Stanford goes socially anodyne

June 16, 2022 • 10:00 am

I don’t know squat about Palladium Magazine, but here’s what it says about itself:

Palladium Magazine is a non-partisan publication that explores the future of governance and society, through responsible slow publishing, long-form analysis, political theory, and investigative journalism.

A reader sent me the article below by Ginevra Davis, a Stanford student, and I don’t know what to make of it. This is one of two articles I’ll write about briefly today, as I’d like to hear readers’ take on them. In this first one, Davis describes how Stanford University, which 30 years ago used to be an excellent school (it still is), but one that fostered an eccentric student body. According to Ginevra Davis, the school has now become a quiet and boring place, with many students feeling socially unconnected since fraternities and other venues for social life have slowly been dismantled by the administration.

Click to read (it’s free):

The destruction of the social life of Stanford, insofar as it’s really happened, appears to Davis to have something to do with increasing equity, but the connection between the two factors is unclear.  A few quotes from the article:

Since 2013, Stanford’s administration has executed a top-to-bottom destruction of student social life. Driven by a fear of uncontrollable student spontaneity and a desire to enforce equity on campus, a growing administrative bureaucracy has destroyed almost all of Stanford’s distinctive student culture.

What happened at Stanford is a cultural revolution on the scale of a two-mile college campus. In less than a decade, Stanford’s administration eviscerated a hundred years of undergraduate culture and social groups. They ended decades-old traditions. They drove student groups out of their houses. They scraped names off buildings. They went after long-established hubs of student life, like fraternities and cultural theme houses. In place of it all, Stanford erected a homogenous housing system that sorts new students into perfectly equitable groups named with letters and numbers. All social distinction is gone.

Whenever Stanford empties out a fraternity or theme house, the administration renames the organization’s former house after its street number. Now, Stanford’s iconic campus Row, once home to dozens of vibrant student organizations, is lined with generic, unmarked houses with names like “550,” “680,” and “675” in arbitrary groupings with names like “S” and “D”.

According to Davis, Stanford not only produced a gaggle of Google-like people, but was a fun place to be:

Stanford’s support for the unconventional pioneered a new breed of elite student: the charismatic builder who excelled at “breaking things” in nearby Silicon Valley. Stanford students were aspirational and well-rounded, confident enough to perform in a bucket hat and floaties and make out with strangers during Full Moon on the Quad. For a time, Stanford experienced a brief golden age when a spontaneous, socially permissive culture combined with a class of 5%-acceptance rate baby geniuses.

Stanford’s already formidable reputation grew, in large part, because of the way these lessons translated into the work and lives of its graduates. Between 1998 and 2013, Stanford students founded Google, Pinterest, Instagram, and Snapchat. New grads were turning down $350,000 starting salaries to try their hand at changing the world, or at least beating their classmates at making their first million. Soon, breathless articles described the mythical school where money grew on trees, where America’s academic wonderkids went to make their fortune under the California sun.

Starting in 2013, Stanford was consistently ranked first by students and parents as “America’s Dream School.” Stanford was elite, but unlike most elite schools, what made Stanford the object of such national obsession was that it was also fun. Stanford had created a global talent hub combined with explicit permission for rule-breaking. As a result, students learned a valuable lesson: they had agency; they could create their own norms and culture instead of relying on higher authorities.

It was about then that Stanford begin to get rid of social organizations—not just fraternities but any kind of social “house” with a theme (like the “Anarchists House”), as well as and virtually dismantling one of America’s weirdest college bands: the Leland Stanford Junior University Marching Band, known for its on-field antics and eccentric players. Here’s performance after the Rose Bowl in 2013:

. . . Unlike Harvard, which abruptly tried to ban “single-gender social organizations” and was immediately sued by alumni, Stanford picked off the Greek life organizations one by one to avoid student or alumni pushback. The playbook was always the same. Some incident would spark an investigation, and the administration would insist that the offending organization had lost its right to remain on campus. The group would be promptly removed.

Over time, it became clear that their decisions only ever went one way—fewer gatherings, fewer social groups. The campus spirit waned year by year.

. . . With every additional unhousing, it became increasingly apparent that Stanford’s revealed preference was to rid the campus of all distinct social groups. Two years after founding CORL, Stanford hired the same Harvard administrator who led the campaign to rid the campus of Greek life and Final Clubs. Harvard had overplayed their hand by trying to purge all major social organizations at once. But at Stanford, they found more success picking them off one by one.

The University also ended the annual clothes-optional “Exotic Erotic” party (we used to have a similar fête at Chicago, which also was banned), closed down an “Outdoor House” devoted to hiking (it will be reopened under DEI stipulations), and created a new housing system. The descriptions below make me think this all had something to do with “equity”, but that still doesn’t explain everything (my emphases below):

The first thing Stanford announced was the introduction of a new housing system, designed to promote “fairness” and “community” on campus. Under the system, new freshmen would be assigned to one of eight artificially-created housing groups called “neighborhoods,” each containing a representative sample of campus housing. To avoid the potential controversy of actually naming them, the administration punted the decision and called the neighborhoods S, T, A, N, F, O, R, and D.

An administrator named Mona Hicks was tasked with explaining the vacuous names to the Stanford Daily. Her response was bizarre. “There are eight letters in the word Stanford, and therefore each neighborhood has a letter from Stanford,” she said. And so, “while we are uniquely different, we’re all tied together, especially now in this time.”

. . .When Stanford could not remove a student organization for bad behavior, they found other justifications. One such case was the end of Outdoor House, an innocuous haven on the far side of campus for students who liked hiking. The official explanation from Stanford for eliminating the house was that the Outdoor theme “fell short of diversity, equity and inclusion expectations.” The building formerly known as Outdoor House was added to Neighborhood T.

Next year, Outdoor House will be reinstated, but only because house members promised to refocus their theme on “racial and environmental justice in the outdoors.” Upholding diversity, equity, and inclusion is the first of four “ResX principles” that now govern undergraduate housing. Stanford reserves the right to unhouse any organization that does not, in their opinion, uphold these principles.

One of the houses on the lower half of the Row is Columbae, a vegetarian co-op where students cook and eat together. I am sure that their house, a stately brown manor, used to be some sort of fraternity. But at least the co-op residents are still enjoying themselves. Groups of them are always out on the lawn, reading and sunbathing. Someone set up a red slackline in the front yard. The same boy practices on it every day, balancing a worn stack of books on his head.

In 2025, co-ops like Columbae are scheduled to go through the CORL process and be made to re-justify their existence like every other house. I try to imagine the brown mansion renamed “549,” becoming yet another numbered house with an empty lawn.

It seems bizarre to force organizations to reorganize their themes and make the priority of all of them DEI initiatives, but this doesn’t explain the elimination of other actions and social groups, like Anarchists house, the draining of a lake where students used to party, or the banning of the clothes-optional party. Perhaps another key is in Davis’s penultimate paragraph:

An empty house is safe. A blank slate is fair. In the name of safety and fairness, Stanford destroyed everything that makes people enjoy college and life.

I suggest that part of this dismantling of “fun” involves “safety” of the in loco parentis form: students are not to do anything that could look bad, rowdy, or even be dangerous, like drinking at parties. Lukianoff and Haidt see this kind of atmosphere as “safetyism” resulting from overparenting and a desire to protect adolescents and teens from every sort of harm. The “equity” bit comes in as part of the rules for new or revamped social groups, but can’t in itself explain the dismantling of fun and eccentricity that, according to Davis, was one attraction of Stanford.

I have no idea what’s going on, or even if Davis is exaggerating, but those are some thoughts, and if you’ve gone to Stanford, or know something about it, read Davis’s piece and weigh in.

h/t: Luana

Title IX to be changed under Biden, and not necessarily for the better

June 3, 2022 • 11:15 am

I’ve written before that one of the few good things that the Trump administration did (probably actually the doing of Betsy DeVos, the Secretary of Education, was to change the Title IX standards to create a fairer process when colleges adjudicate sexual harassment cases. (You can read my posts on that hereherehere, and here.) Title IX, you may recall, is a federal law that prohibits educational institutions partly funded by the government from discriminating on the basis of sex. It’s been used as the basis of sexual harassment cases, and has also gone a long way towards supporting women’s sports.

Here’s the original wording signed into law by Nixon:

“No person in the United States shall, based on sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.”

Some of DeVos’s salubrious changes were the elevation of the “preponderance of evidence” standard in sexual assault and harassment standards (more than a 50% probability it happened) to a “clear and convincing evidence” standard. The courts, of course, use a “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard, which is even higher, but at least the DeVos alteration raised the bar for finding a student guilty—which, after all, could result in students being thrown out of college and marring the rest of their lives.  I don’t think “it’s more likely that the accusation is correct than it’s not” is a high enough bar for something so serious.

Here are the various degrees of certainty (civil suits in court require “clear and convincing evidence”).

  • Conviction requires guilt “beyond a reasonable doubt”, which of course means that the bar is very high for conviction.
  • Conviction requires “clear and convincing evidence”, that is, it must be “highly probable or reasonably certain” that harassment or assault occurred. This is conventionally interpreted to mean a likelihood of 75% or higher that the assault took place.
  • Conviction requires a “preponderance of the evidence” for assault or hasassment. This means that it is more likely that not (likelihood > 50 %) that the offense occurred.

In fact, a huge majority of readers, when polled, favored adjudication of the claims by the courts, and only if an accused was convicted would a college adjudicate the case:

Well, that’s not a scientific poll, but so be it. Other changes were mandated by DeVos as well, like who the investigating agent would be (previously it was often the same person who rendered judgement in a college!), whether an accused student could have a lawyer or advisor present (previously no), and whether the accuser would be required to face the accused and answer questions (previously no, but yes under DeVos).

I’m not the only one who favored the changes: many liberals and feminists did, as well as liberal professors (the ACLU waffled). In my view, the changes made the process fairer in cases that had very serious implications.

Now, however, according to an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal and an article from April 28’s Inside Higher Ed, the Biden Administration is preparing to roll back the DeVos changes, and also to alter Title IX in other ways, giving gender identity the same protection that sex had.

Here’s what the WSJ says will probably change (no firm regulation has yet been floated):

a.) The standards for guilty may revert back to “preponderance of evidence’

b.) “Sex” in the Title IX regulations will now be construed as “gender” and “gender identity”.  Since the Biden administration so far construes “gender identity” as having nothing to do with surgery or medical treatment, “gender identity” may well be “whatever you claim to be.” As the WSJ says, in its usual Chicken Little scenario:

This would require every educational institution that receives federal money to allow biological men into women’s locker rooms, sororities and other previously female-only spaces. Any school that attempts to prevent the next Lia Thomas from competing on a women’s team will have its federal funding snapped back—under the same law that once required schools to increase athletic opportunities for women and girls.

I don’t care so much about bathrooms or locker rooms, but I do care about sports and the way sexual harassment/assault claims are judged. If “gender identity” is used the way that Biden’s administration uses it now, there will be big trouble ahead, and probably a Supreme Court case in the future.

c.) Parents won’t be able to exempt their children from learning about “choosing one’s sex”, and schools will now be empowered “to transition children without receiving parental consent or even informing parents.”  I don’t care much about the lesson plans (I don’t know what they’d involve), but I do think parents should to be informed if a minor child requests either a formal change of gender or counseling for changing gender.

Under its most lax construal, “gender” is “whatever identity you want to assume.” If that’s what Biden is going to insert into Title IX, he’s in for trouble, not only in the courts (over 200 college “preponderance of evidence”-based convictions for sexual assault have already been overturned in the courts), but also politically. Imagine what Republicans will make of this.

**************

Inside Higher Ed reports that Biden’s Title IX changes were to be enacted in April but were put off until at lest May.  I don’t think they’ve yet been signed into law. IHE says this about the history of the regulation:

The draft rule represents a rewrite of one proffered by former Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, which took effect in August 2020. The DeVos rule created a judiciary-like method of evaluating reports of sexual violence on college campuses, notably allowing an accused student and their accuser to cross-examine each other through an adviser of their choosing.

It also shrank the scope of cases colleges need to investigate, prompting ire from sexual assualt survivors and their advocates who thought the regulation licensed colleges to disregard these problems.

DeVos, however, in issuing the rule responded to a chorus of accusations from due process activists. They argued the Education Department for years had pressured colleges to find accused students responsible for sexual assaults, under the threat of revoking institutions’ funding for not complying with Title IX regulations. This in turn disregarded accused students’ rights, they said.

This is where DeVos was right, I think. You don’t want to convict someone without sufficient evidence (or even try them until after the local courts have found a person guilty) just to meet a quota or the demands of people on social media. More history:

The debate broke out in full after the Obama administration put new emphasis on sexual violence prevention, issuing guidance in 2011 and 2014 that directed how institutons should address these issues.

President Joe Biden is expected to take up that mantle. He was deeply involved as vice president with the former administration’s Title IX sexual misconduct response. [JAC: The one DeVos changed.]

The Education Department expects to publish its draft rule in the Federal Register next month, which at that point will start a public comment period, typically 60 days. The agency may make changes based on feedback, and a rule will then be finalized.

And a bit about the new regulations:

Reportedly, the new draft regulation will protect gay and transgender students from sex-based discrimination. That idea drew criticism from 15 Republican state attorneys general who threatened to sue the Biden administration over the forthcoming rule. The attorneys general urged the White House to halt the regulatory process for issuing a new rule.

Sexual assault survivor groups last August urged the Biden administration to expedite changes under Title IX and publish a draft rule by Oct. 1, 2021 — a call the Education Department did not heed.

This is a different take from the WSJ’s, but of course we’re going on “reported” regulations. Gay and transgender students should, of course, be protected from discrimination, but we don’t know what Biden’s new rule is going to say.

It’s unwise to kvetch too much based on rumors and unsubstantiated reports, so all I’ll say is that if Biden tries to insert “sex, gender, and gender identity” into Title IX in place of “sex”, without being more specific, he’ll be opening up a can of worms.

 

The hard case for free speech: Amy Wax

April 18, 2022 • 12:30 pm

As John Stuart Mill emphasized, free speech must protect words we find odious and offensive, for it is only by honing our own beliefs against such words that we can truly examine how well we can defend our beliefs. And in some cases what we find offensive might actually cause us to reconsider or views, or even change our minds.

Amy Wax, the Robert Mundheim Professor of Law at the University of Pennsylvania Law School, seems to fall largely into the first class: those who say repugnant things that most reasonable person can only oppose. I haven’t followed her statements closely, but she does seem to have a racist bent, and the Wikipedia article on her cites a number of racist statements she’s made along with other statements that have offended people (and me). The thing is, however, that she’s made them all outside of class, and “extramural speech” like that is protected by the First Amendment as well as by the consonant policies of the University of Pennsylvania (a private school). So long as Wax doesn’t import bigotry into the classroom, creating an atmosphere that harasses students, she is protected by tenure and her school’s avowed policies.

That doesn’t cut any ice with people like Hana M. Kiros, a black Harvard student who wrote an editorial in the Crimson (the Harvard student newspaper) calling for Wax to be fired.  Click to read:

Kiros cites a number of Wax’s statements that she finds racist, white supremacist, and offensive. Here are a few:

Put plainly, Wax favors non-white people being kept out of leadership positions and, ideally, the country. That’s in America’s best interest, she argues, because “countries ruled by white Europeans” simply have values that are “superior.”

“The third world, although mixed, contains a lot of non-white people,” she warns.

Tracking Wax’s declarations of white supremacy is genuinely dizzying. This month’s iteration is a viral clip of her on Tucker Carlson Today, in which Wax described her Indian colleagues at Penn as coming from a “shithole.” She then complains that “non-Western people,” particularly “American Blacks,” feel a “tremendous amount of resentment and shame” towards “Western peoples” because of their “outsized achievements and contributions.” Wax scrunches her face. “I mean it’s this unholy brew of sentiments.”

Wax’s April interview with Carlson, who hosts America’s most-watched cable news show, has led to a resurgence in calls for her firing — a cause that last surged this January when Wax said the U.S. was “better off with fewer Asians.”

And Wax was punished by Penn for one of her statements.

Kiros:

Wax was barred from teaching required classes in 2018 after implying, falsely, that Black Penn Law students never graduated in the top quarter of their class. [JAC correction; the linked article says top half of their class, but that statement was also false.] This January, Penn Law Dean Tedd Ruger initiated the University’s process for formally sanctioning tenured faculty “to address Professor Wax’s escalating conduct.” Ruger declined to comment for this article to “preserve the integrity of this process.” He wrote, however, that “[t]he Law School has previously made clear on multiple occasions that Professor Wax’s views do not reflect our values or practices.”

I haven’t seen Wax’s quotes in context, but I’ll take Kiros’s word that Wax is a bigot towards non-white people. But whether she should be sanctioned for that, given that these statements were made outside class, seems to me doubtful under the First-Amendment-modeled speech principles of her university. In fact, the Academic Freedom Alliance (AFA) has called for rescinding the sanctions against Wax (see their letter to Penn here). They are not defending her views, but are vigorously defending her right to express them—extramurally.  Here’s an excerpt from the AFA letter written to Penn by Keith Whittington, chair of the organization’s Academic Committee. (Note again that Penn is not a state university, and therefore punishing her is not punishment by the government, but, as Whittington notes, the school has embraced First Amendment principles vis-à-vis extramural speech. Further, any good school, even if private, should fully embrace the First Amendment.)

Whittington to Penn:

This call for the university to take formal action against Professor Wax is a clear threat to her freedom of speech. Such a public interview is a form of what the American Association of University Professors calls “extramural speech.” Extramural speech is a protected form of freedom of expression. When professors “speak or write as citizens, they should be free from institutional censorship or discipline.” As the AAUP has emphasized, “The controlling principle is that a faculty member’s expression of opinion as a citizen cannot constitute grounds for dismissal unless it clearly demonstrates the faculty member’s unfitness for the position.” The University of Pennsylvania has explicitly embraced those principles in Article 11 of the Statutes of the Trustees. The university has stated clearly that faculty members have the right to express their personal opinions as citizens and “when speaking or writing as an individual, the teacher should be free from institutional censorship or discipline.” Professor Wax was acting well within those rights in commenting on American immigration policy. It is quite clear that her public comments as a private individual on matters of public concern cannot, consistent with Article 11 and general understandings of free speech in the United States, be understood to constitute a “flagrant disregard of the standards, rules, or mission of the University or the customs of scholarly communities” that might give rise to disciplinary action under the Faculty Handbook, and the list of major infractions provided in the Handbook in no way resemble the actions at issue here.

Politicians and members of the campus community are free to disagree with Professor Wax and to publicly express those disagreements, but the university must stand firm when those disagreements turn into demands that members of the faculty be sanctioned or terminated for expressing their political opinions in public. The AFA calls upon the leadership of the University of Pennsylvania to reaffirm and adhere to its free speech principles by making clear that Professor Wax will not be sanctioned in any way for her constitutionally protected speech.

I think Whittington’s argument is sound. Wax is being punished for extramural speech, which violates the the stated principles of Penn. It doesn’t matter that it is offensive and vile; the First Amendment (and Penn’s own policy) is there to protect all speech, and of course almost all political speech is considered offensive and vile by some people. (Again, I am not agreeing with what Wax said!).

Kiros (and apparently Penn) is trying to circumvent the AFA’s argument with her own novel response: Wax’s extramural speech makes students so uncomfortable that they have been rendered incapable of learning from her. Wax’s bigotry has, it’s claimed, rendered her ineffectual as a teacher. Kiros echoes the charges against Wax that Penn is now “investigating”:

First: “That her conduct is having an adverse and discernable [sic] impact on her teaching and classroom activities.”

Second: That Wax’s “pervasive and recurring vitriol and promotion of white supremacy” made it “impossible for students to take classes from her without a reasonable belief that they are being treated with discriminatory animus.”

These charges are a bit conflated. If Wax’s teaching and behavior in the classroom is impaired by how she acts in the classroom, or if she makes statements intended to offend students in her class because of their race, then yes, she is violating her duties as a professor and should be sanctioned. But if her teaching is “impaired” solely because of bigoted statements that she makes outside of class, then the students must try to ignore that and concentrate on what she says in class. If they can’t ignore that, then they should not take her classes. But in this second case Whittington is right: sanctions are not appropriate given Penn’s own policies.

Kiros doesn’t support the first accusation, but it’s clear that she herself would find it hard to learn from Wax (she is at Harvard and doesn’t take Wax’s classes, which are given at Penn):

If a student knows their professor views them as inherently inferior, how can learning proceed?

I attended a majority Black high school but, during senior year, was the only Black student in my physics and math class. In them, I learned to shrink myself: never speaking unless cold-called or daring to ask questions, even when I desperately needed to. In those classes, Black students not on our school’s “advanced” track (teachers and students called them “the general kids”) only existed as the butt of cruel jokes — mocking, relentlessly, how they dressed. Spoke. Existed. So I chose to never say a word, terrified that if I did, I might slip up and confirm the worst I knew some assumed of me. My learning — which, ideally, should’ve allowed for fearless inquiry — undeniably suffered.

That, however, isn’t a very good parallel to the Wax situation, because Kiros is simply assuming that her teachers were bigots and looked down on her. But Kiros continues:

If Penn’s process rules that Wax’s public comments are un-sanctionable, it will be a depressing day. Such a decision would signal to all of academia that clean-cut advocacy for white supremacy is employable conduct if you have tenure — something unfathomable in nearly any other profession. Under such a system, it’s students that lose.

Again: the argument is that some “free extramural speech” by professors should be prohibited because it offends people to the degree that it makes them unable to learn. Ergo, it impairs the professor’s ability to teach. I am not sympathetic to this argument, and would tell the students to leave their offense at the classroom door.

If, on the other hand, Wax is indeed violating normal expectations for what she teaches and what atmosphere she creates in her classroom, then she should be investigated. I have seen no evidence for that, but I suppose it will be sorted out by Penn. And if she’s sanctioned illegally, lawsuits will settle it, as the courts have a pretty settled concept of “free speech” and Penn has clear policies about it.

Yes, this is a hard case, but it’s the hard cases that make good law, at least when free speech is concerned.

h/t: Scott

Princeton University punishes professor for exercising free speech, shows it doesn’t understand what “free speech” really is.

April 13, 2022 • 10:45 am

I’m always surprised by the high quality of reporting in Tablet, as it doesn’t seem to be a site many people read.  It also has the reputation of being a “Jewish magazine,” which of course puts off some people, but if you look at its articles, you’ll find many of them that don’t have anything to do with Jews or Judaism. One example is the article below. It’s about the increasingly bizarre behavior of Princeton University, which is in the process of “canceling” a professor for some remarks he made about a black student group. Because the remarks were deemed racist by some, the school decided to permanently place Classics Professor Joshua Katz on a list of racist professors and actions—an official site that’s made available to incoming Princeton students as a “teaching document”.

Even if you think Katz’s remarks were unwise (I do, though I don’t see them as racist), they still constitute free speech and an exercise of academic freedom. For the University to demonize Katz for his statement, and to parade him before students as an exemplar of a racist, is a violation of the viewpoint neutrality that Princeton claims it has. Worse, when Katz fought back, supported by many of his fellow professors, Princeton claimed a “right” to add him to the List of Bad People because that was Princeton exercising its freedom of speech. (The President of Princeton also issued a statement officially denouncing Katz.)

Befuddled as Princeton and its president (Christopher Eisgruber) are, they can’t distinguish between free speech and the chilling of speech enacted by making official statements of what is politically unacceptable. That is, they are mixing up the strictures of our University of Chicago’s Principles of Free Speech with our University’s Kalven Report, with the latter mandating that the University and its constituent units make no official statements about ideology, morality, or politics unless they have to do with the functioning and purpose of the university: teaching and learning.  Princeton was in fact the first University to adopt Chicago’s Principles of Free Expression (about 80 universities have now done so). But Princeton doesn’t really understand these principles, and so, as its head goes up its fundament, has decided to make an example of Katz by consigning him to academic perdition.

Click the screenshot to read:

The scenario in short (statements from the Tablet are indented). First, though, I’d ignore Tablet‘s opening screed about what “social justice” is.  To me it’s a confusing discussion and not really relevant to this story except insofar as Katz is accused of being anti-social justice..

1.) Katz made a comment in an article he wrote in Quillette about the “Black Justice League” and about a faculty letter describing pervasive structural racism at Princeton. Here’s part of Katz’s a response to the faculty demands made in their letter (the first quote is from the letter):

“Acknowledge, credit, and incentivize anti-racist student activism. Such acknowledgment should, at a minimum, take the form of reparative action, beginning with a formal public University apology to the members of the Black Justice League and their allies.” The Black Justice League, which was active on campus from 2014 until 2016, was a small local terrorist organization that made life miserable for the many (including the many black students) who did not agree with its members’ demands. Recently I watched an “Instagram Live” of one of its alumni leaders, who—emboldened by recent events and egged on by over 200 supporters who were baying for blood—presided over what was effectively a Struggle Session against one of his former classmates. It was one of the most evil things I have ever witnessed, and I do not say this lightly.

The bit in bold was Katz’s undoing, particularly the phrase “terrorist group”, though the “struggle session” was against a black student and other witnesses say that that usage is accurate.

2.) Princeton put Katz’s statement—missing a crucial bit—on an official document, “To Be Known and Heard“, which recounts the racist background and nature of Princeton. This document is used didactically for new students. Also, via President Eisgruber, Princeton issued statements assailing Katz’s piece in Quillette. Again, this would be a violation of my own University’s Kalven Report: an official damning of a professor for his/her political views.

3.) In the “To Be Known and Heard” document, Princeton left out, in their quote, the parenthetical “(including many black students)”. As Tablet notes,

In order to damage Katz’s reputation as much as possible, the creators of Princeton’s rogues’ gallery of racists, an official document that bears the copyright of the university’s Board of Trustees, omitted the parenthetical words “(including the many black students).” Keep in mind that any student who had doctored a quotation, especially intentionally and with malice, would likely have been suspended.

The gallery omits any mention of Katz’s response when he was asked by The Daily Princetonian to clarify what he meant by “terrorist” and “Struggle Session,” or what he has said about these matters elsewhere. This is what Katz wrote:

… the BJL went after one fellow black student with particular vigor, verbally vilifying her in public at every possible opportunity, calling her all sorts of unsavory epithets and accusing her of “performing white supremacy.” Other students, as well as faculty and administrators, were accused, without evidence, of being “racists” and “white supremacists.”

4.) Katz is thus now a permanent part of an official Princeton “rogue gallery” of racists and racist acts. That gallery would not be allowed at the University of Chicago because it’s an official university document containing arguable contentions as well as implicitly punishing out a university professor for his speech.

5.) Respected organizations defending academic freedom called on Princeton and Eisgruber to rescind Katz’s treatment. From Tablet:

The treatment of Katz in the mandatory freshmen orientation has generated a lot of criticism, most notably from the three most prestigious American organizations dedicated to academic freedom: the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), the American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA) and the Academic Freedom Alliance (AFA). (I am a founding member of the AFA, as is Katz.) In his letter to Eisgruber, Keith Whittington, the chair of the academic committee of the AFA and a professor of Politics at Princeton, writes, “We are not aware of any other example of a university systematically denouncing a sitting member of its own faculty in such a way. … We call on the university to refrain from using its administrative resources to target Professor Katz or other members of the faculty in its official activities and programming.”

The AFA letter (pdf here) is especially good. A quote from it:

The university climate would quickly become poisonous and intolerable if administrative units on campus made it a practice to hold up dissenting members of the faculty for ritual condemnation and if the precedent now being set were followed in the future. If the Office of the Vice President for Campus Life uses its administrative position on campus to organize official university programming for the purpose of heaping opprobrium on faculty for expressing disfavored personal political opinions, the risks of chilling speech on campus are severe. The university can hardly create a climate welcoming of heterodox opinions if it creates an administrative apparatus to target the heterodox and stamp them as campus pariahs.

. . . Professors expressing controversial political opinions should expect criticism from members of the campus community, and if those views are unpopular then no doubt such criticism will be loud. However, professors should not have to anticipate that the university administration will adopt those criticisms as its own and place members of its faculty in the pillory as an object lesson for each class of entering students to learn where the boundaries of acceptable speech can be found.

6.) Did Princeton give any credence to any of these letters? It did not. In fact, it accused these organizations of demanding that Princeton violate its own freedom of speech by withholding official criticism of Katz. This is unbelievable:

The university has not yet responded to the accusations—the latter two of which are especially broad—of FIRE, ACTA, or PFS. Eisgruber did, however, reply speedily to Whittington, feigning concern that what the AFA is asking for is contrary to academic freedom and amounts to censorship.

“Are you asking that I censor the website?” Eisgruber inquired. “If so, I find that request” (which is similar to the requests of FIRE, ACTA, and PFS) ”troubling, and I would need to understand better how you reconcile it with the principles of academic freedom and free speech that you champion. I am certain that you would agree that, on a University campus, censorship, including via the compelled removal of information from a website, is a strongly disfavored response to controversial speech.”

In defending the shameful treatment of Katz though such scholastic gymnastics, Princeton’s president seems to be advancing the bizarre notion that somehow the free speech protections enshrined in the university’s rules and regulations extend to administrators in situations where they exercise their official power in order to denounce, harass, and otherwise discredit and threaten individual members of the academic community.

This is a bit like saying that, in denouncing would-be traitors of the Soviet Union on trumped-up charges, Andrey Vyshinsky, the main prosecutor of Stalin’s Moscow trials in the 1930s, was simply exercising his freedom of speech. Or that Joseph McCarthy was merely exercising his right to free speech when he launched his campaign in the 1950s to unearth hidden Communists in Hollywood. Or that the Cultural Revolutionaries in China who denounced their countrymen for imaginary crimes were free speech heroes.

A University has no “freedom of speech” to officially punish a professor who exercises his own freedom of speech.

7.) Complaints to other Princeton administrators have met with the same kind of pushback. The Vice Provost for Institutional Equity and Diversity, Michele Minter, argued that the “To Be Known and Heard” website “is not an official university document” (it is; it’s on a princeton.edu site and has been called “teaching material” by President Eisgruber). Further, Minter claims that Katz isn’t a member of a “protected class”, which is irrelevant, though I think he’s probably Jewish.

And so Princeton, while espousing free speech, has created a climate in which a professor who exercises that right is officially damned by the the University and held up to the students as an example of racism. If that’s not punishment for speech, I don’t know what is.

Two comments. First, Princeton’s twisted construal of free speech appears to be a form espoused by one faculty member quoted in the Tablet article (the professor turns out to be Padilla Peralta, whom we’ve met before):

Instead, freshmen were informed by a professor that he “envision[s] a free speech and academic discourse that is flexed to one specific aim, and that aim is the promotion of social justice, and an anti-racist social justice at that.”

And here’s a reaction to the Princeton mishigass by a fellow academic:

[Eisgruber] is a spineless toady to the woke mob that has taken over Princeton.

You ain’t just whistlin’ Dixie!

Two court cases: Texas charges a women with murder for abortion, and once again, Gibson’s versus Oberlin College

April 10, 2022 • 12:00 pm

This story was reportd by Sophie Kasakove in yesterday’s New York Times and has been reported widely elsewhere (e.g., here). Click on the screenshot to read:

Yes, it’s Texas again, which of course enacted the nation’s most stringent abortion law, and making it enforceable by private citizens instead of the state. Any individual can report others involved in helping a woman get an abortion in Texas (the woman herself can’t be fined), and then can sue those “helpers” for $10,000 each. This case, however, is a bit different, for it involves the state charging a women with murder for the death of a fetus via abortion:

A South Texas sheriff’s official said on Saturday that a 26-year-old woman had been indicted on a murder charge in connection with the “death of an individual through a self-induced abortion.”

The woman, Lizelle Herrera, 26, was arrested on Friday and detained in Starr County, the official, Maj. Carlos Delgado, said in a statement reported Saturday by The Associated Press. Ms. Herrera was released on bail on Saturday, according to a statement from the Frontera Fund, an abortion rights organization. Her bond was set at $500,000.

While circumstances of the case remain unclear — the statement did not say whether Ms. Herrera was accused of having the abortion or aiding one, or how far along the pregnancy had been — the indictment comes months after the Texas Legislature passed several restrictions on abortion.

This apparently is not a violation of the new anti-abortion law, because she’s been charged by Texas and not reported by a private individual for purposes of a lawsuit, but it’s not even clear what law the woman has violated. In fact, the charge itself seems to abrogate the law (my bold below):

It is unclear what statute Ms. Herrera is being indicted under. An abortion ban that took effect in Texas in September, known as S.B. 8, prohibits abortion after six weeks but leaves enforcement to civilians, offering them rewards of at least $10,000 for successful lawsuits against anyone who “aids or abets” an abortion.

The Texas Legislature then enacted another law, S.B. 4, which establishes a criminal violation — a state felony punishable by a $10,000 fine and up to two years in prison — for providing medical abortion pills after 49 days of pregnancy, or for providers who fail to comply with a series of new regulations and procedures. That law also exempts pregnant women from prosecution.

One section of the Texas penal code exempts expectant mothers from being charged with murder in connection with “the death of an unborn child.” Most states instead target abortion providers when an abortion is deemed illegal. In most of the country, abortion is prohibited after fetal viability, generally 22 to 24 weeks, though several states are moving to ban abortions at much earlier stages in anticipation that Roe will be overturned.

According to the statement by Major Delgado, Ms. Herrera was indicted on the murder charge after she “intentionally and knowingly” caused the death of an individual by self-induced abortion.

So if Herrera helped another woman with that woman’s abortion, she must be reported and then a civil case brought against her, which is not what happened. If Herrera had a self-induced abortion, whether through pills or some other method, she cannot be charged with murder. Yet she was.

What we have here, in fact, is a charge brought on the explicit presumption that a fetus is equivalent to a living person who’s been born. I asked reader Ken Kucec about his take on this charge, and got this response:

As for the Texas abortion/murder case, it wasn’t brought under SB8, the Texas citizen-vigilante statute, but is being prosecuted by the Starr County district attorney’s office under Texas’s murder statute. It’s a novel application of the statute, turning on the “personhood” of a fetus, but we’re talking about Texas here (which is far and away the most prolific user of capital punishment) so there’s no telling what may happen.

Indeed. And if the U.S. Supreme Court, as expected, throws out Roe v. Wade, they may leave it to the states to enact their own regulations about abortion. In that case, Texas very well could criminalize abortion at any stage as a case of murder. If the U.S. Supremes deem it proper, the states can pretty much do as they want.

******************

The second article comes from The Bulwark, a centrist or right/center venue with an anti-Trump view.  But its politics hardly matter because I’m not going to deal with that issue. Click to read, though the headline is misleading.

I’ve long been on the side of Gibson’s Bakery against Oberlin College, as Oberlin, under false accusations of racism, defamed the bakery in 2016 and engaged in sleazy manipulations (see my many posts here; but it’s best to read the Wikipedia entry on the case).

In 2019, a jury found the college guilty of “libel, slander, interference with business relationships, and interference with contracts in the Lorain County Court of Common Pleas.” The damage award to the bakery was huge: $44 million dollars in compensation and punitive damages. A judge later reduced the award to $31.5 million, with $6.5 million of that going for lawyers’ fees. That’s still a big bite for Oberlin College, which has been financially constricted since they had to put up security for that amount.

Oberlin didn’t give in but appealed. However, on April 1, the appellate court affirmed the civil verdict. The court’s 50-page finding is here. I haven’t read through the whole thing, but the upshot is that the original verdict stands. Reporter Daniel McGraw, who covered the case from the beginning, says this:

. . .  the presiding judge, John Miraldi, set a high bar for the plaintiffs, ruling before the trial that little of what the students protesting outside the business said or did was admissible, because the plaintiffs could not attach the school to their students, who were exercising their free speech.

The Gibson’s legal team needed to prove two things: (1) that the school’s post-protest actions added fuel to the defamation fire; and (2) that the school knew that these actions were wrong, but kept the racist message going in order to satisfy parts of their student body and faculty.

The appeals court verdict lays out in great detail how Gibson’s satisfied those requirements.

There was testimony that some of the school administrators were themselves at the protest and handing out fliers. Administrators also allowed students to use college equipment to make copies, bought pizza and beverages to feed the protesters, and bought mittens for protesters whose hands were cold. The racism claim from the student senate resolution was emailed to all students and posted on the wall of the student center for a full year.

The second part—proving both intent and what the Oberlin College knew in terms of the veracity of the claims—is the heavier burden.

But the lawyers for Gibson’s uncovered emails and phone messages between administrators which supplied the proof to meet this burden.

Some examples: A text from one administration official said they “hope we rain fire and brimstone on that store.” There were references to that “stupid bakery.” Another email said, “I’m baffled by [Gibson’s] combined audacity and arrogance.” And how, by fighting Oberlin College, Gibson’s “made their bed now.” One administrator suggested that restricting students’ use of their school-issued money cards at Gibson’s would be “another tool for leverage.” The dean of students was confronted with a retired professor who expressed skepticism that Gibson’s was racist. The dean’s response: “Fuck him, I’d say unleash the students.”

Oberlin was hoist with its own petard—administrators’ emails. This is an example of how the vindictivness of the woke, combined with their absolute certainty that they’re on the side of the angels, can lead them into trouble.

The error with the headline is its claim that the Oberlin matter has now “come to an end.” I didn’t see how given that Oberlin has dug in its heels about this case, so why shouldn’t they appeal to the Ohio Supreme Court? Reader Ken answered this query in a comment I didn’t see when I was traveling:

In response to my query on my own brief report on April 3:

If I know Oberlin, they’ll further bankrupt the school by appealing higher up (if they can under the law).

Ken responded:

Oberlin can still seek rehearing by the three judge panel that decided the case or rehearing from all the active judges on Ohio’s Ninth District Court of Appeals sitting en banc. Failing that, the school can seek discretionary review from the Ohio Supreme Court.

If the Ohio Supremes decline to hear the case or if that court affirms the appellate decision, Oberlin’s final recourse would be to seek a writ of certiorari from the US Supreme Court. To do so, it would have to raise a federal issue rather than an issue of Ohio state law — in this instance, presumably an issue arising under the First Amendment. (This was how The New York Times got the defamation judgment awarded against it by Alabama courts before SCOTUS in New York Times v. Sullivan.)

Review before SCOTUS on certiorari is discretionary, too, with the Court granting review of something fewer than a 100 cases a year, out of over 10,000 annual petitions for certiorari. From what I know of the Oberlin case, it doesn’t appear to present a particularly compelling case for consideration by SCOTUS.

In the meantime, the interest on the trial judgment keeps mounting.

And I asked him one more question:

Do you THINK that Oberlin will continue the appeal process?

Ken’s response:

I think Oberlin’s attitude is in for a dime, in for a dollar, so I expect the school will probably run out the string to the bitter end, even though, as a general principle, a party’s chances of success diminish the further up the appellate process it seeks relief, since the standards of review get stricter and the court’s have greater discretion to deny consideration of the case.

In the meantime, two Gibsons have died without getting dime one. As The Bulwark reports:

The coda to this story is that David Gibson and his father, Allyn, owners of the bakery, both died during the intervening years. David Gibson testified in court that his father told him before the trial started that, “In my life, I’ve done everything I could to treat all people with dignity and respect. And now, nearing the end of my life, I’m going to die being labeled as a racist.”

Allyn Gibson survived his son David’s death, but did not live to see his family’s business vindicated. He died just a few weeks ago, on February 12.

So no, this case is not yet at an end. Oberlin has decided to run out its string, and I believe that further interest accrues on the fine that was assessed.

h/t: Ginger K., Steve

 

Two readings on academic snitches

March 25, 2022 • 10:32 am

The internet is moribund on the ship today (It happens), so instead of writing a longer post, I’ll simply call your attention to two pieces worth reading. Both are criticisms of academic culture; one comes from the Left and the other from the Right.

Laura Kipnis is a liberal and a professor of Media Studies at Northwestern University, and she’s has been subject to more Title IX investigations than any academic I know.  This is because she treads dangerous ground: her speciality is writing about relationships on campus and the tortuous nature of sexual harassment policies that monitor them. Because she’s a critic, even though she harasses nobody she gets in repeated trouble simply for writing about what happens to other people. But she’s never been found guilty of anything.

Kipnis’s distinguishing trait (beyond her superb writing skills and dry humor) is that she won’t shut up about these investigations, but turns them her own books and articles. And when she does that, she gets even more Title IX violations for writing about them. In 2017 the New Yorker had an article about Kipnis called  “Laura Kipnis’s Endless Trial by Title IX,” but she’s still clashing with campus authorities, this time for creating an online Google survey about love during the pandemic. For that she got entangled with the campus’s Human Subject Research Board, which ultimately exculpated her. (I wonder if I could get into trouble with my online political-opinion “surveys”?)

Kipnis’s latest piece is in the Chronicle of Higher Education, and you can read it by clicking on the screenshot below:

Here’s the introduction, which is a good example of how to draw a reader into an essay. It also shows one of Kipnis’s appealing traits: weaving her own persona into her pieces, even if they’re about more general topics—like the prevalence of snitching in college.

When I read about the downfall of the University of Michigan’s president, Mark Schlissel, fired after an anonymous complaint about his consensual though “inappropriate” relationship with a subordinate, my first thought was “What kind of idiot uses his work email for an affair?” Then I recalled that I myself am the kind of idiot who persists in using my university email account for everything, despite pledging at least once a year to tear myself away from this self-destructive habit. Schlissel, c’est moi. The next time I get in trouble, will my employer emulate the classy behavior of the Michigan Board of Regents and release troves of my own embarrassing emails for my enemies to savor and mock?

My next thought: Who was the snitch? I knew none of the players, but my inner Hercule Poirot went right to work, assembling likely suspects in the drawing room of my imagination (betrayed spouse, disappointed paramour, assorted foes and rivals, maligned underlings), cleverly disarming them with my continental charm until the culprit was exposed — most likely by the irrepressible look of creepy satisfaction playing across his or her face. To bring down an apparently much loathed and vastly overpaid university president, even for the stupidest of reasons: what ecstasy!

Among the questions prompted by Schlissel’s termination is whether higher education has, on the whole, become a hotbed of craven snitches. From everything I’ve heard and experienced, the answer is yes.

Her question then is why, when the Left used to be dead set against “snitches” (remember the Army/McCarthy trials and Hollywood blacklisting, both vigorously protested by liberals?), now seems to glory in it, creating what Kipnis calls a “carceral campus”? To wit:

. . .First let us pause to consider our terms: Was Schlissel’s narc a “snitch” or a “whistle-blower”? Whistle-blowers are generally attempting to topple or thwart the powerful, and Schlissel was certainly powerful. But the reported offense was, in the words of a lawyer I spoke with, “a nothingburger.” Let us provisionally define snitching as turning someone in anonymously, for either minor or nonexistent offenses, or pretextually. Also: using institutional mechanisms to kneecap rivals, harass enemies, settle scores and grudges, or advantage oneself. Not to mention squealing on someone for social-media posts and joining online mobs to protest exercises of academic and intellectual freedom.

This last is a variant of the “social-justice snitch,” a burgeoning category composed of those who want to defund the police and reform the criminal-justice system but are nevertheless happy to feed the maws of a frequently unprocedural and (many say) racist campus-justice system. There are, to be sure, right-wing students and organizations dedicated to harassing professors whose politics they object to, but that’s to be expected. What’s not is the so-called campus left failing to notice the degree to which the “carceral turn” in American higher ed — the prosecutorial ethos, the resources reallocated to regulation and punishment — shares a certain cultural logic with the rise of mass incarceration and over-policing in off-campus America. Or that the zeal for policing intellectual borders has certain resonances with the signature tactics of Trumpian America, for which unpoliced borders are equally intolerable. But what care social-justice types about fostering the carceral university if those with suspect politics can be flattened, even — fingers crossed! — expelled, or left unemployed and penurious?

The major answer—this is a spoiler alert, but Kipnis also gives so many bizarre episodes of snitching that the article will make your jaw drop—is this: social media, and the responsiveness of universities to social-media complaints or mobbing (even when the accused have done nothing wrong) gives people a way to get back at those they don’t like or who stand for someting they don’t like. This form of revenge is promoted by the swollen bureaucracy that colleges have created to deal with complaints of harassment and bigotry, bureaucracies that often lack work to do and so leap upon specious complaints.

Has anyone stopped to ask whether this is actually what we want the world to look like? Take, for instance, the complaints about gendered-speech missteps that are lately swelling the allegation coffers and occupying the swarms of bureaucrats and deanlets on call to aid every manner of snitch. Title IX offices have become the go-to for reporting pronoun errors or faculty members who accidentally misgender students (even when it involves reading a name off a roster, in one case I know of). Or for using a trans author’s pre-transition name on a syllabus, even when the book in question was published under that name: An older queer art-history professor at Pennsylvania State was turned in by younger queer students for doing just that a few years ago. The phrase “It’s generational” is often heard about this surge of accusation, a cliché meant to reconcile the apparent contradiction of gender-nonconforming progressives deploying the campus carceral apparatus to enforce their ideas of progressivism and queerness.

The lawyer Samantha Harris, who often defends speech-infraction cases, told me that N-word violations are also now a snitch’s paradise on earth. There are still, it seems, occasional old-school types (often leftists) who persist in thinking that there’s a distinction between quoting James Baldwin or Martin Luther King Jr. in full and hurling an epithet. The college-admissions consultant Hanna Stotland, who specializes in “crisis management,” told me that the snitching impulse is taking hold among younger and younger students. She used to have two such cases a year; she’s had 20 in the last two years. N-word offenses are a cottage industry here too. High schoolers squirrel away incriminating texts, or videos of friends at age 15 singing along with rap lyrics, then forward them to admissions committees when the friend (or frenemy, rather) gets an athletic scholarship or is admitted to an Ivy. Colleges are so quick to act on the intel, says Stotland, that they’ll sometimes retract an offer without even giving the accused student a chance to respond.

Of course to want to snitch on somebody like Don McNeil (the NYT writer fired for using the n-word didactically), you also have to claim that what’s been said offends you, causes you palpable “harm.”. But these often faux claims of “harm” are themselves promoted by colleges and by the media willing to take action against the accused. If you can get back at someone whose views you dislike by saying you’re “offended,” even if you really aren’t, well, as Church Lady said, “Isn’t that convenient?”

You can see why, although Kipnis leans Left, she repeatedly gets into trouble. It’s because she Speaks the Truth and also has moxie. She concludes this way:

These are a mere smattering of the hundreds of stories I’ve heard. There are obviously thousands more that people are too ashamed or cowed to disclose. I’m no psychic, but I can predict what will happen when this essay is published. My inbox will be flooded with cases of specious and horrific overblown accusations, sent by people who’ve been warned that if they talk about what they’ve been through, even when accused of verifiably false stuff, they’ll be punished — charged with “retaliation,” then face expulsion or job loss. These effective gag orders mean that administrators will get to keep operating with no public scrutiny, turning ostensibly liberal institutions into cell blocks.

My plan is to feature this new crop of stories in a regular column, or maybe a website, dedicated to the Academic Snitch of the Week. Hey, I know — if we run low on cases, we’ll solicit anonymous reports. Warning: We will be naming names. Of the snitches.

*****************************

A reader called my attention to the story below, reported mainly on right-wing sites that often indict colleges for the same stupidity that Kipnis describes. To find out about this stuff, you more or less have to visit these sites once in a while, for “mainstream media” simply doesn’t care much about injustice done by social-media snitches.

Here’s what the reader wrote me with the links:

I thought you may find this interesting (in a sad way) as it  concerns a scientist having what sounds like serious negative professional repercussions for a party costume.

I can’t find any mainstream media addressing this event. Like most people, I am familiar with the racist history of blackface and believe white folks ought to err on the side of caution. However, in addition to the event being 13 years ago, she was dressed in a costume because (I assume) she was honoring the celebrity [JAC: Michael Jackson], not because she was engaging in racist demeaning mockery. Considering the nature of her life’s work, it sounds sadly ironic that she is being publicly criticized by her employer . She sure sounds like exactly the kind of scientist any research university and university hospital would want on their staff. It appears she has a history of mentoring African scientists. She has so far declined to make a long groveling apology.

There are lots of these stories, but this one is particularly striking because the punishment is way out of line with the offense. The offense, as my correspondent wrote and the articles below report, consisted of wearing a Michael Jackson Halloween costume (including darkening her skin) 13 years ago. Yes, a bad decision, even back then (but much more so now). But worth getting raked over the coals about, and forced to undergo “reflection and reeducation”? No way.

There are two similar pieces about it, one in The College Fix and the other in The Daily Wire. You can ignore them because they’re from the Right, but the story they tell is true. It’s also summarized in Wikipedia. Click on the screenshots to read the tale:

From The College Fix:

and from The Daily Wire:

The scientist at issue is Julie Overbaugh, and she is indeed a top female scientist, a decorated researcher at “The Hutch” and a member of the National Academy of Sciences. Her Wikipedia biography, which details her accomplishments and awards, has a section called “Advocacy for diversity in science” immediately followed by a newer section called “Resignation”. This will be a blot on her career forever.

Overbaugh’s is guilty of a single unwise by not “violent’ decision 13 years ago to dress as Michael Jackson in one of her lab’s annual “themed Halloween parties. The theme was the best-selling 1982 album “Thriller”, so it would not have been a stretch for Overbaugh to dress as Jackson. The mistake was the darkening of her skin, not donning a hat and a silver glove.  I’ll let Wikipedia give the details:

In early 2022, Overbaugh was placed on administrative leave from the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. A photo of a Cancer Research Center Halloween Party from 2009 was anonymously distributed that allegedly showed her wearing blackface while dressed as Michael Jackson as part of a group “Thriller” costume. While determined to be an isolated incident, and although an interview of her peers and coworkers failed to reveal any pattern of inappropriate behavior “of any kind in the past or at any time while employed at Fred Hutch”, Overbaugh ultimately agreed to step down from her role as a Senior Vice President at the Center. She was also removed from all leadership duties in order to engage “in an education and reflection process” after publicly apologizing for her past action in a town hall meeting. As described by the President of the Hutch in the town hall: “Julie has offered to step down from her role and Senior Vice President of Education and Training and I have accepted her resignation”. “She will continue to be a prominent investigator at the Fred Hutch in the Human Biology Division working on viruses that affect so many people around the world”.

And the reaction by her bosses, taken from The Daily Wire:

As The Federalist noted, the incident didn’t occur at UW Medicine, yet its CEO Dr. Paul Ramsey and Equity Officer Paula Houston sent an email to staff announcing Overbaugh’s punishment for the “racist, dehumanizing, and abhorrent act” of “blackface.”

“Ramsey and Houston claim that the UW Medicine community was ‘harmed’ by the 13-year-old photo that most staff didn’t know existed until reading about it in the Feb. 25 email. ‘We acknowledge that our community has been harmed by this incident and the fact that 13 years elapsed before action was taken,’ they wrote. ‘We are convening a series of affinity group meetings in the next few weeks to provide spaces for mutual support, reflection, and response,’” the Federalist reported. “Neither Ramsey nor Houston explained how the photo ‘harmed’ anyone. Indeed, beyond one confirmed complaint, it’s unclear if anyone even cared about the old photo.”

Forced into re-education because she “harmed” the community! Apparently the community, and Overbaugh’s bosses, have no capacity for even a bit of forgiveness after 13 years. The words and punishment are harsh, way beyond what was deserved.

The statement issued by the Hutch is here, talking about her required “education and reflection process” after having being removed from her administrative posts. (Thank Ceiling Cat she can still do research!)

So, as journalist Jesse Singal noted in a series of seven tweets, her blackface was “not a good idea” (I suspect we all agree about that given the history of blackface), but the punishment was seriously disproportionate to the offense. You can read Singal’s tweets by clicking on any one of them below:

It’s this kind of stuff that makes me think the American academic world has gone off the rails.

Infantile Yale Law students disrupt campus free-speech event

March 17, 2022 • 1:00 pm

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

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

Not a chance.

An excerpt:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bravo for Stith!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We have a new department

February 23, 2022 • 1:15 pm

The University of Chicago offers a BA degree in Critical Race and Ethnic Studies, but it’s offered inter-departmentally, with faculty from the Center for the Study of Race, Politics, and Culture (CSRPC), which is not a department but a “research institute“. For several years, though, a group of faculty and students have been calling for their own department to support those studies. And now they’ve got one.  Until yesterday, I heard that the proposed new department, “The Department of Race, Diaspora, and Indigeneity,” was under discussion, and all I could find about it on the Internet was this (reproduced below):

CSRPC STATEMENT OF SUPPORT FOR THE DEPARTMENT OF RACE, DIASPORA, AND INDIGENEITY

On November 17, 2021, the Division of the Social Sciences is convening all social science faculty for an advisory discussion and vote regarding the proposal for a Department of Race, Diaspora, and Indigeneity. In solidarity with years of student advocacy and in acknowledgment of the work of our dedicated colleagues, the CSRPC is excited to witness this historic vote on the department of Race, Diaspora and Indigeneity in the Social Science Division and look forward to its presence at the University of Chicago. We believe that departmentalization is a crucial and momentous step in supporting scholarship and training on race, politics, and culture at the University. The innovative design of juxtaposing race, diaspora, and indigeneity–concepts and practices that have evolved in tandem with the modern world—has the potential to offer new paradigms for thinking across a constellation of conversant fields, including disciplines that have been established according to area, racial identity, or ethnicity.

The CSRPC envisions a strong relationship with the proposed department, as the Center continues to serve as a research and programmatic meeting ground for faculty, staff and students across the University and partners with community leaders and civic organizations in Chicago’s southside and beyond. We look forward to welcoming the Race, Diaspora, and Indigeneity department as an exciting strategic and collaborative partner that will strengthen and enhance our work as related yet distinct entities.

The need for a separate department is justified as “supporting scholarship and training on race, politics, and culture”.  Now, as of yesterday, the department has become a reality after an overwhelmingly positive vote of the Faculty Council. This morning the new President of the University, Paul Alivisatos, as well as Provost Ka Yee C. Lee, issued this announcement:

I don’t know much about this department, and there’s surely no course list, but of course I have concerns. Since the department hasn’t yet taken shape, and I haven’t seen a rationale beyond what’s above, I’ll wait for a bit and see how things shake out. [UPDATE: Somehow I missed the rationale behind the proposal, which is here, and so I’ll report back after reading it carefuly.)

But I’ll confess that it’s worrying. One thing that concerns me is that the creation of this department seems motivated more by ideological currents than by scholarly need. What was the need? What is the intellectual rationale that wasn’t met by the present degree-granting program? Further, I am unsure what the announcement means by saying the department was “conceived in a different way from [sic] other departments that are organized around the experiences of particular groups, periods in time, or places.”  I presume that this means the department will not concentrate on individual identities, but will take an “intersectional” approach incorporating various groups.

And I’m concerned above all—yes, I’m a worrier—that this will begin an unstoppable erosion of the features made Chicago unique among American universities: a freedom from political and academic trends, at least in principle, and an emphasis on rigor and free expression. The school had no “dogma”, no “approved way of thinking,” a principle embodied in our Kalven Report.  We were a school that differed from, say Harvard, because we had very little social prestige, but on the other hand enjoyed a worldwide  reputation for research and academic rigor. I am worried that this department will, as similar departments in other places have, promote an accepted “way of thinking” that brooks no dissent.

We were the “nerd school”, the very last of the 300 schools ranked as “party schools”. Our students proudly wore t-shirts that said “The University of Chicago: where fun goes to die”. Another tee-shirt: “The University of Chicago: Hell does freeze over.” But many would also wear shirts with a big list of all the Nobel Laureates who worked here (see below).

I came here because of the academic rigor, giving up a comfortable and easier life, and a big house in the Maryland suburbs, so I could rub elbows with the members of the best ecology and evolution department in the country. It was hard, but immensely stimulating. Best colleagues around, and fiercely motivated students.

It’s that rigor, and complete intellectual independence, that lured lots of other faculty and students to the school. Many of our faculty could have gone to the “prestige schools” like the Ivies, but repeatedly turned down outside offers because of our unique intellectual climate.

Will we still have that climate, or are we being buffeted by the winds of fashion? If it’s the latter, I’d become deeply pessimistic, even though I’m retired. I still retain a substantial pride at even being associated with this place. It seems to be changing so fast!

As I said, I’ll see what the new department has on offer before I weigh in, and that might be a while! But I encourage readers to offer their own takes below.

University of Massachusetts STEM faculty push back against the politicization of their University and its morphing from research and teaching to social engineering

February 22, 2022 • 10:00 am

Not long ago, according to the “open letter” from faculty below, the University of Massachusetts at Boston issued a new and provisional draft statement of its “Mission and Values”. It’s pretty short, so I’ll put it below (bolding is mine except for the headers)

Mission statement draft:

As an academic community of global and local citizens, we are committed to becoming an anti-racist and health-promoting institution that honors and uplifts the cultural wealth of our students. We intend to engage reciprocally in equitable practices and partnerships with the communities we serve. We support various and diverse forms of knowledge production that enrich the lives of all communities, especially those historically undervalued and underserved. We are a public urban university dedicated to teaching, learning, and research rooted in equity, environmental sustainability, social and racial justice, innovation, and expansive notions of excellence.

Vision statement draft:

We aspire to become an anti-racist and health-promoting public research institution where:

  • Diversity, equity, shared governance, and expansive notions of excellence are core institutional values.

  • Wellness and an ethic of care are embedded throughout our campus culture and all policies and practices.

  • We invest in a resource-rich learning environment to support the development and success of students of plural identities and from diverse socio-economic, racial, ethnic, and cultural backgrounds.

  • Climate, environmental, and racial justice align with sustainable economic and planning decisions with local and global effects.

  • Community engaged scholarship, service, and reciprocity are embedded in University practices that promote the economic, social, and cultural well-being of the communities we serve

We hold ourselves and each other accountable to ensure these values drive all decision-making in research, pedagogical innovations, resource allocation, and the development of policies and practices.


if you compare this to the OLDER published statement published here, you’ll see quite a difference. For example, here’s how the old Mission Statement begins:

Mission

The University of Massachusetts Boston is a public research university with a dynamic culture of teaching and learning, and a special commitment to urban and global engagement. Our vibrant, multi-cultural educational environment encourages our broadly diverse campus community to thrive and succeed. Our distinguished scholarship, dedicated teaching, and engaged public service are mutually reinforcing, creating new knowledge while serving the public good of our city, our commonwealth, our nation, and our world.

And while there is a small section on “diversity and inclusion”, note that the diversity refers to “variant perspectives and values” of people of all ages regardless of “national or cultural origins.”  The word “race” or “ethnicity does not appear in the old statement. What you see just below is inclusive, not divisive, and refers to “community building”

Diversity and Inclusion:

Our multi-faceted diversity is an educational asset for all members of our community. We value and provide a learning environment that nurtures respect for differences, excites curiosity, and embodies civility. Our campus culture encourages us all to negotiate variant perspectives and values, and to strive for open and frank encounters. In providing a supportive environment for the academic and social development of a broad array of students of all ages who represent many national and cultural origins, we seek to serve as a model for inclusive community-building.


That’s quite a difference, isn’t it? The old statement gives the main mission to do research, and foster teaching and learning (with both urban and local engagement) This, indeed used to be the main purpose of a University, but in the last two years that’s all changed. Not only has the main mission morphed into this:

we are committed to becoming an anti-racist and health-promoting institution that honors and uplifts the cultural wealth of our student,

but now the University seems to be far more about pushing an ideology and involving its members in social engineering of equity: “anti-racist” is mentioned twice, “racial justice” twice, and “racial backgrounds” once. Further, we see the “other ways of knowing” trope:

We support various and diverse forms of knowledge production that enrich the lives of all communities, especially those historically undervalued and underserved.

In the new draft, “research” appears only in the last sentence of the mission statement, as opposed to in the first in the older draft.

Notice also that they’re now committed to “expansive notions of excellence.” This can mean but one thing: “less meritocracy”.  And that translates to fewer or no standardized tests, less emphasis on grading, and more emphasis on personal qualities like “spunk.”

If you compare the old with the new draft, you’ll conclude that three things have changed:

1.) The mission of the university is now to achieve social justice, and that has become a priority standing above doing research and teaching. In other words, the Universitiy’s mission is ideological and political—a form of social engineering rather than knowledge production and dissemination

2.) What we see is the morphing of of a good university into a large and expensive site of individual and group therapy, promulgating “wellness and an ethic of care.”

3.) New forms of “knowledge production” are to be used, especially forms of “knowledge production” that aid minorities or those historically oppressed. What, exactly, are the “new forms of knowledge production”? Are they those involving “lived experience” rather than facts, or “special ways of knowing” said to be characteristic of different groups?

This is a huge change in the mission of this university, and it’s not just UM Boston, but almost everywhere—even my school. The historical function of the university, outlined in the old mission statement, has now become antiquated.

However, some faculty won’t go gentle into that good night. If you click on the screenshot below, you’ll see a letter signed by (so far) 40 members of the University’s College of Science and Mathematics who oppose the new draft Mission and Vision statements. These are brave people, as surely there are more who feel the same way but don’t want to go public about it.

These faculty (erroneously, I think) attribute the warped new statements as “likely accidental” because “the College of Science and Mathematics only has one representative on the committee [that drafted the statement] despite being the second largest college on campus.”

Well, they may be right, but I doubt it. It is the humanities and social sciences that are most vocal and active in this type of authoritarianism, and why would omitting scientists and mathematicians be an “accident”, anyway?

Do read their entire response, which is a heartbreaking plea for the University of Massachusetts at Boston to return to its traditional mission. That’s not going to happen, and the way things are, in ten years there will be no public (and few private) universities in America who don’t see their main mission as social engineering and therapy.

One quote from the faculty’s response, which at the end calls for a “significant revision” of the draft mission and vision statements. (Bolding is the authors’, not mine.)

We believe the Mission and Vision Statements trample on the fundamental role of the university: to facilitate the creation, curation, and dissemination of knowledge. To elaborate, we believe that the main goals of a university are to empower the pursuit of knowledge, to cultivate lifelong learning, to foster the exchange of ideas, to encourage critical thinking, to unequivocally support free inquiry, and to instill respect for a diversity of ideas and viewpoints.

Under no circumstances can political or ideological activism be the primary purpose of a public university. This is not to say students, faculty, and staff cannot be activists. Quite the contrary: individual people are the agents of social change, and as such they should be encouraged to organize and fight for a better society. Moreover, the public university can play an active role in educating students on pressing issues of social injustice as well as effective methods of activism. However, in this regard the role of the university is to empower people to take action themselves – not to coerce students, faculty, or institutional units to do so.

It is important to emphasize that the fundamental role of the public university can neither be political nor ideological activism. In part, this is due to the illegality of compelled speech in public institutions and our legally binding commitment to academic freedom as outlined in the so-called “red book” on academic personnel policy. Additionally, ideological activism cannot be a central goal of the university because at times it will conflict with education and research. The search for truth can never be subjugated to social or ideological beliefs.

We raise these points about the purpose of the public university because we believe the current drafts of the mission and vision statements radically depart from these fundamental tenets, and instead promote a chilling environment for the pursuit of truth. This is most evident in the Vision Statement which discusses diversity, equity, expansive notions of excellence, wellness, an ethic of care, plural identities, climate justice, environmental justice, and racial justice, and then states that “We hold ourselves and each other accountable to ensure these values drive all decision-making in research, pedagogical innovations, resource allocation, and the development of policies and practices.” That is, these values – which have very distinct ideological interpretations – must drive the direction of every researcher and department on campus, and as a community of scholars we will hold people accountable when their research does not actively promote these values.

  • If your research on quantum computing is not perceived as promoting climate, environmental, or racial justice – will you be held accountable and your resources re-allocated?

  • If your department makes the data-informed decision to support the use of standardized tests as a measurement of student learning or preparation, but the campus views this as being opposed to wellness, an ethic of care, equity, or an expansive notion of excellence, will your department be held accountable and its resources re-allocated?

This is, to me, very sad. The American University is disappearing, and with it its traditional values of research, teaching, and learning. It is now becoming a vehicle for the ideology of the Far Left. I’m on the Left, but wouldn’t want for a minute to make my own politics into a “mission statement” for my universities

And universities should not be the vehicle for ANY ideology. The University of Chicago’s Kalven Report prohibits, with very few exceptions, any official moral, political, or ideological statement by the administration or units of the University, such as departments. This is because those kind of statements involve the chilling of speech—of making university members afraid to speak up if they have problems with “official stands”. (We of course welcome individual or signed group arguments, but not official ones.)

The third paragraph of the excerpt above explicitly echoes the Kalven Report’s statement.  Without such a rule in place, there is nothing to prevent universities from degenerating into units that push their own political beliefs on students and postdocs.  How can you learn to think, or even learn, period, when you are afraid to speak up against official statements issued from on high?

h/t: Anna

A New Zealand university surrenders to indigenous “ways of knowing”

February 18, 2022 • 12:45 pm

I’ve talked a lot on this site about Mātauranga Māori (“MM”), the mixture of indigenous legend, practical knowledge, superstition, theology, and morality that is suddenly about to be injected into New Zealand science classes (both secondary school and college), with the intent of teaching it as a “way of knowing’ coequal with science. Because it’s ideologically incorrect to say anything against the founding population, I get a lot of letters from disaffected Kiwis who abhor the anti-progressive trend of making modern science coequal with a lot of ancient superstition. (I repeat once again that MM should certainly be taught in school sociology, history, and anthropology classes, but only the small bit of practical knowledge that MM comprises deserves a place in science.)

Anyway, I got hold of the future plans of one university, the University of Waikato in Hamilton, New Zealand, which confirms the vow that two of its administrators recently took:: to make the whole university into an institution to teach MM and promulgate Maori “ways of knowing”. It is the wokest University of any school I know, for it has vowed that its mission is to adhere completely to the 1840 Treaty of Waitangi: a document guaranteeing rights to the Māori, But that’s not Waikato’s only goal: it’s not just equality or even equity this university wants, but to convert itself into a kind of academic iwi, a Māori group or tribe.  Whatever its plans call for—and I have three planning documents—they’re not calling for building a real university. in the way we know it The university is to be decolonized and turned into an iwi, valorizing and teaching all things Māori.

First, here’s main strategy document for the next two years, which you can get as a pdf by clicking on the image:

This document isn’t as hard-nosed as the other two I’ll mention, but MM is a big part of it. A few goals (all bolding that isn’t italicized is mine):

Strategic priorities

1.) Embed mātauranga Māori into teaching, learning and the curriculum.

Number one!

From “Taskforce Objectives”:

Strategic priorities

2. Ensure that academic appointment, advancement and promotion processes require staff to reflect on their engagement with mātauranga Māori, as well as recognising the wider knowledge and contribution that Māori and Pacific staff provide to scholarship at the University. . .

5). Provide support and opportunities for staff to engage with matauranga Māori within their areas of academic expertise, and to ensure that matauranga Māori is embedded as part of the curriculum.

This ideological/political/religious basis for promotion, appointment, and advancement is explicitly forbidden in places like The University of Chicago. All that matters, according to our Shils report, is research, teaching (including supervising grad students), service, and contributing to the intellectual community. Any considerations of gender, race, ideology, ethnicity, and religion are forbidden.

And the last paragraph:

The success of initiatives to recruit new and retain existing Māori and Pacific academic staff will determine our ability to provide appropriate leadership for the integration of Mātauranga Māori and traditional Pacific knowledge into the curriculum and our research programmes.

There’s a lot of embedding planned, but I must that 32% of students at this school are of Māori descent, the highest proportion of that ethnic group in any New Zealand university. But make no mistake: all NZ are going this route. The question is whether the curriculum must cater to the “way of knowing” of the ethnic group that is so prevalent, and to be infused into the science curriculum. Two-thirds of the students, after all, are not Māori.

Here’s the second document, the “research plan”. Click to read it:

Here’s their main research objective (emphasis is mine except for the bits in italics)

OBJECTIVE 1- INCREASE RECOGNITION, INTERNALLY AND EXTERNALLY, OF OUR WORLD-CLASS SCHOLARSHIP THAT REFLECTS OUR PLACE IN THE WORLD, AND IN TE AO MĀORI, AND GROW THE NEXT GENERATION OF RESEARCHERS RECOGNISED FOR THEIR ABILITY TO CREATE SUSTAINABLE FUTURES THROUGH LOCAL AND GLOBAL LEADERSHIP.

Scholarly excellence rooted in deep disciplinary expertise is the foundation upon which our research reputation rests. World-class scholarship means the excellence of our research is internationally-recognised and benchmarked. This does not mean the University’s research endeavours are only for the rest of the world, but must reflect our setting, our region, and our country, blending the perspectives of tangata whenua and tangata te Tiriti, as well as Pacific approaches and methodologies. Our unique opportunity, as we engage with the work-programme of the 2021 Taskforce, is to embed mātauranga throughout our researcher’s capabilities, treasure the input of Pacific knowledge systems, and celebrate the synergy with other approaches to science and knowledge generation. Recognising this opportunity, and working with it, will enable our research excellence to shine through.

. . . What will the University do to achieve this objective?

• Establish a process to identify and develop researcher capacity and capability in mātauranga Māori, and in Pacific research methodologies.

• Recognise a broader definition of excellence in our suite of annual research awards.

• Further develop specialist mātauranga competency among the professional staff supporting research, to deliver excellence in mātauranga.

. . . Pou Whaitake – Relevance operates at differing geographical scales: local, regional, national and international, and it encompasses our place in the world. Relevance means that mātauranga Māori, and Pacific knowledge systems cannot be separate from other approaches and methodologies, because we will benefit most when all are woven together to create synergy and space for all.

The above paragraph sounds good, but what does it really mean. How is one suppose to weave together the search for dark matter, or the nature of sexual selection, with MM? These are concepts developed outside that paradigm.

 . .We are committed to implementing the recommendations of the Taskforce Report (2021) and to become an institution that rejects casual and systemic racism, honours Te Tiriti o Waitangi, and values mātauranga Māori. University-based research has evolved over centuries in the traditions of Natural Philosophy, as such we cannot simply “bolt on” Māori and Pacific knowledge systems and hope to gain value, whereas if we deliberately make space for mātauranga and Pacific approaches we can add depth and meaning to our research endeavours. As such, mātauranga Māori will be woven throughout the four pou of excellence, impact, relevance and resilience; and is an integral part of all five objectives in this Plan.

Once again the Treaty (“Te Tiriti”) and MM are virtually worshipped, and will be made ubiquitous. They’re not just “bolted on” to education, either, they are woven throughout every aspect of education.

This university aspires to world-class excellence, but seems to think that embedding MM throughout the school will “enable [their] research excellence to shine through.” It won’t because world-class research is beyond MM itself, though of course perfectly capable of being done by Māori. What is happening is that the University is cosseting its Māori students in an ethnic cocoon at the expense of their education. They’ll know a lot of MM, which they probably know already, but won’t be exposed to “non-Pacific knowledge systems” and therefore won’t acquire a parochial education.  Now I’m not sure what balance needs to be struck between MM and “Western” or “Crown” knowledge, but you don’t see these research plans calling for the students to be exposed to the classics, to modern science, or much of the humanities. If you read this poorly written document, you’ll see it’s all about “achieving research excellence,” but it’s really obsessed with measuring research excellence. There’s a lot of talk of aspirations, but no concrete plan to realize those aspirations beyond infusing everything with MM.

Finally, here’s the Academic Plan (click on screenshot):

He Timatanga / Introduction

In recognising the importance of Te Tiriti o Waitangi / The Treaty of Waitangi and emābracing our motto Ko Te Tangata / For the People, diversity, equity and inclusion figure prominently in this Academic Plan. Teaching for diversity means acknowledging and working with all students’ lived experiences. Equitable teaching and learning is available to all, is fair and just. Inclusive teaching and learning happen in environments where everyone feels a sense of belonging, that are equally accessible for all, and are welcoming for all.’ In addition, the Plan acknowledges the important role that Māori, and also Pacific learners, teachers or educators, families and communities play in enhancing the mana of the University of Waikato. Pacific peoples have a rich history and tradition of knowledge and learning which the University is keen to harness in order to ensure our Pacific students flourish and excel.

Once again homage is paid to the principles of the 1840 Treaty, which says nothing about what is to be taught in schools. It’s being interpreted to mean “Māori principles will dominate and guide education at this university.”

And the PRIMARY academic objective:

OBJECTIVE 1 – EMBED MĀTAURANGA MĀORI INTO TEACHING AND LEARNING

I won’t translate this for you except to say that Aotearoa is the Māori word for “New Zealand”:

The University of Waikato, in committing to implementing recommendations in the Report of the Taskforce to become an institution that genuinely honours Te Tiriti o Waitangi, is not systematically or casually racist and that values mātauranga Māori (Māori knowledge and Māori ways of knowing), has an opportunity to lead the way in this. Truly transforming our teaching, learning and curriculum in this manner will benefit tangata whenua as well as all students and staff, making the University of Waikato a welcoming, inclusive, forward-thinking, place to study and work. Tangata whenua as kaitiaki and as key educators are helping bring about greater cultural and environmental awareness. Some of our papers and programmes at Waikato already fully embed within them notions of kaitiaki and mātauranga. We all, however, need to commit to inspiring and supporting students to be guardians of our precious resources which will also help us advance the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals. One of the principal outcomes recommended by the Report of the Taskforce is: “All staff and students enjoy enhanced academic experiences and results from the embedding of mātauranga Māori through existing teaching and research approaches”. Over the past few years, there has emerged within Aotearoa New Zealand’s universities and other research organisations a wider appreciation and integration of the important role mātauranga Māori plays in regards to understanding the world around us. This ought, where possible, to extend to teaching, learning – what we teach and how we teach it. This includes assessment because as the Report of the Taskforce (p. 29) notes, it is important to: “Establish alternative forms of assessment in addition to, alongside, or in place of written forms of assessment where suitable and effective (e.g. oral, creative practice)”.

And this is how they will do it:

What will the University do to achieve this objective?

• Develop and begin to implement professional development for all staff on Te Tiriti o Waitangi

Begin work on establishing exactly what a mātauranga Māori approach to teaching, learning and curriculum might look like in different disciplines. In some subjects this work is well established, in others it is underway, in still others it is yet to begin. In reality, it is likely that mātauranga Māori will be more challenging to implement in some subjects than in others but conversations need to begin and steps taken towards this enhanced academic experience

Develop and begin to implement professional development for colleagues on the principles and practices of mātauranga Māori in relation to teaching and learning

Review ‘Cultural Perspectives’ papers to ensure the criteria and learning outcomes remain relevant and are achievable and to consider the relationship between existing Cultural Perspectives papers and future papers that will adopt or engage with a mātauranga Māori approach

Note that some subjects may be harder to “make over” with MM than others (try quantum mechanics or evolutionary biology, for instance) but made over they will be.

To enter into New Zealand secondary or tertiary education is to go down a rabbit hole where all values are upturned to adhere to the Treaty and to MM. If universities do this, so thinks their administrations as well as the Ardern government, they will take its place among the great educational institutions of the world. But everybody know that’s not true. In fact, secondary education in New Zealand has been in the dumper for years, and this new direction will just make it worse.  Perhaps the government doesn’t realize that this will eventually redound upon New Zealand’s international rankings. Those who focus obsessively on Māorizing universities may not suffer, but eventually the Vice Chancellors of the schools will be held accountable.