atmosphere. But it also paints a dire picture of Kathleen McCartney, Smith’s President, who is wedded to Critical Race Theory, apparently out of fear of pushback from the students. I’m not going to call for McCartney’s resignation, as that is something I have no power over, but I think that the present furor, including a letter in the Paper of Record about what’s really going on at Smith, might hasten her departure.

Read the longish NYT article by clicking on the screenshot.

This is the story’s dramatic “lede”:

This is a tale of how race, class and power collided at the elite 145-year-old liberal arts college, where tuition, room and board top $78,000 a year and where the employees who keep the school running often come from working-class enclaves beyond the school’s elegant wrought iron gates. The story highlights the tensions between a student’s deeply felt sense of personal truth and facts that are at odds with it.

Facts versus “personal truths”—but the “personal truths” turned out to be empirical falsities!

As I thought, and as Shaw has said repeatedly, Smith is ridden with racial tension. And it didn’t have to be that way. It all went back, as the article describes, to a 2018 claim of racism by Ouou Kanoute, a black firstfirst-generation student whose parents immigrated from Mali. In the summer of that year, Kanoute went to get lunch in a cafeteria that was restricted to participants in “a summer camp program for young children.” Kanoute wasn’t supposed to be using the cafeteria because she was a student worker—a teaching assistant. One cafeteria worker

. . . mentioned that to Ms. Kanoute when she saw her getting lunch there and then decided to drop it. Staff members dance carefully around rule enforcement for fear students will lodge complaints.

“We used to joke, don’t let a rich student report you, because if you do, you’re gone,” said Mark Patenaude, a janitor.

Kanoute then took her lunch and went into the lounge of an empty dorm closed for the summer. Nobody was supposed to be in that dorm, and janitors and others were told to call security if they saw anybody there. A 60 year old janitor saw Kanoute and made that call. A security worker came, recognized Kanoute, and left. And that was it. No mention of race was made by anybody, including the janitor reporting Kanoute’s presence.

It would have ended there had Kanoute not used social media to claim that she was persecuted because she was black. (Kanoute’s behavior over the past few years makes her seem a tad unhinged.)  And then things went to hell.  The janitor was put on leave, the cafeteria worker persecuted and harassed by both President McCartney and the students, and McCartney, stung by her own missteps in the past, put the campus on Full White Supremacist Alert:

Smith College officials emphasized “reconciliation and healing” after the incident. In the months to come they announced a raft of anti-bias training for all staff, a revamped and more sensitive campus police force and the creation of dormitories — as demanded by Ms. Kanoute and her A.C.L.U. lawyer — set aside for Black students and other students of color.

. . .Ms. Blair [the cafeteria worker] was reassigned to a different dormitory, as Ms. Kanoute lived in the one where she had labored for many years. Her first week in her new job, she said, a female student whispered to another: There goes the racist.

Anti-bias training began in earnest in the fall. Ms. Blair and other cafeteria and grounds workers found themselves being asked by consultants hired by Smith about their childhood and family assumptions about race, which many viewed as psychologically intrusive. Ms. Blair recalled growing silent and wanting to crawl inside herself.

The faculty are not required to undergo such training. Professor Lendler said in an interview that such training for working-class employees risks becoming a kind of psychological bullying. “My response would be, ‘Unless it relates to conditions of employment, it’s none of your business what I was like growing up or what I should be thinking of,’” he said.

That’s exactly what Jodi Shaw experienced, and also thought was “none of anybody’s business.”

Note that the ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union) stepped in to defend Kanoute. But then Smith College hired a law firm to produce an independent report on the incident, and it came up with. . . no evidence of racism:

The New York Times, The Washington Post and CNN picked up the story of a young female student harassed by white workers. The American Civil Liberties Union, which took the student’s case, said she was profiled for “eating while Black.”

Less attention was paid three months later when a law firm hired by Smith College to investigate the episode found no persuasive evidence of bias. Ms. Kanoute was determined to have eaten in a deserted dorm that had been closed for the summer; the janitor had been encouraged to notify security if he saw unauthorized people there. The officer, like all campus police, was unarmed.

A similar conclusion—no racism involved—was reached by the Boston Globe‘s investigation.

You’d think that would be the end of the story, right? Wrong!  For now there is a narrative of racism, as John McWhorter points out, and it’s a narrative that has to be kept going regardless of whether there is real racism at all. And so President McCartney hasn’t done a thing to foster reconciliation or healing. Instead, she just brings up the “feelings versus facts” trope, as well as the discredited trope of “implicit racial bias”:

Still, Ms. McCartney said the report validated Ms. Kanoute’s lived experience, notably the fear she felt at the sight of the police officer. “I suspect many of you will conclude, as did I,” she wrote, “it is impossible to rule out the potential role of implicit racial bias.” [JAC: If you can’t rule it out, because it’s impossible to dig into someone’s unconscious, then it must be racism!]

The report said Ms. Kanoute could not point to anything that supported the claim she made on Facebook of a yearlong “pattern of discrimination.”

Ms. McCartney offered no public apology to the employees after the report was released. “We were gobsmacked — four people’s lives wrecked, two were employees of more than 35 years and no apology,” said Tracey Putnam Culver, a Smith graduate who recently retired from the college’s facilities management department. “How do you rationalize that?”

(Remember, this is from the New York Times!) Smith’s and McCartney’s behavior is reprehensible. Were I a Smith alum, or a donor, I’d be appalled at how McCartney’s acted. What kind of President is this?

But the ACLU has behaved just as badly. As we know, the ACLU is going off the rails these days, and when an organization like that can’t even admit the truth, and has also has bought into a racial narrative that it must defend, you get something like this:

Rahsaan Hall, racial justice director for the A.C.L.U. of Massachusetts and Ms. Kanoute’s lawyer, cautioned against drawing too much from the investigative report, as subconscious bias is difficult to prove. Nor was he particularly sympathetic to the accused workers.

“It’s troubling that people are more offended by being called racist than by the actual racism in our society,” he said. “Allegations of being racist, even getting direct mailers in their mailbox, is not on par with the consequences of actual racism.”

That is, let three lower-middle-class people be thrown to the wolves by Smith. What does it matter if the narrative of structural racism at Smith (which does NOT exist) be kept alive? There’s always that “subconscious bias” that is “difficult to prove”!

A few Smith faculty are quoted as opposing what McCartney and the College have done, but they are crying in the wilderness. It’s up to the College’s trustees and alumni to let President McCartney know that “lived experience,” if it doesn’t correspond to the truth, cannot be allowed to ruin people’s lives or to create a toxic climate in a formerly respected college.  In the end, Kanoute’s acts and false cries of racism have come down to ruin Jodi Shaw’s life as well.

The miscreant President is acting notably un-Presidential.

Kathleen McCartney, Smith’s President. Appointed 2012, miscreant since 2018.

 

Smith’s President writes a letter exculpating the College

February 23, 2021 • 9:00 am

IMPORTANT UPDATE: In the first comment below, reader Coel notes this:

Jodi Shaw has written this response to the letter from Smith’s President, specifically about the settlement demand/offer, and also her GoFundMe page now says that the “hold” has been removed.

Shaw’s letter, which you should read in full, says this in part:

After I went public in October with my complaints about the hostile working environment at Smith, the college made clear to me that they would like me to accept a severance and leave. I offered to accept a severance only if Smith would take meaningful steps to end the racially hostile environment by ending their mandatory race-based struggle sessions and their requirements that employees judge each other and the students in our care on the basis of their skin color. Smith quickly made clear to me that they would not consider such changes. The ideology would stay. Only a financial settlement with the college was possible.

Shaw then decided that she wouldn’t settle. President McCartney’s letter is thus misleading and my impression of Shaw as a brave and principled woman remains.  I have just donated to her GoFundMe campaign.

_____________________

Reader Melissa Johnson noted, in a comment on yesterday’s post about the suspension of Jodi Shaw’s GoFundMe account, that Smith President Kathleen McCartney has issued a message to the Smith College community about Shaw’s activities. In my view, McCartney should simply shut up about pending actions, but she can’t resist dissing Shaw as well as emphasizing once again that she’s proud of Smith’s antiracist programs.

Here’s the letter, dated yesterday:

Dear members of the Smith community:

A college staff member resigned last Friday in a letter that she made available to the public. Ordinarily, a personnel matter of this nature would not warrant a letter from the president to the college community; however, in this instance the former employee, in her letter, accuses the college of creating a racially hostile environment for white people, a baseless claim that the college flatly denies. In addition, her letter contains a number of misstatements about the college’s equity and inclusion initiatives, misstatements that are offensive to the members of our community who are working every day to create a campus where everyone, regardless of racial identity, can learn, work and thrive.

I write to emphasize that Smith College remains unyielding in its commitment to advancing racial justice, a commitment that includes and benefits every member of our community. Given the centrality of this work to Smith College’s mission, I want to take this opportunity to ensure that each of you has accurate information.

The employee suggests that Smith tried to buy her silence. But it was the employee herself who demanded payment of an exceptionally large sum in exchange for dropping a threatened legal claim and agreeing to standard confidentiality provisions. Further, while the employee aims her complaint at Smith, her public communications make clear that her grievances about equity and inclusion training run more broadly—as she puts it “to the medical field … the publishing field, the tech field, it’s in the schools, the legal field, public schools, private schools, colleges of course, government. It’s everywhere.”

At Smith College, our commitment to, and strategies for, advancing equity and inclusion are grounded in evidence. Research demonstrates the continued presence of systemic discrimination against people of color across all areas of society, from education to health care to employment. Redressing the reality of racism requires asking ourselves how we might, even inadvertently, reinforce existing inequalities or contribute to an exclusionary atmosphere. While it might be uncomfortable to accept that each of us, regardless of color or background, may have absorbed unconscious biases or at times acted in ways that are harmful to members of our community, such self-reflection is a prerequisite for making meaningful progress. The aim of our equity and inclusion training is never to shame or ostracize. Rather, the goal is to facilitate authentic conversations that help to overcome the barriers between us, and the college welcomes constructive criticism of our workshops and trainings.

As a college, we remain committed to continuous learning in support of the humanity, worth, and dignity of every member of our community.

Sincerely,
Kathleen McCartney
President

First of all, if this matter is going to be litigated, McCartney should shut her yap, for what she says above could be used against Smith in several ways.

In fact, despite McCartney’s claim that she’s issuing the letter only because Shaw made false accusations about the “racially hostile environment for white people”, that is in fact what Shaw claimed was true for her (it was Shaw’s “lived experience”, as the CRT folk put it). And I suspect, given the level of support for Shaw and her claims that she’s received a lot of support from community members, that the divisiveness at Smith extends far deeper than her own personal experience. (It may be tough to find people to testify to that in court, however.)

In fact, McCartney’s penultimate paragraph brings up the discredited “unconscious bias” hypothesis, as well as the notion that these undocumented biases constitute “harm” to the members of the Smith community. And if McCartney claims that the aim of the college was never to shame or ostracize, which is what Jodi Shaw claimed happened to her, why didn’t she express sympathy for what Shaw experienced (they never responded to Shaw’s 100-page letter of complaint)? McCartney has never shown an iota of sympathy or solicitude for Shaw.

Finally, let us remember that the atmosphere of racial hysteria at Smith began in 2018, when a black student complained of racist treatment. One of our readers used that as “proof” that Smith indeed had an atmosphere of systemic racism. But an investigation by Smith College itself, Insider Higher Ed, and the Boston Globe found that there was no racism involved in this incident (see my post about this here). Nevertheless, McCartney and others are still using that incident as evidence that Smith is ridden with systemic racism. And if you can’t find tangible evidence of that racism, well, there’s always that “unconscious bias”. It’s telling that no real evidence for pervasive racism at Smith has been adduced, though Jodi Shaw has adduced evidence for pernicious antiracism.

Yes, Shaw made a general complaint in her “public communicatons” (probably her YouTube video), that “her grievances about equity and inclusion training run more broadly—as she puts it ‘to the medical field … the publishing field, the tech field, it’s in the schools, the legal field, public schools, private schools, colleges of course, government. It’s everywhere’.” So what? Shaw is free to speak on such issues in her YouTube video, and her observation about the generality of CRT has nothing to do with Shaw’s complaint about Smith College. It’s unseemly of President McCartney to criticize Shaw’s private communications, and seems like a tactic to discredit her.

The one piece of disturbing news from McCartney’s letter is the President’s claim that Shaw herself requested that she be paid off in return for her silence, with the implication that she threatened Smith with a lawsuit if they didn’t settle. That runs counter to at least the implication of Shaw’s claim, on her GoFundMe site, that:

Smith responded by placing me on a leave and under investigation. During this time I was offered a settlement in exchange for my silence. In the end it was a decision between comfort or freedom. I chose freedom.

“I was offered” is not the same as “I asked for”, and if McCartney is right, then Shaw disssimulated in her letter and her request for funds. I trust Shaw will clear up the matter.  In the meantime, there’s still a hold on her GoFundMe account, but the amount raised is now $211,527.

So I’m disturbed about the conflicting claims about the “settlement offer,” but I have to say that President McCartney has done herself no favors by using this incident to affirm the commitment of Smith to the idea of systemic racism at the College (which, I’m convinced, does not exist), and of “unconscious bias” of Smith people that supposedly creates a harmful atmosphere. That is not inclusive at all, nor is it likely to appeal to older Smith donors, who are surely appalled at this publicity.

Jodi Shaw packs it in at Smith

February 20, 2021 • 1:00 pm

I’ve written several times about the plight of Jodi Shaw (here, here, here, and here), the Smith College employee who was demonized and then investigated by her employer because she would not participate in a racial “struggle session” that involved sharing personal details and feelings that she wasn’t comfortable in divulging. As I wrote earlier on:

Shaw had a beef with the College for forcing her to undergo mandatory training in what seems like critical race theory, and in which she was humiliated by the facilitator for her “white fragility”. Kathleen McCartney, the President of Smith, then responded to Shaw’s first video with a cold-hearted letter to the entire College saying, in effect, something like, “Well, we can’t fire Shaw because of the law, but we’ll ensure that all students of color are protected from harm.”

The expected pile-on began after Shaw, single mother of two, an alumna of Smith, and a liberal, began making a series of calm yet determined videos about what she experienced at Smith. The racial divisiveness of the College apparently went far beyond that one “struggle session.” According to Shaw, that atmosphere permeates Smith, is toxic, and was originally set off by a complaint of racism that proved to be bogus. (Isn’t it ironic that policies designed to foster diversity and inclusion often wind up being non-inclusive and creating greater division?)

Shaw was then investigated by Smith, which put her on leave for making her colleagues feel “harmed”, presumably by making the videos that constitute free expression (see Shaw’s explanation here). Shaw filed a long complaint with Smith, to which she received no reply.

I predicted that Shaw wouldn’t last long at Smith, and, sure enough, as Bari Weiss recounts in a post at her own Substack site, Shaw has parted ways with Smith, rejecting a settlement.

Bari reproduces Shaw’s letter of resignation to Smith’s President, and I’ll reproduce it here, too:

Dear President McCartney:

I am writing to notify you that effective today, I am resigning from my position as Student Support Coordinator in the Department of Residence Life at Smith College. This has not been an easy decision, as I now face a deeply uncertain future. As a divorced mother of two, the economic uncertainty brought about by this resignation will impact my children as well. But I have no choice. The racially hostile environment that the college has subjected me to for the past two and a half years has left me physically and mentally debilitated. I can no longer work in this environment, nor can I remain silent about a matter so central to basic human dignity and freedom.

I graduated from Smith College in 1993. Those four years were among the best in my life. Naturally, I was over the moon when, years later, I had the opportunity to join Smith as a staff member. I loved my job and I loved being back at Smith.

But the climate — and my place at the college — changed dramatically when, in July 2018, the culture war arrived at our campus when a student accused a white staff member of calling campus security on her because of racial bias. The student, who is black, shared her account of this incident widely on social media, drawing a lot of attention to the college.

Before even investigating the facts of the incident, the college immediately issued a public apology to the student, placed the employee on leave, and announced its intention to create new initiatives, committees, workshops, trainings, and policies aimed at combating “systemic racism” on campus.

In spite of an independent investigation into the incident that found no evidence of racial bias [JAC: Smith’s own investigation showed no bias, either], the college ramped up its initiatives aimed at dismantling the supposed racism that pervades the campus. This only served to support the now prevailing narrative that the incident had been racially motivated and that Smith staff are racist.

Allowing this narrative to dominate has had a profound impact on the Smith community and on me personally. For example, in August 2018, just days before I was to present a library orientation program into which I had poured a tremendous amount of time and effort, and which had previously been approved by my supervisors, I was told that I could not proceed with the planned program. Because it was going to be done in rap form and “because you are white,” as my supervisor told me, that could be viewed as “cultural appropriation.” My supervisor made clear he did not object to a rap in general, nor to the idea of using music to convey orientation information to students. The problem was my skin color.

I was up for a full-time position in the library at that time, and I was essentially informed that my candidacy for that position was dependent upon my ability, in a matter of days, to reinvent a program to which I had devoted months of time.

Humiliated, and knowing my candidacy for the full-time position was now dead in the water, I moved into my current, lower-paying position as Student Support Coordinator in the Department of Residence Life.

As it turned out, my experience in the library was just the beginning. In my new position, I was told on multiple occasions that discussing my personal thoughts and feelings about my skin color is a requirement of my job. I endured racially hostile comments, and was expected to participate in racially prejudicial behavior as a continued condition of my employment. I endured meetings in which another staff member violently banged his fist on the table, chanting “Rich, white women! Rich, white women!” in reference to Smith alumnae. I listened to my supervisor openly name preferred racial quotas for job openings in our department. I was given supplemental literature in which the world’s population was reduced to two categories — “dominant group members” and “subordinated group members” — based solely on characteristics like race.

Every day, I watch my colleagues manage student conflict through the lens of race, projecting rigid assumptions and stereotypes on students, thereby reducing them to the color of their skin. I am asked to do the same, as well as to support a curriculum for students that teaches them to project those same stereotypes and assumptions onto themselves and others. I believe such a curriculum is dehumanizing, prevents authentic connection, and undermines the moral agency of young people who are just beginning to find their way in the world.

Although I have spoken to many staff and faculty at the college who are deeply troubled by all of this, they are too terrified to speak out about it. This illustrates the deeply hostile and fearful culture that pervades Smith College.

The last straw came in January 2020, when I attended a mandatory Residence Life staff retreat focused on racial issues. The hired facilitators asked each member of the department to respond to various personal questions about race and racial identity. When it was my turn to respond, I said “I don’t feel comfortable talking about that.” I was the only person in the room to abstain.

Later, the facilitators told everyone present that a white person’s discomfort at discussing their race is a symptom of “white fragility.” They said that the white person may seem like they are in distress, but that it is actually a “power play.” In other words, because I am white, my genuine discomfort was framed as an act of aggression. I was shamed and humiliated in front of all of my colleagues.

I filed an internal complaint about the hostile environment, but throughout that process, over the course of almost six months, I felt like my complaint was taken less seriously because of my race. I was told that the civil rights law protections were not created to help people like me. And after I filed my complaint, I started to experience retaliatory behavior, like having important aspects of my job taken away without explanation.

Under the guise of racial progress, Smith College has created a racially hostile environment in which individual acts of discrimination and hostility flourish. In this environment, people’s worth as human beings, and the degree to which they deserve to be treated with dignity and respect, is determined by the color of their skin. It is an environment in which dissenting from the new critical race orthodoxy — or even failing to swear fealty to it like some kind of McCarthy-era loyalty oath — is grounds for public humiliation and professional retaliation.

I can no longer continue to work in an environment where I am constantly subjected to additional scrutiny because of my skin color. I can no longer work in an environment where I am told, publicly, that my personal feelings of discomfort under such scrutiny are not legitimate but instead are a manifestation of white supremacy. Perhaps most importantly, I can no longer work in an environment where I am expected to apply similar race-based stereotypes and assumptions to others, and where I am told — when I complain about having to engage in what I believe to be discriminatory practices — that there are “legitimate reasons for asking employees to consider race” in order to achieve the college’s “social justice objectives.”

What passes for “progressive” today at Smith and at so many other institutions is regressive. It taps into humanity’s worst instincts to break down into warring factions, and I fear this is rapidly leading us to a very twisted place. It terrifies me that others don’t seem to see that racial segregation and demonization are wrong and dangerous no matter what its victims look like. Being told that any disagreement or feelings of discomfort somehow upholds “white supremacy” is not just morally wrong. It is psychologically abusive.

Equally troubling are the many others who understand and know full well how damaging this is, but do not speak out due to fear of professional retaliation, social censure, and loss of their livelihood and reputation. I fear that by the time people see it, or those who see it manage to screw up the moral courage to speak out, it will be too late.

I wanted to change things at Smith. I hoped that by bringing an internal complaint, I could somehow get the administration to see that their capitulation to critical race orthodoxy was causing real, measurable harm. When that failed, I hoped that drawing public attention to these problems at Smith would finally awaken the administration to this reality. I have come to conclude, however, that the college is so deeply committed to this toxic ideology that the only way for me to escape the racially hostile climate is to resign. It is completely unacceptable that we are now living in a culture in which one must choose between remaining in a racially hostile, psychologically abusive environment or giving up their income.

As a proud Smith alum, I know what a critical role this institution has played in shaping my life and the lives of so many women for one hundred and fifty years. I want to see this institution be the force for good I know it can be. I will not give up fighting against the dangerous pall of orthodoxy that has descended over Smith and so many of our educational institutions.

This was an extremely difficult decision for me and comes at a deep personal cost. I make $45,000 a year; less than a year’s tuition for a Smith student. I was offered a settlement in exchange for my silence, but I turned it down. My need to tell the truth — and to be the kind of woman Smith taught me to be — makes it impossible for me to accept financial security at the expense of remaining silent about something I know is wrong. My children’s future, and indeed, our collective future as a free nation, depends on people having the courage to stand up to this dangerous and divisive ideology, no matter the cost.

Sincerely,

Jodi Shaw

Weiss ends the piece with her own take (below), which is the same as mine, and links to Shaw’s video asking that the anti-white racism she perceived at Smith be stopped.

What is happening is wrong. Any ideology that asks people to judge others based on their skin color is wrong. Any ideology that asks us to reduce ourselves and others to racial stereotypes is wrong. Any ideology that treats dissent as evidence of bigotry is wrong. Any ideology that denies our common humanity is wrong. You should say so. Just like Jodi Shaw has.

If you would like to help support Jodi with her legal fees during this time — and I hope you do — here is her GoFundMe.

“Diversity and Inclusion” initiatives—”D&I”, as they’re called—may be good at the “D”, but they’re lousy at the “I”. Not only was Shaw was not included, but she was in effect booted out, “excluded.” As far as I can see, Smith was not only never supportive of Shaw, but from the outset sought to push her out of the college. They’ve succeeded. But they have not succeeded at muzzling Shaw, and it’s telling that they offered her money if she would shut up about the College when she left. Now why would they do that?  Bad publicity, of course?

Shaw rejected the offer. I wish her luck.

FIRE’s annual award: The ten worst American colleges for free speech

February 18, 2021 • 10:30 am

It’s that time of year again: the time when the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) awards its yearly “Worst Colleges for Free Speech” kudos. (The University of Chicago always gets the “Best College for Free Speech” award.) There are ten awards plus a lifetime award to a particularly censorious college. Click on the screenshot below to see the details. I’ll just name the colleges and give a few words about why they’re on the list.

Of course all public universities must adhere to the First Amendment. Several of the colleges singled out by FIRE are private schools, but they’ve also made a pledge to respect freedom of speech, a pledge that they violated.

The winners (i.e., losers), in no particular order. The offenses are given in much more detail in the article.

University of Tennessee, UT Health Science Center, Memphis, TN. A doctoral student in pharmacy was investigated for her excessive “sexuality” in her social-media posts, even though she didn’t identify herself as a student in the program. She’s sued the university.

St. John’s University, Queens, NY. A professor was removed from the classroom indefinitely for asking students whether the transatlantic slave trade had any positive effects on biodiversity. He didn’t try to justify slavery; this was part of a course on the effects of transatlantic ship traffic on biodiversity. He’s sued the University.

Collin College, McKinney, TX. A history professor criticized Mike Pence on Twitter during the Vice-Presidential debate, saying that the moderator “needs to talk over Mike Pence until he shuts his little demon mouth up.”  The college issued a statement condemning her tweets and gave her a written warning despite the fact that her tweets were protected by the First amendment. Collin College then refused to renew her contract. Collin College did several other questionable things that are detailed in the piece.

Haskell Indian Nations University, Lawrence, KS. This is a publicly-funded school. It kicked out a student during the pandemic, forcing him to sleep in his car, for criticizing a university official. It also tried to order the student newspaper not to criticize the University.

New York University, New York, NY. NYU’s school of medicine tried to prevent its doctors from making any public comments about the coronavirus without consulting the University. This constitutes “prior restraint”. (NYU is a private school but swears to uphold free speech.)

Duquesne University, Pittsburgh, PA. A professor gave a student permission to say the n-word during a class discussion about why it’s inappropriate to use the word. The prof didn’t say the word, but allowed a student to do so pedagogically. The professor was removed from the class and then suspended for seven months without pay, including mandatory training.  The prof has hired an attorney.

Frostburg State University, Frostburg, MD. Like NYU, this school told its employees not to speak to the media about how the school was handling the pandemic. (That’s illegal, as this is a public school.) It then investigated and harassed a reporter for the student newspaper who criticized the school’s pandemic response.

Northwestern University in Qatar, Doha, Qatar. This Qatari branch of the Chicago school canceled a rock band concert because the lead singer was openly gay, citing “safety concerns.” They had the event on the U.S. campus, but violated freedom of expression overseas.

University of Illinois at Chicago. A law professor asked a hypothetical question on a law-school exam using redacted words. The question included an assertion that a person said they were called “a ‘n______’ and ‘b_______’. (profane expressions for African Americans and women”  Yes, the words were censored on the exam. And how could he have posed a hypothetical any more sensitively? After all, to judge the case you need some idea how the words were used. Nevertheless, UIC opened an investigation into the professor’s exam. This is chilling of speech, pure and simple.

Fordham University, New York, NY. Fordham has repeatedly refused to recognize a chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine because “its sole purpose is advocating political goals of a specific group.” This has been going on for four years. As I’ve said, I consider SJP an Islamist organization, but it’s both illegal and unethical to not recognize it when it recognizes other organizations with political agendas. The school also suspended a student for legal postings on his Instagram account.

And. . . . a school gets a Lifetime Censorship Award for repeated violations of its free-speech code! Voilà:

There’s too much to recount, but here’s one paragraph:

Even inaugurating a new chancellor in 2014 did not stem the tide of student rights abuses — Kent Syverud oversaw the dismantling of an entire engineering fraternity and the expulsion of several members in 2018 over their private satirical “roast.” Syracuse claims that the voluntary skit constituted “conduct that threatens the mental health” of others once it was leaked to the public — an assertion so preposterous that it led to lawsuits in state and federal court, where university attorneys attested, under oath, that the school’s speech promises are, in fact, worthless. Syracuse concluded the decade by rejecting a Young Americans for Freedom chapter over its conservative viewpoints, banning all fraternity social activity despite no evidence of misconduct by any of the students, and, most recently, placing a professor on leave for writing “Wuhan Flu or Chinese Communist Party Virus” on his course syllabus.

It’s sadly ironic that the university itself argues that its promises of free expression are worthless. Parents, don’t let your children grow up to be Syracuse students!

As a palliative, here are FIRE’s top five colleges for free speech:

  1. The University of Chicago
  2. Kansas State University
  3. Texas A&M University
  4. University of California, Los Angeles
  5. Arizona State University

We’re number one!

And as a downer, here’s some illegal chilling of speech on the high-school level (click on screenshot):

An excerpt (the whole article is quite interesting in showing how the school simply fired the coach for questioning the curriculum as a parent):

Judicial Watch announced today that it filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of David Flynn, the father of two Dedham Public School students, who was removed from his position as head football coach after exercising his right as a citizen to raise concerns about his daughter’s seventh-grade history class curriculum being changed to include biased coursework on politics, race, gender equality, and diversity (Flynn v. Forrest et al. (No. 21-cv-10256)). 

The lawsuit, which was filed in the United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts, seeks damages against the superintendent, high school principal, and high school athletic director for retaliating against Flynn for exercising his First Amendment rights.