“Protected identity harm” report filed with Stanford University administration after student photographed for reading “Mein Kampf”

January 29, 2023 • 1:20 pm

What we have here is one or two Stanford students being reported to the University administration after a photo was circulated online of one student reading Hitler’s Mein Kampf.  There are two reports of the incident, the first from FIRE and the second from the student newspaper The Stanford Daily. They’re in order below, and you can read them by clicking on the headlines.

First, the report was made to the Stanford bias reporting site designed to collect reports of incidents that might harm “protected groups”:

The Protected Identity Harm Reporting process is the University’s process to address incidents where a community member experiences harm because of who they are and how they show up in the world.

They add:

Specifically, a PIH incident is conduct or an incident that adversely and unfairly targets an individual or group on the basis of one or more of these actual or perceived characteristics: race, color, national or ethnic origin, sex, age, disability, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, veteran status, marital status or any other characteristic protected by applicable law.

The Protected Identity Harm (PIH) Reporting process, intakes information via a reporting mechanism to 1) help students who have been affected by these incidents and 2) collect data. It is not a judicial or investigative process* though we do hope to provide a path to resolution for the affected individuals or communities who need to heal.

But it is certainly an investigative process, and a quasi-judicial one as well. (In this case the protected group was Jewish people.)  And the students involved in the photo have been called to account by the administration and are certainly preparing their formal apology—if they want to stay at Stanford.

Read on:

From FIRE (my bolding):

Reading a book on a college campus should not prompt formal administrative intervention. But that’s what’s reportedly happening at Stanford University this week, after a photo of a student reading Adolf Hitler’s autobiography, “Mein Kampf,” circulated on campus last Friday.

The Stanford Daily said over the weekend that administrators were working “swiftly” with the students involved to “address” the incident. Two campus rabbis emailed Jewish students saying administrators “are in ongoing conversation with the individuals involved, who are committed to and actively engaged in a process of reckoning and sincere repair.”

Stanford was reportedly alerted to the book-reading via its Protected Identity Harm reporting system. Effectively a bias response system, Stanford says PIH reports help the university “address incidents where a community member experiences harm because of who they are and how they show up in the world.”

Now it’s not clear how many individuals were responsible for this incident, or who reported it. Presumably the “guilty party” was the person reading the book, and perhaps an accomplice who photographed that, though it’s not clear that the photo wasn’t taken surreptitiously. The “students involved” implies more than one, but this could include the student who reported the incident. I can’t find the photograph.

The Stanford Daily adds this, implying that two students collaborated on this (my bolding again):

The photo of the student reading the book was posted to another student’s Snapchat story Friday evening, according to a screenshot of the image obtained by The Daily.

University spokesperson Dee Mostofi confirmed that the Office of Student Affairs and the Office of Religious and Spiritual Life (ORL) became aware of this incident on Saturday. Mostofi added that the two offices, along with Stanford’s Hillel chapter, are working with the leaders of the residence that the students belong to address the social media post and its impact on the community.

“Swift action was taken by the leadership in the residential community where both the individuals who posted and the one pictured are members,” Kirschner and Hahn Tapper wrote. Student Affairs and ORL are actively working with students involved to address the issue and mend relationships in the community.

The FIRE article notes that the students have already been notified that they’re in trouble, and are “actively involved in reckoning and sincere repair.” Isn’t that punitive and judicial?

FIRE adds this:

Because college students should not have to report to university authorities for merely reading a book — one, by the way, that has been required reading in at least one recent Stanford humanities class and is available to borrow from the university library — FIRE asked Stanford today to provide additional clarity about the way it handles these kinds of “harm” reports on campus.

FIRE also notes that this picture doesn’t seem to violate the freedom of expression that Stanford promises to its students. Because there is an investigation and presumably the student who read the book and the picture taker are being investigated, FIRE wrote a letter to the President of Stanford, 

Part of FIRE’s letter, sent to President Marc Tessier-Lavigne on January 25:

Reading a book on a college campus should not prompt formal administrative intervention.

Despite Stanford’s insistence that its PIH Reporting process “is not a judicial or investigative process and participation in a resolution is voluntary, it is unacceptably punitive and chills expressive activity. Being “invited” by administrators with institutional disciplinary authority to engage in a formal reconciliation process to atone for reading a book—one that has been previously assigned as required reading for a Stanford class6 and is available to check out at Stanford’s library is not conducive to the campus free speech culture. Stanford deems central to the university’s functions. Nor is it consistent with California’s “Leonard Law,which requires Stanford to provide free expression.

Despite these obligations, Stanford chills student speech when the response to a PIH report involves notifying an accused student that they may have caused “harm” by merely exercising their rights.

The PIH system’s “resolution” mechanisms also raise compelled speech and thought reform concerns. Stanford “invites” accused students to meet with their accuser to engage in, for
example, “restorative justice, [a] healing circle, [or] mediation to help move towards resolution.” Stanford’s “goal” is for students to:
[I]mmediately focus on the resolution practices, but also account
Acknowledgement of Harm (and History)
Accountability and steps taken towards change (to the
extent possible)
Healing/Harm Reduction (if desired)


This presupposes that students must acknowledge their expression as “harmful” and commit not to cause “harm” in the future. In this case, students will understand that certain protected speech is nonetheless off limits, and they will self-censor.

Here’s what FIRE suggested:

If Stanford wants to provide both this PIH reporting system and promote a culture of free expression, it should undertake a cursory review of PIH complaints and first determine whether the conduct alleged constitutes protected expression. In such cases, Stanford can offer support to the complainant without notifying or involving the accused student. 

And they asked for a response from Stanford by February 1.

Now it’s entirely possible that this was designed as an anti-Semitic stunt to scare Jews. In that case, it’s reprehensible but still not a violation of free speech. (Needless to say, if the student really was reading the book out of interest, or had been assigned it, and it wasn’t a scare tactic, Stanford should stay well away from the reader and photographer.) But in either case FIRE is right: the students who read the book, and perhaps the one who took and posted the photo, were exercising their rights of free speech, which Stanford supposedly guarantees. Getting them involved in a bias reporting investigation solves nothing, but serves only to chill speech in general. (Remember, if speech is protected, offensive speech must be protected, and that includes “hate speech”.)

As a (secular) Jew, I’m very sensitive to the rise of anti-Semitism on American campuses and among the American Left. It worries me, as does the seeming embrace of “anti-Zionism” on campus.  And if Jewish students say they were harmed by seeing this photo, well, it’s perfectly fine for Stanford to offer them counseling and tons of support.  I would hope, though, that Jewish students would develop a hide thick enough to withstand a photograph like this without being traumatized. (I realize that this may be part of a campus pattern, which would make it extra bothersome.)

But Stanford should leave the students involved in the incident alone (there were probably two, since they live in the same dorm). Otherwise the “perps” are being not only investigated, but punished, for of course a note from the administration that you’re being investigated, followed by a process of “restoration” are by chilling your speech, forms of punishment. You’re being punished for saying what is legal.

h/t: Ginger K.

Hamline University faculty calls for their President to resign

January 25, 2023 • 12:30 pm

I saw this tweet early this morning, and was surprised (Hamline University is a small—ca. 2000 student—private liberal arts school in St. Paul, Minnesota:

I was surprised at the vote because up to now the faculty, after the “Muhammad’s Face Affair”, haven’t openly criticized Hamline University’s president, Fayneese Miller, for firing an art-history instructor, Erika López Prater. Prater was dumped by Miller after the instructor showed her class a 14th-century painting of Muhammad that clearly revealed the Prophet’s face. (See my posts on this issue here.) Some—though not all—Muslims think that it’s blasphemous to show any depiction of the Prophet, but other existing sects have no objection, and showing a full-on Muhammad was quite common in older Muslim art.

But even though López Prater put a trigger warning about this painting in her syllabus, and also mentioned it in class so that students didn’t have to look, she was still fired—or rather, Miller didn’t renew her contract. López Prater has since filed a lawsuit against Hamline, the incident has gotten national publicity, and Miller has dug in her heels instead of backing off. I’m certain Hamline will have to pay big time for what they did to the instructor. Meanwhile, the Muslim students are still disaffected and angry.

The two articles below, from the newspaper Sahan Journal, a Minnesota news site catering to immigrants and people of color, show how the faculty has lined up to give Miller (Hamline’s first black president, and a woman) her pink slip. The second piece shows that the students are ticked off that the faculty is upset at the firing. To the students, Miller is a hero.

Click on either headline to see the data, and note that the paper is generally supportive of the Muslim students who were upset.

As the tweet above notes, the faculty voted en masse ask President Miller to resign:

Full-time faculty at Hamline University voted overwhelmingly Tuesday to ask the school’s president, Fayneese Miller, for her resignation. The vote marked the latest turn in the crisis that has embroiled the school for weeks.

“The reputation of Hamline was deeply tarnished, and I think it’s clear the majority of the full-time faculty do not believe that Fayneese is the one to carry us forward,” said Jim Scheibel, the president of the Hamline University Faculty Council.

Miller did not immediately respond to a Sahan Journal request for comment.

An overwhelming number of the 92 full-time professors at an all-faculty meeting Tuesday voted to adopt a statement asking President Fayneese Miller to resign, said Jim Scheibel, president of the Hamline University Faculty Council. Scheibel said turnout at the meeting was strong, with about 70 percent of the university’s 130 full-time professors in attendance.

“We are distressed that members of the administration have mishandled this issue and great harm has been done to the reputation of Minnesota’s oldest university,” the statement reads. “As we no longer have faith in President Miller’s ability to lead the university forward, we call upon her to immediately tender her resignation to the Hamline University Board of Trustees.”

The statement also expresses support for academic freedom, an inclusive learning community, and due process.

The faculty vote does not bind Miller to any course of action, as only the board of trustees can remove the president from her position. Ellen Watters, the chair of Hamline’s board of trustees, declined to comment. The first Black president of Hamline, Miller has held the position since 2015.

But with so many faculty calling for her resignation, the academics have lost all confidence in Miller. It would be a miracle if the trustees keep her in office. My bet is that Miller is as good as gone. As I wrote earlier, I usually don’t call for someone’s job in a situation like this, but Miller refused to back down several times and clearly lacks any understanding of academic freedom. She doesn’t deserve to remain as Hamline’s President.

But, as the article notes, the students are on the side of Miller, not the faculty. They wanted the faculty to support the offended students, including the Muslims, and they didn’t. The faculty finally spoke with their votes. And that poured gasoline on the fire:

On January 22, a group of anonymous Muslim students sent an email to faculty, criticizing professors for their response to the crisis. “While we have been getting threats and targets on our backs, what hurts the most is knowing our faculty members don’t care much for us,” reads the letter. “Additionally, they are willing to go to the extent of going after and blaming President Miller who has been supportive throughout this difficult time.”

Returning to campus Monday for the first day of spring classes, several Muslim students told Sahan Journal they appreciated the administration’s support throughout the crisis. “I think our admins have been nothing but wonderful, actually,” said Ubah, a senior public health major. Administrators had reached out repeatedly to check on Muslim students, she said. But she criticized faculty members for using this crisis to target Miller.

“The worst-case scenario would be if the president gets overthrown,” Ubah said. “It leaves people that look like us vulnerable.” Without Miller, she said, the next campus incident might leave marginalized groups on campus to fend for themselves.

The students are as clueless as President Miller; they don’t want academic freedom, but someone to hug them and hold their hands. And I’m sorry, but the President will be overthrown and it will NOT make Muslims look vulnerable. It will make them look fragile, which they are—at least the ones who made a fuss after getting a trigger warning. I’m convinced that a big part of the “offense” is ginned up as a way to gain power.

A sign of the website’s political affiliation is that this second article, about the hurt Muslim students, now extra fearful after the faculty vote, is three times as long as the article above, which in terms of University governance is far more important.

A few quotes from students:

Many Muslim students, who had unexpectedly found themselves at the center of the storm, felt mixed emotions: Excited to be back. Overwhelmed by their new syllabi. Tired of the debate about academic vs. religious freedom.

. . . “It’s obviously really hard,” said 18-year-old Edna, a freshman education major, at the campus’s Anderson Center on Monday. “I’m just trying to take it day by day.”

For Edna, the hardest part of the firestorm was the threats her classmates received in light of the incident’s international media attention. (Some students and staff received death threats from people outside the Hamline community; at least one email address was temporarily disabled in an effort to curb harassment.) Overall, she found the media reaction “extreme.” She wished people could understand how much the incident had affected Muslim students.

Still, she said, “I’m glad to be back.”

But for some students, the return to class prompted another painful question: can I trust my professors?

“It’s great to be back because it is my last semester,” said Ubah, a senior public health major from St. Paul. “But it’s also the worst-case scenario that you could ever walk into.” The worst part, she said, was fearing that professors would not understand or support her.

The faculty also issued an earlier statement of support to Muslim students, so I don’t think the students should worry about a lack of concern from faculty, though I can see how the students would be distressed since their President is on the ropes and will likely be fired.

But one set of statements implies that the students want the faculty to understand how valuable Islam is to them, and that that’s why the students protested. In my view, the faculty shouldn’t care about what the students believe by way of religion, for that’s the students’ business, not the faculty’s. The faculty’s concern here was academic freedom, which they clearly value above any religious offense claimed by the students.

In a Sunday email to faculty from Muslim Student Association members, students expressed disappointment that many professors had stood with López Prater. Since the letter was unsigned “because of concern of retaliations from faculty members or others who don’t support our cause,” it’s not clear how many students endorsed the letter.

“While we have been getting threats and targets on our backs, what hurts the most is knowing our faculty members don’t care much for us,” read the letter. “Additionally, they are willing to go to the extent of going after and blaming President Miller who has been supportive throughout this difficult time….Your silence shows us as students that Hamline is not a place for us, and in your classrooms, we don’t feel safe, welcomed, or belong.”

Although Hamline is a small school, Ubah said, few professors had taken the time to get to know her or understand her religion.

“You have to know who your students are in the class, more than just the name and the pronouns or what their major is,” she said. “Even asking little things like getting to know their religion. That will give you what they value as a person. Then incidents like that wouldn’t even take place, because then you know that a Muslim student values their Prophet so much, you understand that you should not be showing a picture.”

Ubah is wrong.  Academic freedom is the principle at stake, not the students’ religious feelings, and López Prater did warn the students about showing Muhammad’s face. Since she was making a point about art history with that famous painting, she had a genuine didactic purpose, and that trumps “feelings”.

These students need to learn two lessons: one is about academic freedom and the other is the fact that if you’re getting properly educated, you will come across things that you find offensive.  Religion is only one such topic; others are politics, sex, and race. Offense, which students must learn to deal with, is an inevitable byproduct of the clash of ideas that you encounter at a good university.

h/t: cesar, Luana

A thread about universty DEI statements

January 24, 2023 • 9:45 am

Since August of last year, John Sailer, who works for the National Association of Scholars (NAS), has been putting put together a long thread about Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion statements (DEI) that are now required for many applicants for academic jobs. Indeed, in many cases they are weighed more heavily in the hiring process than are academic achievements and qualifications themselves. DEI statements can even completely override academic and scholarly merit! For academic jobs in the Life Sciences at UC Berkeley, for instance, your DEI statement is ranked on three criteria: your knowledge of DEI, your track record of DEI work, and your plans to implement DEI initiatives if hired). This is done using a point system (15 points total). If your statement doesn’t accrue enough points, your application is put in the dumpster and is not considered again. Too bad if you look like a future Nobel laureate; there is no job for you at UC Berkeley unless you have a long track record and well-considered philosophy of diversity. (We are of course talking about racial diversity, not viewpoint diversity or socioeconomic diversity.)

I’ve objected to these statements because they constitute “compelled speech”: a prospective faculty member has to adhere to certain specified ideological principles to be hired, principles having to do with social engineering rather than teaching, learning, and research. While I agree with many of the sentiments behind these initiatives, I do not favor making them compulsory, as it foists a political homogeneity on universities and stifles free discussion. How could it not? You simply can’t be hired unless you’re of the right political bent.

The NAS is an education-centered political advocacy group with a conservative bent. But I make no apologies for mentioning right-wing sources; what matters here are the assertions, which you can check for yourself. Every claim I know of below is accurate, but of course I didn’t check all of them.  Also this is Sailer’s own Twitter feed, so this isn’t an official presentation by the NAS—yet.  But one thing is for sure: you’re never going to see a “progressive” individual or organization collect examples of DEI-statement requirements. Progressive favor such statements, but flaunting them in public is not a good thing to do. Why? Figure it out for yourself.

Sailer begins his thread by noting that the governors of the University of North Carolina (UNC) have ended diversity statements, which would be a good thing to do. UNC at Chapel Hill was also the first university in the U.S. to follow the University of Chicago by mandating both the Chicago Principles of Free Expression and the Kalven Principles of institutional neutrality. That’s all pretty amazing for a school in the South!)

I can’t find anything on the web about the ending of DEI statements at UNC, so I’ll take Sailer’s word for it for the time being. I did find an NAS article he wrote in August of last year called “Mandatory DEI statements undermine academic freedom at UNC-Chapel Hill,” which lists all the jobs at UNC-CH that required diversity statements. But it doesn’t mention ending DEI statements, except as a desideratum.

At any rate, here’s Sailer long list of DEI-related requirements for schools, how they are assessed, and then at the end a bit about the burgeoning DEI bureaucracy. There are 18 further tweets that I didn’t have space to include, so look at the thread for yourself. Just regard this as data that you can check if you wish. If it’s all true, and I don’t think Sailer would make this stuff up, you should be very afraid for the future of universities, of free speech, and of academic freedom.

Cluster hires are hiring of a several faculty at once who are committed to advancing DEI initiatives. I wasn’t aware that the National Institutes of Health (NIH), which uses taxpayer money, has grants for this purpose.

The first tweet is Berkeley’s infamous Life Sciences DEI initiative. If you said in your UCB DEI statement that you were committed to treating all students equally and with empathy and respect, regardless of ethnicity, your application was as good as dead. The second tweet below that, at Emory, biology puts as much weight on DEI initiatives as it does on research and teaching, presumably for both hiring and promotion.

The Oregon DEI statement is not just an add-on to a promotion package that can be ignored. Rather, it has “clear consequences and influences” on your chances of promotion. Professors: start reading your Kendi!

As noted below, the California Community Colleges system is indeed the largest such system in America, and their DEI evaluation criteria for all employees (does this include everyone employed by the system?) are very strict. Further, the school system has to develop a “pedagogy/curriculum that promotes a race-conscious and intersection lens [sic]” and an “anti-racist and inclusive environment.” This is the total racialization of the educational system, treating students as if they were members of different but individually homogeneous groups.  These initiatives comprise efforts at social engineering on a massive scale rather than as a vehicle to get students to learn, to learn to think, and to promote teaching. The “teaching and learning” here is political propaganda, and I know of no similar large-scale endeavor in American educational history.

Here’s the infamous Berkeley rubric which explicitly rejects Dr. King’s criterion for how to treat people. I’ve put it below, and it’s being copied by other schools explicitly (e.g. “see UC Berekeley’s rubric”).  Below are Cornell’s DEI criteria for hiring taken from the second tweet.  There is no stopping this juggernaut:

Finally—but remember there are 18 other tweets—we have the University of Michigan’s DEI bureaucracy: 56 employees and a salary budget alone of $10.6 million. That does not include the budget for activities. It is a huge investment in DEI, and, once in place, it will not go away.

Have a look at the other 18 tweets and see if you’re not chagrined at the change of course of universities.

In a few months, the Supreme Court will overturn affirmative action, and most likely also prohibit race-based searches for candidates along with race-based hiring. What will that do to these initiatives? It will likely constrict their activities, but—make no mistake—schools will have their DEI one way or another.  With such a bureaucracy, they will somehow have to keep banging the drum that DEI is necessary to overcome the seemingly-permanent “structural racism” of universities, and workarounds will be found. (I already know of a few.)  The social engineering will not stop, nor the deflecting of universities from their real purpose down the path of “progressive ideology”. From now on, all professors, to get hired, must profess fealty to a specified ideology, and that is compelled speech.

Enforced orthodoxy in Texas science departments

January 20, 2023 • 11:45 am

In case you’re thinking that requiring DEI statements for academic job applicants was a passing fad, well, you’re wrong. They’re only going to get more pervasive. This report from Texas, in particular Texas Tech University, shows that DEI statements are not only mandatory, but primary: they can be used (as they are at UC Berkeley) to weed out candidates who aren’t with the program—people who have Wrongthink about DEI, like saying that “they don’t discriminate at all on the basis of race.” (This is the worst thing you can say in a DEI statement, since they want to discriminate in favor of minority races.)

Click on this piece from City Journal by John Sailer to read it (it’s short, but I refuse to specify a “reading time”). The part that bothers me most is that it applies largely to science departments.

Statements from Saller’s piece are indented.

In 2020, the Department of Biological Sciences at Texas Tech University adopted a motion on “Diversity, Equity and Inclusion” (DEI), promising to “require and strongly weight a diversity statement from all candidates” during the hiring process. This amounts to a striking statement of priorities.

Many would be surprised to learn that cell biologists and immunologists might be passed up for a job because they were not sufficiently enthusiastic about DEI. But the policy illustrates a trend across Texas universities. Increasingly, a commitment to a vague and often ideologically charged notion of diversity, equity, and inclusion has become an effective job requirement for professors in Texas.

Have a look at his first link above: it goes to a Department of Biological Sciences statement, saying that the department. .

REQUIRES DBS faculty search committees to: i) require and strongly weight a diversity statement from all candidates and provide an evaluation rubric; ii) provide questions to all candidates prior to off‐campus interviews; iii) provide a report to the DBS faculty that includes diversity metrics and a report on the evaluation of the required diversity statements and strategies implemented.

Not only is your fealty required, but it is STRONGLY WEIGHTED.  Further, you have to answer questions from the department, and you better answer them in an ideologically approved way!

One more except from Saller’s piece before I pass on:

In September 2021, the Department of Biological Sciences at Texas Tech announced that it was hiring four assistant professors. Faculty members in the department took to Twitter to advertise the new position, emphasizing a unique feature of the application: per its new resolution, the department makes DEI an explicit priority in hiring. The resolution commits to “recognizing, acknowledging, and rectifying individual conscious and unconscious biases.” To that end, it promises to weigh heavily every job candidates’ contributions to the cause, as laid out in mandatory diversity statements.

The department even released a rubric for evaluating diversity statements, which demonstrates the danger of the requirement. Biologists applying to work in Texas Tech must have a specific, well-delineated understanding of DEI, receiving a low score for “[conflating] diversity, equity, and inclusion without distinguishing among them.” They must also espouse an understanding of diversity that focuses on race, gender, and granular intersectionality. The rubric mandates a low score if a candidate shows little “expressed knowledge of, or experience with, dimensions of diversity that result from different identities (for example, intersections between experiences of women scientists and Black scientists).”

Have a look at Texas Tech’s rubric, which evaluates candidates on a 1-5 point scale in three areas: Knowledge about Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion; Track Record in Advancing Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion; and Plans for Advancing Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. (This is similar to Berkeley’s system.)

Your maximum possible score is 15 and your minimum is 3. And by god, you’d better have an extensive record of diversity-advancing records to get the higher score you need to get a job offer. I surely wouldn’t have gotten a job had this system been in place when I was hired. While I was active in political and anti-racist movements as an undergraduate, I had no record of DEI activities in academia.

Sailer continues:

A DEI evaluation for hiring almost inevitably weeds out candidates on the basis of their political and social views. Someone who opposes, say, racial preferences in admissions or hiring would likely run afoul of the Texas Tech rubric. This is one reason why the Academic Freedom Alliance recently announced its opposition to diversity statements.

But an even more fundamental problem remains. Prioritizing DEI in hiring means downplaying other, more important criteria—most obviously, basic academic prowess. UT–Austin recently released its “Strategic Plan for Faculty Diversity, Equity and Inclusivity,” which charges each college within the university to develop mechanisms for rewarding DEI contributions. How many highly qualified professors will ultimately lose out on promotions or tenure because they chose not to embrace the fad?

The purpose of higher education is to facilitate the pursuit of truth. By prioritizing social goals as a key feature of a professor’s job, diversity statements and evaluations detract from that mission. Alas, the policy is alive and well in Texas.

There is absolutely no doubt that such initiatives turn the traditional system of academic success on its head. You no longer have to be a great scientist to get a job; you have to have a great track record in DEI. And absent that track record, your chance of getting a job, whatever your scientific accomplishments, is nil. Those who say that DEI and merit are not in conflict at all—and those who label initiatives as “inclusive excellence”—are fooling nobody.

U of C President affirms freedom of speech on campus

January 20, 2023 • 9:30 am

Paul Alivisatos, the fairly new President of the University of Chicago, has written a piece for the Chicago Maroon, our student newspaper. It is, I think, a significant affirmation of our principles of free expression, which have been copied by nearly 100 other schools. And there is no nod to tempering freedom of speech in the interest of people’s “comfort”.  Click on the screenshot to read the whole statement, and I’ll put some bits, with commentary, below.

A few words first. The complete set of the U of C’s Foundational Principles can be seen here, and the important part, copied by other schools (the 2014 Freedom of Expression report), is here. Every university that gives lip service to freedom of speech should formally adopt a version of these principles. They should also adoopt a version of the Kalven Report, designed to buttress free expression. Kalven states that no part of the U of C, including departments or the administration, can make pronouncements on politics, ideology, or morality unless the issue threatens the mission of the university. We’ve abided by it for years with no obvious problems, but other schools have failed to adoopt it (save one: the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill) because they can’t accept that official pronouncements on ideology, politics, etc. could chill the speech of people who disagree. In fact, they want to be able to make political statements, even though they’re irrelevant to the university’s mission to teach, create knowledge, and promote critical thought. It’s time for other schools to follow us in adopting Kalven.

Now, on to President Alivisatos’s letter. His words are indented, and my comments are flush left except for one doubly-indented extract from an earlier post.

As we mark the start of a new year and the beginning of winter quarter, I write to share my reflections on the central culture and practice of free expression at the University of Chicago. Together, in the coming years, our community will need to continue devoting considerable effort to the broad and deep cultivation of this culture.

I am prompted by the fact that we live in an era of heightened political polarization, and free expression is in clear distress. This poses challenges to the practice of free inquiry throughout academia. During my time back at UChicago, I have seen firsthand the genuine depth of commitment to free expression within our community; yet it is essential to our mission that we constantly undertake the difficult work of interrogating the integrity of its practice on our campuses and renew our commitment to it time and time again. This unending exercise suffuses the spirit of how we drive rigorous inquiry on our campuses, and it touches every aspect of who we are.

Designed from the outset to foster the creation of new fields of knowledge and to offer transformational educational experiences, the University of Chicago was founded to advance the principles of academic freedom and free expression. Over generations, our community and our leadership have repeatedly worked to defend free expression and create the necessary structures to uphold it. This is an important legacy, and I urge you to examine this timeline of critical events and the key documents that underpin our culture and practice.

Looking ahead, there are four elements of our culture of free expression that are vital to uphold and cultivate: understanding, practicing, protecting, and advancing free expression.

The bit below describes a new addition to orientation; instead of indoctrination in certain ideologies, students are acquainted with free speech using an example. What would they do if someone came to campus to express an unpopular opinion? How many other schools engage in such an exercise? (I know of none.)

As part of that education, incoming College students last fall were invited to grapple with the big questions related to free expression and its practice through Professor Agnes Callard’s Aims of Education address and the subsequent open discussions led by Dean John Boyer and other faculty. At the Law School orientation, students engaged with a hypothetical challenge to free expression. The premise of the case study involved a student group that issued an invitation to a Russian state-sponsored advocate of the invasion of Ukraine, precipitating a series of cascading responses from people from within and without the University. While the specifics were hypothetical, these annual traditions held during orientation help to create a common language for facing real challenges when they arise. These are but two examples of many. They are models for ways in which, in the coming years, we can do more to set the stage for students throughout the University to be ready to participate in and get the most from the robust give and take of ideas during their time here.

Below the Alivisatos describes another event occurring a month after school starts (we’re on the quarter system, so classes begin in October).  It’s a discussion about the effects of social media on free expression:

In November, at the inaugural event of the new campus-wide Zell Event Series on free expression, the University hosted a live interrogation of how to practice free expression in today’s social and political environment. The featured speaker was Anthony Julius, a barrister, celebrated author, and professor of law at University College London, and he engaged UChicago Law School professor Genevieve Lakier in a spirited conversation. In discussion, they examined the vast implications of what is enabled by the unprecedented scale and velocity of communication across social media. Free expression in social media both informs—and sometimes disrupts—the quality of open discourse within universities, and it is a central challenge for both our and all institutions of higher education today. I invite all of you to participate directly in future events in this series. In the coming years, our culture of free expression will be enhanced by research, colloquia, seminars, and events that help elevate our understanding of the full range of topics related to free expression.

In the bit below, Alivisatos talks about the disruption of free expression by “the few”, and here, I think, he’s referring mostly to “progressive” Leftists trying to cancel speech they don’t like. As far as I know, he’s referring to this incident in which a journalist critical of the Iranian regime was “deplatformed” after reported threats, with her talk having to be moved to and broadcast virtually.  I myself was asked by anonymous people to help deplatform the speaker, and now I’m convinced that those who didn’t wish Negar Mortazavi to speak were pro-Iranian activists. (How somebody can be pro-Iran these days defies me.)

A healthy culture of free expression arises from the acts of many. Yet the actions of a few, when left unchecked, could disrupt that culture and thus significantly harm our community. For this reason, the protection of free expression is critical for it to thrive. I am committed to protecting free expression whenever there are efforts to quash it. This includes our clear commitment to hosting invited speakers, however controversial they may be. We saw this tested on one occasion just last fall, when we persisted in featuring an Institute of Politics-hosted event online despite an outpouring of social media-fueled calls for cancellation. Within the University, we have a clear set of policies on disruptive conduct that will guide our decision making regarding penalties and sanctions. Beyond the University, our civil polity has the tools to prosecute those who issue threats of violence, which all too often arise from the fray of heated discourse. Such actions cannot be minimized or ignored, and the University will work with law enforcement when applicable.

Note the promise to prosecute those who issue threats (there were reports of threats issued to the Institute of Politics) or disrupt speeches, and I’m sure that this will be enforced. Alivisatos is serious.

In the post I reported above about the IoP disruption, I wrote that there have been several attempts to protest speakers before (those included calls to forbid Steve Bannon from speaking here, which he never did). Those who oppose free speech on campus are not the faculty but the students and some community members. Even the student newspaper is basically against free speech if it’s “hate speech”. A newspaper!

And students have protested IoP speakers before, like former Donald Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski. Some IoP speakers have even been shut down by both student and non-student disruption, including Cook County attorney Anita Alvarez, criticized for “state violence against brown and Black people” (their capitalization) and deplatformed by, among others, Black Lives Matter protestors.  Some speakers, like Natalie Jaresko, executive director of the Financial Oversight and Management Board for Puerto Rico, were subject to attempted student disruption, but protestors were kicked out by the cops. Note that all these protests came from the Left, like most recent disruptions and deplatformings in American colleges.

Finally, an op-ed at the Chicago Maroon, our student newspaper, has called for disbanding the IoP as a whole, dubbing it “an institution that encourages and enables new drones to enter a career in politics and spend a lifetime getting paid to manufacture the illusion of progress and problem-solving—the Institute of Politics.” That’s just bizarre. Are we not to have politics at all?

Back to the President’s statement:

I have called for an engaged University of Chicago, one where our creation of new fields of knowledge and our transformative educational experiences for students are also tied directly to our efforts to help societies address their greatest challenges. For an institution widely celebrated for developing the Chicago Principles, we should recognize that we occupy a distinct place in the higher education landscape; with it comes an obligation to model the tough work of practicing free expression.

Democracies depend critically on free expression. For this reason, today, we must do more to engage externally to educate about and model the healthy practice of free expression, specifically to advocate for its advancement across academia and throughout the world. At current count, more than 90 universities have adopted or endorsed the Chicago Principles, and in the coming months, I will be reporting more on how we can expand our efforts to advance freedom of expression beyond the University.

I invite you to consider the opportunity that this inflection point poses to our community. Whatever your role may be, before each of us are avenues to enrich our knowledge and understanding through the work, research, and learning that arises from our collective culture of free expression.

One of the things I like about this statement is, as I said, that it doesn’t try to temper free expression on campus with the false promise that “We can have both free expression and civility and respect towards each other.” Nor does he imply that free expression must be tempered when it offends people or could cause “harm”.  Alivisatos has issued a hard-nosed, straight up call for free expression, and a strong reaffirmation of the Chicago Principles. Ceiling Cat bless him!

Finally, remember that we are a private university and needn’t abide by the First Amendment’s strictures. We have done so by choice, not because we have to. And we’ve gone farther than almost any University i America in creating a culture of free speech.

A bizarre Cornell course about black holes that conflates astronomy and ideology

January 19, 2023 • 11:00 am

I get notices of weird courses like this every day, but this one is special for two reasons. First, it sounds completely off the wall, combining black holes and race. Second, a colleague of mine, Luana Maroja at Williams College, asked an AI bot what the connection between the two areas was, and the bot produced an amusing response.

First, below is the class at the renowned Cornell University, whose description was sent to me by a colleague. It appears to be cross-listed in both COML (comparative literature) and ASTRO (astronomy), though I’m not sure where your course credits go, whether they can apply to the majors, and so on.  The distribution requirements below (LA-AS, ALC-AS, PHS-AS) imply that you can get credit for it in Literature and the Arts, Physical Sciences, and Arts, Literature, and Culture—all in the College of Arts and Sciences. I’m not sure if it really does fulfill a science requirement, but it looks like it.

Realize that I’m not familiar with Cornell’s curriculum requirements for an undergraduate degree, and maybe this course isn’t as bizarre as the description. But remember that course descriptions tend to be fairly accurate, and are written to attract students. Click on the course title to go to the page (the descriptions are identical; it’s just that the course satisfies two different distributions requirements).  

And the same course cross-listed in Astronomy

Here’s the course description and details from the online catalogue:

Course information provided by the Courses of Study 2020-2021.

Conventional wisdom would have it that the “black” in black holes has nothing to do with race. Surely there can be no connection between the cosmos and the idea of racial blackness. Can there? Contemporary Black Studies theorists, artists, fiction writers implicitly and explicitly posit just such a connection. Theorists use astronomy concepts like “black holes” and “event horizons” to interpret the history of race in creative ways, while artists and musicians conjure blackness through cosmological themes and images. Co-taught by professors in Comparative Literature and Astronomy, this course will introduce students to the fundamentals of astronomy concepts through readings in Black Studies. Texts may include works by theorists like Michelle Wright and Denise Ferreira da Silva, authors like Octavia Butler and Nalo Hopkinson, music by Sun Ra, Outkast and Janelle Monáe. Astronomy concepts will include the electromagnetic spectrum, stellar evolution, and general relativity.

When Offered:  Spring.

Distribution Category (LA-AS, ALC-AS, PHS-AS)

Syllabi: none
  •   Regular Academic Session.  Combined with: ASTRO 2034

  • 3 Credits Stdnt Opt
  • 19548 LEC 001
    • MOnline Meeting
    • Feb 8 – May 14, 2021
    • Battaglia, N., Vaziri, P.
  • Instruction Mode: Hybrid-Online and In Person
    This course has two required meeting days.
    Enrollment limited to students who are able to attend in-person classes in the Ithaca area.

In this case the conventional wisdom is right: they’re called “black holes” because they appear black—no light can escape their terrific gravity.  So surely there is no connection between this and race except for the word “black,” but you know that’s enough to drag race into the mixture. This course is clearly part of an attempt to racialize everything, and it sounds like a disaster. Since there’s nothing but a semantic connection between the two areas, it’s probably a poor welding of physics and Black Studies, livened up with the tunes of Sun Ra and Janell Monáe.

It sounds exactly what we used to call a “gut course”, or, in the case of science, “football physics”—a course meant for those who don’t particularly want to learn anything rigorous, but want to have fun and perhaps get an easy “A.” Now of course some offended Cornell person is going to write in and tell me how rigorous the course is, or that I’ve completely misconstrued the contents. To the first beef I’d say, “No it’s not: you’re combining two wholly different and unconnected areas that should not be taught as a single course. You’re also trying to be trendy without rigor.” To the second I’d say, “Well, all I have is the course description, and if I were a student at Cornell who wanted to learn science, I’d run away from this course as fast as I could.” But we always have people to defend any course, no matter how weird it is.

At any rate, Luana decided to ask the ChatGPT about the connection. This is, you know, the AI bot site that students can use to get their essay written by AI. (See here for a NYT article about the bot and the problems it’s causing.) ChatGPT at the link is down at the moment: I’m not sure if it’s active only in the afternoons and evenings, which I’ve heard, or if it’s in abeyance (there are rumors of a lawsuit against it).

At any rate, the question Luana asked is in bold and ChatGPT’s answer is indented below that:

What are black holes and what is the relationship to race

Black holes are extremely dense regions of space that have extremely strong gravitational fields. They are formed when very massive stars die and collapse under the force of their own gravity. Nothing, including light, can escape from inside a black hole’s event horizon, the point of no return.

There is no relationship between black holes and race. Black holes are a scientific concept that is based on the laws of physics, and race is a social construct with no scientific basis. They are not related to each other in any way.

This would seem to make the Cornell course superfluous, wouldn’t it? It also tells us that ChatGPT is somewhat misinformed about “race”, which is not entirely a social construct (see here and here).

College students afraid of speaking out about controversial issues: the U.S. versus New Zealand

January 17, 2023 • 12:30 pm

This piece is from the blog of the Heterodox Academy (HA), a group founded by Jon Haidt, Chris Martin, and Nicholas Rosenkranz to promote viewpoint diversity an counteract academic and ideological conformity, especially of the authoritarian sort. They regularly publish articles, and have several discussion groups, including one about STEM matters.

Last year I wrote about the HA’s “Campus Expression Survey“, in which they surveyed U.S. college stuents for their willingness to discuss controversial topics. Students were generally unwilling to talk about controversial subjects, but not the majority of them. This is what they found, summarized in the article below as well as in a recently-published paper (click on screenshot below to read the former):

Between September and November 2021, Heterodox Academy (HxA) surveyed 1,495 full-time college students ages 18–24 across the United States as to how comfortable or reluctant they were to speak their views in the classroom on five core controversial topics — politics, race, religion, sexual orientation, and gender — as well as one specific controversial topic (the COVID-19 pandemic). Students also reported their comfort or reluctance to speak their views about noncontroversial topics for comparison. The HxA researchers found that 60% of US participants expressed reluctance to discuss at least one controversial topic. Students who reported having low interaction quality with classmates (i.e., not much opportunity to get to know other students) also reported higher reluctance to discuss all five of the core controversial topics.

That’s a reasonable sample, but in general about 25-40% of students were unwilling to share their reluctance to discuss each topic in the classroom, with 60% unwilling to discuss at least one topic.  Some of this surely reflects chilled speech and fear of not sharing “tribal views”, but some of it must be general shyness. It’s not clear what the percentage would be if nobody was afraid of demonization, for even in that case some students would be reticent to speak about stuff!

Now the HA took its survey to New Zealand, and the comparison is given in the following short piece. Overall, NZ students aren’t that much different from American ones:

The rationale for studying New Zealand students:

These trends from the US campuses may seem worrying. It is possible, though, that these views reflect only the United States, with its two-party system and high rate of polarization. How similar is the situation in British Commonwealth countries like New Zealand?

Unlike the United States, New Zealand has a progressive parliamentary democracy, although the country is of course not free of political disagreement. The political system of New Zealand grapples with issues that drive political divisions in the United States as well, including racial prejudice, gun laws, vaccination, taxation, and climate change. However, on the whole, New Zealand society does not display the deep partisan mistrust that characterizes American society.

. . . Bradley Wendel has written about significant differences in the notion of fairness and trust in the government that separate the American and the New Zealand political systems.

. . . New Zealand is also a good comparison as the country has similar issues around political disagreements as the United States and shares the same social issues, including prejudice, inequality, vaccination, taxation, and climate change, that drive political divisions in the United States. At the same time, it is free of the partisan mistrust that characterizes much of American society. It is quite possible that the pattern of responses by New Zealand students would differ from their US counterparts. To find out if this is true, we replicated the US survey with 792 undergraduate students across three of New Zealand’s largest universities.

The answer is simple: yes, Kiwi students are just as wary as American students are of sharing their views in the classroom.  The new survey involved 792 undergrads in 3 New Zealand universities.  In this case, race wasn’t surveyed as a “hot topic.” Though New Zealand doesn’t have the black-white divisions that we do in America, they do have their own racial issues, with the Māori people citing pervasive racism and oppression.  The failure to ask about this is not explained.

Though there are nuances of the data that are explained in the text, like differences between the sexes, religious vs. nonreligious, and liberal vs. conservatives, here’s the one important plot from the published summary paper in the journal Social Sciences:

The overall figures are about the same. (Curiously, they didn’t ask what percentage of students would be reluctant to discuss at least one of these topics.)

The authors of the Soc. Sci. paper conclude this way:

The results are clear: chilled campus speech is not unique to the United States. The results do not, however, support a universal phenomenon. Like any country, New Zealand is quite distinct from the United States on some dimensions, but very similar on others. It is not possible from an analysis of New Zealand alone to tell which dimensions are relevant to campus expression or the extent to which results are the consequence of American cultural exportation. Our results ultimately represent just one, albeit significant, dataset, and we encourage other researchers to administer their own versions of the survey to their own students—and academic staff—to create a more accurate picture of the international situation on university campuses.
It’s clear that the differences among topics don’t reflect simple shyness or reticence, as the values would be more equal if that were true. But it’s also not clear how much of the reluctance to speak is due to fear of opprobrium (“chilling”) as opposed to simple shyness or unwilliness to speak in general. At least the figures don’t go above 50%—but remember that this is self-report. I would expect the true figures to be a bit higher than this.

Berkeley to change biology courses into social-justice courses

January 17, 2023 • 9:15 am

Well, here we go again. Unsurprisingly, the University of California at Berkeley has revamped its biology curriculum, turning courses in three departments into propaganda mills as well as vehicles for learning biology. This initiative was announced by Berkeley itself at the website below (click to read).

Here’s some of the announcement, showing that the revamping was at the request of the graduate diversity council of the Department of Environmental Science, Policy, and Management. Note that the courses are in three departments, and have large enrollments.

Ten large-enrollment courses in the Departments of Environmental Science, Policy, and Management (ESPM), Integrative Biology, and Nutritional Sciences and Toxicology were substantially revamped over the summer to better incorporate inclusive and anti-racist approaches to course design and teaching practices.

Using the recently developed toolkit “Advancing Inclusion and Anti-Racism in the College Classroom: A rubric and resource guide for instructors,” graduate assistants with course background or pedagogy expertise were paired with instructors to develop specific and actionable plans for course improvement in future semesters. Revised courses include:

  • NUSCTX 166: Nutrition in the Community
  • NUSCTX 104AC: Food, Culture, and the Environment
  • ESPM 50AC: Introduction to Culture and Natural Resource Management
  • ENERES 160/ESPM 176: Climate Justice
  • ESPM C115C: Fish Ecology
  • ESPM C115A/IB C171: Freshwater Ecology
  • ESPM C114: Wildlife Ecology
  • BIO 1B: Introduction to Biology: Evolution/Ecology/Plant Diversity
  • ESPM C46: Climate Change and the Future of California
  • IB 35AC: Human Biological Variation

. . .”Our teaching practices, especially in large introductory classes that can act as gatekeepers, have a multiplicative impact on our students’ lives—for good, or for bad,” wrote the team that authored the toolkit. “As instructors, we have a unique opportunity and responsibility to move toward anti-racist teaching practices.”

Do these people really know how to improve the students’ lives? Shouldn’t that be by teaching them biology, not by brainwashing them? And who gave them the right to decide to “improve student lives” this way? It goes on:

The tool was developed in June 2020 after the ESPM Graduate Diversity Council called on department leadership to take anti-racist actions to address ways in which systemic anti-Black racism has permeated academia. In response, ESPM faculty and students collaborated with the UC Berkeley Center for Teaching and Learning to develop the resource as a way to foster inclusivity for Black students and other students of color in ESPM.

. . .Specific course modifications implemented include language and tone changes in syllabus, especially around basic needs and accessibility; greater inclusion of decolonial, justice-centered, and Indigenous perspectives in course materials; deeper community engagement in assignments; and adoption of community guidelines. The changes are currently being implemented, according to Blonder, and are already having an impact on student learning.

The efforts were supported by approximately $50,000 in funding from Rausser College of Natural Resources, ESPM, the Berkeley Food Institute, the Berkeley Life Sciences Faculty Diversity Initiative, and a Berkeley Discovery Initiative grant to the Department of Integrative Biology.

Read the full report for a list of instructor participants, graduate student bios, and a summary of the effort’s short-term outcomes.

If you look at the “full report”, you’ll see how the instructors—both faculty and grad-students—are tweaking the courses. Here are a few excerpts from the grad-student bios showing you the political direction of the courses:

a.) Rasmus Nielsen and I are developing a course, IB 35AC – Human Variation, which will discuss the role that genetics and societal norms play on human variation and identity. My main aim is to decolonize how we understand and teach human genetics by fostering inclusive and collaborative environments in the classroom and beyond. In addition, I hope to help expand biology to the global south by breaking down language barriers and ultimately reconstructing academia.

b.)  I hope to work in wetland and shoreline habitat restoration within social contexts, planning and designing for environmental justice and social equity issues.

c.) I love teaching (even more than research! shhh), particularly with methods rooted in contemplative and nonviolent pedagogy, disability justice, and alternative grading structures (e.g. specification grading or labor-based grading). [JAC: I’m not sure what “nonviolent pedagogy” is, as I’ve never since an instructor strike a student.]

d.) I aim to enhance the nutrition care process of vulnerable populations by using a decolonial lens which centers food as enclaves for healing, considers opportunities for communal food sovereignty, and constructs racially/culturally intersectional models within treatment interventions to erase Eurocentric barriers impeding behavioral success.

This decolonizing and Eurocentric emphases come from the guidance offered by the anti-racist toolkit, “Advancing inclusion and anti-racism in the college classroom,” a 39-page booklet telling students to infuse a woke perspective into all their courses.  It comes from the Zenodo site, and the guide was put together by twelve Berkeley faculty and graduate students. Its stated aim is this (my emphasis):

This tool aims to support instructors in developing anti-racist approaches to course design and teaching practices in the undergraduate and graduate setting. It offers an accessible, and user-friendly entry-point for instructors interested in considering how their instructional choices impact student outcomes. The resource guide provides instructors a range of ideas and options to help instructors through a process of modifying their courses. The guide is meant for self-assessment, rather than for others to score courses or instructors, and is designed to facilitate progressive refinement toward anti-racist teaching over time.

Now one could question the wisdom of infusing ideology into biology (as I do)—even anti-racist ideology. While of course I oppose racism, I am not on board with every bit of antiracist philosophy (I diverge from Kendi’s claim, for example, that if you or your program is not explicitly infused with antiracist activism, it is itself racist). More important, the brand of anti-racism suggested for these courses (have a look at the “Advancing Inclusion” booklet) is extreme authoritarian Leftist, and brooks no dissent.

But the biology class is not the place to propagandize students. It is a place to learn biology.  As Stanley Fish wrote in his eponymous and very relevant book, “Save the World on Your Own Time.

As one example, here’s some guidance about how to “decolonize” the curriculum taken from chapter VIII of the “Advancing Inclusion” book:

Here they suggest not only that you suggest “alternative epistemologies” (i.e., alternative “ways of knowing”), but present them respectfully. I suspect this means that you cannot say that some “other ways of knowing” are either wrong or not “ways of knowing” at all.

The emphasis on storytelling, legend, and poetry is characteristic of “ways of knowing” that are really “ways of feeling,” including New Zealand’s Mātauranga Māori , which I’ve written about here many times. before.

“Dominant approaches,” of course, are “Eurocentric ones,” sometimes known as “science.”

While one of the courses listed above—Climate Justice—is built around an ideological view (and I’m not sure that’s wise), the rest of the courses, offered in three biology departments, really have nothing to do with politics. The reason politics is being injected into these courses is simply because the people who promoted this initiative are from the progressive Left, and they want to jam their views down the throats of their students.

Of course I object strongly to this. The biology classroom is the place to learn biology, not to be propagandized to adhere to the politics of your instructors. Every minute devoted to “other ways of knowing” and similar ideological diversions is a minute less of biology you can learn. “Anti-racist fish ecology”—really? And I cringe when I think of what will be taught in “Human Biological Variation.”

Of course my carping on this post will have exactly zero influence on these initiatives, for the professors are adhering to a form of ideological religion, and, like Eric Hedin at Ball State, cannot resist sneaking that religion into science class. These classes will produce students who know less biology than students who took earlier versions of the class, but they’ll sure be more vociferous and political!

h/t: Bruce

Stanford deep-sixes its list of “harmful” words and phrases

January 12, 2023 • 9:15 am

The other day I was kvetching about wokeness to two members of Team Duck, and moaning that the “movement” wouldn’t go away for years. Both of them assured me that I was wrong, but I didn’t think so. Now, with the publication of the article below from Inside Higher Ed (IHE), I think there may a smidgen of hope. That’s because widespread mockery has caused a university to eliminate a list of words considered harmful. Remember, mockery can be an effective weapon in the fight against the benighted.

First, a review. The Wall Street Journal first cited the Stanford “Elimination of Harmful Language Initiative,” which I mentioned in a Hili post. It was a guide to language that was supposed to be used at Stanford University’s IT group. Here’s what the IHE article below notes about the words recommended by Stanford for erasure (there were many more: around 150 in total):

The 13-page guide contained more than 150 words and phrases organized into 10 categories of harmful language: ableist, ageism, colonialism, culturally appropriative, gender-based, imprecise language, institutionalized racism, person-first, and violent words and phrases. Words and phrases such as “brave,” “seminal,” “American,” “take a shot at,” “no can do” and “submit” were deemed harmful.

“Brave,” according to the guide, was deemed harmful for perpetuating stereotypes of the “noble courageous savage.” (The guide did not recommend a replacement for this word.) Instead of “seminal,” readers were encouraged to use “leading” or “groundbreaking,” so as not to reinforce male-dominated language. Instead of “American,” the guide recommended “U.S. citizen,” to avoid insinuating that the U.S. dominates the Americas. The guide also recommended that “give it a go” take the place of “take a shot at” to avoid violent imagery. “No can do,” per the guide, should be replaced by “I can’t do it,” since the former originated from stereotypes that mocked nonnative English speakers. The guide recommended replacing “submit” with “process,” as the latter “can imply allowing others to have power over you.”.

A few days later I noted that Stanford’s Language Police backed off on only one word; they decided it was okay to use the word “American.” The rest stayed on the list as verboten language.

Now, glory be, and after widespread mockery, Stanford has rescinded the entire list.

Does that mean there hope that wokeness will disappear? Well, remember that I reported yesterday on USC’s new “progressive” drive to get rid of the word “field”, apparently because it’s associated with slavery, though the word, meaning, “plot of farmed land”, goes back centuries. So maybe some are overly optimistic that this type of illiberal ideology is on its way out. I reserve judgment.

Click to read:

The article describes other schools, like The University of Texas at Austin, Brandeis, the University of San Francisco, and Indiana University’s library system, that also have recommendation against “harmful” language and have begun projects devoted to identifying it. But the highlight today is Stanford’s backing off of its long list, culminating with a letter from the University’s President saying “we goofed up”, and then with removal of the entire guide from the University’s website. It’s gone. It is an ex-guide, singing with the Choir Invisible. From IHE:

Following the backlash, the university hid the website from public view on Dec. 20. Stanford chief information officer Steve Gallagher clarified in a statement that the website had been intended to guide discussions about inclusion within the university’s information technology community and did not represent university policy. But the university pulled back more in January by removing the guide from its website.

The Elimination of Harmful Language Initiative “was created to address racist terms historically used in IT, such as ‘master’ and ‘slave’ to describe aspects of systems,” Gallagher wrote in a statement. “The feedback that this work was broadly viewed as counter to inclusivity means we missed the intended mark. It is for this reason that we have taken down the EHLI site.”

In a community letter, Stanford president Marc Tessier-Lavigne acknowledged the good intentions of the university staff who sought to promote inclusivity. But he also reiterated that “at no point did the website represent university policy” and affirmed that Stanford’s “efforts to advance inclusion must remain consistent with our commitment to academic freedom and free expression.”

Here’s an excerpt of the letter from President Tessier-Lavigne, emphasizing the priority of free speech over language policing:

Although, some language really shouldn’t be used except in a didactic sense because it truly is offensive (the n-word is one, and another, in my view, is “master” and “slave” when referring to electrical devices), the Stanford list went way too far, resulting in widespread mockery of the University. The only real backlash cited by the article, though, is that given in the WSJ:

“Parodists have it rough these days, since so much of modern life and culture resembles the Babylon Bee,” the Wall Street Journal editorial board wrote on Dec. 19, referencing the satirical website that is sometimes referred to as a conservative version of The Onion.

Finally, there’s a bit of pushback—even from members of “marginalized groups”—in this case a Jewish man:

“The inclusion of ‘Jewed’ as a verb is warranted because it clearly associates being Jewish with a negative stereotype,” Josh Yuter, a rabbi who was ordained by Yeshiva University and was named a National Jewish Outreach Program top 10 Jewish influencer in 2012, said via email. “Including ‘hip-hip hooray’ as ‘harmful language’ towards Jews is less understandable. Until reading the initiative I had no idea that a variant of ‘hip-hip hooray’ was a German rallying cry during the Holocaust, and I suspect few others would as well. I cannot speak to traumas experienced by actual survivors, but I would be very surprised if ‘hip-hip hooray’ was passed down as intergenerational trauma to merit inclusion as being ‘harmful’ in any way.”

The origins of this phase predated Nazi Germany, Yuter added. “Even if we accept language evolving such that innocuous idioms may turn into harmful speech, it stands to reason that harmful language can evolve further and resume being innocuous.”

Yuter, reflecting on Stanford’s public relations debacle, likened it to a recent controversy over a New York Times crossword puzzle that resembled a swastika.

“The design is common in crosswords and unnoticeable to many unless someone points it out,” Yuter said. “However, people who want to be offended will always find their reasons if they look hard enough. I believe the same is true here.”

The rabbi is right. But “field” didn’t evolve in general meaning at all: it simply was used in a phrase associated with slavery (“field hand”), and now that phrase is outdated. And yes, “hip-hip hooray” was indeed on Stanford’s list. Only the offended would have even traced back its meaning so that it could be singled out for elimination. There are many woke people trawling through the dictionary looking for words that are offensive and that they can tell us not to use. That reminds me of the famous anecdote about Dr. Johnson and his dictionary, which goes something like this:

After Samuel Johnson published his masterful dictionary of the English language he was reportedly approached by two prudish individuals:

“Mr. Johnson, we are glad that you have omitted the indelicate and objectionable words from your new dictionary.”

“What, my dears! Have you been searching for them?”

But I reiterate: mockery can be a powerful weapon. In this case it forced the President of Stanford to retract a policy of one sector of the University.

h/t: Wayne

Truth vs. equity: a piece by John Sailer

January 10, 2023 • 9:30 am

While I believe there are ways to increase equal opportunity for groups  that havehistorically been held back in America, requiring DEI statements (diversity, equity, and inclusion) for admission to graduate schools or hiring and promotion of professor is not such a way.  While those initiatives may increase representation or “equity” if used as criteria of “merit”, but they won’t solve the problem of constricted opportunity, which, after all, is the goal—or is supposed to be. The goal of those who promote DEI is simply “equity,” or proportional representation, and without equal opportunity, the goal may be misguided if different groups have the different preferences and desires. And, at any rate, the obsession with DEI will lead to a perpetual focus on ethnicity, which I don’t think anyone wants—except the many people who hold DEI-related jobs.

The piece below by John Sailer appeared yesterday on Bari Weiss’s new Substack site, The Free Press, and its point is made in the title and subtitle. The piece will appeal to those who think the mission of universities is seeking the truth, providing education, and promoting critical thought, but not to those who feel that the purpose of a university is to foster “progressive” (i.e., illiberal Left) politics.

I’ve already argued at length about the proliferation and dangers of DEI, so I’ll simply give a few pieces of information from the article that show how DEI is burrowing deeper into the American academia. I find some of these data frightening, but am glad that I’m retired and don’t, for example, have to rank grad students or job candidates according to their adherence to an “approved” version of DEI.

Indented words come from Sailer’s piece:

a.) The treatment of a “colorblind” instructor at UCLA. As we know, Dr. King’s statement about judging people by their character—or, for me, by their merit when merit is important for deciding who to choose—is now in bad odor, and the color of one’s skin has become vitally important. Here’s one case:

In June 2020, Gordon Klein, a longtime accounting lecturer at UCLA, made the news after a student emailed him asking him to grade black students more leniently in the wake of the “unjust murders of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and George Floyd.”

Klein’s response was blunt. It stated in part:

Thanks for your suggestion in your email below that I give black students special treatment, given the tragedy in Minnesota. Do you know the names of the classmates that are black? How can I identify them since we’ve been having online classes only? Are there any students that may be of mixed parentage, such as half black-half Asian? What do you suggest I do with respect to them? A full concession or just half? 

He went on:

Remember that MLK famously said that people should not be evaluated based on the “color of their skin.” Do you think that your request would run afoul of MLK’s admonition?

Thanks, G. Klein

Klein’s response enraged students. They organized a petition to remove him that quickly gained nearly 20,000 signatures, resulting in the professor being placed on leave and banned from campus. But the story got national attention, and a counter-petition signed by more than 76,000 people demanded his reinstatement. In less than three weeks, Klein was allowed to return to the classroom.

Yet his encounters with what UCLA calls Equity, Diversity and Inclusion were far from over.

Just under a year later, Klein, the author of a textbook on ethics in accounting, was up for a merit raise. For the first time in his 40 years at UCLA, Klein told me he had to submit a statement on equity, diversity, and inclusion. UCLA had adopted this as a promotion requirement in 2019, and now demands that all faculty members express how they will advance these principles in their work, and how their mentoring and advising helps those “from underrepresented and underserved populations.”

. . . Although his previous teaching evaluations were sterling, and he had received prior merit raises, this one was declined. Klein has brought suit against UCLA.

b.) The change in academic priorities. Equity has now become as important as, or even more important than, merit. The two are somewhat in conflict, for if they weren’t, there wouldn’t be DEI initiatives. Remember that it was Hamline Universities “Office of Inclusive Excellence” (a namely clearly confected to obscure the conflict) which was driving the effort to oust the professor who showed ancient Muslim paintings depicting Muhammad’s face. That office clearly places “lack of offense” above education.

. . .the concepts of DEI have become guiding principles in higher education, valued as equal to or even more important than the basic function of the university: the rigorous pursuit of truth. Summarizing its hiring practices, for example, UC Berkeley’s College of Engineering declared that “excellence in advancing equity and inclusion must be considered on par with excellence in research and teaching.” Likewise, in an article describing their “cultural change initiative,” several deans at Mount Sinai’s Icahn School of Medicine declared: “There is no priority in medical education that is more important than addressing and eliminating racism and bias.”

DEI has also become a priority for many of the organizations that accredit universities. Last year, the Council for Higher Education Accreditation, along with several other university accrediting bodies, adopted its own DEI statement, proclaiming that “the rich values of diversity, equity and inclusion are inextricably linked to quality assurance in higher education.” These accreditors, in turn, pressure universities and schools into adopting DEI measures.

c.) DEI becomes an undergrad course requirement and even a college major.

Many American college students are now required to take DEI, anti-racism, or social justice courses. At Georgetown, all undergraduates must take two Engaging Diversity courses. At Davidson College, the requirement goes under the title of Justice, Equality, and Community, which students can fulfill by taking courses like Racial Capitalism & Reproduction and Queer(ing) Performance. Northern Arizona University recently updated its general education curriculum to require nine credit hours of “diversity perspectives” courses, including a unit on “intersectional identities.”

DEI is also becoming a de facto academic discipline. In 2021, Bentley University in Massachusetts created a DEI major. Last year, the Wharton School announced its introduction of a DEI concentration for undergraduates and a DEI major for MBA students.

d.) The infusion of DEI into the sciences.

The federal government also is doing its part to infuse DEI into the sciences. The Department of Energy’s Office of Science is the nation’s largest sponsor of the physical sciences. It recently announced that all new research proposals must include its Promoting Inclusive and Equitable Research (PIER) Plan. To get a grant, scientists must describe how equity and inclusion are “an intrinsic element to advancing scientific excellence in the research project.”

One medical researcher at an elite institution who requested anonymity told me that grants for medical research increasingly use veiled ideological language that focuses on issues such as health equity and racial disparities. “The answer is preordained: The cause of disparities is racism,” he told me. “If you find some other explanation, even if it’s technically correct, that’s problematic.”

e.) “Cluster hiring”.  This is one method that universities may employ more widely when the Supreme Court strikes down affirmative action next year. Race-based hiring is, of course, already illegal, but this is a model of how to circumvent legal strictures.

To boost faculty diversity (explicit racial preferences in hiring are illegal), many universities are resorting to a practice known as “cluster hiring”—that is, hiring multiple professors at once, across multiple departments. To increase the likelihood of hiring minority faculty members, cluster hiring initiatives often assess candidates’ contributions to DEI as the first criterion.

In 2018, UC Berkeley launched a cluster hire across several life sciences departments. Of 893 qualified applicants, the hiring committee narrowed the pool to 214 based solely on the candidates’ diversity statements. Finalists then were asked to describe their DEI efforts during their interviews. The initiative yielded eyebrow-raising results: The initial applicant pool was 53.7 percent white and 13.2 percent Hispanic. The shortlist was 13.6 white and 59.1 percent Hispanic.

In 2020, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) began a $241 million cluster hiring grant program—specifying that the faculty hired must have “a demonstrated commitment to promoting diversity and inclusive excellence.” So far, it has awarded grants for hires at twelve institutions, including the University of South Carolina, Cornell University, and Florida State University.

Of course there’s nothing wrong with hiring groups of faculty all at once, even with the hope that multiple hires will increase diversity, but what is wrong is to use that process by judging with “hireability” with adherence to DEI standards, as Berkeley is doing.

As the article points out, and as many already know, these initiatives, often promoted by a small group of people who manage to get power by intimidating others (to oppose DEI requirements is to open yourself up to accusations of racism and bigotry), have led to self-censorship of faculty and students. Below are the results of a 2020 FIRE survey summarized in Inside Higher Ed. It shows the proportion of undergrads at 55 American colleges and universities who would feel “very comfortable” expression controversial opinions. All the numbers are at 25% or below. (For a critique of this survey, though, see here.)

This figures will never approach 100% because some students are simply too shy or introverted to risk an argument, but who could deny that this shows that speech on campus is being chilled? And that is in part because of the authoritarianism evinced in DEI initiatives: there’s only one way to think, and if you express Wrongthink, your chances of getting into grad school, getting a good job, or getting tenure are reduced.

I’m not aware of any formal surveys of faculty self-censorship (if you know of any, report in the comments), but I suspect, based on the increasing number of reports of faculty getting fired after being reported for saying the “wrong thing”, and on my “lived experience” talking to colleagues, it’s a serious and increasing problem.  Although I can use this website to promulgate some of my own opinions that may be unpopular, I can tell you that I, too, self-censor in my University and my department, simply because I don’t want to be ostracized. That doesn’t mean I hold Nazi or white supremacist views, of course, but if I didn’t fear ostracism, there are some initiatives I would criticize more strongly if I felt more free. This are mostly issues of free speech.