Impediments to speaking freely in New Zealand academia

May 28, 2023 • 12:45 pm

The article below, published in NZ’s Stuff magazine, summarizes a big yearly survey taken by the country’s Free Speech Unions (find the big survey here or here, click the FSU icon below, or ask for a pdf). The upshot is that Kiwi academics often have difficulty saying what’s on their mind for fear of ostracism or reprisal—something we’ve long known from hearing academics beef privately, or from the reprisals visited on those who say what’s “politically incorrect”—people like the Satanic Seven (two have since died) who signed the Listener letter in 2021 and got demonized for it.

Click the first screenshot below for the short take-home lesson, or the image below that for the full report. The author of the Stuff piece is the head of the FSU:

So here’s a summary (note that I haven’t compared the data here to that in America, but perhaps some reader should. At any rate, from what I recall the degree of self-censorship is at least as great in NZ as in the U.S.

First, the a list of the questions that were asked (452 people were polled in April):

The FSU report (click to read, or ask me for a pdf).

A summary from Stuff:

The second annual survey on academic freedom by the Free Speech Union is an eye-opening read for those of us who value ideas and solutions being openly debated in Kiwi universities.

. . . Concerningly, this report shows that a majority of academics who responded at five of our eight universities disagreed that they were free to state controversial or unpopular opinions, even though this is one of the specific features of academic freedom as defined in the Education and Training Act 2020.

Across all eight universities, only 46% of academics agreed they felt free to question received wisdom and state controversial and unpopular opinions.

The rest disagreed. Men in particular, (59%), believed they were not free to voice these views.

Claims that those who were more senior (and therefore supposedly more secure) in roles, such as professors, were freer to speak on controversial subjects did not play out.

In fact, only 31% of professors agreed that they were free to state controversial or unpopular opinions. If those who have dedicated their careers to exploring specific subjects feel unfree to voice their views if they are unpopular or controversial, how can these conversations move forward?

Not surprisingly, the degree of self-censorship was correlated with political affiliation: the Left is, of course, on the side of “indigenizing” education in the country, and wokeness sets the agenda for “acceptable” speech:

Problematically, it is clear that the flow of political persuasion mapped almost directly onto whether academics felt free. About two-thirds (64%) of academics who identified as “very left” and 70% of those who identified as “left” felt free to state controversial or unpopular opinions.

It decreased from less than half (46%) of those who are “slightly left” to one-third (34%) of those who are “centrist” down to one-quarter (26%) of those who are “slightly right” to 18% for those who are “right”. No academic who responded as “very right wing” agreed with the statement (admittedly, there was a small sample size for this group).

This, in the context of an academy that we already know has a left-leaning bent (the respondents to our survey reflect this disposition), is frightening for intellectual diversity.

Academics were asked about six specific subjects which might be controversial; a majority of academics felt comfortable discussing only three: religion, politics, and sexual orientation.

The topics that made people most uncomfortable were, as you see above, sex and gender, the Treaty of Waitangi and colonization, and race. Not surprising.

Some 59% of academics did not feel comfortable discussing the Treaty of Waitangi and colonialism, with at least one-third (30%) of academics at every single university feeling “not at all comfortable” (45% of academics from Otago were “not at all comfortable”).

Otago is one of the most Māori-centri unviersities in New Zealand.  Finally, Māori self-censor far less than do European descendants, which is also not surprising since Māori are seen as the victims.

Interestingly, Māori academics were much more likely to feel comfortable discussing this issue (54% felt “very comfortable”), while almost two-thirds (61%) of European academics did not feel comfortable (44% “very uncomfortable”).

This is more or less what I expected, but I wonder if the Kiwis themselves think these figures are disturbing (I do). Ideally, except for those who are pathologically shy, academics should at least feel free to broach the topics mentioned above.

The authors drew five themes from the survey. I’ll just mention them in the authors’ words and give their take on one: the Māori-related issues (like the Treaty, or Mātauranga Māori) that are more or less taboo to discuss.  We’ve talked about MM before, and the government’s attempt to stick it into the science curriculum as a form of “indigenous science”, so it’s worth a special look.

  1. Academic freedom is under threat and there is a climate of fear

  2. Freedom to do research is constrained by the ability to attract funding, or to do certain types of research

  3. Certain issues are off-limits for debate.  [JAC: see below]

  4. Universities themselves are not always upholding academic freedom

  5. Trends in universities reflect wider societal trends

This is what you read under #3:

The survey asked people to say how they comfortable they felt discussing a number of issues at their institution. Many of the comments made related to those topics, with people elaborating on what they perceived as the difficulties in discussing those issues. There were very few comments on issues such as politics, religion or sexual orientation – these were also the issues that fewer people in the main survey said they felt uncomfortable discussing. Comments were more likely to be made about the Treaty of Waitangi and colonialism, race, or sex and gender. There were a few comments on topics not asked about in the survey, such as climate change. Respondents who commented on these issues often described them as being out of bounds or not up for debate. Fear of being misinterpreted or being called racist or phobic, as well as the impacts on job security and promotion mentioned in Theme 1, resulted in many people saying they had decided that it is best to say nothing at all on these topics.

I have the impression that saying anything around race, gender, the Treaty of Waitangi, sexual orientation, or what political structures lead to the best outcomes for society, or what the best outcomes for society are, would be fraught with career danger.

The pressure to be ‘PC’ and ‘woke’ is enormous – and my views are pretty PC and woke! But I feel the most gentle, careful questioning of ideas around issues such as trans rights or mātauranga Māori would result in ostracism by staff and negative feedback from students (at best).

Treaty of Waitangi/biculturalism/Māori/race-related issues featured particularly, in relation to teaching and assessment, course content, research, promotion and general discourse and debate. This was especially the case in institutions that were moving to becoming ‘Te Tiriti-led’. [JAC: “Te Tiriti” refers to the Treaty of Waitanga.]

The greatest challenge to academic freedom relates to Treaty of Waitangi and race issues where there is no ability to speak without dire consequences for academics.

There is definitely a chilling effect on academics when it comes to debate on topics such as colonisation and racism for fear of being labelled racist.

Our university has a host of pre-ordained positions on things, especially Te Tiriti, race, colonialism and rainbow topics. I don’t know what would happen to someone if they spoke out in disagreement with these positions because no one ever does. I think everyone knows not to touch these issues and not to try to explain any nuance or slight disagreement on their part, as we know it will likely end badly.

Many respondents emphasised that their comments should not be seen as dismissing concepts such as mātauranga Māori, or the role of the Treaty in informing the university’s work. However, they wanted to be able to ask questions, discuss and not compromise on quality.

I teach a science and while I am happy to include cultural examples of that science as appropriate, my priority is making sure the students learn the science. I am feeling pressured to include cultural constructs at the expense of the science. I strongly believe in the value of affirmative action and changing our language to be more inclusive. At the moment, I feel excluded from the discussion.

This all jibes pretty well with what I hear from New Zealand academics who write me privately. Of course, you might say that I’m only going to hear from the disaffected ones, but you’d think that I’d also get emails from those who disagree with my opposing the hegemony of Mātauranga Māori in secondary-school science classes. Yet I’ve never heard from one correspondent who disagreed with me about that. In contrast, I get all kinds of comments and emails from creationists who deplore my acceptance and popularization of evolution.

The problem with this self-censorship about the fulminating indigenization of New Zealand is that, even more than minorities do in America, Māori bear the “authority of the sacred victim,” so that opposing initiatives like putting MM in science class is not only going to get you called a racist, but may well get you fired.

Open debate is essential if New Zealand isn’t going to be wokified to death, and taking science down with it; but open debate, particularly on item #3, is precisely what is taboo.

Case in point: in December, 2021, I discussed the demonization of the Satanic Seven by the University of Auckland’s Vice-Chancellor Dawn Freshwater. Freshwater had previously issued a statement explicitly criticizing The Listener letter and its seven signers, but backed off when she realized she was violating academic freedom. She then got all kumbaya-y and said this (bolding is mine):

The debate that initially started as about the relationship between mātauranga Māori and science in the secondary school curriculum in Aotearoa New Zealand has intensified and extended over recent weeks, with a number of overseas commentators adding their opinions.

Unfortunately, the debate has descended into personal attacks, entrenched positions and deliberate misrepresentations of other people’s views, including my own. This important and topical debate deserves better than that.

I am calling for a return to a more respectful, open-minded, fact-based exchange of views on the relationship between mātauranga Māori and science, and I am committing the University to action on this.

In the first quarter of 2022 we will be holding a symposium in which the different viewpoints on this issue can be discussed and debated calmly, constructively and respectfully. I envisage a high-quality intellectual discourse with representation from all viewpoints: mātauranga Māori, science, the humanities, Pacific knowledge systems and others.

Well, that debate has never taken place, and there are no signs that it will. Freshwater’s words were just cant: a way of placating those concerned about free expression.

The AAUP rebukes Hamline University for academic mistreatment of a professor

May 24, 2023 • 11:45 am

I’ve discussed “Muhammadgate” at Hamline University quite a few times before, and, at any rate, the details are given in the update below from the American Association of University Professors (AAUP; click on screenshot) and especially in the AAUP’s report here and pdf here. 

In short, in June, 2022, an adjunct professor of art history, Erika López Prater, was giving a class on World Art that included two sessions on Muslim art.  Those sessions included showing two images of the prophet Muhammad from famous paintings. In one his face was visible, in the other it was blotted out.  López Prater had given the students a “trigger warning” in the syllabus and also right before the online class, so they knew what they were going to see, and had the opportunity to leave. (The warning came because some Muslims, but not all, consider showing an image of Muhammad to be blasphemy.)  López Prater also vetted the syllabus and its warning to the administration and  the chair of the Art and Digital Media department, who had no problem with it.

The class went forward, and shortly thereafter a student, Aram Wedatalla, who was also president of the school’s Muslim Student Association, was outraged, and reported the incident to President Fayneese Miller and Dean Marcela Kostihova. Wedatalla also expressed her dissatisfaction to López Prater.

Read this summary by clicking on the link, but I especially recommend the AAUP report to show you what happened next: a perfect storm of outrage that led to the total violation of López Prater’s academic freedom

This ensued:

1.) López Prater  met twice with the dean about the complaints.

2.) Her Department chair suggested that López Prater tender an apology to the student body and her art class. But the apology that she wrote was just for the offense she caused; López Prater deliberately did not apologize for showing the images, which would have been ludicrous given the context.

3.) The University Vice President then issued a fulsome and apologetic statement about the Islamophobia supposedly caused by López Prater’s showing the paintings. It was almost a direct rebuke to the faculty member.

4.) López Prater was informed that she would no longer be teaching in the school. Effectively, as an adjunct, she was fired.

5.) The university held a “community conversation” that was clearly meant to reinforce the dastardly Islamophobia of López Prater. The topic was in fact “Islamophobia,” the panel of students were all black women (Muslims, I suspect), and a professor who tried to speak in defense of López Prater was told to shut up.

6.) The story had now become national news with a New York Times article devoting a front-page story to it on January 8 of this year.  Other people wrote in defending López Prater.

7.) The administration, realizing it had embarrassed itself and violated academic freedom, walked back its statements on January 17. The President and Chair issued this statement:

“Hamline University is the epicenter of a public conversation about academic freedom and students with diverse religious beliefs,” the statement began, and “many communications, articles, and opinion pieces . . . have caused us to review and re-examine our actions.” It continued, “Like all organizations, sometimes we misstep. In the interest of hearing from and supporting our Muslim students, language was used that does not reflect our sentiments on academic freedom. Based on all that we have learned, we have determined that our usage of the term ‘Islamophobic’ was therefore flawed.” The statement ends with a retraction: “It was never our intent to suggest that academic freedom is of lower concern or value than our students—care does not ‘supersede’ academic freedom, the two coexist. Faculty have the right to choose what and how they teach.”

8.)  “That same day Professor López Prater filed suit against the university in Ramsey County District Court, seeking damages for violations of Minnesota’s Human Rights Act, breach of contract, promissory estoppel, defamation, and “intentional infliction of emotional distress.”

8.) Meanwhile, the regular faculty met and overwhelmingly gave a vote of no confidence to President Miller.

9.) President Miller resigned.

I’ll reproduce just two documents that were part of this kerfuffle. First, López Prater’s “trigger warning” on her syllabus (again, she also gave a verbal one right before class):

I aim to affirm students of all religious observances and beliefs in the content of the course. Additionally, this course will introduce students to several religious traditions and the visual cultures they have produced historically. This includes showing and discussing both representational and non-representational depictions of holy figures (for example, the Prophet Muhammad, Jesus Christ, and the Buddha). If you have any questions or concerns about either missing class for a religious observance or the visual content that will be presented, please do not hesitate to contact me.

That’s pretty good, right? Nobody could object to being blindsided by being shown the two paintings, which I reproduce here.

And here is the damning statement that the school’s Vice President issued, which was then shared with the student body by the Dean of Students:

Several weeks ago, Hamline administration was made aware of an incident that occurred in an online class. Certain actions taken in that class were undeniably inconsiderate, disrespectful, and Islamophobic. While the intent behind these actions may not have been to cause harm, it came at the expense of Hamline’s Muslim community members. While much work has been done to address the issue in question since it occurred, the act itself was unacceptable. . . . I want to make clear: isolated incidents such as we have seen define neither Hamline nor its ethos. They clearly do not meet community standards or expectations for behavior. We will utilize all means at our disposal, up to and including the conduct process, to ensure the emotional health, security, and well-being of all members of our community.

It makes my blood boil to read this even now. There was NO Islamophobia, no disrespect, no harm, and certainly lots of consideration.  This, more than anything else, I think, brought down the AAUP’s wrath on Hamline.

Oh, one other comment. The reports says this, which may account for why the school’s reaction was so strong:

In 2019, a new strategic plan set a goal of increasing enrollment by diversifying the demographic makeup of the student body and improving student retention. According to faculty members who worked on the plan, an unstated goal was to recruit more students from the growing population of East African Muslims in the Twin Cities.

What did the AAUP do about this? I haven’t read the longer pdf file of the report, but I’m not sure that the AAUP can really do anything to Hamline University save censure and embarrass it.  Further, the faculty have already spoken in opposition to the President, Dean’s, and Chair’s mishigass, and the President is toast. Nevertheless, the AAUP’s judgment will stand as a warning to other schools. The last half of the report censures Hamline for doing these things:

a. Retracting López Prater’s teaching assignments.

b. Not affording López Prater academic due process. There was no formal procedure used to assess what she did before they got rid of her.

c. Denying López Prater her academic freedom to teach what she wanted (courts have ruled that so long as material like these pictures serve a didactic purpose, they are protected by academic freedom.

d. Relying largely on part-time appointments, meaning that faculty like López Prater get low pay, not many benefits, and huge workloads. This practice is increasing in American Universities, and it must stop, as it’s a form of indentured servitude.

e. Not creating a climate of academic freedom at the school. As the AAUP report notes:

The implications for academic freedom in art and art history of the events recounted in this report are clear. If a Muslim student can prevent the display of an image of the Prophet Muhammad, why cannot an evangelical Christian student seek to censor a work like the controversial Piss Christ by Andres Serrano or a devout Hindu student object to studying the work of Indian artist M. F. Husain? But art history is not the only field of study potentially at risk. Indeed, as Professor López Prater wrote the committee, “My situation presents a slippery slope not only for the discipline of art history, but for all of academia.”

They do praise the University’s governing board for acting rapidly and forcing the University to retract the charge of Islamophobia. They probably also asked Miller to resign, though it’s not clear.

Finally, the AAUP made a number of conclusions and recommendations, which I’ll put below the fold as this is getting too long. Click “read more” below to see them:

Continue reading “The AAUP rebukes Hamline University for academic mistreatment of a professor”

Required academic DEI statements challenged in court, and Wisconsin ditches them

May 21, 2023 • 11:30 am

A law school prof once told me that he thought that required DEI statements for hiring academics was illegal: a violation of the First Amendment.  As “compelled speech,” analogous to loyalty oaths, this is a violation of the First Amendment that’s less well known than “the government cannot prohibit you from saying what you want.” Instead, it’s “the government cannot force you to say things you don’t want to say” stipulation, also legally part of the First Amendment.  That’s why no schoolchild can be forced to utter the Pledge of Allegiance.

When I asked the prof if universities could be sued for requiring academic job applicant to produce a DEI statement, I was told that yes, it could, but it would probably require someone with “standing”. That is, someone who had been personally injured by the DEI-statement requirement.  And that, of course, would be hard to do: you’d have to prove, for instance, that you were not hired because your DEI statement was insufficient.  Now there may be such cases, but can you imagine anybody who sued on these grounds could have a ghost of a chance of even having an academic career? Not these days, unless you want to teach at Bob Jones University.

And so, up to now we haven’t had lawsuits against compelled speech represented by required DEI statements. We don’t require them at the University of Chicago, but of course there are ways of trying to find out where a candidate stands on DEI without having a paper record.

As a First-Amendment hard liner, I personally object to DEI statements. They don’t tell us anything about a candidate’s suitability for an academic job, any more than knowing where they stand on abortion or the war in Ukraine. They are loyalty oaths—oaths that pledge fealty to the latest form of DEI. (You can bet that an applicant who parrots Dr. King’s statement that people should be judged by their character instead of their color is simply not going to be hired.) But I didn’t see any way to get rid of these statements save via universities realizing that they violate the Constitution, standing up for free speech, and ditching them voluntarily.

But all of a sudden these lawsuits seem to be in the air, though the first one seems to come from an applicant without standing. We also have another report that the University of Wisconsin system has deep-sixed required DEI statements.  (Click on the screenshots to read; quotes from articles are indented.)

A) The University of California System; article from Higher Ed Dive:

The skinny (which is skinny):

  • A former University of Toronto psychology professor sued the University of California system Thursday over its use of diversity statements in its hiring process.
  • These statements typically detail job applicants’ commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion, or DEI, and how they have furthered these ideals in their careers. But the ex-professor, J.D. Haltigan, in court documents alleged they are “loyalty oaths,” likening them to the ones that proliferated during the Cold War.
  • A UC spokesperson declined to comment Thursday, saying the system has not yet been served with the lawsuit.

Critics like Haltigan argue the statements force job applicants to pledge to progressive views. His lawsuit, alleging constitutional violations, is being backed by a conservative nonprofit, the Pacific Legal Foundation.

Specifically, he is suing UC President Michael Drake, as well as officials at the University of California, Santa Cruz, where Haltigan applied for a job.

“The University administration ensures conformity and compliance by promulgating detailed rubrics and guidelines that tell applicants exactly what to say and what not to say in their Statements,” the lawsuit states.

Haltigan may have standing if he can make a reasonable case that he was denied a job at UC Santa Cruz because his diversity statement was insufficient. But the next article suggests that this isn’t the case:

Another article, from the Santa Cruz Sentinel, says that Haltigan’s statement was targeted not just at the UC System but at this particular campus (UCSC):

An excerpt:

Haltigan, who earned his doctorate in developmental psychology at the University of Miami, is currently an independent scientist and Pennsylvania resident and is being represented by Sacramento-based attorney Wilson Freeman with the Pacific Legal Foundation.

“We’ve been keyed into the issue of DEI statements for a couple of years,” said Freeman. “We think it’s an important issue propagating, what we see as, a sort of orthodoxy throughout the academy. We think it’s a threat to the First Amendment and academic freedom. We think it’s especially bad at the University of California.”

While searching for jobs earlier this year, Haltigan came upon an opening he felt he was qualified for at UCSC. After reviewing the university’s requirement to include a diversity, equity and inclusion statement with the job application, Haltigan wrote about it on an online blog with the viewpoint that DEI statement requirements for academic job applicants have, “contributed to creating a corrosive and hostile environment that is intolerant of viewpoint diversity and is anathema to high-quality research and teaching.”

If you read his diversity statement linked above, you’ll see it’s actually called “Against the use of DEI Statements in Faculty Job Searches”, and includes stuff like this:

However, I believe that the use of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) statements in evaluating candidates for positions in higher education and academia are anathema to the ideals and principles of rigorous scholarship, and the sound practice of science and teaching—all of which public universities were created to uphold. DEI statements have become a political litmus test for political orientation and activism that has created an untenable situation in higher academia where diversity of thought—the bedrock of liberal education—is neither promoted nor tolerated. Public trust in our universities has been severely diminished as a consequence. As the noted American sociologist and sociocultural scholar Philip Rieff noted decades ago in relation to the vogue for politically engaged teaching and scholarship “inactivism is the ticket.”

But then the possibility of him being hurt in this process is nil, for Haltigan hasn’t yet applied for the job. Apparently he wants to, and wrote the statement above in anticipation that he would. But without palpable damages, can he really sue? Bolding below is mine.

The lawsuit states that Haltigan is “committed to colorblindness and viewpoint diversity. He objects to DEI orthodoxy and believes individuals should be considered based on individual merit.” and also that, “If Dr. Haltigan were to apply for this position, he would be compelled to alter his behavior and either remain silent about the many important social issues addressed by the DEI statement requirement or recant his views to conform to the dictates of the university administration.”

Freeman said that Haltigan, who has not yet applied for a job at UCSC, just wants to be able to without a DEI statement attached.

“All that he wants is to be considered with respect to his qualifications for the position,” said Freeman. “So, an ideal outcome would simply allow him to be considered on his merit. We think that the First Amendment academic freedom demands that outcome, and hopefully we’ll get that.”

Freeman and the legal team with the case are preparing to move for a preliminary injunction in the coming weeks and anticipate the university’s response. According to Scott Hernandez-Jason, assistant vice chancellor of communications and marketing at the university, because the defendants have not yet been served with legal papers, UCSC officials did not have a comment about the lawsuit.

I guess he doesn’t want the job, and perhaps is simply trying to gin up a test case.  Apparently the suit has been filed, but the defendants haven’t seen it yet. It’s all deeply weird.

B) The University of Wisconsin eliminates required DEI statements (from Wisconsin Public Radio):

I may have mentioned this before, but the UW system is getting rid of DEI statements because the Republican state legislature is refusing to fund the state universities if they require such statements:

The University of Wisconsin will no longer require diversity, equity and inclusion statements from job applicants, UW System President Jay Rothman announced Thursday.

The move comes after Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos has threatened to cut state funding to Wisconsin’s public universities. Specifically, Vos has criticized DEI programming at UW as an attempt to “indoctrinate” students with taxpayer dollars.

It’s common for universities to ask potential faculty to submit statements describing how they’ve used their work to further diversity, equity and inclusion. Rothman did not provide an estimate of how many UW positions have previously required such statements, but described the number as “limited.”

“We remain absolutely committed to the principles of DEI,” Rothman told reporters Thursday. “But when some people believe mandatory diversity statement in employment applications are political litmus tests, then we are not being inclusive.”

That’s almost funny: the President of the UW system declaring that DEI statement are NOT INCLUSIVE.  Well, he has a point in that if you have ideological views opposed to the most “progreessive” version of those statements, and what you say doesn’t really bear on your qualifications as a faculty member, then yes, you’re excluding people with certain ideological views.

Rothman made another statement that sounds sensible (my emphasis):

Lawmakers are currently in the process of drafting the state’s next two-year spending plan, after the Legislature’s Republican-led finance committee scrapped almost all of the budget proposed by Democratic Gov. Tony Evers. The new fiscal year takes effect July 1. In the meantime, the Republican-controlled Committee on Colleges and Universities has been holding a series of hearings on what conservatives charge is liberal bias and a lack of intellectual diversity on UW campuses.

Rothman used the final hearing Thursday to express support for academic freedom and free speech at UW. He also took the opportunity to announce to lawmakers the planned elimination of DEI statements.

UW officials have no plans to back budget cuts for positions or programming dedicated to DEI, Rothman told reporters Thursday. He also said the elimination of DEI statements would not preclude university officials from asking about the promotion of diversity and inclusion during job interviews. And, he said, that definition of diversity should be broad.

“It is time to expand what we think of inclusion to include issues around veterans, disability status, socioeconomic status, first generation students status, and viewpoint diversity, in addition to dealing with underrepresented groups in our society,” Rothman said. 

Yes, by all means foster diversity, which is, as the Bakke case ruled, an inherent good in a university. But ethnic diversity is only one type of diversity, and if diversity is an inherent good—as opposed to being done for reparations to minority groups—it must be so because it fosters viewpoint diversity, which is surely be the main form of diversity you seek in a student body.

At any rate, no school should require DEI statements. They are unconstitutional and, in the end, inimical to the functioning of a university.  This is why the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), while not opposed to efforts to increase diversity, strongly opposes any such efforts that impede academic freedom and freedom of speech. Those include DEI statements in hiring and promotion of academics.

New college admissions scam

May 19, 2023 • 12:00 pm

This article at ProPublica  (also co-published at the Chronicles of Higher Education) recounts what I consider a “scam” because it seems to be a largely unethical way to get students into college. Now that affirmative action is about to go down the drain, and standardized tests like the SAT are becoming more and more optional (the two issues are connected), canny entrepreneurs are developing new ways to give students college-worthy credentials.  But it sounds dubious to me.

Click to read:

Here’s how it works:

A.)  A company arises that promises to help students get into college by having them get some research published. (Real published research by high school students is rare).  They charge huge fees: from several thousand dollars to more than $10,000.

B.) Usually the companies pair a student with a “mentor”, a professor or graduate student who can help the student cobble together a paper.  (As you can imagine, many–but not all–of these papers are not of high quality.)  The “mentors” are paid huge fees for this: up to $200 per hour, far higher than graduate student wages)

C.) A publication is founded that will consider and accept papers written by high-school students (as you might guess, the ideas and writing itself often comes from the “mentors”).  Here’s one of them: the Scholarly Review. These journals also show “preprints”, unreviewed manuscripts that a student can put on their college-application c.v. There are many of these journals, and, unfortunately, some are connected with the very companies that charge students for getting mentors to help them write papers for college applications. Looking at the link will give you an idea about what counts as “publication.”

As you can imagine, many of these journals aren’t very selective, and publish papers with no reviews and no corrections. As the article says, “Almost any high school paper can find an outlet,”

D.) The papers are then touted on college applications. They do seem to help, but of course few evaluators are able to find time to read the papers, much less assess the research. Overall, it does burnish an application, though a lot of the burnishing is bogus. Given the stiff competition to get into good schools, though, parents are willing to pay high fees for the “service.”

E.) As it’s even harder for foreign students to get into American universities, there’s a lot of money to be made getting students overseas to “publish”. Here’s one company in India:

A short walk from India’s first Trump Tower, in an upscale neighborhood known for luxury homes and gourmet restaurants, is the Mumbai office of Athena Education, a startup that promises to help students “join the ranks of Ivy League admits.” An attendant in a white uniform waits at a standing desk to greet visitors in a lounge lined with paintings and featuring a coffee bar and a glass facade with a stunning view of the downtown skyline. “We all strive to get things done while sipping Italian coffee brewed in-house,” a recent Athena ad read.

Co-founded in 2014 by two Princeton graduates, Athena has served more than 2,000 students. At least 80 clients have been admitted to elite universities, and 87% have gotten into top-50 U.S. colleges, according to its website. One client said that Athena charges more than a million rupees, or $12,200 a year, six times India’s annual per capita income. Athena declined comment for this story.

Around 2020, Athena expanded its research program and started emphasizing publication. Athena and similar services in South Korea and China cater to international students whose odds of getting accepted at a U.S. college are even longer than those American students face. MIT, for instance, accepted 1.4% of international applicants last year, compared with 5% of domestic applicants.

A former consultant said Athena told her that its students were the “creme de la creme.” Instead, she estimated, 7 out of 10 needed “hand-holding.”

For publication, Athena students have a readily available option: Questioz, an online outlet founded by an Athena client and run by high schoolers. Former Editor-in-Chief Eesha Garimella said that a mentor at Athena “guides us on the paper editing and publication process.” Garimella said Questioz publishes 75%-80% of submissions.

Athena students also place their work in the Houston-based Journal of Student Research. Founded in 2012 to publish undergraduate and graduate work, in 2017 the journal began running high school papers, which now make up 85% of its articles, co-founders Mir Alikhan and Daharsh Rana wrote in an email.

Last June, a special edition of the journal presented research by 19 Athena students. They tested noise-reduction algorithms and used computer vision to compare the stances of professional and amateur golfers. A survey of Hong Kong residents concluded that people who grew up near the ocean are more likely to value its conservation. Athena’s then-head of research was listed as a co-author on 10 of the projects.

Publication in JSR was “pretty simple,” said former Athena student Anjani Nanda, who surveyed 103 people about their awareness of female genital mutilation and found that they were poorly informed. “I never got any edits or suggested changes from their side.”

As colleges abandon indices of merit (this is of course a way to accept students who would not get in using traditional merits), and go to “holistic” evaluation, this kind of scam will become more and more common. For you can include anything that makes you stand out as “holistic”, and money-grubbing  people will find a way to take advantage of that.

h/t: Steve

Vanderbilt’s Chancellor sticks up for institutional neutrality

May 16, 2023 • 9:15 am

To me it makes eminent sense for a university to maintain a position of institutional neutrality—that is, to avoid taking public stands on moral, ideological, and political issues.  By taking such stands, the University, which is supposed to be a place where questioning and free speech are encouraged, chills the speech of its members. What graduate student or untenured faculty member would risk punishment by publicly taking issue with an official University position on, say, abortion, DEI, gun control, and the like? (Evidence of such punishments are widespread; I’ll mention a few below.) Official University statements serve to “chill speech”, which is inimical to the very purpose of a university.

In fact, up to now there were only two colleges in America that took an official position in favor of institutional neutrality. One was the University of Chicago, which has held that position since 1967, when the Kalven Report became policy. As I wrote two years ago:

At the University of Chicago we have a policy, based on the 1967 Kalven Report, that prohibits official units of the university from making moral, political, or ideological statements—unless those statements are about issues that directly affect the mission of the University. This includes university departments. The purpose is to promote freedom of speech by preventing the chilling of speech, for “official” university statements, by the nature of their “offficial-ness”, make those who disagree with them reluctant to speak out, including students, grad students, postdocs, and untenured professors. The University has refused, over the years, to issue any statements about stuff like Darfur, the Vietnam War, Communism and the Red Scare, and now about various forms of social unrest.  (Over the last few years I’ve written many posts on this issue.)

The one exception for us is that official statements may be all right if they bear on the mission of the University of Chicago. So, for example, our University supported the DACA program because kicking out students whose parents arrived here illegally would be unfair to students already in college and also force the university to vet the immigration status of applicants. But these exceptions are rare.

I’ll give one quote from Kalven, my favorite bit:

The instrument of dissent and criticism is the individual faculty member or the individual student. The university is the home and sponsor of critics; it is not itself the critic. It is, to go back once again to the classic phrase, a community of scholars. To perform its mission in the society, a university must sustain an extraordinary environment of freedom of inquiry and maintain an independence from political fashions, passions, and pressures. A university, if it is to be true to its faith in intellectual inquiry, must embrace, be hospitable to, and encourage the widest diversity of views within its own community. It is a community but only for the limited, albeit great, purposes of teaching and research. It is not a club, it is not a trade association, it is not a lobby.

Since the university is a community only for these limited and distinctive purposes, it is a community which cannot take collective action on the issues of the day without endangering the conditions for its existence and effectiveness. There is no mechanism by which it can reach a collective position without inhibiting that full freedom of dissent on which it thrives. It cannot insist that all of its members favor a given view of social policy; if it takes collective action, therefore, it does so at the price of censuring any minority who do not agree with the view adopted. In brief, it is a community which cannot resort to majority vote to reach positions on public issues.

The neutrality of the university as an institution arises then not from a lack of courage nor out of indifference and insensitivity. It arises out of respect for free inquiry and the obligation to cherish a diversity of viewpoints.

Can you seriously oppose those sentiments? If you do, then you see the University as a venue for taking sides in public debates at the expense of chilling the speech of its members.

I should add that nothing prohibits university members from taking personal stands on these issues; the statements just cannot carry any university imprimatur. (And because the university president’s stands may be conflated with “official stands,” it’s probably best for those at the top to keep their views to themselves.)

The second school that abides by Kalven, which recently adopted this policy, is the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

But now we apparently have a third school: Vanderbilt University. Its Chancellor, Daniel Diermeier, recently declared that his school would embrace a possibility of “principled neutrality”. This is described in the Wall Street Journal op-ed below by Lamar Alexander, former President of the University of Tennessee, U.S. Senator from the same state, and U.S. Secretary of Education.  Yes, it’s in the conservative op-ed section of the WSJ, but do you really expect to see a defense of institutional neutrality (ergo free speech) in the liberal mainstream media? Click to read:

(Diermeier had laid out the basis of his stand in a short Inside Higher Ed piece in 2022.)

In this case, Diermeier’s declaration was prompted by the Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade, which outraged many (including me). Urged by his faculty and students to officially weigh in opposing that decision, Diermeier refused, declaring his principle:

When the Supreme Court overruled Roe v. Wade, the University of California’s president denounced the decision as “antithetical” to UC’s values. Vanderbilt University’s new chancellor took a different approach. Daniel Diermeier, who was appointed in 2020, reaffirmed Vanderbilt’s commitment to “principled neutrality,” in which the college and its leadership refrain from taking positions on controversial issues that don’t directly relate to the function of the university.

If “principled neutrality” sounds anodyne, you haven’t been paying attention. Mr. Diermeier’s stand is boldly reassuring. That his policies are an exception among elite universities isn’t.

Even within Vanderbilt, Mr. Diermeier’s stance is under attack. “Many of us—faculty, students, staff and alumni—are ready for a divorce from the chancellor’s position,” Brian L. Heuser, a Vanderbilt professor, argued in an Inside Higher Ed column. Mr. Heuser wants the university to take a stand against the Tennessee Legislature’s votes on a variety of issues.

(I’ll deal with Heuser’s arguments in a moment.)

Diermeier’s stand arose from the same roots as Chicago’s: repeated demands that the University take stands on public issues. At the University of Chicago this began decades ago, when people demanded that our university take a stand against Communism and then the Red Scare. It refused, and likewise refused when asked to make statements opposing Vietnam, Darfur, and the like. From the WSJ:

Mr. Diermeier’s commitment—as well as the university’s embrace of free expression on campus—is a legacy from the time when I was a student at Vanderbilt. In the 1960s, the university was being pummeled from the left and right for hosting controversial speakers like Allen Ginsberg, Stokely Carmichael and Strom Thurmond. Chancellor Alexander Heard said at the time: “A university’s obligation is not to protect students from ideas, but rather expose them to ideas, to help make them capable of handling and, hopefully, having ideas.” Vanderbilt doesn’t take positions on abortion, guns or climate change, but it will ensure that on its campus you are free to state your position and hear others’ viewpoints.

That freedom is of course chilled when the powers that be have official stands that differ from your own. And so Diermeier embraced Kalven, though the Kalven Principle, sadly, isn’t mentioned in this op-ed:

Principled neutrality isn’t enough to prepare students to be good and thoughtful citizens. Too many are “taking cues from the polarized culture around them,” Mr. Diermeier says—they’re declaring that those with opposing views aren’t merely incorrect but immoral. Such “moral tribalism” and a culture of condemnation has severely impeded the free exchange of ideas that is higher education’s lifeblood.

Colleges today, Mr. Diermeier believes, must teach students how to debate constructively and “avoid the us-vs.-them dynamic that can lead to a breakdown in discourse.”

Did I mention that Diermeier was Provost of the University of Chicago for four years before he took the Chancellorship of Vanderbilt? I like to think that his ideas are drawn in part from the Kalven Principles that reign here.

Now the existence of a mere three colleges embracing institutional neutrality out of the 4,000 degree-granting colleges in America is a pathetic proportion: 0.075%. (In contrast, nearly 100 colleges have adopted a version of Chicago’s 2014 Principles of Free Expression). Other schools really must join Chicago, UNC, and Vanderbilt lest America’s universities change from institutions of learning, teaching, and discussion into instruments of social change. Make no mistake about it: this will happen until college administrators wise up and make free speech their most important guiding principle.

Finally, have a look at Deirmeier’s opponents, exemplified by Vanderbilt Professor Brian Heuser in his Inside Higher Ed piece, “A Critique of ‘Principled Neutrality‘.” Heuser insists that universities must take stands on political or ideological issues to stave off threats to the well being of American citizens:

Despite the chancellor’s insistence that “staying neutral requires courage,” many of our university stakeholders are experiencing significant fear as Nashville’s social conditions have deteriorated for women and members of our LGBTQIJewishBlack and immigrant communities. In this context, such neutrality is better understood as a toxic form of indifference to the lived realities of our citizens. We have also experienced horrific gun violence arriving on our doorstep, and our undergraduate students have taken the lead in defending our community’s safety. In this context, such neutrality is better understood as a brutal fear of governmental intrusion into our affairs.

Due in large part to our exceptional stock of human capital and economic impact, universities can be powerful—even profound—actors in the public discourse. But adeptly leveraging this potential requires transformational leadership, political acumen and a steadfast commitment to prioritizing the common good. Universities can—and often do—create significant social cohesion by using their knowledge capital to shape the public’s understanding of and commitment to inclusive causes. But this potential must also be activated by administrators who believe that it is worth their time and effort to engage with their larger communities on difficult issues.

[Note the woke Social Justice language: “toxic indifference”, “lived realities”, etc.]

The problem here, as you’ve probably seen, is that all the positions that Heuser thinks the university should take are liberal or leftist positions. I happen to agree with them, but that’s not the point. The point is one that Christopher Hitchens always made when opposing censorship: who decides which positions are the official and approved ones?  What if a Catholic chancellor decides to issue a statement opposing all abortions? That would be allowable if institutional neutrality weren’t in play. Or, what if a Southern university issues statements opposing gun control because it’s in America’s interests for its citizens to protect themselves?  As political and moral views change, so must the university’s “official” stands, and those who oppose them risk being punished. It’s better to avoid taking any official stands, allowing free speech to proliferate on campus. Colleges are not, as Kalven states (again), instruments of political change:

A university, if it is to be true to its faith in intellectual inquiry, must embrace, be hospitable to, and encourage the widest diversity of views within its own community. It is a community but only for the limited, albeit great, purposes of teaching and research. It is not a club, it is not a trade association, it is not a lobby.

No, a university is not a club, a trade association, or a lobby; neither is it a political party.

With respect to official positions quashing free speech, Heuser’s argument, I think, is dead wrong:

To be clear, the chancellor and I agree that universities require significant internal freedom—academic freedom—to enable the continuous free flow of ideas that leads to everything from drug discoveries to political revolutions. We also agree that universities have an obligation to safeguard the intellectual freedom of our stakeholders—especially when their views are offensive—so long as it is exercised in constructive and nonviolent ways. However, his assertion that advancing institutional positions on political and policy-making issues somehow undermines an institution’s commitment to free speech and open discourse is utterly wrong. To the contrary, it is impossible to guarantee the free exchange of ideas without first assuring the participants of those exchanges that their basic human rights will be protected and defended, internally and externally. Failing to publicly defend those rights permits faculty, students and staff to be interrogated (and marginalized) on the basis of their human identities, rather than on the merits of their ideas and scholarship. From this vantage, “principled neutrality” is intellectually unprincipled and incongruent with the tasks of assuring personal safety and equal opportunity for all members of our university community. It is best interpreted as a privileged position of political convenience rather than a requisite for rigorous intellectual engagement.

This is a “free speech but. . . ” argument.

Given the many examples of professors being deplatformed, sanctioned or even fired for taking positions against DEI and other university-approved positions, it’s risible that Heuser argues that free speech won’t be chilled by institutional non-neutrality. Has he heard of Joshua Katz’s firing at Princeton, or the three professors at Texas’s Collins College fired for making political statements? (Some of these statements, by the way, were from the Left, showing that “who makes the rules?” is the big objection to institutional non-neutrality.)


UPDATE: I’ve just found that Vanderbilt has published an official statement on Freedom of Expression that includes both free speech and “principled neutrality”.  Welcome to the trio of free-speech schools, and raspberries to Dr. Heuser.

The Washington Post decries the suppression and deplatforming of speech by students

May 1, 2023 • 9:30 am

Is a turning point really being reached in the War Against Wokeness?  Every time I read a piece in the mainstream media decrying  the pernicious antics of the Authoritarian Left (one of the terms I use for “the woke”), I think to myself, “Is the tide really turning at long last?”

Well, it’s not going to any time soon—if for no other reason than that most of the mainstream media (and this still includes the NYT) is still woke, and because DEI initiatives have firmly installed themselves on college campuses, grasping onto academia like an octopus. (The idea behind these isn’t bad, but the way these initiatives are perpetrated, hand in hand with Diktats against “hate speech”, is harmful.)  Such initiatives, employing thousands of minions throughout the U.S., won’t easily go away, even if the Supreme Court, as expected, rules against affirmative action based on race.

BUT, here we have the entire editorial board of the Washington Post applauding the actions of schools like Stanford and Cornell in resisting the demands of the woke. Yep, the entire editorial board; this is no one-off by a disaffected academic.  And it mentions at least two schools whose anti-wokeness I hadn’t heard of. Click headline below to read:

Here are the incidents of pushback they describe (quotes from the Post are indented:

a.) The statement by the president of Cornell University that trigger warnings should not be mandatory.

In March, a Cornell University sophomore and member of the undergraduate student assembly saw a friend become visibly disturbed while reading “The Surrendered,” a Chang-rae Lee novel with a graphic rape scene. So she spearheaded a resolution that “implores all instructors to provide content warnings on the syllabus for any traumatic content that may be discussed.”

On the surface, this story has all the trappings of a wider phenomenon increasingly prevalent on American university campuses: the curtailing of academic inquiry, and sometimes even free speech, for the protection of perceived student “sensitivities” — invisible boundaries whose contours are never quite clear but almost always couched as barriers against “harm.” What happened next is cause for celebration: The Cornell administration immediately struck down this resolution, a welcome reminder that academic institutions have the power to defend their fundamental values — and are willing to use it.

“We cannot accept this resolution as the actions it recommends would infringe on our core commitment to academic freedom and freedom of inquiry, and are at odds with the goals of a Cornell education,” wrote Cornell’s president, Martha E. Pollack, and its provost, Michael I. Kotlikoff, in a letter rejecting the student assembly’s plea for trigger warnings. Although they did note, understandably, that “in some cases faculty may wish to provide notice,” an outright trigger warning requirement, they noted, “would have a chilling effect on faculty, who would naturally fear censure lest they bring a discussion spontaneously into new and challenging territory, or fail to accurately anticipate students’ reaction to a topic or idea.”

b.) Penn State strikes back as well:

Earlier this month, Neeli Bendapudi, the president of Penn State, released a recorded statement defending her university’s embrace of controversial speakers. The Supreme Court, she reminded her viewers, has long held that public universities such as Penn State are bound by the First Amendment. But she also reiterated a moral reason to continue welcoming diverse, and even offensive, opinions: “For centuries, higher education has fought against censorship and for the principle that the best way to combat speech is with more speech.”

Watch the video.  Bendapudi naturally has to say that she deplores the message of many of the “hate speech” speakers whose rights she nevertheless defends.  But she shouldn’t have to say this to defend freedom of speech; she should maintain institutional neutrality and leave her personal opinion out of this.  Still. . .it’s better than nothing, and a good lesson for Penn State students. (It’s a reiteration of Mill’s arguments from “On Liberty”.)

c.) From Vanderbilt (and Harvard):

A similar defense is being waged at private institutions. At Harvard University, a group of more than 50 faculty members last month established the Council on Academic Freedom, a group “devoted to free inquiry, intellectual diversity, and civil discourse.” Vanderbilt University, likewise, announced last month that it would become the U.S. foothold for the Future of Free Speech project, an initiative of the Danish think tank Justitia. “For a university to do its work, faculty and students must have maximum freedom to share their ideas, assert their opinions, and challenge conventional wisdom — and one another,” said Vanderbilt Chancellor Daniel Diermeier in a statement.

A few years ago, Diermeier was the Provost of the University of Chicago.

The article then mentions the results of the long survey by the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE; download its 54-page report here).  FIRE’s own summary:

  1. Roughly three-in-five faculty (61%) surveyed said that “a university professor should be free to express any of their ideas or convictions on any subject,” and more than half (52%) said speech should only be restricted “where words are certain to incite physical violence.”
  2. On average, 81% of faculty supported allowing four different hypothetical controversial speakers on campus, compared to 48% of the students who were asked about the same speakers in FIRE’s College Free Speech Rankings (CFSR) survey.
  3. More than half of faculty (55%) said students shouting down a speaker is never acceptable. Four-in-five said this about students blocking entry into a campus speech and 92% said this about students using violence to stop a campus speech. In FIRE’s CFSR the percentages of students who say these actions are never acceptable are 38%, 63%, and 80% respectively.
  4. Roughly one-in-10 (11%) faculty reported being disciplined or threatened with discipline because of their teaching, while 4% reported facing these consequences for their research, academic talks, or non-academic publications.
  5. Liberal and conservative faculty have starkly different views on mandatory diversity statements for job applicants, the value of political diversity on campus, and when freedom of speech should be restricted. They also have very different social and professional experiences on campus.
  6. Faculty are split evenly on whether diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) statements are a justifiable requirement for a university job (50%) or are an ideological litmus test that violates academic freedom (50%). Three-in-four liberal faculty support mandatory diversity statements while 90% of conservative faculty and 56% of moderate faculty see them as political litmus tests.
  7. More than half of faculty (52%) reported being worried about losing their jobs or reputation because someone misunderstands something they have said or done, takes it out of context, or posts something from their past online. Almost three-quarters of conservative faculty (72%), 56% of moderate faculty, and 40% of liberal faculty reported feeling this way.
  8. A significant portion of faculty (ranging from 18% to 36%) endorsed their college’s administration launching a formal investigation into other faculty members for their controversial expression.
  9. Roughly one-third (34%) of faculty said they often feel they can not express their opinions on a subject because of how students, colleagues, or the administration would respond, compared to one-fifth of students surveyed for FIRE’s CFSR.
  10. The percentages of faculty who said they were very or extremely likely to self-censor in different contexts ranged from 25% (in academic publications) to 45% (on social media). Only 8% of all faculty said they do not self-censor in any of the four contexts asked about.

Yes, these data are pretty distressing, especially the disparity between faculty, who are generally favorable towards free speech and academic freedom, and students, who are substantially more censorious. The degree of chilling of speech is high.  Of course, conservative faculty are far less supportive of mandatory DEI statements (which may well be unconstitutional) than are liberal faculty.  I was going to write more about the FIRE report, but it’s long and you can get the gist of it above.

Finally, the Post counts the “turning point” of the Zeitgeist to the letter by Stanford’s President and Stanford Law School (SLS) Dean Jenny Martinez to Judge Kyle Duncan, apologizing for the abysmal and juvenile behavior of SLS students at a talk by conservative judge Kyle Duncan. Well, it’s a letter, and yes, they did put the offending DEI dean, Tirien Steinbach, on leave, but there was no attempt—and we don’t know if there will be in the future—to discipline students who try to disrupt talks or deplatform speakers. So far Stanford has talked the talk but not really walked the walk.  Is it a turning point that prompted other schools to grow a backbone, or only one of the earliest efforts of pushback by schools? Who knows. The Post op ed ends this way:

Thankfully, trigger warnings and other such measures are not always successful in taking root. But, at least in certain universities, they’ve triggered long-overdue defenses of unimpeded academic inquiry. For far too long, administrators and professors have been silent. Not anymore.

Well, we’ll see, won’t we?

I should add that several universities have adopted some of my own University’s Foundational Principles, most notably the Principles of Free Expression, which have been adopted in some form by over 80 universities. Unfortunately, only one school—the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill—has adopted our powerful statement of institutional neutrality, the “Kalven report.”  Despite this, the University of Chicago has, up to now, lacked a formal committee for monitoring these violations, but this is now being fixed.


h/t: Ginger K.

Déjà Vu: S.F. State University investigates professor for showing Muhammad picture in class

April 7, 2023 • 12:30 pm

Both FIRE and The Chronicle of Higher Education report that, mirabile dictu, yet another professor is in trouble for showing a picture of Muhammad—this time at San Francisco State University (SFSU).  He hasn’t been fired, but he’s under investigation.  FIRE is of course campaigning to nip this in the bud, and so they have both a blog post about it as well as a four-page letter they sebnt to SFSU letting them know that they’re violating the professor’s academic freedom and that even investigating him is chilling speech and violates the First Amendment (SFSU is a public school).

Here’s the backstory from the Chronicle (the “Muhammadgate” incident is at the very end, part of a longer article about academic freedom).

Maziar Behrooz, an associate professor of history at San Francisco State University, does not yet know what a teaching decision he made might cost him.

In the fall of 2022, Behrooz was teaching the history of the Islamic world between 500 and 1700 and showed a drawing of the Prophet Muhammad. He’s taught the course, and the image, for years. One student, a devout Muslim, strongly objected, outside of class. His main point, Behrooz told The Chronicle, was that it’s not permissible for an image of the Prophet Muhammad to be shown in any shape or form.

“This is the first time that this has happened,” Behrooz said. “I was not prepared for somebody to be offended, in a secular university, talking about history rather than religion.”

Behrooz said he told the student that, as the professor, he is the one who decides what’s shown in class. The student then complained to Behrooz’s department chair, who broached the issue with the professor, according to Behrooz. He said he explained to his chair that the student’s view is not uniform among all Muslims. The type of drawing he shows in class can be bought at markets in Tehran near holy shrines. Many Shiite Muslims have such drawings on walls in their homes, said Behrooz, who was born in Tehran and has written books on Iran’s political history.

The student also apparently complained to “authorities higher up” at the university, according to Behrooz. The professor said the institution’s office of Equity Programs & Compliance informed him in March that it would investigate the incident and asked him to attend a Zoom meeting.

A staff member in the vice president’s office at San Francisco State told The Chronicle in an email that she could not comment on specific reports or investigations. She instead described the process for assessing reports of potential misconduct. An investigator meets with the complainant to gather information and discuss options, she said. If it’s decided the conduct could violate the California State University nondiscrimination policy, an investigation begins, and both parties are notified.

The Zoom meeting is slated for early April. Behrooz said he’s not overly worried, though he thinks an investigation by this office — which fields reports of harassment and discrimination — is unnecessary. He’s not sure what the inquiry portends. “How it goes from here is anybody’s guess,” he said.

FIRE’s letter is very good, with all the legal citations and bells and whistles, implying that the investigation should end tout suite and requesting that SFSU should respond by April 13.  I sense a lawsuit in the offing, and if SFSU doesn’t stop this investigation, they’ll be in a Hamline-University-like situation where they’ll get negative national publicity and a fat lawsuit filed against them by Dr. Behrooz.  Remember, even an investigation for charges that don’t carry weight, as these don’t, serves to chill speech and is a form of punishment.

It looks like Behrooz is going to at least accede to giving trigger warnings, but he doesn’t seem sufficiently angry! From the Chronicle:

In the meantime, Behrooz is thinking through what, if anything, he should change about his teaching. As a principle, he said he doesn’t think religious groups, or students, should decide how an instructor teaches a course at a secular institution. “But one has to also take into consideration, I think, the sensitivities of some religious people, be it Muslim or otherwise.”

Should he talk about the drawing without showing it? Should he still show it, as he’s done for years? Or, should he offer a compromise — warn students that the image is offensive to some and perhaps allow them to leave the class and come back?

He hasn’t decided, but he’s considering the compromise.

Finally, if you want to send either a boilerplate message to SFSU objecting to this stuff, or confect your own letter (I did the latter), just go to this site (bottom of page) and fill in the form. I wrote my own short letter, which follows. Feel free to appropriate from it if you wish.

Subject: End Investigation into History Professor ImmediatelyDear President Lynn Mahoney (show details) 

I understand that your university is investigating Professor Maziar Behrooz for showing a picture of Muhammad in a class about Muslim history. One student objected because some sects of Muslims consider this forbidden, and now SF State is investigating Behrooz.

I taught on the faculty of the University of Chicago for 36 years, and, unlike you, this university understands the meaning of the First Amendment and of academic freedom. Even investigating this didactic and proper use of the picture is itself a violation of the First Amendment, for it acts to chill speech.
I urge you to not go the way of Hamline University and try to punish this professor, for you will end up like they did: a national laughingstock and an academic embarrassment. Please stop this baseless investigation now.
Jerry Coyne

Greg Lukianoff’s fixes for the college free-speech problem

April 6, 2023 • 11:45 am

This post appeared at the Princetonians for Free Speech website, announcing a talk that FIRE‘s President and CEO Greg Lukianoff will be giving at Princeton on April 11, titled “The Conformity Gauntlet in Higher Education.” The body of the piece gives 16 suggestions Lukianoff has mnade for university administrators, national legislators, and state legislatures to help preserve both academic freedom and free speech on college campuses.

Click screenshot to read:

I’ll give a brief summary of his suggestions (indented), and any comments I have will be flush left. The meaning of the asterisks (degree of my approbation) is given below

  • ***Craft a National Leonard Law:  A California law passed in 1992 and amended in 2002, the Leonard Law prohibits non-sectarian public and private colleges in California from punishing any speech that would be protected off-campus. Under the Leonard Law’s terms, students may file civil lawsuits against their institutions and may recover attorneys’ fees. The 2006 amendment to California’s law adds protections for student journalists and newspapers, prohibiting “prior restraint,” which is the censoring of a specific forthcoming publication. A national Leonard Law would break what Lukianoff says is the “pretense” that private universities are in any meaningful sense “private” anymore. “Federal regulation, including so-called anti-harassment provisions, is utilized routinely to limit what you can teach and say on campus without actually applying First Amendment standards to protect academic freedom.”

Agreed. All campuses with the possible exception of religious ones should afford their members the same freedom’s as public universities.

  • Place a cap on administrative spending: As a condition of receiving federal funds, Congress could impose a cap on the percentage of a university’s expenses that go to overhead costs. Overhead, defined as costs of administration plus development, can run as high as an astonishing 80 percent, especially at schools like Princeton.

To Lukianoff, this bloated overhead goes to “administrative overreach,” much of which is to police speech and academic freedom violations.

  • *Curtail the protection of qualified immunity for public university administrators:  A doctrine originally designed to protect law enforcement officials from frivolous law suits and financial liability in cases where they acted in good faith or in legally murky circumstances, “qualified immunity” has come to be widely criticized for allowing public officials to avoid consequences for bad behavior.  Since 1982, it shields from liability all public officials performing discretionary functions (those acts requiring individual judgement) when their conduct does not violate statutory or constitutional rights known by a “reasonable person.” Is it reasonable for public university administrators to know when their conduct violates clearly established free speech rights?   “It is ludicrous to suggest that administrators bound by 1st Amendment don’t know they can’t censor people on the basis of viewpoint,” Lukianoff says.

I don’t have a strong feeling about the one above.

  • ***Ban political litmus tests: These are clearly unconstitutional, yet widely used at universities throughout the country. A recent FIRE survey reveals that over 80 percent of large universities either include or are considering DEI litmus tests as criteria in hiring and tenure standards. Requiring allegiance to a politicized understanding of “diversity” constitutes “forced speech” and therefore violates First Amendment protections. But with universities routinely requiring such DEI loyalty statements, an explicit ban is necessary. FIRE has published model state legislation designed to ban all loyalty oaths from public universities’ admissions, hiring and promotion policies, taking particular care to avoid replacing one orthodoxy with another.

This is very important and I agree wholeheartedly. No loyalty statements or fealty to specified ideologies should be required for getting jobs or promotions.

  • Designate one flagship state school in each state.  State legislatures could create premiere state universities which would admit only top students based purely on academic merit – test scores and grades. These schools would compete for students directly with the “fancies” – Lukianoff’s shorthand for the likes of Princeton, Harvard and Stanford.  Wise employers would prefer to draw from these flagship state schools as alternatives to Ivy league and other elite schools whose graduates increasingly bring with them the ideological baggage of intolerance for diverse viewpoints.

This is okay but not the best idea, and it would require enormous effort with, I think, little result.  What makes them think that such universities would be free of “political” ideological baggage, since the vast proportion of administrators and professors in all states are liberals, many “progressive.

  • **Ban Legacy Admissions:  Under such legislation, which has been attempted in New York, Connecticut and Colorado in the last few years, colleges and universities receiving federal funds would be barred from giving preference to legacies in admission.

I agree, though this is probably impractical. Lukianoff sees legacy admissions, correctly as perpetuating elite, expensive colleges; and part of his program is to “put a serious dent in the stranglehold that the elite colleges continue to have on the culture.” In my view, his assessment of elite colleges as major players in the perpetuation of woke culture is too extreme. Wokeness is everywhere, and won’t go away if elite colleges simply stop preferentially admitting the children of alumni. (They do this to build legacies which, of course, fosters more donations to a school.)

  • Increase Competition. Whole new institutions committed to academic freedom, like the University of Austin in Texas, Ralston College in Savannah Georgia, and Minerva University in San Francisco, constitute one form of competition, as do new centers at existing institutions, like University of North Carolina’s School of Civic Life and Leadership and Arizona State’s Center for American Institutions.

Not a big fan. We’d need a TON of such colleges to counteract what’s gong on at all the others. I think that this is one of the less effective remedies for suppression of free speech and academic freedom.

  • Create an extremely difficult test:  This test might be called a BA GED which would allow those highest performing high school seniors who pass it to bypass college altogether and go directly to graduate school or to employment. Lukianoff anticipates that this would “scare the living hell” out of the Ivy League and other top schools, because they know that many of the best and brightest would pass this test and then choose to avoid both the costs of an undergraduate degree and the orthodoxy that has come to saturate so much of university life and contribute to the decline in quality.

Not a great suggestion, I think.  Bypassing college is not generally a good idea for the students, as they miss the chance to broaden their horizons before they begin specializing in graduate school. I’ve known a few science students who skipped college because they simply tested out of it, and none of them wound up being great scientists. And all of them were too narrow in their liberal-arts knowledge.

  • Create an independent institution for academic study replication. The concept would require a group of politically balanced and esteemed scholars who, through repetition of experiments and observations in studies and reports, would evaluate the quality of research produced in higher education.

A good idea in principle, but who would want to spend their time replicating other people’s work. Further, I’m not sure that having just one institution, which would be overwhelmed replicating every academic student ever known, would suddenly create trust in published results?

  • Conduct massive state-funded studies to test the value of a college degree. A 2012 study called “Academically Adrift” revealed that about half of students studied showed no improvement in critical thinking skills after college compared to before. Lukianoff is willing to bet that a control group of 18-22 year-olds working regular jobs rather than attending college would show the same, or perhaps even greater, improvement in their critical thinking faculties.

It’s easier just to teach critical thinking more intensively.  And, anyway, legislators aren’t going to conduct those studies for fear that it will show that college doesn’t improve critical thinking. Further, while fostering critical thinking is an important function of a college education, there are others as well—not just teaching facts essential for one’s career but giving one perhaps the only chance in life to be exposed to to the arts, literature, and science as a matter of fiat, and so awakening the love of areas to which one hasn’t been exposed.

This next one is, in my view, the most important suggestion Lukianoff makes. Of course I’m biased, but these principles have worked well at Chicago, and made us #1 in FIRE’s college free-speech ranking. Pray Ceiling Cat that our new President and Provost agree!:

  • *****Presidents lead from the front:  Adopt some variant of the University of Chicago’s trifecta: The “Chicago Statement” that guarantees free speech on campus, with clear sanctions to deter those who disrupt others’ speech; the Kalven Report principle of institutional neutrality, which forbids the university and its units from taking official positions on issues of the day; and the Shils Report, which mandates that faculty hiring and promotion be based solely on academic merit and excellence in research and teaching. Presidents should endorse and promote institutional adoption of these principles publicly and conspicuously, and explain their roles and rationale. Once adopted, college Presidents should find opportunities to reiterate them loudly and often.

You can see a list of our University’s foundational principles here (with links to the statements), and the Shils Report is here.

  • ***Faculty, get organized:  Although data shows that faculty do not necessarily want to protect speech they don’t like, it also shows that the ubiquitous administrative meddling in how faculty conduct classes and even how they conduct research makes them fear speaking freely and is very unpopular.  To recenter the core mission around faculty, academic freedom proponents, with the protection tenure provides, have started to organize. “University of Chicago Free” and Harvard’s “Council on Academic Freedom,” to name just two, each have about 50 faculty who have agreed to be publicly named.  They share ideas via Listserv, organize plans to enforce existing academic freedom principles, promote candidates for faculty committee positions, and advocate for hiring reforms, like the requirement that academic job listings contain a statement welcoming all viewpoints. A goal should be to make sure that alumni can designate their gifts to these groups.

Yes, well worth doing; in many schools faculty have enormous influence on policy, and, as it says, we’ve organized our own “University of Chicago Free” group where we can discuss freedom of speech and academic freedom issues in a small group of people dedicated, by and large, to the same principles.

  • ****Teach free speech from day one:  Freshman orientation should introduce students to the principles underlying academic freedom, constitutionally protected free speech, viewpoint diversity, and truth-seeking, how these principles work in practice, and why a university cannot educate well without them. To institutionalize this orientation requirement, some suggest that faculty deans committed to academic freedom principles should take over orientation planning from administrators, who currently favor using it to mold morals and attitudes towards race, gender, sexuality, and other “identities” in ways that favor some groups’ rights over others, and encourage self-censorship. To help change course, FIRE offers a curriculum of orientation lessons and materials about free speech rights.

I absolutely agree with the comment above, and yet how many schools do this? I know of none.

  • **Require free speech and academic freedom ombudsmen. Students and faculty need immediate recourse when their free speech rights are violated. Most campuses contain armies of DEI administrators eager to generate and encourage complaints alleging discrimination or other subjectively determined “harms” committed by fellow students or faculty members.  In contrast, when a student or faculty member’s free speech rights have been violated, to whom can the victim turn? Is there a single campus administrator anywhere whose job centers on the protection of student and faculty free speech rights? Let’s have some. “Turning administrators against administrators may not be a bad thing,” says Lukianoff.

I don’t know how many schools would allow for such a person; I believe we tried that here and it didn’t fly.  The “setting administrators against each other” is a hard thing to do!

  • *Conduct annual campus climate surveys.  Such surveys would address attitudes towards free expression and reveal how free students, faculty and staff feel to state their views and engage in debate.  They would preferably be done in a way that would allow comparison across time and institutions. The questions in the surveys should be crafted to get to the bottom of the campus culture for debate and dissent, as well as the tolerance for faculty to pursue lines of scholarship and inquiry wherever they may lead.  FIRE’s survey results show that 63 percent of students nationwide think that the climate on their campuses prevents them from speaking freely. A majority of faculty report pressure to self-censor for fear of losing their jobs or undermining their reputations. If this data is accurate, then the campus climate is hostile to education.

A good idea, but doing it annually is a bit of work!

  • ****Take away power from those who can punish. Currently, from a student’s or professor’s perspective, the process is the punishment. This should end.  When an accusation of discrimination or emotional “harm” is made against a faculty member, student or other employee, a summary judgement process should be in place, led by people who know the difference between protected speech and unprotected conduct.  If the accusation is against speech that is protected, then the case is summarily dismissed. To bolster this reform, universities should be required to give out a Miranda-type warning, so the accused knows that there is no obligation to comply with any investigation into protected speech. Commitment to this process should be written into a university’s speech and expression policy and in the faculty and student handbooks, which in many states are legally binding. Presidents and Provosts should assert boldly and often that punishment for unpopular or controversial speech will not occur at their institutions.

Being charged or investigated is a punishment in itself, and if there are no good grounds for that, the student should be left alone. When an investigation is warranted, everybody should have the same rights that apply in a court: lawyers, right to confront the accuser, knowing what the accusation is, and the finder of fact should not be the judge and jury. This was the one salubrious change that was made under the Trump administration, by Betsy DeVos. Sadly, Biden has taken away the rights of the accused, reverting to the previous form of Title IX that applied under Obama.

I have put asterisks next to the recommendations I consider most important, with the number of asterisks indicating greater importance.

h/t: Ginger K.

In wake of controversy over showing images of Muhammad, and a faculty vote of no confidence, the president of Hamline University “retires”

April 5, 2023 • 9:45 am

If you read this site you almost certainly remember the controversy beginning in late December, 2022 at Hamline University, a small liberal-arts school in Minnesota. I wrote several times about what ensued when an art-history teacher,  Erika López Prater, showed her class two images of Muhammad depicted as a person. One, very famous (below), showed the Prophet’s face, and in the other painting the face was blotted out.  As you may know, some (but not all) sects of Islam consider it blasphemous to depict Muhammad in any form.

To forestall “offense,” Dr. López Prater warned the students on her course syllabus that the images would be shown, letting them know they didn’t  have to look at them. Further, she made the same announcement verbally right at the beginning of class. Here’s the most famous of the images, considered a masterpiece of Islamic art; it’s from the 14th century and shows the angel Gabriel dictating the Qur’an to Muhammad.


Well, the warnings were of no avail. Several students complained about the depiction, apparently unaware that showing Muhammad is blasphemous to only some Muslims, and apparently ignored the two “trigger warnings” that López Prater issued. Big “harm” and “offense” ensued and the President of Hamline, Fayneese Miller (see photo below) issued a weaselly statement that firing the instructor was not a violation of academic freedom:

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

A ton of publicity ensued, none of it favorable to Hamline. The faculty rebelled, with 86% of full-time faculty (71/83) voting to ask Miller to resign, and López Prater, who apparently has other job offers, is suing the school.  All of this makes for a perfect storm of bad publicity, sending a message that Hamline University doesn’t practice academic freedom.

The results were predictable, especially because it’s likely the instructor will win big bucks in her suit against Hamline. Click to read this NYT article, or see it archived here.

Although Miller just announced that she’d retire in about a year, there isn’t much doubt, after the faculty vote, that her hand was forced.

The president of Hamline University, who had been under sharp criticism for the treatment of an adjunct professor who showed images of the Prophet Muhammad in an art history class, announced on Monday that she would retire in June 2024.

Fayneese S. Miller, the president of the Minnesota school, had initially defended the university’s decision to not reappoint the lecturer who had shown students, after providing warnings, images of the Prophet Muhammad, igniting a debate about academic freedom and Islamophobia.

Many Muslims say they are prohibited from viewing images of Muhammad out of concerns of idolatry, but Muslims have varying views about such representations.

On Monday, an email from the administration to the campus announced that Dr. Miller would step down, but made no mention of the controversy.

In the message, Ellen Watters, the chairwoman of the university’s board of trustees, called Dr. Miller an “innovative and transformational” leader and said she had ably led the university through a time of change while centering the needs of students. “Hamline is forever grateful for Dr. Miller’s tireless and dedicated service,” she said. The university will conduct a national search for a successor.

But Miller had also been criticized for going too easy on students who exercised their freedom of speech:

In the Muhammad controversy, she was criticized for bending to the will of student activists. But Dr. Miller, the university’s first Black president, also found herself targeted by students for resisting the calls of activists.

In 2019, four white student athletes were seen on video singing along to a popular song that included a racial epithet. Students demanded that she punish the students in the video. Dr. Miller refused, stating that the matter was a teachable moment. She said her response would have been different if the students had directed the word at another student.

Students also protested her last fall after she suggested to a gathering of student leaders that they donate money to the university while students there. The comments, students said, were oblivious to their financial struggles.

The decision about the song was the correct one, though a single epiphet directed at a student is probably permitted by Hamline’s speech code, and certainly by the First Amendment. But if it’s done repeatedly to create at atmosphere of harassment and bigotry, that speech is not protected.

Later on, the University walked back Miller’s statement, now admitting that it made a misstep. But it was too late: López Prater had already been fired:

Eventually, the university — in a statement signed by Dr. Miller and the university’s board chair, Ms. Watters — walked back its most controversial statements, including that Dr. López Prater’s actions were Islamophobic.

“Like all organizations, sometimes we misstep,” the statement said. “In the interest of hearing from and supporting our Muslim students, language was used that does not reflect our sentiments on academic freedom. Based on all that we have learned, we have determined that our usage of the term ‘Islamophobic’ was therefore flawed.”

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

The university statement also came the same day that Dr. López Prater sued the university’s board for defamation and religious discrimination. The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Minnesota, states that Hamline’s actions have caused Dr. López Prater the loss of income from her adjunct position and damage to her professional reputation and job prospects.

The third paragraph is of course a lie: it was indeed the President’s intent to show that religious “offense” overrides academic freedom. And the school will pay big-time for it in simoleons (they’ve already paid in the loss of their reputation). As for the whole statement above, it was made when López Prater had already been dumped, so my reaction resembles an apocryphal statement of Beethoven, who, informed on his deathbed that a case of Rhine wine had arrived as a gift, reportedly said, “Pity, pity. . . . too late.”

Too late for López Prater, but not for academic freedom. What this whole sad story shows is that academic freedom and freedom of speech in universities—at least the decent ones—is not negotiable. Nothing save the law—the speech that is not protected by the First Amendment—can override these freedoms. For the freedom to work on what you want, and say what you want (subject to judicial strictures) are the very bases of a university. College students may not get lessons in free speech and academic freedom, though all entering students should, but what happened at Hamline University is an object lesson in how offense is an inevitable byproduct of a good college education.

It’s also a lesson to colleges themselves. If they advertise themselves as promoting academic freedom and free speech, they’d better walk the walk. Otherwise, even in these woke times, they risk losing their reputation and a lot of dosh.

I am heartened at Miller’s firing resignation, and at the overwhelming faculty vote against her. But I am not convinced by a long shot that this marks a turning point in colleges’ teaching and enforcing freedom of expression. As I write this, similar clashes are going on at other universities (the one at Stanford Law School just occurred), and some universities that have lost badly on these issues just didn’t learn their lesson (I’m looking at you, Oberlin).

h/t: Greg

Stanford Law School Dean writes long letter supporting free speech and viewpoint neutrality, puts offending DEI administrator on leave

March 23, 2023 • 11:15 am

I’ve written previously about the shameful behavior of Stanford University Law School (SLS) with respect to a March 9 talk by conservative Appellate Court judge Kyle Duncan. The talk, about the relationship between Duncan’s court and the Supreme Court, was seriously disrupted by the law-school students, who shouted and put up posters and signs in the lecture room. (I consider signs a disruption, but others don’t.)  The students had been egged on to protest by a pre-talk email from the Law School’s Associate Dean for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, Tirien Steinbach, denouncing Duncan and saying how harmful his decisions have been.

When Duncan asked for an administrator to intervene to stop the disruption (four deans, including Steinbach, were sitting there silently), Dean Steinbach got up and read several minutes’ worth of further critique of Duncan’s “harmful” decisions, and while paying lip service to Stanford’s free speech policy, asked the students whether “the juice was worth the squeeze”, i.e., whether free speech was worth the offense and harm inflicted on the students. She also said that the demonstration had been the right thing to do. That pretty much ended the presentation save for some confrontational questions by students and some angry answers by Duncan.

Afterwards, SLC Dean Jenny Martinez sent a letter to the Stanford community apologizing for the demonstration, and then she and Stanford’s President sent a joint letter of apology to Judge Duncan. (Duncan’s behavior itself wasn’t optimal during the talk, either, for then and in interviews afterwards he called the students names, something that detracted from his gravitas. However, I can understand his anger even though I disagree strongly with his legal views.)

When Martinez taught her own SLS class a few days later, she herself was subject to a silent demonstration by her students, who wore black, and there were calls for her to rescind her apology and even to resign.

Yesterday Martinez sent out a very long (10-page) letter to the SLS community disclosing what Stanford had decided to do in light of the disruption, which had brought unfavorable national attention on the school. You can find that letter here, or by clicking on the screenshot below.  It’s a pretty good letter that outlines strong reforms for SLS and Stanford in general.

The upshot:

1.)  The only downside to the letter is that it begins by emphasizing the hate mail directed to Stanford’s administrators and students, as if they were the victims rather than free speech itself as well as Judge Duncan (I indent excerpts from Martinez’s letter):

As we consider the role of respectful treatment of members of our community, I want to be clear that the hate mail and appalling invective that have been directed at some of our students and law school administrators in the wake of March 9 are of great concern to me. All actionable threats that come to our attention will be investigated and addressed as the lawpermits.

It also continually emphasizes Stanford’s “diverse community” and respect for DEI, which isn’t too bad, but of course it was the DEI dean, the conflict between DEI principles and free speech—and the decision by Steinbach and the other attending deans to let “offense” trump free speech— that created this whole mess in the first place.

2.) Much of the letter reads like a court decision, citing all the relevant legal cases and decisions showing that schools like Stanford have free speech but disruption is not part of free speech. (Posters apparently are, though I think I’d be discombobulated if students in the front row were holding up banners and signs.) But it’s a clever way for Martinez to impress on the law students that, indeed, they had acted contrary to settled law.

3.) Glory of glories: Dean Steinbach was disciplined for fomenting the demonstration—something I hoped for but did not expect.  She’s been put on leave and apparently being further investigated, so she might be fired. From Martinez’s letter (her emphasis), which also chastises the other deans for not quashing the disruption:

Enforcement of university policies against disruption of speakers is necessary to ensure the expression of a wide range of viewpoints. It also follows from this that when a disruption occurs and the speaker asks for an administrator to help restore order, the administrator who responds should not insert themselves into debate with their own criticism of the speaker’s views and the suggestion that the speaker reconsider whether what they plan to say is worth saying, for that imposes the kind of institutional orthodoxy and coercion that the policy on Academic Freedom precludes. For that reason, I stand by my statement in the apology letter that at the event on March 9, “staff members who should have enforced university policies failed to do so, and instead intervened in inappropriate ways that are not aligned with the university’s commitment to free speech.”

. . . First, Associate Dean Tirien Steinbach is currently on leave. Generally speaking, the university does not comment publicly on pending personnel matters, and so I will not do so at this time. I do want to express concern over the hateful and threatening messages she has received as a result of viral online and media attention and reiterate that actionable threats that come to our attention will be investigated and addressed as the law permits. Finally, it should be obvious from what I have stated above that at future events, the role of any administrators present will be to ensure that university rules on disruption of events will be followed, and all staff will receive additional training in that regard.

4.) Martinez cites the University of Chicago’s Kalven Report mandating institutional neutrality on political, ideological, and moral matters (except when they affect the University’s mission) to show why administrators should not chill the speech of students—as they did on March 9 with the students who wanted to hear Judge Duncan. I’m very pleased that Stanford (and, increasingly, other schools) are falling in line with the Kalven principles. From Martinez’s letter:

The 1967 Kalven Report of the University of Chicago is not formal policy at Stanford but helps explain why university administrators should avoid exercising their authority in ways that can chill speech. It states:

A university has a great and unique role to play in fostering the development of social and political values in a society. The role is defined by the distinctive mission of theuniversity and defined too by the distinctive characteristics of the university as a community. It is a role for the long term.

The mission of the university is the discovery, improvement, and dissemination of knowledge. Its domain of inquiry and scrutiny includes all aspects and all values of society. A university faithful to its mission will provide enduring challenges to social values, policies, practices, and institutions. By design and by effect, it is the institution which creates discontent with the existing social arrangements and proposes new ones. In brief, a good university, like Socrates, will be upsetting.

The instrument of dissent and criticism is the individual faculty member or the individual student. The university is the home and sponsor of critics; it is not itself the critic. It is, to go back once again to the classic phrase, a community of scholars. To perform its mission in the society, a university must sustain an extraordinary environment of freedom of inquiry and maintain an independence from political fashions, passions, and pressures. A university, if it is to be true to its faith in intellectual inquiry, must embrace, be hospitable to, and encourage the widest diversity of views within its own community.

5.)  Stanford decided not to punish individual students for participating in the demonstration, but to give them some education in freedom of speech. This is fine with me, as the students apparently had not been given such education, because it would be hard to identify individual students who violated Stanford’s free-speech policy, and because the students were also told by Dean Steinbach that their actions were okay. But every college orientation in America needs a unit on freedom of speech:

Second, with respect to the students involved in the protest, several factors lead me to conclude that what is appropriate here is mandatory educational programming for our student body rather than referring specific students for disciplinary sanction (which at Stanford is administered by the central university’s Office of Community Standards and involves a deliberate process including fact-finding and hearings).

. . .Accordingly, as one first step the law school will be holding a mandatory half-day session in spring quarter for all students on the topic of freedom of speech and the norms of the legal profession. A faculty committee will plan the session and invite speakers representing a range of viewpoints. Needless to say, faculty and students are free to disagree with the material presented in these sessions or with the arguments I have presented in this memorandum – there will be no orthodoxy on this topic either. But I believe further discussion of these topics will both advance our educational mission and help us learn from the errors of the recent past.

6.) Finally, Stanford is going to examine and reform its protocol for dealing with disruption of speakers:

In addition, a more detailed and explicit policy with clear protocols for dealing with disruptions would better protect the rights of speakers and also those who wish to exercise their right to protest within permissible bounds, and is something we will seek to adopt and educate students and staff on going forward. Cf., e.g., UC Hastings [now UC College of the Law San Francisco] Event Policy: Student Organization Support Protocol; Permissible Forms of Protest (Adopted October 1, 2022), available at uc-hastings-event-policy-adopted-october-1-2022. Doing so will bring greater clarity and certainty about future enforcement of the policy, including through disciplinary sanctions as appropriate.

All in all, this seems a satisfactory resolution to me.  I think a nice touch would be to invite Judge Duncan back to give his planned talk; that would not only be gracious (though I doubt he’d agree to come!), but would also test whether the new rules are really in effect.

If you’re interested in the relevant law, or want to see a pretty good letter (which I’m sure Dean Martinez was compelled to write), do read the whole letter. This had to be done so that SLS wouldn’t become the laughing stock of law schools—or lose donor money. But I seriously doubt whether the renegade students will accept what Dean Martinez says. They may behave properly from now on, but the “I’m offended” trope is hard to root out.

ADDENDUM:  FIRE has posted a laudatory commentary on Dean Martinez’s letter.

h/t: Dorian and several readers