Penn State denounces upcoming appearance of Milo Yiannopoulos, but kvetches that they can’t stop him from appearing

October 28, 2021 • 12:30 pm

I’d just as soon never listen to Milo Yiannopoulos again, for although there are some debatable issues he brings up, I know them already, and he’s more of a provocateur than a lecturer. Let me restate that: he’s a nasty piece of work.

But according to the article below from the local newspaper, Centre Daily, he’s scheduled to speak at Penn State on November 3. I sure as hell wouldn’t go, but some students will, as Milo is sponsored by Uncensored America, a student group. Yiannopoulos, who once prided himself on being gay, has now declared that he’s not gay, and, as the article says:

He is now hoping to open a “conversion therapy” center in Florida, which seeks to change a person’s sexual orientation or identity. Conversion therapy is banned in 14 states, while dozens of national organizations — such as the American Medical Association — have denounced such practices.

But there’s more:

Yiannopoulos, former editor of far-right media outlet Breitbart News, has been no stranger to controversy. He was permanently banned from Twitter in 2016 after referring to Black comedian/actress Leslie Jones as a man and an ape, while orchestrating an abusive campaign against her. He was also banned from Facebook and Instagram three years later after the platforms labeled him “dangerous” for his promotion of hate speech and/or violence.

He was forced to resign from Breitbart in 2017 over remarks that appeared to condone sexual relationships between old men and boys as young as 13. (The American Conservative Union rescinded his invitation to to speak at CPAC over the controversy.) And the formerly openly gay commentator — who’s also been accused of being sympathetic to white nationalists — married his boyfriend in 2017 before announcing earlier this year that he is no longer gay.

You can’t get much more odious than that, but since he’s already been invited, he should be allowed to speak. Penn State is a state college and must abide by the First Amendment.

What struck me about the article below was not so much Milo’s antics as the University’s repeated declarations that they don’t endorse his views, oppose him with all their might, and, most important, their implication that they would ban Milo if they only could, but they can’t. They almost seem reluctant that the Constitution prevents them from censoring him. What kind of behavior is that for a campus that purports to favor free speech?

Click to read the article:

That’s all I’ll say about Milo except to give the topic of his talk according to the event webpage: “free speech, faith, conversion therapy, hair style, and more. ”

Now here are some statements from Penn State officials from the article, either direct or reported secondhand:

In a written statement, university officials explained they are opposed to the event but cannot stop it due to the First Amendment.

. . .“(Yiannopoulos’) past presentations on the nation’s college campuses have been antithetical to Penn State’s values, and we share the profound dismay others have already expressed in response to his forthcoming appearance here,” read a joint statement Monday night from three university officials in Steve Dunham, vice president and general counsel; Damon Sims, vice president for student affairs; and Marcus Whitehurst, vice provost for educational equity.

The statement continued: “Yet as offensive and hurtful as Yiannopoulos’ comments have been and are likely to be again, and despite our own abhorrence for such statements and the promotional tactics used, Uncensored America has the undeniable Constitutional right to sponsor this presentation on our campus. The university lacks the right to do anything to stop it.”

. . .Despite the backlash, university officials remained adamant they could not prevent Yiannopoulos’ event from happening.

“As a public university, we are fundamentally and unalterably obligated under the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment to protect various expressive rights, even for those whose viewpoints offend our basic institutional values,” the university’s joint statement read.

“To do otherwise not only violates the Constitution, but would undermine the basic freedom each of us shares to generally think and express ourselves as we wish. … But let us be clear. At his core, Yiannopoulos is a social provocateur — a personality whose central public purpose is to deliberately create controversy, hurt and disruption. That is something we all should recognize.”

Now only the last two lines emphasize freedom of speech, but I have to say that it’s offered grudgingly, and the whole tenor of the Administration’s statement is “We’d ban this joker if we could, but the Constitution won’t let us.”

The LGBTQIA+ group, a student group, said this:

In a joint statement Tuesday, University Park’s undergraduate student government and two LGBTQ groups “strongly condemned” Yiannopoulos’ appearance, saying it promotes homophobia on campus.

“Bigotry and discrimination have no place at Penn State, and the university must take the necessary steps to combat hate speech and protect the LGBTQIA+ community,” the statement read, before later continuing, “(Yiannopoulos’) presence serves as a threat to students on-campus, and the university should treat it as such.”

Of course they hate Milo, and they should, but I doubt that his presence threatens students. If anything threatens students, it’s themselves, who might riot and engage in damaging property, as they have with Milo’s appearances before. They should urge a boycott or organize counterspeech.

You know what the University of Chicago would say in response to a Milo appearance here?

Either nothing, or, “Anybody who’s invited to speak here will be allowed to speak, for we adhere to freedom of speech.” There would be no preening statements that the University abhors Milo.

And that’s the way it should be. Colleges and universities should not take public stands on political, moral, or ideological issues, for that leads to chilling of speech. This is embodied in the University of Chicago’s Kalven Report, which is adhered to pretty scrupulously —despite a few slipups that I’ve noted.  What Penn State is doing here is telling students how moral the University is compared to Milo, which of course leads those who like what Milo has to say to keep their mouths shut. Their speech is chilled, and more than half of college students report that they self-censor to avoid getting into trouble.

But Milo, despite his repellent personality, does have things to say worth debating. Penn State should have just done what my own University would do.

And by the way, even if you think that Milo’s statements are always unbearably stupid and don’t deserve to be heard, have a look at this paper in the Journal of Controversial Ideas. It defends the stupidest of all ideas—flat Earth theory—as worth hearing, and if that theory is worth hearing, then almost anything is, as the title of the paper below implies (click on the screenshot):

MIT President and Provost respond (lamely) to Abbotgate, say free speech at their school is alive and well, and apologize to students rather than Abbot

October 19, 2021 • 9:15 am

Here we see two college administrators trying to pretend that they were not committing an act of speech suppression when they disinvited a speaker, Dorian Abbot, who had made ideologically incorrect statements before he was invited to speak.

An anonymous comment gave me the link to the public statement below by MIT’s President L. Rafael Reif. Reif was apparently badly burned and defensive after his University disinvited University of Chicago Professor Dorian Abbot from giving the prestigious Carlson Lecture, with his topic being global warming. The disinvitation had nothing to do with Abbot’s talk itself; it came after people on social-media besieged MIT upon finding out that Abbot had made videos and written articles questioning diversity, equity, and inclusion principles (DEI). When it go into the mainstream press, MIT decided it had to respond. You can see Abbot’s account of the fracas here.

See the President’s “explanation” by clicking on the screenshot below, but his letter also links to a related “explanation” by MIT’s Provost, which you can see by clicking on the second screenshot:

The related response from Provost Martin A. Schmidt. My guess is that MIT found it necessary to issue both statements because the disinvitation of Abbot violated the University’s own principles of free speech, got national publicity, including the piece on Bari Weiss’s site but, importantly, in an op-ed in the New York Times by Bret Stephens calling out MIT. (“EAPS” is MIT’s Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary sciences.)

What is amusing about these “explanations” is their attempt to claim that MIT still retains its principles of free speech. After all, after Abbot’s big and prestigious public lecture was canceled. Instead, the department invited him to give a smaller lecture to the EAPS department: a smaller technical lecture that doesn’t involve the public and is much less prestigious.

What’s equally amusing (actually sad), is that both the President and Provost spend a lot of time apologizing to the MIT students for being on the receiving end of “online targeting and hate mail from outside MIT”, none of which is specified. It’s certain that some MIT students got flak for Abbot’s disinvitation, but most of it must have been directed at the President and the chair of EAPS.  If you read both letters, you will find no apology to Abbot himself, but will see plenty of apologies to MIT students and faculty who supposedly got criticized on social media. It is they, not Abbot, claim the administrators, who have been grievously injured. That’s ludicrous. Their explanation is actually an apology to people at MIT who suffered because of the University’s disinvitation.

I’ll give a few quotes from both letters.

President Reif:

First, an apology to the MIT community—not because the school acted badly, but for the “harm” the students suffered:

The controversy around this situation has caused great distress for many members of our community, in many quarters. It has also uncovered significant differences within the Institute on several issues.

I would like to reflect on what happened and set us on a path forward. But let me address the human questions first.

To the members of the EAPS community: I am deeply disturbed that as a direct result of this situation, many of you – students, postdocs, faculty and young alumni – have suffered a tide of online targeting and hate mail from outside MIT. This conduct is reprehensible and utterly unacceptable. For members of the MIT community, where we value treating one another with decency and respect, this feels especially jarring.

I encourage anyone who is subjected to harassing or threatening behavior or language to reach out for support and guidance to the Institute Discrimination and Harassment Response (IDHR) office.. . 

Then a lame and unconvincing defense of free speech at MIT:

Let me say clearly what I have observed through more than 40 years at MIT:

Freedom of expression is a fundamental value of the Institute.

I believe that, as an institution of higher learning, we must ensure that different points of view – even views that some or all of us may reject – are allowed to be heard and debated at MIT. Open dialogue is how we make each other wiser and smarter.

This commitment to free expression can carry a human cost. The speech of those we strongly disagree with can anger us. It can disgust us. It can even make members of our own community feel unwelcome and illegitimate on our campus or in their field of study.

I am convinced that, as an institution, we must be prepared to endure such painful outcomes as the price of protecting free expression – the principle is that important.

If they’re prepared to allow free speech that can make members of their own community feel “unwelcome and illegitimate”, why did they cancel Abbot’s public talk? After all, he wasn’t going to say anything that made students feel that way: he was going to talk about global warming! What upset the students was Abbot’s writing and videos on DEI before he was supposed to arrive at MIT. 

Then the caveat, “free speech. . .  but”.  What the following means, as clarified below, is the admission that free speech can offend people, and it’s up to MIT’s administration to soothe the offended:

I am convinced that, as an institution, we must be prepared to endure such painful outcomes as the price of protecting free expression – the principle is that important.

I am equally certain, however, that when members of our community must bear the cost of other people’s free expression, they deserve our understanding and support. We need to ensure that they, too, have the opportunity to express their own views.

They already do, President Reif! They have social media access, a student newspaper, and can give their own talks. No, as you see below the President is calling for more “dialogue” in the wake of this incident, but you can bet your sweet bippy that this will be scripted dialogue that attacks Abbot’s views on DEI. For Abbot’s views are taboo, so I suspect MIT plans a one-sided discussion—in other words, an indoctrination session. Or so I predict, for students on Abbot’s side will be too cowed to express their views.

The “open discussion”:

 I believe it is vital now that we engage in serious, open discussion together.

As the provost’s letter described, we will begin with a faculty forum, being planned for the last week of October. Discussion in this working session might address questions like these: Given our shared commitment to open inquiry and free expression, are there further steps we should take to practice it consistently? Should we develop guidelines to help groups in their own decision making? Does the concept need more prominence in our curriculum? How should we respond when members of our community bear the disproportionate cost of other people’s speech?

It will be essential in this overall process to include the perspective and experience of graduate and undergraduate students; I have asked Chancellor Melissa Nobles to work with student leaders to decide the best way to do so.

I have also asked Provost Marty Schmidt, Chancellor Nobles and Chair of the Faculty Lily Tsai to begin immediately assembling a special ad hoc working group to consider the insights and lessons we should take away from this situation. I believe this extremely important topic deserves and will benefit from this kind of thoughtful, deliberative, nuanced approach, perhaps including experts from outside MIT. The themes that emerge from the initial faculty forum will help inform the working group’s charge.

You know, about seven or eight years ago I would have believed this palaver. But now, turned cynical by history and campus culture,  I’m pretty sure that the forum will concentrate on the question, “How should we respond when members of our community bear the disproportionate cost of other people’s speech?”  And what does it even mean to claim that MIT suffered a “disproportionate cost of other people’s speech”? Whose speech are they talking about—Abbot’s or those who targeted MIT? I doubt that they’ll even discuss how to make speech at MIT more free.

Finally, a few words from Provost Schmidt:

Schmidt explains in more detail why Abbot was disinvited. I’ve put in bold the most important part:

The Carlson Lecture is not a standard scientific talk for fellow scientists. It is an outreach event, open to the public, with a speaker who is an outstanding scientist and role model. Typically held at a major venue away from campus, it is geared to build public understanding of and appreciation for climate science, and to inspire young people to consider careers in STEM. Each year students from local high schools are invited.

The speaker invited in early 2020 was Professor Abbot, an expert in mathematical and computational approaches to planetary sciences.

While all of us can agree that Professor Abbot has the freedom to speak as he chooses on any subject, the department leadership concluded that the debate over both his views on diversity, equity, and inclusion and manner of presenting them were overshadowing the purpose and spirit of the Carlson Lecture. Professor van der Hilst, after broadly consulting his community, decided the public lecture should not go forward and that instead the department should invite Professor Abbot to give a campus lecture where he can present his climate work directly to MIT faculty and students.

In a phone call with Professor Abbot last Thursday, Professor van der Hilst conveyed both the decision about the Carlson Lecture and the new invitation. Professor Abbot welcomed the offer to speak, and the department is in ongoing conversation with him to set a date.

It’s important to emphasize that both the department and the Institute respect and support Professor Abbot’s freedom to express his views, as well as the freedom of those who disagree to do the same.

To translate: “Professor Abbot has the freedom to speak about whatever he wants, but his views on DEI expressed elsewhere might cause trouble like shouting and disruption at the Carlson Lecture. So, rather than deal with that, which is our responsibility to prevent, we prefer to let Abbot give a smaller and less prestigious lecture where the possibility of bad publicity is minimized.”  And make no mistake about it, Abbot is not happy at the alternative offered him. He is gracious about it, but he’s plenty upset at being disinvited for the Carlson lecture. As he should be! (Read Abbot’s piece on Bari Weiss’s site.)

The last sentence in the quote above is, of course, a lie. Abbot will not even be talking about what he was going to discuss in his Carlson lecture (global warming and other worlds); rather, he’ll be giving a narrower technical talk. This means that he’s effectively been told what to talk about.

Provost Schmidt’s final statement echoes that of the President, apologizing to MIT’s faculty and students rather than Abbot. Get a load of this:

Finally, this situation has been very hard on everyone involved, especially faculty, researchers, students and young alumni of EAPS, many of whom have been subjected to online targeting and hate mail. As a community built on foundational principles of respect and openness, we are horrified by this mistreatment and reject it in the strongest possible terms.

Again we get the trope of online targeting without any examples. “Targeting” (whatever that means) and “hate mail” (whatever that means) are, of course, not reasoned discourse, and may be illegal, but MIT has to realize that to the extent that these issues arose because of MIT’s cancelation policy, they initiated it.

It’s time that MIT learn what freedom of speech really means. In this case, it means not disinviting someone who’s already been invited—especially because it’s certain that the invitee wasn’t going to talk about the DEI stuff that riled people up in advance. It is MIT’s responsibility to monitor such talks so they are not disruptive.

Bret Stephens on Dorian Abbot and reforming campus dogmatism

October 14, 2021 • 9:15 am

The case of Dorian Abbot, a University of Chicago associate professor of Geophysical Sciences, would have been a purely local event: he was locally excoriated by his colleagues for making three anti-DEI videos, and people here called for his punishment.  This being the U of C, that went nowhere. As Bret Stephens notes in his exegesis of the affair in a NYT op-ed (click on screenshot below):

Last November, Dorian Abbot, a geophysicist at the University of Chicago, posted a series of slide presentations on YouTube making a case against the use of group identity as a primary criterion in selection processes. He was immediately targeted for cancellation.

So Robert Zimmer, Chicago’s magnificent president (now chancellor), stepped in with a clear statement of support for academic freedom. The controversy evaporated.

Zimmer was a great defender of free speech, and his retirement doesn’t bode well for our campus reputation for free expression. We’ll see if our new President, Paul Alivisatos, a chemist and former Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost of the University of California, Berkeley, can keep our school’s reputation for academic freedom and free speech.

Click below to read.

Abbot’s current prevalence in academic news came from two events, one of his own making and the other not. The first was his co-publication of an op-ed in Newsweek with Ivan Marinovich, “The Diversity Problem on Campus“, which objected to affirmative action in favor of their own proposal, which would accept students and hire faculty solely on the basis of merit. There would be no affirmative action for anyone, including athletes and “legacy students” whose parents went to that school:

We propose an alternative framework called Merit, Fairness, and Equality (MFE) whereby university applicants are treated as individuals and evaluated through a rigorous and unbiased process based on their merit and qualifications alone. Crucially, this would mean an end to legacy and athletic admission advantages, which significantly favor white applicants, [JAC: note that the link to “significantly favors white applicants” for athletes and legacy students refers only to the policies of Harvard] in addition to those based on group membership. Simultaneously, MFE would involve universities investing in education projects in neighborhoods where public education is failing to help children from those areas compete. These projects would be evidence-based and non-ideological, testing a variety of different options such as increased public school funding, charter schools and voucher programs.

Viewed objectively, American universities already are incredibly diverse.

While statements like this are kryptonite to the woke, Newsweek is on the Right and Abbot’s and Marinovich’s statement was actually part of a current debate on DEI. Well, it should be a debate, and is if you look at it as Right vs. Left, but it’s not a debate on the Left, where criticizing DEI initiatives has become taboo.

I didn’t agree with the Newsweek piece entirely, as I favor some affirmative action as a form of reparations, but I vehemently defend Abbot and Marinovich’s right to say what they think without harassment or punishment. (They also kind of scuppered their argument at the end of the piece with a ham-hand comparison of the “obsession with race” of current DEI initiatives with the anti-diversity obsession with race of the Nazis, who wanted to decrease diversity (viz., Godwin’s Law).  Abbot then wrote another account of his MIT disinvitation on Bari Weiss’s Substack site.

That got Abbot more attention, but when the excrement really hit the fan was when MIT, which had invited Abbot to deliver a prestigious lecture on climate change, rescinded its invitation after a big social-media outcry, mostly on Twitter.  Even the mainstream media took notice of MIT’s cowardice; after all, MIT professes adherence to freedom of speech and thought, and, further, Abbot was going to lecture on climate change, not DEI! His disinvitation was purely a punishment for views on DEI that he had expressed elsewhere. (Abbot has since been invited by a professor at Princeton to give that lecture in a week, and the spineless, yellow-bellied, craven cowards at MIT, realizing their misstep, have invited Abbot to give a smaller and different lecture “on his own work.”

Now Abbot is all over the media, not just in Stephens’s column, but many other places (see, for example, here, here, here, and here). And, if I don’t miss my guess, there is more to come. This is all a consequence of the Streisand Effect started by MIT’s cancellation.  Business is booming for Abbot’s Oct. 21 lecture at Princeton:

MIT shot itself in the foot.

At any rate, Stephens uses l’affaire Abbot to riff on how MIT violated what he sees as the core mission of universities, and offers his solutions to the problem of campus dogmatism. I agree with Stephens only in part. Here’s what started Stephens musing:

I’ve been thinking about all this while reading “What Universities Owe Democracy” by Johns Hopkins University’s president, Ronald Daniels. Full disclosure: I’m on the board of overseers of Hopkins’s SNF Agora Institute, and he is a personal friend. Don’t hold it too much against him: This is an exceptionally important, insistently reasonable, delightfully readable book, even if his views sometimes differ from mine.

Daniels’s core point is that, at their best, universities serve as escalators for social mobility, educators for democratic citizenship, stewards of fact and expertise, and forums for “purposeful pluralism” — the expression and contest of ideas. That’s the role higher ed has played for generations, helping to fulfill George Washington’s dream of schooling that would “assemble the youth of every part under such circumstances, as will, by the freedom of intercourse and collision of sentiment, give to their minds the direction of truth, philanthropy and mutual conciliation.”

Yet on each point, Daniels correctly argues, higher education now falls short. Legacy preferences in admissions perpetuate a system of class privilege at the expense of less-pedigreed applicants. Academic specialization has left universities increasingly indifferent to questions of civics. A reproducibility crisis — i.e., an explosion of junk science — has helped produce a crisis of faith in the trustworthiness of scientific experts and their conclusions.

And, perhaps most serious of all, “an unmistakable pulse of dogmatism has surfaced on campus.” Though Daniels doesn’t think there’s a full-blown speech crisis on campus, he recognizes that something is badly amiss when, according to a 2020 Knight Foundation survey, 63 percent of college students feel “the climate on their campus prevents some people from saying things they believe because others might find them offensive.”

I agree with much of this, though the bit about “an explosion of junk science” is not largely due to things happening on campuses. Although Stephens doesn’t mention race-based affirmative action here, he’s against as, as you’ll see below. On this I disagree, and I also favor class-based affirmative action as well, something that many universities practice.

But it’s certainly true that nearly all campuses that aren’t religious schools do have a chilling of speech of students who disagree with Left-wing ideas, and students with contrasting ideas tend to keep their mouths shut. They may be the Trump voters of the future.

Here’s how Stephens proposes to solve this “crisis”:

It’s hard to argue with Daniels’s solutions. End, once and for all, legacy admissions. Institute a “democracy requirement” in school curriculums. Enhance openness in science and reform the peer-review process. Curb self-segregation in university housing. Create spaces for engagement and foster the practices of reasoned disagreement and energetic debate.

All essential proposals — and all the more necessary in an era of right-wing populism and left-wing illiberalism.

I agree with all of this, though I’m not sure what reforms Stephens envisions in the scientific peer-review process. I oppose segregated housing for college students, and, in addition, I favor some classes or discussions of freedom of speech for entering college students to go along with the usual dose of woke ideology.

Here’s where Stephens and I disagree:

Still, I’d add two items to Daniels’s list of what universities owe democracy.

The first is an undiluted and unapologetic commitment to intellectual excellence. What spurred Dorian Abbot to action was a comment from a colleague that “if you are just hiring the best people, you are part of the problem.” But if universities aren’t putting excellence above every other consideration, they aren’t helping democracy. They are weakening it by contributing to the democratic tendency toward groupthink and the mediocrity that can come from trying to please the majority.

Because I believe in a restricted form of affirmative action for class and race (and perhaps other groups like veterans), I am not an advocate of pure meritocracy. That would eliminate a large number of minority students, and it’s just not on to have, say, Harvard populated entirely by white and Asian students. I believe that you can have affirmative action and excellence too in many places, though there’s some tradeoffs. In my opinion some tradeoff is worth it. This, of course, must be coupled with root-cause initiatives to offer poor kids and minority kids equal opportunity to achieve—something that doesn’t exist on average and will be much harder achieve. But yes, we owe that kind of reparations. And if they succeed, we no longer will need affirmative action. But societal reform offering equal opportunity is a very long way off.

But I wholly agree with Stephens’s second solution:

The second is courage. Most university administrators, I suspect, would happily subscribe on paper to principles like free expression. Their problem, as in Abraham Lincoln’s parable of a runaway soldier, isn’t with their intentions. “I have as brave a heart as Julius Caesar ever had,” says the soldier of Lincoln’s telling, “but, somehow or other, whenever danger approaches, my cowardly legs will run away with it.” Right now, we have an epidemic of cowardly legs.

Courage isn’t a virtue that’s easily taught, especially in universities, but sometimes it can be modeled. After Abbot’s talk was canceled at M.I.T., the conservative Princeton professor Robert George offered to host the lecture instead; it is scheduled for Oct. 21 on Zoom.

Courage begins with de-cancellation. Wisdom, thanks to books like Daniels’s, can then take wing.

My contempt for MIT is boundless, and has only been increased since, badly burned, they invited Abbot back to give a smaller lecture. They care not about freedom of thought, but about the bottom line. Very few universities can stand up to a woke Twitter mob. The University of Chicago is one, and so is Swarthmore, where the University’s black president, Valerie Smith, politely rejected student activists’ unreasonable demands for reform and “further discussion.” Beyond that, no colleges with spine come to mind.

The Times of London defends Kathleen Stock’s freedom of expresson, and so should we

October 13, 2021 • 12:00 pm

So what if the Times of London is a Tory paper? Gender-critical feminist Professor Kathleen Stock of Sussex needs a stalwart defense and they gave it to her. There was NO defense from the Guardian, of course, just a new article about how Stock’s own union (the University and College Union) is investigating her for transphobia, and that Stock feels that her teaching career is “effectively ended”. The Guardian loves that, and they would get rid of Stock if they had the power. They are reprehensible, especially on issues of freedom of speech.

On October 10, in the Hili News, I summarized the campaign against Stock:

Kathleen Stock, a feminist professor of philosophy at the University of Sussex, is the subject of a cancellation campaign over her views on gender. Wikipedia has characterized her views thusly:

Stock has expressed gender critical views on proposed reforms to the UK Gender Recognition Act and trans self-identification. She has called for trans women who have male genitalia to be excluded from women’s changing rooms, characterising them as “still males” who may be sexually attracted to women. She has denied opposing trans rights, saying, “I gladly and vocally assert the rights of trans people to live their lives free from fear, violence, harassment or any discrimination” and “I think that discussing female rights is compatible with defending these trans rights”.

For this some of her colleagues and students have started a campaign to get her fired, hyperbolically characterizing her as a transphobe whose views cause “harm”:

In January, hundreds of academics criticised the decision to give Stock an OBE for services to higher education in the New Year honours list.

In an open letter, they condemned academics who use their status to “further gender oppression” and said they denounced “transphobia in all its forms”.

The letter said: “Trans people are already deeply marginalised in society, facing well-documented discrimination, ranging from government policy to physical violence. Discourse like that Stock is producing and amplifying contributes to these harms, serving to restrict trans people’s access to life-saving medical treatments, encourage the harassment of gender-non-conforming people, and otherwise reinforce the patriarchal status quo. We are dismayed that the British government has chosen to honour her for this harmful rhetoric.”

This is what happens when you try to philosophically discuss the issues of rights when people are changing genders. The Guardian article reports that Stock is subject to concerted intimidation and harassment. To its credit, the University of Sussex is defending stock’s right to say what she wants, saying it won’t tolerate “threats to academic freedom.” The discourse on gender has gotten so polarized that even talking about it is taboo unless you agree with the most extreme construal of gender rights.

This article from Today’s Times (I have to use a screenshot because it’s paywalled, but click to enlarge) says what I would say: her views are “hardly inflammatory” and “even if Professor Stock held opinions that were less obviously defensible, she would have an unqualified right to express them.” But you can read it for yourself:


There is of course no constitutional principle in the UK like our First Amendment, but that is no excuse to promulgate censorship in a university. All universities should, I think, abide by the tenets of free expression that the University of Chicago (a private university not required to adhere to the First Amendment) holds as one of its foundational principles.

The Times also recounts the harassment Stock has endured, including threats of violence. She has been advised not to go to campus and to install closed-circuit television in her home. The University of Sussex is still defending her, though hedging it a bit (from the Guardian):

University of Sussex spokesperson said: “We have acted – and will continue to act – firmly and promptly to tackle bullying and harassment, to defend the fundamental principle of academic freedom, to support our community and continue to progress our work on equality, diversity and inclusion. We care deeply about getting this balance right.

“There are a range of very strong views and opinions held across the university on a whole variety of issues and topics, including how we support our trans and non-binary community particularly at this time.

“As a community, we need to come together and talk about what is happening at the moment and to look at the way forward.

“We will be doing this in the coming weeks and this will be led by our newly appointed pro-vice-chancellor for culture, equality and inclusion.”

Given that Stock is not a transphobe, they should have stopped the statement after the first paragraph.

The Guardian has not and will not defend Stock; they censored one of their columnists for expressing similar views, forcing her to resign. The important thing to remember is that Stock is by no means a transphobe; her views are expressed above and in her Wikipedia article. But because she questions the complete equivalence of transwomen and biological women (ditto for transmen and biological men), she’s being mercilessly hounded. Every university, much less Stock’s own union, should be united in defending her right to express opinions on this matter.

The discussion (or rather, lack thereof) about trans issues has gotten completely out of hand. And so it is up to us to defend whatever views we hold with reason, not with threats, but also to defend the right of our opponents to express their views openly and without fear and intimidation. We should all be behind Stock’s freedom of expression.


h/t: Simon, Luana

Academic Freedom Alliance calls out MIT for canceling Dorian Abbot lecture (and a poll)

October 6, 2021 • 9:30 am

Yesterday I reported on the unconscionable deplatforming of University of Chicago professor Dorian Abbot, who was scheduled to give a prestigious invited lecture at MIT on October 21. The topic of his lecture was to be  “climate and the potential for life on other planets”. Abbot was to be the Carlson Lecturer in MIT’s Department of Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences (DEAPS).

But Abbot’s lecture was canceled by DEAPS (they had to do it over the phone, not wanting to put it in writing) because Abbot had not only criticized Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) initiatives here at the U of C (this caused an uproar), but co-wrote an op-ed in Newsweek making similar points—but also, unwisely, comparing DEI initiatives to Nazi policy on race.  This caused the expected social-media storm, largely fueled by people in DEAPS. The cowardly department then canceled Abbot’s talk.

Nevertheless, though I don’t agree fully with Abbot’s views, he has freedom of speech and academic freedom (this is, after all, the University of Chicago), and it’s an abrogation of those values to disinvite him from giving a lecture that has absolutely nothing to do with what people are complaining about. It’s a blot on MIT, for many academics, both liberal and conservative, have criticized MIT’s actions. What is MIT afraid of? Free thought?

Fortunately, the Academic Freedom Alliance (AFA), which I’ve described here, has come forward to defend Abbot. The AFA is one of those non-partisan groups, like the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, that defends free speech on campus. Their mission statement includes this:

The Academic Freedom Alliance (AFA) is a non-profit organization whose members are dedicated to protecting the rights of faculty members at colleges and universities to speak, instruct, and publish without fear of sanction or punishment. We uphold the principles that are required if scholars are to fulfill their vocation as truth-seekers and colleges and universities are to be faithful to their mission as truth-seeking institutions.

Importantly, they have a number of big names on their board and a stable of powerful legal advisors that will enable the AFA to bring a lawsuit if necessary. (I’m not sure if it’s warranted in this case.)

At any rate, the AFA sent out an announcement to its members, which include me, describing a letter it wrote to MIT. Here’s part of the announcement:

PRINCETON, NJ – Today, the Academic Freedom Alliance sent a letter to the president of MIT and the head of the university’s Department of Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences regarding the disinvitation of University of Chicago professor Dorian Abbot to deliver a prestigious annual lecture on climate science. After publicly announcing that Professor Abbot would be delivering this year’s John Carlson Lecture, the university rescinded the invitation and cancelled the event over controversy surrounding his positions on diversity initiatives at universities.

“I write on behalf of the Academic Freedom Alliance to express our firm view that this disinvitation represents an egregious violation of the principles of academic freedom and an abnegation of MIT’s own stated commitment to freedom of thought,” wrote Keith E. Whittington, chair of the AFA’s academic committee, in the letter to MIT President L. Rafael Reif and Professor Robert van der Hilst.  “The Academic Freedom Alliance stands firmly behind Professor Abbot in this matter and calls on MIT to adhere to its academic freedom principles and allow the Carlson Lecture to go forward without interruption.”

. . . Professor Abbot’s disinvitation has attracted attention across the scientific community. Anna Krylov, a Professor of Chemistry at the University of Southern California who has published an academic paper on the perils of politicizing science, said of MIT’s decision, “This is an alarming case of scholarship suppression and censorship in STEM. This cancellation was facilitated by Twitter vigilantes and enabled by the complacency of the leadership of our institutions. Suppression of scientific communications in response to the demands of activists offended by the political views of a scientist threatens academic freedom, undermines the core values of  science, and subverts the scientific enterprise. It also threatens our future. How are we to solve today’s societal challenges if we silence scientists because of politically non-conforming views?”

The AFA’s three-page letter can be read and downloaded by clicking on the first page below. The letter ends by asking MIT to reinstate Abbot as the Carlson lecture. Note the last paragraph on the first page, asserting that Abbot’s disinvitation violates MIT’s own principles of freedom of expression. The letter is signed by Keith Whittington, Chair of the AFA’s Academic Committee as well as a Professor of Politics at Princeton. It also refers to the University of Chicago’s Kalven Report about avoiding chilling of speech, a report I’ve often discussed.

For a school with such a high reputation, and based so much on science, MIT is getting unaccountably woke. They’re at the point where they need to hear a three-page lecture on how a good school should comport itself with respect to freedom of speech a thought, a lecture that includes this paragraph:

When universities extend invitations to speakers, it is imperative that they stand behind those invitations and not rescind them under political pressure. Caving in to disinvitation campaigns emboldens those who would seek to suppress the expression of dissenting views and sends a message that universities will not stand up for their own principles and will not protect the campus as a place where ideas can be freely debated. If threatened protests can force universities to cancel events, then vocal agitators across the ideological spectrum will be incentivized to organize themselves to shut down any speech or speaker with which they disagree. This threat is particularly grave when it interferes with activities that are at the very center of a university’s academic enterprise. If the faculty cannot gather to listen to the presentation of scholarly arguments out of fear that some might object to giving a fellow scholar an audience, then the university can no longer fulfill its most basic functions. Universities have a particular responsibility to stand up to such threats.

Such disinvitations would never happen at the University of Chicago (faculty and students here tried but failed to prevent Steve Bannon from being invited to speak, but he never scheduled an appearance). MIT surely realizes that they’re simply encouraging the “heckler’s veto” by caving in to the pressure of Twitter and Facebook.

Let’s have a poll:

Do you think MIT will restore Dorian Abbot's invitation to give the Carlson lecture?

View Results

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Big Brother arrives at the University of St Andrews

October 1, 2021 • 9:15 am

The University of St Andrews loves Big Brother, for the school is enforcing an invidious form of mind control on entering students. You have to take a “bias test”, and if you don’t conform by answering questions correctly in a test of Wokeness, you don’t get to take classes. Read on.

I got two tweets this morning (below) about what’s going on at the school in the eponymous and historic Scottish town. The first tweet showed a woke phrase underlined, while the second gives most of the full article, which came from The Times of London (it’s paywalled for me, but the link is at the screenshot below.) You can also find the story at GB News or The Daily Fail, which don’t add much information. But good luck trying to find it at the Guardian!

At any rate, you can read most of the story from The Times at the enlarged photo below (click on it twice to read) or a shorter version at The Fail.

Click once or twice to enlarge:

The Fail finishes the student’s quote:

One student blasted the move, saying it forces them to agree with claims that contradict academic free speech.

She told the Times: ‘I wasn’t happy with it, effectively you had to agree with what they’re saying and these statements weren’t factual things, these were opinions.’

She said it was putting freshers between a rock and a hard place because they did not want to start at the university by complaining.

She added: ‘It seems like they [the university] are pushing an agenda and it appears performative and contrary to academic freedom and freedom of thought.’

I’ll assume that the questions asked of the students are true, although The Fail says that the Uni says the Times report is “inaccurate and misleading”. But the content seems to be correct. Here’s what the Fail says about the University’s response.

A spokesmen for St Andrews University said: ‘The Times report is inaccurate and misleading. These modules have been in place at St Andrews for several years.

‘With exception of the good academic practice training, all of these modules were introduced at St Andrews in response to clearly expressed student demand.

‘Our students pushed for the mandatory consent module, wrote the sustainability module, and were central members of the EDI (equality, diversity and inclusion) group which brought in the mandatory diversity module.

‘The modules were developed to align with St Andrews’ strategic priorities (diversity, inclusion, social responsibility, good academic practice, and zero tolerance for GBV) and help develop skills and awareness valuable to life at university, and beyond.

‘In our experience, students recognise the value of these courses, and we have encountered only one complainer in the past five years.’

Note there is no denial by the University of the content of the modules as reported by the Times.

Of course the issue here is not student pushback (what student would object to this?; most are probably self-censoring), and one beefing student may not express general sentiment. Nor is the issue who designed the modules, for in Nineteen Eighty-Four the populace is enlisted in its own oppression.

The issue is freedom of speech and thought, and that is what these modules are squelching. They are enforcing a conformity of thought to which you must adhere before you can even start your studies! You can see what the students are supposed to think: they must acknowledge their “guilt” (inquiries suggest this is “white guilt”). As for “we should treat everyone the same”, in some respect that is true—for moral equality and, with respect to civility, in personal interactions.. But every professor knows that students are unequal in their abilities and some may need extra tutoring or office hours. No professor (this test is for students only) would say that “all students should be treated equally,” as that doesn’t even ensure equality of opportunity. You can see how a question like this is ambiguous and could confuse the students.

And you have to agree with the notion that everyone has (unconscious?) biases and stereotypes.  I have no idea what the Dundee and biodiversity questions are about.

Regardless of this parsing, though, having this test administered before starting school, being required to pass it and mouth certain answers, is St Andrews forcing ideology down the throats of its students. The quoted student is much wiser than the University when she says, “It seems like they [the university] are pushing an agenda and it appears performative and contrary to academic freedom and freedom of thought.”

She’s wrong only when saying “it seems like”. No, that is exactly what they are doing.  As you see, the creeping rot is on both sides of the Atlantic.

Lessons from a free-speech victory at Cambridge University

September 24, 2021 • 12:00 pm

In December of last year I reported (see also here) about how Cambridge University tried to pass a resolution mandating respect for differing views and “diverse identities” (bolding below is mine). This is just one of three resolutions that were similar:

The University of Cambridge, as a world-leading education and research institution, is fully committed to the principle, and to the promotion, of freedom of speech and expression. The University’s core values are ‘freedom of thought and expression’ and ‘freedom from discrimination’. The University fosters an environment in which all of its staff and students can participate fully in University life, and feel able to question and test received wisdom, and to express new ideas and controversial or unpopular opinions within the law, without fear of disrespect or discrimination. In exercising their right to freedom of expression, the University expects its staff, students and visitors to be respectful of the differing opinions of others, in line with the University’s core value of freedom of expression. The University also expects its staff, students and visitors to be respectful of the diverse identities of others, in line with the University’s core value of freedom from discrimination. While debate and discussion may be robust and challenging, all speakers have a right to be heard when exercising their right to free speech within the law.

As I wrote, I was in good company opposing this resolution (I opposed not the identity part but the opinion part):

Similar restrictions appeared in two other paragraphs of the speech code, and irked writers like Stephen Fry and Nick Cohen, both of whom wrote editorials arguing that “respect” wasn’t the right word. For while one can respect an opponent as a human being to be treated civilly, there is no good reason to be respectful of opinions. Both Fry and Cohen emphasized that the operative word was “tolerance”: one can tolerate both opponents and their opinions—and argue with them if you don’t like the opinions—but you don’t have to give them respect.

And, as I reported, the resolutions were voted down by the University—by margins of between 4:1 and 7:1. This was a victory for tolerance and a defeat for “we must respect all views.” Now Arif Ahmed, a reader in philosophy at Gonville and Caius College at Cambridge, gives a bit of the backstory in a short piece on Spiked (click on screenshot below). And he gives two lessons that are worth trumpeting to all who fight for free speech and against creeping wokeness on campus.

Apparently, the three amendments mandating “respect for others’ opinions” were passed by the College Council, who dismissed the objections of some dons and other university members. This would have become University policy, then, had this not happened:

Many Cambridge dons were concerned about the policy and the threat it posed to academic freedom, though few were willing to say so in public. In any case, the council dismissed the few concerns that were raised in September 2020, without consultation. Rebel academics then had to campaign to force a vote of the whole university.

When that vote finally happened, by secret ballot, the result was a huge defeat for the university authorities: the vast majority voted against the council in the biggest turnout for decades.

The result was in itself evidence of the vast scale of self-censorship on campus. Clearly, concerns about the threats to our freedoms are widely felt, even if they are not widely voiced. And it’s not just a problem in Cambridge. A recent, large survey carried out by the University and College Union found that 35.5 per cent of academics are self-censoring.

I believe the proportion of American students who self-censor is much higher. A 2019 survey by the Heterodox Academy showed that “58.5% of students were somewhat or very reluctant to give their views on at least one of the five controversial topics.”

Self-censorship doesn’t apply with a secret ballot, giving rise to Ahmed’s first lesson. I can’t emphasize how important this is (emphasis is mine):

First, the Cambridge vote illustrated the power of anonymous voting. Academics who wouldn’t publicly voice support for liberal, pro-freedom policies at decision-making meetings might still support them in a secret ballot. If – as the figures suggest – a small and vociferous minority has cowed a liberal but risk-averse majority out of speaking its mind, secret ballots may break this minority’s power. Activist bullies might monopolise what is said out loud at a meeting, but if they can’t see how members vote, they can’t control what members decide. Every time a faculty votes on a change to the syllabus, every time a college votes on whether to invite a speaker, every time a students’ union chooses whether to affiliate to this or that political cause – these questions should be settled not by a show of hands, but by a secret ballot.

This doesn’t apply, however, to the running of student governments, as the students need to know how their representatives vote. That’s why no Congressional votes are secret.

And the second lesson, which we’ve seen at my own University:

Second, it is clear that the senior academics and administrators running most universities are faced with conflicting pressures from students, staff, funding bodies and central government. It is not surprising that in trying to balance these demands, even the most well-meaning vice-chancellors sometimes forget that free speech must be non-negotiable. One possible remedy would be for each university to appoint someone whose job it is never to forget the importance of free speech. Universities should each have their own free-speech officer, whose sole duty is to enforce compliance with the statutory duties on universities to promote free speech. If we cannot stop bureaucracy from growing, we can at least channel its energy in a benign direction.

One example I’ve used on my campus is ex-President Zimmer’s declaration that both the University itself and its academic units, like departments, are prohibited by the University’s Kalven Report from making official political, ideological, or moral statements. The reason is that an official statement in these areas will chill the ability of people like graduate students or untenured professors to oppose its views, much less discuss them. (This policy is of course rare in American colleges—it may be unique!)

Yet, many departments put up those statements on their websites, explicitly violating our own foundational free-speech principles. Despite efforts to have the statements removed (even though I agree with some of them!), they remain up, because, I suppose, there is also pressure on college administrators to not enforce university free-speech policy. I can imagine department heads saying to administrators: “Who are you to tell us what we can and cannot put on our department websites?” Well, the administrators should do exactly that with respect to anything that could chill speech. Conflicting pressures allows the university to explicitly declare these statements inappropriate, but then render the enforcement of that principle toothless. The result is that free speech has waned. No wonder we’ve fallen to #2 in FIRE’s free-speech rankings when we were #1 for so many years.

As Ahmed says, “free speech must be non-negotiable,” even when some parts of a university want to water it down.

h/t: Greg

University of Chicago no longer #1 in free speech rankings

September 21, 2021 • 2:05 pm

For a long time the University of Chicago has been #1 among all rated American colleges and university’s in the free-speech ranking of FIRE (the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education).

I’ve been beefing for over a year about my school’s unwillingness to enforce its own speech rules, though, by allowing departments to make official pronouncements on politics, morality, and ideology—an explicit violation of the Kalven Report. This is one of our foundational principles along with our Principles of Free Expression, which have been adopted by more than fifty enlightened schools. (See my reports on U of C’s violations and about Kalven here.)

Now, and very sadly, the University of Chicago has fallen to second place in Freedom of Speech, behind Claremont-McKenna College in California. Mind you, we still get the approved “green light” overall, and we’re not that far behind Claremont-McKenna (they get 72.7 out of 100 points; we get 70.43), and this is out of 154 ranked schools.

I’m also sure that my beefing had nothing to do with this change, though they may have taken into account Chicago’s violations of Kalven. But it’s always been a selling point for our school to proclaim itself #1 in free speech, as there’s a group of parents and students who—mirabile dictulike that! Perhaps our new President, Paul Alivisatos, a chemist who was executive vice chancellor and provost at UC Berkeley, and who began his term September 1, can pull us back to the top spot.

For your interest, here are the top ten schools for free speech, as well as the bottom ten, who deserve raspberries. (You can see the data by clicking on the school at the link I just gave.)

  1. Claremont-McKenna University
  2. The University of Chicago
  3. University of New Hampshire (Main Campus)
  4. Emory University
  5. Florida State University
  6. Purdue University (Main Campus)
  7. University of Maryland, College Park
  8. University of California, Los Angeles
  9. University of Arizona
  10. The College of William and Mary.

I’m chuffed that I taught at two of these (#2 and #7) and got my undergraduate degree from #10.

Here are the big losers:

WARNING RATING (no number but a bad sign.  Pepperdine University
148. Bates College
149. Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
WARNING RATING: St Louis University
150. Boston College
151. Wake Forest University
152. Louisiana State University
153. Marquette University
WARNING RATING: Baylor University
154. DePauw University (score: 50.8/100)

Each college’s evaluation also has some student comments; here’s one from the University of Chicago, but it wasn’t my comment as I didn’t teach that year.

“I am religious and in a few science courses Professors have made direct statements claiming that religion is equivalent to fairytales those who believe it are stupid and that science disproves religion. I did not feel as though I could argue with them on this despite my disagreement with their opinion.”
– Class of 2022
To be sure, this sounds dubious to me, as I don’t know anybody at the U of C who would make a statement like that to an undergraduate class. But it is possible. And if it happened, the professor should have kept his/her mouth shut.

Training versus education

September 17, 2021 • 2:30 pm

Today’s sermon, from Inside Higher Ed, draws a distinction between what schools are supposed to be for—education—and what they’re doing to train students about proper ways of thinking about diversity, especially when they enter college. (Click on the screenshot to read.) The authors’ mini-bios are at the bottom of the post:

And here are their premises:

In the wake of George Floyd’s murder, colleges and universities across the country have enthusiastically embraced training as a tool to promote racial justice. These trainings go by different names, including sensitivity training, diversity training and antiracism training.

Here are some things training is good for: customer service, Excel and CPR. One thing it’s not good for: diversity, equity and inclusion.

At a time when trainings are proliferating across institutions of higher learning, people could be forgiven for confusing training with education. But they are vastly different and should be seen as such especially when it comes to issues of diversity. The purpose of education, bell hooks reminds us, is critical thinking. Requiring “courage and imagination,” the “heartbeat of critical thinking is the longing to know — to understand how life works.” With hooks’s words in mind, here are 10 ways to tell training and education apart.

Training makes assumptions; education challenges them.

Training is packaged; education cannot be contained.

Training rewards compliance, education curiosity.

Training is having to say something, education having something to say.

Training tells you what to think; education teaches you how to think.

Training answers questions; education poses them.

Training is generic; education all about context.

Training simplifies the world; education reveals its complexity.

Training promotes conformity, education independence.

Training is performative; education is transformative.But training is woefully inadequate when it comes to confronting social problems such as poverty, discrimination and racism. These are long-standing, knotty and complex issues that defy ready-made solutions. Any serious effort to address them must start with education, a process for which there are no shortcuts.

Consider these two hypothetical examples of a college trying to deal with issues of race and diversity. The first is a prototypical training module; the second takes an educational approach.

You can peruse these two forms of training in the article; the “prototypical training model,” probably found more often in secondary schools than in colleges is a bit exaggerated for most institutions (it’s certainly not applicable to mine), but bits of it are par for the course in many colleges.

The second approach will not be used because it involves discussion and thought, and things that might offend people. But in the end, I have to agree with the authors, for I think discussion is unifying and propaganda is divisive. And what better way to start one’s college education with an educational agenda?

Often proven to be superficial and ineffective, diversity training should not be the default response for institutions. Instead, colleges and universities should invest in the most powerful tool of all to combat racial injustice: education.


Authors (from the article):

Amna Khalid (@AmnaUncensored) is associate professor in the history department and Jeffrey Aaron Snyder (@JeffreyASnyder) is associate professor in the educational studies department at Carleton College. Their writing on education, censorship, diversity and social justice has appeared in CNN, The Conversation and The New Republic.

A rise in targeting of scholars for political and ideological reasons

September 10, 2021 • 9:15 am

There’s a longish report at the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) that summarizes how scholars have been reported to authorities (“targeted”) for saying or writing “offensive” stuff over the last 6 years. You can read the report by clicking on the screenshot below:

It’s a bit tedious to read in its entirety, but the results are interesting. I’ll skip the definition of scholars and most of the methodology, except to say that the report relied on eight sources (below). These don’t include FIRE’s famous “disinvitation database“, as that reports deplatforming or disruptions of talks of speakers at colleges, not targeting and attempted punishment of individuals at universities. The sources of data:

  • Lee Jussim’s list of “Threat(s) to Academic Freedom … From Academics”
  • Jeffrey Sachs’ list of “The US Faculty Termination for Political Speech Dataset (2000-2020)”
  • The “Free Speech Tracker” from The Free Speech Project at Georgetown University
  • Duke Law School’s “Campus Speech Database”
  • The National Association of Scholars (NAS) list of “Tracking ‘Cancel Culture’ in Higher Education”
  • National Review’s list “Tracking ‘Cancel Culture’ in Higher Education”
  • The “Retraction Watch Database”

Trawling of this dataset using the analysts’ methods turned up 456 “targeting incidents” between January 1, 2015 and July 31, 2021, so it’s up to date. A “targeting incident” is one in which a person or people call for sanctions on a scholar for what he or she said or did.

The main results are these (I’ve omitted some of the report’s key findings.

a. Most of the incidents did result in some kind of sanction. 74% of the 456 reports resulted in either an investigation (considered a sanction) or a punishment like suspension or firing. That is very high, especially given that nearly all the incidents involved speech that, if uttered in a public university, would be protected by the First Amendment. (The article gives some examples.)

b. Targeting incidents have risen substantially in the last 6 years. Here’s a plot by year with the incidents in yellow and sanctions in red. There were 24 incidents in 2015, 113 in 2020, and 61 incidents already in the first half of 2021.


c. When the researchers could determine whether the targeting originated from positions to the Left or Right of the Speaker, it was most often from the Left. (This is what you’d predict from the Disinvitation Database). A graph:

Of course most students are on the Left, but so are most professors. But remember: this is a plot of reports of whether the accusations came not from the Left or Right by themselves, but really “from the Left or Right of the accused.” And, in fact, many of the accused were already on the Left. The reports from the Right did an uptick in 2017, and that may be the result of Donald Trump’s election when the Right felt empowered.

d. The percentage of sanctions is, as I said, high (64%); most of these are investigations, but terminations and suspensions of scholars are quite common.  Here’s a bar chart of the various outcomes when someone is “targeted”:

e. When it comes to being targeted, race is by far the issue involved most often, with partisanship, gender, and international policy behind. This again is not surprising, since race has been dominating the national discourse, but particularly on campuses. Here’s a graph:

f. When scholars are terminated (i.e., fired), race and institutional policy issues are the most common causes.  (Institutional policy is expected because it’s a clash between scholars and the policy of their academic homes:

g. Finally, the sources of the targeting are different depending on whether the attack came from the Left or the Right of the person targeted. The graph below shows the three most frequent sources of attack with “from the left” being the three bars on the left and “from the right” being the three bars on the right. (This is a confusing graph.) The most obvious difference is that attacks from the Left come from students (undergrads especially frequent) and other scholars, while attacks from the Right come from the public, the administration, and politicians.  This is not that surprising given that most scholars are on the Left, while attacks on the right are more likely to come from non-academics.

There are several other results that I won’t delve into, but merely mention. The disciplines in which targeting incidents occur most often are those “at the core of a liberal arts curriculum: law, political science, English, history, and philosophy.” That’s again not surprising, as those are the areas in which scholars are most likely to say something offensive. It’s a lot harder to say something offensive when you’re teaching science or math.

Finally, here’s an argument for universities adopting the Chicago Principles of Free Expression:

Campuses where the most targeting incidents have occurred tend to also have severely speech-restrictive policies, and are unlikely to have adopted the Chicago Principles guaranteeing the preeminence of free speech.

An article like this would be dry without a few examples, and it gives three instances of controversial scholars who were targeted: Mike Adams (who ultimately killed himself after being attacked for impure tweets), Gordon Klein (a particularly unfair case), and Columbia University adjunct law professor Elizabeth Lederer, targeted for prosecuting in court the Central Park Five, who were ultimately exonerated for raping and badly injuring a woman. Lederer ultimately had to resign from Columbia.

The lessons from this, given that most of the targeting was by mob vigilantes who wanted someone’s head (i.e., job), and that most of those attacked were exercising free speech, are obvious, but I’ll let FIRE summarize them for you:

. . . If scholars are unable to ask certain questions because they fear social or professional sanctions, particularly from their students and colleagues, then the advancement of human knowledge will be hindered. We may unknowingly continue to pursue important societal goals using ineffective means and policies because scholars fear the consequences of investigating whether such means and policies help us achieve what they are intended to.

Such a state of affairs should worry anyone with a vested interest in American higher education because it undermines academic freedom and open inquiry, threatening academia’s ability to ensure the furtherance of knowledge. One need not agree with a scholar’s research or teaching to nevertheless respect that scholar’s right to research and teach how they see fit. Distinguishing support for one’s speech from one’s right to speech is often lost in today’s culture wars and the “Scholars Under Fire” project reveals that when censorship spreads rampantly, it does not restrict itself to views and people one opposes; it also comes, sometimes with even more fervor, for those who hold similar views.