FIRE’s new college free-speech rankings: Chicago plummets to #13, but many “elite” schools are at the bottom, with Harvard, rated “abysmal”, holding down last place

September 24, 2023 • 9:00 am

For a long time, The University of Chicago has been in the top 5 schools in the “free-speech” rankings of the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE). Last year we were #1, and our average ranking has been #4. This, plus the fact that over 85 schools have adopted a version of Chicago’s “free expression principles,” and some are starting to adopt our “Kalven principles of institutional neutrality”, have been points of great pride for our administrators, for parents who want their kids to go to a free-speech school, and, of course, for me.

But this year things are different: among the 248 schools surveyed in this year’s FIRE survey, we’ve dropped to #13. This is embarrassing and demands investigation.  There’s been some vigorous discussion among faculty about this, with many concluding that our drop is due to students not feeling as free to discuss controversial topics as stjudents in other schools, and our FORE speech coding rating is yellow (“caution”) rather than green (“best”).

The rankings are based on a variety of measures, including sanctioning of faculty or students for speech, degree of disruption of invited speakers (as happened with Judge Duncan at Stanford), how comfortable students feel discussing topics like abortion or race (see the criteria here and here, and the rubric on p. 41 of the pdf ), and whether or not the University has a “speech code” with restrictions beyond those hemming in the First Amendment.

Click on the icon below to get FIRE’s “executive summary” of the 2024 rankings. You can also find a press release here, and you can go here to download the whole 85-page document. If you want to check out individual schools, go here.

Chicago ranks 94th in the degree in which students feel comfortable expressing controversial ideas, 123rd in openness to discussing such ideas, and, abysmally, 156th in student feelings about the acceptability of blocking or deplatforming speakers (BAD ranking!) Our overall ranking is 65.95, rated “above average”.

But the most striking aspects of the report are the unexpectedly high ranking of schools you don’t hear much about and, most shocking of all, how POOR the elite colleges, like the Ivies, have done.  Harvard, in fact, is at the very bottom of the list, the first school ever ranked as “abysmal”. That’s no surprise to anyone who follows how woke Harvard has become, which necessitated the formation of a faculty-led Council of Academic Freedom.

This is from FIRE’s new executive summary:

This year’s survey includes 55,102 student respondents from 254 colleges and universities.[1] Students who were enrolled in four-year degree programs were surveyed via the College Pulse mobile app and web portal from January 13 to June 30, 2023.

The College Free Speech Rankings are available online and are presented in an interactive dashboard ( that allows for easy comparison between institutions.

Key findings:

  1. Michigan Technological University is the top-ranked school in the 2024 College Free Speech Rankings. Auburn University, the University of New Hampshire, Oregon State University, and Florida State University round out the top five.
  2. Harvard University obtained the lowest score possible, 0.00, and is the only school with an “Abysmal” speech climate rating. The University of Pennsylvania, the University of South Carolina, Georgetown University, and Fordham University also ranked in the bottom five.
  3. The key factors differentiating high-performing schools (the top five) from poorly performing ones (the bottom five) are scores on the components of “Tolerance Difference” and “Disruptive Conduct.” Students from schools in the bottom five were more biased toward allowing controversial liberal speakers on campus over conservative ones and were more accepting of students using disruptive and violent forms of protest to stop a campus speech.
  4. Deplatforming attempts that occurred at schools ranked in the bottom five had an alarming 81% success rate.
  5. More than half of students (56%) expressed worry about damaging their reputation because of someone misunderstanding what they have said or done, and just over a quarter of students (26%) reported that they feel pressure to avoid discussing controversial topics in their classes. Twenty percent reported that they often self-censor.
  6. When provided with a definition of self-censorship, at least a quarter of students said they self-censor “fairly often” or “very often” during conversations with other students, with professors, and during classroom discussions, respectively (25%, 27%, and 28%, respectively). A quarter of students also said that they are more likely to self-censor on campus now — at the time they were surveyed — than they were when they first started college.
  7. Almost half of the students surveyed (49%) said that abortion is a difficult topic to have an open and honest conversation about on campus. A notable portion of students also identified gun control, racial inequality, and transgender rights, respectively, as topics difficult to discuss (43%, 42%, and 42%, respectively).
  8. Student opposition to allowing controversial conservative speakers on campus ranged from 57% to 72%, depending on the speaker. In contrast, student opposition to controversial liberal speakers ranged from 29% to 43%, depending on the speaker.
  9. More than 2 in 5 students (45%) said that students blocking other students from attending a speech is acceptable to some degree, up from 37% last year. And more than a quarter of students (27%) said that using violence to stop a campus speech is acceptable to some degree, up from 20% last year.
  10. More than 1 in 5 students (21%) reported that their college administration’s stance on free speech on campus is not clear, and more than a quarter of students (27%) reported that it is unlikely their college administration would defend a speaker’s right to express his or her views if a controversy occurred on campus.

And a bit more. Poor Harvard (I shed no tears; it’s insufferably woke)! Harvard actually had a negative score, but they cut off the numerical rankings at zero.  Not that this will hurt the school: Harvard has a “teflon” reputation, like Trump, so no matter how bad it acts, it’s still on many people’s “top school” list.

  • Harvard is by far the worst school in the country for free speech. It is the only school with an “Abysmal” rating.

  • Deplatforming attempts that occurred at schools ranked in the bottom five had an alarming 81% success rate.

  • Up to 72% of students opposed allowing a conservative speaker on campus, depending on the topic, while up to 43% of students opposed allowing a liberal speaker on campus.

  • 73% of students said that using violence to stop a campus speech is never acceptable, down from 80% last year. At Oberlin College, only 53% of students said that violence is never acceptable.

  • At a time of national dialogue about abortion policy, 49% of students have difficulty discussing abortion on campus. The most difficult topics to discuss on campus are abortion, gun control, racial inequality, and transgender rights.

  • Of the 248 schools ranked, 73 have “below average,” “poor,” “very poor,” or “abysmal” speech climates. Just 47 have at least “slightly above average” speech climates. Last year, when 203 schools were ranked, these totals were 64 and 39, respectively.

Now, for your delectation, the top 20, or “best” schools. Michigan Tech is #1, and, surprisingly (at least to me), many of the best schools are in the South. I put a box around Chicago to highlight our shame.

. . . and the worst schools. Note that they include “elite” colleges like Middlebury, Yale, Dartmouth, Georgetown, and Harvard—the first school ever to be rated “abysmal”.

Note that what sets the top schools apart from the bottom ones fall under the category of “student tolerance” of differences. Or, as the report says,

The key factors differentiating high-performing schools (the top five) from poorly performing ones (the bottom five) are scores on the components of “Tolerance Difference” and “Disruptive Conduct.” Students from schools in the bottom five were more biased toward allowing controversial liberal speakers on campus over conservative ones and were more accepting of students using disruptive and violent forms of protest to stop a campus speech.

There’s also this:

More than 2 in 5 students (45%) said that students blocking other students from attending a speech is acceptable to some degree, up from 37% last year. And more than a quarter of students (27%) said that using violence to stop a campus speech is acceptable to some degree, up from 20% last year.

It’s horrifying to realize that nearly half of all students (this includes all colleges surveyed) think that it’s okay to block students from attending a speech, and more than a quarter think that using violence to deplatform a campus speech is also okay. Both figures are up 7-8% from last year, and I don’t think that’s an accident. It’s a combination of ignorance (see below) and the increasing political polarization of America attendant on the Biden/Trump split and the ascendancy on campus of “wokeness,” an authoritarian and censorious philosophy.  No matter what the cause, speech in American universities (and I suspect in UK schools as well) is getting more and more chilled.

What does this mean? It means that either students are ignorant of the First Amendment, to which nearly all colleges pay fealty, or, less likely, they know how the First Amendment works, and know the few exceptions, but they don’t like the whole free-speech idea.  My guess is that that students simply need an education on why the First Amendment is so important, and my feeling is that college orientations for first-year students should include a unit on freedom of speech, one that includes Mill’s “On Liberty” and this wonderful speech from Christopher Hitchens at the University of Toronto. We don’t have to “respect” the other person’s point of view, but students need LISTEN to it. For if you ignore all views that strike you at the outset as offensive, you won’t learn anything, nor will you won’t get the ability to refine and hone your own point of view.

At 3 PM Eastern Time this Thursday, FIRE is holding a free Zoom webinar on the rankings discussed above. Click on the screenshot below to register for the webinar, or go here. You need to provide only your name and email address, and you’ll get registration info.

Oh, one other thing the ranking demonstrate is that the reputation of “elite” colleges is largely independent on the freedom of discourse enjoyed by their members. This strikes me a scary.

Dawkins on freedom of speech and the Joyce video

August 24, 2023 • 12:45 pm

This may again be old news, but after I called attention to Richard Dawkins’s video with Helen Joyce this morning, I found out two things from Twitter (it does have its uses). First, people complained to YouTube about that video on the grounds that it contained “violent speech”. (If you watched it, you’ll see how stupid that complaint is.) Second, that prompted Dawkins to write an article on freedom of speech, and the distortion of language, for London’s Evening Standard. You can see that article by clicking on the screenshot below the tweet.

Dawkins first describes several instances of censorship or deplatforming he encountered, including the American Humanist’s Association retracting his 1996 Humanist of the Year Award for this “discuss” tweet (note his explanation):

The difference between transgenderism and transracialism is a perfectly good and intriguing philosophical question to discuss, but merely raising it cost Dawkins his award. This reflects very badly on the American Humanist Association, and not on Dawkins.

But what’s relevant today is that the video with Helen Joyce was reported to YouTube as an example of “hate speech”.  And there was a punishment levied, though the video wasn’t banned:

On July 26, I interviewed Helen Joyce about her book Trans. The interview is being very well received on YouTube. As it should be, for Joyce is extremely well-informed in her subject and she spoke cogently, soberly, reasonably.

But one of YouTube’s in-house judges heard only hate. And tried to censor the interview.

Short of an outright ban, YouTube has a variety of punishments at its disposal. In this case we got a minor slap on the wrist, a restriction on our video’s licence to advertise. But the real point is, yet again, the ludicrous hypersensitivity of the complainant. Those warped ears heard not reasonable argument deserving a reply, but “hateful and derogatory content”, and “hate or harassment towards individuals or groups”.

Obviously I can’t disprove that here. The interview runs to more than 10,000 words. But judge for yourself, it’s still up on YouTube. I earnestly challenge Evening Standard readers to search diligently for literally anything that a reasonable speaker of the English language could fairly call hateful. Enter it, labelled “Challenge”, in the comments section under the video, and I promise to respond.

I just said “a reasonable speaker of the English language”, and maybe here lies the key: language. If we want a fruitful argument, we’d better speak the same language. In today’s overheated sparring over sex and gender, both sides may appear to be speaking English, but is it the same English? Does “hate” mean to you what “hate” means to everyone else?

The complaints to YouTube, if you’ve seen the video, are clearly from the hyperoffended, and should be ignored. There is nothing “hateful or derogatory” in the entire video.  But that leads Richard into a discussion of the debasement of language, in particular the words “hate” and “violence”. We all know how these words have been defanged by the woke or Easily Offended, with “hate” now meaning “any speech I do not like” and “violent” meaning pretty much the same thing. This blurs the distinction between real hatred and discussion that offends someone, as well as between genuine physical violence and, again, something that hurts someone’s feelings.

This blurring is deliberate. It’s hyperbolic, meant to confuse people and make discussion almost impossible because some ideological discusssion (i.e., that which criticizes wokeness) is seen as hateful and violent. It’s telling that these substitute words are used by the woke, not the antiwoke, and are meant to control discourse by shutting up the latter.  Dawkins, of course, has something interesting to say about this:

As a textbook example of incitement to real violence, you could hardly do better than “Sarah Jane” Baker’s speech at London Pride this year, where she told the cheering crowd: “If you see a TERF, punch them in the fucking face”. Or Sky News (January 23) has a picture of two SNP politicians grinning in front of a large, colourful sign depicting a guillotine and the slogan “DECAPITATE TERFS”. They claimed they didn’t know the sign was there, and I sympathise. You shouldn’t be blamed for the company you keep. No doubt I shall be labelled “right-wing” for writing this article — and that’s the most unkindest cut of all.

The Guardian (February 14, 2020) reported that police officers turned up at Harry Miller’s workplace to warn him about his allegedly “transphobic” tweets, such as the obviously satirical, “I was assigned Mammal at Birth, but my orientation is Fish. Don’t mis-species me.” One of them told Miller that he had not committed a crime, but his tweeting “was being recorded as a hate incident”. [JAC: The UK police really need to learn the meaning of “freedom of speech”.]

Well, if Miller’s light-hearted satire is a hate incident, why not go after Monty Python, Peter Cook and Dudley Moore, Rowan Atkinson, Private Eye’s royal romances of Sylvie Krin, the early novels of Evelyn Waugh, Lady Addle Remembers, Tom Lehrer, even the benign PG Wodehouse? Satire is satire. That’s what satirists do, they get good-natured laughs and perform a valuable service to society.

“Assigned Mammal at Birth” satirises the trans-speak evasion of the biological fact that our sex is determined at conception by an X or a Y sperm. What I didn’t know, and learned from Joyce in our interview, is that small children are being taught, using a series of colourful little books and videos, that their “assigned” sex is just a doctor’s best guess, looking at them when they were born.

And so it goes. There’s more in the article, but read it for yourself. I’ll give you just the ending, after Dawkins has noted that we don’t live in an Orwellian society, one with a Gestapo or Stasi:

But shouldn’t we just indulge the harmless whims of an oppressed minority? Maybe, were it not for a strain of aggressive bossiness which insists, not so very harmlessly and not sounding very oppressed, that the rest of us must humour those whims and join in. This compulsion even has the force of law in some states. And alas, we often zip our lips in abject self-censorship because we aren’t as brave as JK Rowling, and don’t fancy becoming a target of Twittermob vitriol. No, we don’t fear Big Brother or the Stasi. We fear each other.

FIRE sues California’s community colleges for requiring professors to adhere to DEI requirements

August 23, 2023 • 9:30 am

On July 23 I wrote about the mishigass going on in California’s community college system (CCC; a government operation since it’s a state system). CCC professors were not only required to swear fealty to a specific version of DEI, but also incorporate Kendian antiracism into their curriculum. That is, they were required to espouse a given ideology, which is compelled speech that’s illegal under the First Amendment. Here’s the requirements that were in place; the quotes are from the WSJ:

“. . . three months ago California Community Colleges, which serves 1.8 million students at 116 campuses, amended its regulations so employees must espouse its tenets of diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility (DEIA). “Faculty members shall employ teaching, learning, and professional practices that reflect DEIA and anti-racist principles,” the regulations say. Schools must “place significant emphasis on DEIA competencies in employee evaluation and tenure review.”

A detailed baseline explanation of that last policy was soon distributed to faculty, including at Bakersfield College. “The DEI competencies provided in this document are meant to define the skills, knowledge, and behaviors that all California Community College (CCC) employees must demonstrate,” it says, according to the copy attached as an exhibit to Mr. Johnson’s lawsuit. Here are a few of the items it lists as markers of success for faculty and staff:

• “Promotes and incorporates DEI and anti-racist pedagogy.”

• “Develops and implements a pedagogy and/or curriculum that promotes a race-conscious and intersectional lens.”

• “Contributes to DEI and anti-racism research and scholarship.”

• “Articulates the importance and impact of DEI and anti-racism as part of the institution’s greater mission.”

• “Advocates for and advances DEI and anti-racist goals and initiatives.”

• “Leads DEI and anti-racist efforts by participating in DEI groups, committees, or community activities that promote systemic and cultural change to close equity gaps and support minoritized groups.”

• “Participates in a continuous cycle of self-assessment of one’s growth and commitment to DEI and acknowledgement of any internalized personal biases and racial superiority or inferiority.”

At the time, I noted that an affected professor, Daymon Johnson at CCC’s Bakersfield College, who opposed these new regulations, was suing with help from the Institute for Free Speech.

But wait: there’s more news of interest to those of us who oppose mandatory DEI statements for college professors (hiring or promotion) or mandates to teach DEI in classes, especially when the topic isn’t relevant. (The regulations above, which are hard-core instantiations of DEI, surely constitute compelled speech and are an unwarranted intrusion of ideology into any college.) Now the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE) is also suing the CCC system for the same violations, and they’ve found six professors with “standing” to join the suit.

The situation is outlined in their article below; click the screenshot to read:

An excerpt from the August 17 piece:

Today, the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression filed a lawsuit on behalf of six California community college professors to halt new, systemwide regulations forcing professors to espouse and teach politicized conceptions of “diversity, equity, and inclusion.”

Each of the professors teach at one of three Fresno-area community colleges within the State Center Community College District. Under the new regulations, all of the more-than-54,000 professors who teach in the California Community Colleges system must incorporate “anti-racist” viewpoints into classroom teaching.

The regulations explicitly require professors to pledge allegiance to contested ideological viewpoints. Professors must “acknowledge” that “cultural and social identities are diverse, fluid, and intersectional,” and they must develop “knowledge of the intersectionality of social identities and the multiple axes of oppression that people from different racial, ethnic, and other minoritized groups face.” Faculty performance and tenure will be evaluated based on professors’ commitment to and promotion of the government’s viewpoints.

. . . FIRE is representing professors James Druley, David Richardson, Linda de Morales, and Loren Palsgaard of Madera Community College, Bill Blanken of Reedley College, and Michael Stannard of Clovis Community College. The defendants are California Community Colleges Chancellor Sonya Christian, the State Board of Governors, State Center Community College District Chancellor Carole Goldsmith, and the District Board of Trustees.

A chemistry professor is baffled (and offended) that he has to adhere to these pledges and requirements:

“I’m a professor of chemistry. How am I supposed to incorporate DEI into my classroom instruction?” asked Reedley College professor Bill Blanken. “What’s the ‘anti-racist’ perspective on the atomic mass of boron?”

Of course the woke will explain—and may have already done this in chemistry journals—why it’s essential to teach chemistry from an antiracist perspective, and will tell us how. But this kind of indoctrination doesn’t belong in science—or in any subject taught in college.

FIRE explains why this is illegal:

“These regulations are a totalitarian triple-whammy,” said FIRE attorney Daniel Ortner. “The government is forcing professors to teach and preach a politicized viewpoint they do not share, imposing incomprehensible guidelines, and threatening to punish professors when they cross an arbitrary, indiscernible line.”

. . . An official glossary of terms released by the state makes plain that the “anti-racist” views it mandates are highly ideological. Indeed, the definition for “anti-racism” states that “persons that say they are ‘not a racist’ are in denial.” California declares that “color-blindness,” or the belief that “the best way to end prejudice and discrimination is by treating individuals as equally as possible, without regard to race, culture, or ethnicity,” is itself a problem because it “perpetuates existing racial inequities and denies systematic racism.”

Even a professor saying something as benign as “I grade my class based on merit” is suspect under the regulations. “Merit is embedded in the ideology of Whiteness and upholds race-based structural inequality,” the glossary claims. “Merit protects White privilege under the guise of standards … and as highlighted by anti-affirmative action forces.”

. . . FIRE first expressed concerns with the California regulations when they were proposed in 2022, warning in a public comment that the new rules would “unconstitutionally require faculty to profess allegiance to and to promote a contested set of ideological views.” The response from the chancellor’s office was woefully inadequate, denying that the chancellor or the board of governors could ever violate a professor’s academic freedom. The regulations are now in effect in the State Center Community College District, and FIRE’s clients have already been forced to change their syllabi and teaching materials, lest they face repercussions

Have a look at page 2 of the glossary if you want to see why colorblindness is bad.  And here’s their definition of “merit”:

Merit: A concept that at face value appears to be a neutral measure of academic achievement and qualifications; however, merit is embedded in the ideology of Whiteness and upholds race-based structural inequality. Merit protects White privilege under the guise of standards (i.e., the use of standardized tests that are biased against racial minorities) and as highlighted by anti-affirmative action forces. Merit implies that White people are deemed better qualified and more worthy but are denied opportunities due to race-conscious policies. However, this understanding of merit and worthiness fails to recognize systemic oppression, racism, and generational privilege afforded to Whites.

Merit is “embedded in the ideology of whiteness”?  And it “implies that White people are deemed better qualifed and more worthy”? That, of course, is total nonsense, but also a recipe for getting rid of merit-based judgements, something that is already happening throughout the country.

But I digress. My view is that while this suit may fail at the state level, it should (and must) be appealed to the Supreme Court, and there it will be overturned, as it must be. This is a prima facie violation of the First Amendment. It’s even worse because the state of California itself prohibits using race-based admission to both private and public colleges, and this has been affirmed by the recent Supreme Court decision. If race can’t be used as an admissions criterion, how can they force it to be used as a promotion and hiring criterion for professors. Worse, how can CCC force professors to swear adherence to it?

Those of us who favor some form of affirmative action (I’m one) think there are other ways to get more diverse student bodies and faculties, like expanding searches and using socioeconomic rather than ethnicity criteria to create diversity. While some have said that socioeconomic criteria for admission, which are legal, won’t lead to a diverse student body, I’m not convinced.

Free speech alliance announced by 13 college presidents

August 18, 2023 • 12:00 pm

Inside Higher Ed has announced that the presidents of 13 American universities have started an alliance to promote free speech at their schools. About time, if you ask me! Every school, private or public, should have a free-speech policy that abides by the First Amendment, and also abide by Chicago’s Kalven policy of institutional neutrality except on issues that directly affect the college’s mission.

Click below to read:

An excerpt:

A group of 13 college presidents announced the formation of a group to “champion free expression” at their institutions as higher education grapples with free speech issues nationwide, from speakers being shouted down to professors losing jobs over their perceived politics.

The group—known as the Campus Call for Free Expression—is launching a coordinated effort across their campuses to support free speech, according to a press release from The Institute for Citizens & Scholars and the James L. Knight Foundation. The Institute for Citizens & Scholars, a nonprofit, is the coordinating body while the Knight Foundation is providing $250,000 in funding.

The 13 participating institutions are: Benedict College; Claremont McKenna College; Cornell University; DePauw University; Duke University; James Madison University; Rollins College; Rutgers University; University of Notre Dame; University of Pittsburgh; University of Richmond; Wellesley College; and Wesleyan University.

But this part is pretty lame:

Actions at individual universities will vary. The press release noted that participating institutions will emphasize free expression in orientation, scholarly events, convocation speeches, seminars, trainings and various other activities.

“Higher education plays a crucial role in preparing our young people to thrive and develop the skills necessary to become empowered citizens and leaders of the future,” Rajiv Vinnakota, President of the Institute for Citizens & Scholars, said in a press release announcing the launch of the Campus Call for Free Expression. “This diverse coalition of college presidents—from institutions large and small, private and public—is united in its commitment to ensuring students are civically well-informed, productively engaged, and committed to democracy.”

Only one thing needs to be stipulated: “This university will adhere in its principles to the interpretation of the First Amendment laid out by American courts.”  How this is publicized can vary, but surely incoming students need a small unit on free expression and what it means.  This is, for example, what Stanford University law school lacked when its students went wild and deplatformed a visiting judge because they found his politics too conservative. (The school has since promised to abide by free-speech principles and not allow students to go wild with censoriousness.)

The second part, “commitment to democracy” and the like, is okay but still lame. The purpose of free speech in college is more than just to prepare students for their civic duties: it’s to ensure that they understand the U.S. Constitution and, most of all, to practice freedom of speech in college, where it is of paramount importance for a good education.

FIRE’s Campus Disinvitation Database, for instance, lists 25 instances of attempts to censor speech in 2022 alone, with 21 of these coming from the Left (over the past decade or so, the bulk of censorship attempts on campus have come from the Left rather than the Right.

Here’s an example from Harvard, with the disinvitation coming from the Left:

Feminism philosopher Devin Buckley was disinvited from lecture at Harvard University English department colloquium over opposition to her views on gender and trans issues.

Attacks on freedom of thought and expression in publishing: a piece by George Packer

August 9, 2023 • 10:30 am

This article from The Atlantic is probably paywalled, but appears to be freely accessible on the site below. Author George Packer is a journalist and novelist, and Wikipedia gives this description:

George Packer (born ca. 1960) is a US journalist, novelist, and playwright. He is best known for his writings for The New Yorker and The Atlantic about U.S. foreign policy and for his book The Assassins’ Gate: America in Iraq. Packer also wrote The Unwinding: An Inner History of the New America, covering the history of the US from 1978 to 2012. In November 2013, The Unwinding received the National Book Award for Nonfiction. His award-winning biography, Our Man: Richard Holbrooke and the End of the American Century, was released in May 2019. His latest book, Last Best Hope: America in Crisis and Renewal was released in June 2021.

Click screenshot to read, and then click “continue reading” to see the whole article.

Packer begins by extolling a 1953 statement, “The Freedom to Read,” issued by the American Library Association and the Association of Book Publishers Council at the height of the McCarthy era of censorship and Red-baiting. Do read it at the link: it’s an eloquent defense of publishing and reading even offensive materials, allowing the public to judge for themselves. That 70-year-old statement should be mandatory reading for all college freshman in what I envision as a short unit on “freedom of expression and academic freedom.” An except from the 1953 statement.

Most attempts at suppression rest on a denial of the fundamental premise of democracy: that the ordinary individual, by exercising critical judgment, will select the good and reject the bad. We trust Americans to recognize propaganda and misinformation, and to make their own decisions about what they read and believe. We do not believe they are prepared to sacrifice their heritage of a free press in order to be “protected” against what others think may be bad for them. We believe they still favor free enterprise in ideas and expression.

These efforts at suppression are related to a larger pattern of pressures being brought against education, the press, art and images, films, broadcast media, and the Internet. The problem is not only one of actual censorship. The shadow of fear cast by these pressures leads, we suspect, to an even larger voluntary curtailment of expression by those who seek to avoid controversy or unwelcome scrutiny by government officials. [Sound familiar?]

Such pressure toward conformity is perhaps natural to a time of accelerated change. And yet suppression is never more dangerous than in such a time of social tension. Freedom has given the United States the elasticity to endure strain. Freedom keeps open the path of novel and creative solutions, and enables change to come by choice. Every silencing of a heresy, every enforcement of an orthodoxy, diminishes the toughness and resilience of our society and leaves it the less able to deal with controversy and difference.

On its 70th anniversary in June, the whole statement was re-issued by the same organizations (see link above), but Packer finds that a wee bit ironic:

This past June, the library and publishers’ associations reissued “The Freedom to Read” on its 70th anniversary. Scores of publishers, libraries, literary groups, civil-liberty organizations, and authors signed on to endorse its principles. And yet many of those institutional signatories—including the “Big Five” publishing conglomerates—often violate its propositions, perhaps not even aware that they’re doing so. Few of them, if any, could produce as unapologetic a defense of intellectual freedom as the one made at a time when inquisitors were destroying careers and lives. It’s worth asking why the American literary world in 2023 is less able to uphold the principles of “The Freedom to Read” than its authors in 1953.

Here are the three attacks on intellectual freedom that are circumventing or eroding these principles. The first isn’t the fault of publishers. (Packer’s quotes are indented, heading are mine.)

1.) Attacks from state governments and schools.

First—and likely the main concern of the signatories—is an official campaign by governors, state legislatures, local governments, and school boards to weed out books and ideas they don’t like. Most of the targets are politically on the left; most present facts or express views about race, gender, and sexuality that the censors consider dangerous, divisive, obscene, or simply wrong. The effort began in Texas as early as 2020, before public hysteria and political opportunism spread the campaign to Florida and other states, and to every level of education, removing from library shelves and class reading lists several thousand books by writers such as Toni Morrison and Malala Yousafzai.

Given that states and school districts have a responsibility to set public-school curricula, not all of this can be called government censorship. But laws and policies to prevent students from encountering controversial, unpopular, even offensive writers and ideas amount to a powerfully repressive campaign of book banning, some of it probably unconstitutional.

2.) Attacks and censorship from “inside the house”—by editors and publishers themselves. We all know that some publishers are malleable to social-media campaigns that try to stop books from being published because the authors have done something considered immoral, because they are not of the right gender or ethnicity to tackle a book’s topic, or because the plot isn’t ideologically correct. I’m sure you remember some of these incidents:

A few cases became big news. Hachette canceled Woody Allen’s autobiography after a staff walkout, and Blake Bailey’s biography of Philip Roth was withdrawn after publication by Norton, both following accusations of sexual misconduct by the authors (Allen and Bailey denied the accusations). Publishers have canceled books following an author’s public remarks—for example, those of the cartoonist Scott Adams, the British journalist Julie Burchill, and the right-wing provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos.

In one particularly wild case, an author named Natasha Tynes, on the verge of publishing her first novel, a crime thriller, saw a Black employee of the Washington, D.C., Metro system eating on a train (a violation of the system’s rules). She tweeted a picture of the woman at the transit authority with a complaint, and immediately found herself transformed into a viral racist. Within hours her distributor, Rare Bird Books, had dropped the novel, tweeting that Tynes “did something truly horrible today.” The publisher, California Coldblood, after trying to wash its hands of the book, eventually went ahead with publication “due to contractual obligations,” but the novel was as good as dead. “How can you expect authors to be these perfect creatures who never commit any faults?” Tynes lamented to PEN. Most publishers now include a boilerplate morals clause in book contracts that legitimizes these cancellations—a loophole that contradicts tenets of “The Freedom to Read” that those publishers endorsed.

More are given, but you can see them at the site.

As Packer notes, these incidents may be few, but they create a chilling atmosphere that inhibits authors from writing about what they want:

A few cases became big news. Hachette canceled Woody Allen’s autobiography after a staff walkout, and Blake Bailey’s biography of Philip Roth was withdrawn after publication by Norton, both following accusations of sexual misconduct by the authors (Allen and Bailey denied the accusations). Publishers have canceled books following an author’s public remarks—for example, those of the cartoonist Scott Adams, the British journalist Julie Burchill, and the right-wing provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos.

In one particularly wild case, an author named Natasha Tynes, on the verge of publishing her first novel, a crime thriller, saw a Black employee of the Washington, D.C., Metro system eating on a train (a violation of the system’s rules). She tweeted a picture of the woman at the transit authority with a complaint, and immediately found herself transformed into a viral racist. Within hours her distributor, Rare Bird Books, had dropped the novel, tweeting that Tynes “did something truly horrible today.” The publisher, California Coldblood, after trying to wash its hands of the book, eventually went ahead with publication “due to contractual obligations,” but the novel was as good as dead. “How can you expect authors to be these perfect creatures who never commit any faults?” Tynes lamented to PEN. Most publishers now include a boilerplate morals clause in book contracts that legitimizes these cancellations—a loophole that contradicts tenets of “The Freedom to Read” that those publishers endorsed.

Not all publishers are susceptible to this kind of pressure, invariably coming from Twitter, and often by people who have never read the book. My own publisher, Penguin Random House, has a firm policy of publishing what it considers good, not what is ideologically correct. Sadly, as Packer reports, that publisher is bleeding senior editors because book sales are down.

Packer also levels some criticism at PEN and PEN America, too, literary organizations that promote free expression. PEN America has issued a new report, “Reading between the lines: Race, equity, and book publishing.”  And while Packer praises the courage of this report in today’s publishing climate, he also notes a contradiction. And that’s the contradiction—one we’ve discussed before—between promoting equity and promoting merit—literary merit in this case.

In “Reading Between the Lines: Race, Equity, and Book Publishing,” PEN examined in detail how the American book business has always been and, despite recent improvements, remains a clubby world of the white, well connected, and well-off. It presented a damning picture, backed by data, of “the white lens through which writers, editors, and publishers curate America’s literature.” It called for publishers to hire and promote more staff of color, publish more books by writers of color, pay them higher advances, and sell their books more intelligently and vigorously.

The two reports are related, but the relation is fraught. The first showed the need for an intensified campaign of diversity, equity, and inclusion across the industry. The second argues for greater freedom to defy the literary strictures of diversity, equity, and inclusion. Is there a contradiction between the two?

While PEN labors to show that there is no contradiction, of course there is. Any pressure to be ideologically correct (and DEI initiatives often cross the line between “color blind standards of merit” and “a specific ideological take on DEI), is going to also constitute pressure against publishing certain kinds of things. Here’s what Packer says:

In our world, where DEI has hardened into an ideological litmus test, the effort to place social justice at the center of publishing almost inevitably leads to controversies over “representation” and “harm” that result in banned books. The first report presented DEI in publishing as an urgent moral cause. The second report takes issue with “employees’ increasing expectation that publishers assume moral positions in their curation of catalogs and author lists.” But those employees no doubt believe that they are carrying out the vision of the first report.

Social justice and intellectual freedom are not inherently opposed—often, each requires the other—but they are not the same thing, either. “The Freedom to Read” makes this clear: “It would conflict with the public interest for [publishers and librarians] to establish their own political, moral, or aesthetic views as a standard for determining what should be published or circulated.” That statement was written at a time when the cause of intellectual freedom was non- or even anti-ideological. Its authors advocated no other goal than the widest and highest-quality expression of views. But in PEN’s new report you can feel a struggle to reconcile the thinking of its earlier one, in which every calculation comes down to identity, with the discriminating judgment and openness to new and disturbing ideas that are essential to producing literature. As one editor told me, “There’s no equity in talent.”

Packer has a lot more to say, but in the end he makes a good case for publishers promoting the “widest and highest-quality expression of views.” That statement says nothing about ideology, gender, or race, just quality and viewpoint diversity. If viewpoint diversity of literary merit is promoted by publishing more authors of minority status, then that’s fine—no contradiction there. But, as publishing books becomes a more fraught endeavor, and fewer people buy books, it’s imperative that the industry stick to its guns of promoting quality and viewpoint diversity.  For when books have to hew to an ideological line to be acceptable, publishing is dead.

h/t: Leo

Stanford equity dean Tirien Steinbach gets a pink slip after inciting law students to disrupt a speaker

July 21, 2023 • 11:30 am

Tirien Steinbach was the associate dean for diversity, equity, and inclusion at Stanford Law School (SLS), and became infamous for egging on the schools’s students to attack visiting speaker Judge Kyle Duncan, who’s on the Court of Appeals of the Fifth Circuit. I posted on her actions here and their fallout here.  Short take; Steinbach more or less urged students to deplatform the Judge’s talk (he’s a conservative), both before and during the talk, when she interrupted the Judge to lecture him about how his actions had “harmed” the students.

The dean of the law school, Jenny Martinez, wrote a letter of apology to the Stanford community for the demonstrations (you can see it here). In response, the obstreperous SLS students demonstrated in Martinez’s class, and shortly thereafter Dean Steinbach was put on leave.

On March 10, FIRE wrote a letter to Stanford’s President (now replaced after allegations of scientific misconduct), which ended this way:

When the university allows speakers like Judge Duncan to be silenced, it sends the message to all in the Stanford community that those who engage in unlawful, disruptive conduct have the power to dictate which voices and views may be heard on campus. If reports about last night’s disruption are accurate, Stanford must take immediate steps to reaffirm its commitment to n  expressive rights for all. Failure to do so quickly and clearly will be to Stanford’s lasting shame.

Given the urgent nature of this matter, we request a substantive response to this letter by Tuesday, March, 14.

I don’t know if FIRE ever got a response, much less a substantive one, but it was announced by Martinez (and put in a tweet by a FIRE attorney), that Steinbach will be “leaving her post.” Ten to one she was fired.

Here’s the statement, which you can click to enlarge. It’s written as if Steinbach decided to “pursue another opportunity,” but I bet what happened is that she was given the choice of leaving or of being fired. Stay tuned for more (I’ve asked FIRE).


Finally, below is a new emailed statement from FIRE’s Director of Campus Rights Advocacy Alex Morey:

The Stanford Law shoutdown made everyone question whether Stanford really cared about free expression. What set the event apart was DEI dean Tirien Steinbach, who, for all intents and purposes, facilitated the shoutdown when she should’ve been enforcing the rules.

Stanford recommitted strongly to free speech in the weeks that followed. Today’s announcement that Steinbach will leave her post is hopefully another signal that Stanford intends to adopt a no-tolerance policy on viewpoint discrimination.

Stanford’s brand new interim president, Richard Saller, has some solid free speech bona fides, including coming from ultra-speech-friendly UChicago, and having previously been on record about the importance of academic freedom.

We’re hopeful that after some administrative house cleaning over the last 48-hours, today represents a promising new day for higher ed best practices at Stanford.

I wonder if the SLS students have learned anything from this whole dismal affair. This just underscores the need for all serious universities in America to have a section on “freedom of speech” during student orientation.

One of New Zealand’s “Satanic Seven” describes efforts to create a free speech policy at the University of Auckland

July 20, 2023 • 9:30 am

Kendall Clements is a biologist at New Zealand’s Auckland University who works on the evolution of fish. He was also a signer of the “Listener Letter,” in which seven Auckland Uni professors (two now deceased), published an article in a popular magazine arguing that  mātauranga Māori (MM), or Māori “ways of knowing”, while of educational value, was not coequal to modern science. As the Wikipedia article describes,

In response to a 2021 report from a Government NCEA working group which proposed changes to the Māori school curriculum to ensure mātauranga Māori’s parity with Western epistemologies, seven University of Auckland senior academics Kendall ClementsGarth CooperMichael CorballisDoug ElliffeRobert NolaElizabeth Rata, and John Werry penned a letter that was published in the 31 July issue of the New Zealand Listener expressing disagreement with two of the report’s assertions:

  • That science has been used to support the domination of Eurocentric views including colonialism and the suppression of Māori knowledge.
  • The notion that science is a Western European invention and itself evidence of domination over Māori and other indigenous peoples.

The authors argued that science was universal to humanity with origins in ancient EgyptMesopotamiaancient Greece, and India. They also noted the Muslim world‘s significant contributions to mathematics, astronomy, and physics; which later passed onto Europe and North America. The authors also asserted that science was neutral rather than a tool of colonialism, highlighting its contributions to tackling global issues such as the COVID-19 pandemic, climate change, pollution, biodiversity loss, and environmental degradation.

All seven contributors were deluged with considerable opprobrium, and two, members of the Royal Society of New Zealand, were investigated (and cleared), but the rest remain demonized, and, in general, academic discussion, of this issue in particular, was stifled. Academics in New Zealand who agree with the sentiments of the Listener letter generally stay silent, fearing for their jobs.  A survey earlier this year revealed that only 31% of professors surveyed at five of New Zealand’s eight universities agreed that they were free to state controversial or unpopular opinions. One other note:

University of Auckland vice-chancellor Dawn Freshwater said the letter “caused considerable hurt and dismay among our staff, students and alumni” and that “the institution had respect for mātauranga Māori as a valuable knowledge system, and that it was not at odds with Western empirical science and did not need to compete.”

Freshwater, in thrall to indigenous knowledge, later backed off a bit, but she then promised a free discussion in which MM would be debated vis-à vis its parity with modern science, saying 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.

Do I need to add that that debate never took place? Freshwater was making promises she knew she wouldn’t keep.

Some Auckland University professors then decided that their school needed a written policy about free speech and academic freedom, and are formulating one now (in fact they’ve already formulated a nine-point document, but right now are only voting on whether they need such a policy.) My prediction is that despite overwhelming support for such a policyh (see below), it will either never get adopted or will be heavily watered down with prohibitions on speech that’s considered “offensive.” Some of that pushback to free speech by other Auckland Uni academics is described in the podcast below.

In this 40-minute podcast by New Zealand’s Free Speech Union, Kendall Clements, talks about his experience after signing the Listener letter and the attempts to develop a free speech document with his colleagues in the University Senate.

Discussion of MM, its relation to modern science, and the reaction to the Listener letter, starts at 13:10. Note that Clements does note empirical aspects of MM that can be considered as “empirical knowledge,” i.e., part of science, but also notes MM claims that aren’t scientifically credible.

At 25:30 Clements describes the arguments made by some of his opponents against freedom of expression. (One is that free speech could cause “harm” or damage relationships.) Do note that most of this debate is about speech relevant to the “ways of knowing” of the Māori, not other political issues like which political party is the most worthy. But Clements thinks that the free speech problems are due largely to the “culture wars” and social media as opposed to MM itself. These have caused “echo chambers” or “epistemic bubbles” at Auckland that create that attitude, “If you don’t agree with me, you’re a racist.” He argues that this doesn’t come directly from MM or its advocates, but is a general feature of the tribalism involved in the culture wars, a tribalism similar to what’s going on in America. (One could conclude that it just happens that New Zealand tribalism just happens to involve Māori issues, and the culture wars everywhere are about power.)

In the end, the Auckland Uni Senate’s anonymous vote to create a policy for freedom of expression and academic freedom was 80% positive and 16% negative. (In contrast, only 49% of the faculty surveyed, and 38% of the academic staff, felt able to respectfully voice their views without fear of negative impact.) As Clements says, “There’s clearly a freedom of expression problem at the University of Auckland.”

The upshot: the overwhelming majority of Auckland’s faculty senate voted that they need a policy of free speech and academic freedom. But will they get one? Given the opposition of the higher-ups (the Provost, for example, thinks the University should be able to make official statements on political issues), I’m not optimistic. But can you imagine New Zealand’s premier university lacking any policy on freedom of expression or institutional neutrality?

Click below to hear the podcast. Here’s the site’s summary:

Free speech across our universities is under fire- but many academics are also working to address this. After 3 years, a working group established at the University of Auckland to consider how to preserve academic freedom and free speech has reported back, making a bold stand in a hostile environment. Free Speech Union member and UoA Professor, Kendall Clements, sits down with Jonathan to give an insider’s view to why free speech is under fire, and what needs to be done about it.


The National Academies post a position statement on affirmative action, followed by an email exchange between Steven Pinker and NA President Marcia McNutt

July 17, 2023 • 11:00 am

Note: This post originally was to include both Steve Pinker’s emails to National Academies President Marcia McNutt as well as her responses to Pinker (two from each), but in the end she decided that she did not want her emails reproduced here. (Both she and Pinker were sent my introduction given below.) Pinker, however, gave me permission to reproduce his.  You can try to infer McNutt’s response from Steve’s second email.

Steve sent the first email in response to the “National Academies Presidents Statement on Affirmative Action” below.


Intro (by JAC):

On June 30, the Presidents of our three National Academies issued a joint statement on the Supreme Court decision handed down the day before, the decision that found race-based admissions in universities unconstitutional. Affirmative action, at least as we’d known it for six decades, was dead.

In response to this decision, Marcia McNutt, President of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS), John L. Anderson, President of the National Academy of Engineering, and Victor J. Dzau, President, National Academy of Medicine, issued the statement below. Because it’s on the home page of the National Academies website, was co-signed by all three presidents, is labeled “National Academies’ Presidents’ Statement” rather than “Opinion,” and lacks the standard disclaimer that the views expressed are those of the writers and not the organization, it’s natural to read it as an official position. I thus take it as an official position of the Academies and not just a personal expression of the Presidents’ sentiments.

National Academies Presidents’ Statement on Affirmative Action

Statement | June 30, 2023

Yesterday the Supreme Court issued a ruling to restrict affirmative action that will present challenges to efforts to diversify the nation’s colleges and universities. We strongly believe that the nation should remain committed to these efforts and find solutions that address racial inequities, including past and current racial discrimination and structural, systemic, and institutional racism in education.

A 2011 National Academies report stated that policies that have included affirmative action are fundamentally important to increasing the participation of members of historically underrepresented racial and ethnic minority groups at the postsecondary level across all fields (NASEM, 2011, p. 100). The report further states that increasing their participation and success contributes to the health of the nation by expanding the science and engineering talent pool, enhancing innovation, and improving the nation’s global economic leadership (NASEM, 2011, p. 3). A National Academies report issued in February 2023 recommends that leaders of organizations, including colleges and universities, take action to redress both individual bias and discrimination as well as review their own processes to determine whether they perpetuate negative outcomes for people from underrepresented racial and ethnic minority groups at critical points of access and advancement (NASEM, 2023, pp. 14-15).

It is essential that our nation extend the opportunity for a college education to all, enhance diverse learning experiences for all students, and create equitable pathways to grow a highly skilled workforce and to solve our most complex problems. Diversity is crucial to the success of our society and our economy.

We must also remain committed to advancing diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts within our own institution. We will continue to examine the implications of the decision for our staff and our work as an institution, our relationships with partners and volunteers, and our essential work of providing evidence-based advice to the nation on issues related to science, engineering, and medicine.

Marcia McNutt
President, National Academy of Sciences 

John L. Anderson
President, National Academy of Engineering 

Victor J. Dzau
President, National Academy of Medicine 

This statement could not be issued by my own school, the University of Chicago, as it violates the position of institutional neutrality laid out by our 1967 Kalven Report, which forbids our school from making official statements about politics, ideology, and morality unless they are essential to bolstering the university’s function: teaching, learning, and researching. (Our own five-line statement supporting equal opportunity and access for minority groups, while saying that we’re committed to affirmative action, says nothing about the Supreme Court decision, nor have we issued a statement about it.) The Kalven Report was issued because official statements by University officials or departments could be seen as chilling the speech of those who disagree with these positions. (Unofficial and personal statements, of course, are encouraged as free speech, but official statements impede free speech.)

The National Academies’ (NAs’) statement violates institutional neutrality in several ways. First, it is clearly a response to the Supreme Court decision, and to any reasonable individual says “that decision was wrong”. The first two paragraphs lay out why it was wrong, including the NAS’s belief that the Court’s decision presents “challenges” to the NAs’ policy to address and rectify “racial inequities”, and notes the NAs’ previous claim that affirmative action was “fundamentally important” in rectifying these inequities.

Another reason why this political statement couldn’t pass muster at Chicago is because it asserts as fact tendentious propositions like the value of affirmative action and the causation of minority underrepresentation as “past and current racial discrimination and structural, systemic, and institutional racism in education.” Again, this statement can be debated, particularly the part about existing structural, systemic, and institutional racism.

Further, the last paragraph urges people—I presume members of the NA—to engage in advancing “diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts within our own institution.” That now-familiar phrase does not, of course, refer to the abstract goals of diversity, inclusion, and equity per se, which are unexceptionable, but to a specific set of policies employed in many universities and other institutions that include affirmative action, reporting of data on racial composition, and race-conscious orientation and training sessions.

As such, this call for action again establishes an official policy, which is especially problematic because NA members are being adjured to advance “equity” in the recent sense of representation of groups in proportion to their presence in the American population. Given other causes of deviations from the population average besides bigotry (e.g., differences in preference or education), it’s debatable whether “equity” in the statistical sense is what we should be striving for instead of equal opportunity. Either way, what we have here is apparently an official endorsement of a particular political position: affirmative action was right; the Supreme Court was wrong; all discrepancies from population statistics are caused by bias; and we must keep striving to match institutional racial proportions to national ones. In taking a particular moral position—and note that both Steve Pinker and I agree with more limited ways to boost ethnic diversity, but disagree with institutional statements about such issues—the NAS is violating institutional neutrality. The Academies were created and tasked (and are still tasked) not with taking sides on ideological issues, but, as Steve notes below, to provide “independent, objective advice to the nation on matters related to science and technology”.

Finally, note the assertion that “diversity” is crucial to the success of colleges, our economy and society. What kind of diversity? The only kind mentioned is diversity of “racial and ethnic minority groups.” But other kinds of diversity may be even more important to the advancement of science, particularly diversity of viewpoints (the members of a given ethnic group, of course, don’t all share a single viewpoint!), political orientation, religion, and socioeconomic status.  Again, the Supreme Court made this point in its decision:

A benefit to a student who overcame racial discrimination, for example, must be tied to that student’s courage and determination. Or a benefit to a student whose heritage or culture motivated him or her to assume a leadership role or attain a particular goal must be tied to that student’s unique ability to contribute to the university. In other words, the student must be treated based on his or her experiences as an individual—not on the basis of race. Many universities have for too long done just the opposite. And in doing so, they have concluded, wrongly, that the touchstone of an individual’s identity is not challenges bested, skills built, or lessons learned but the color of their skin. Our constitutional history does not tolerate that choice.

This joint statement, then, makes a number of tendentious points that, in toto, would chill the speech of NA members who disagree.  This violates any institutional neutrality that the National Academies have—or should have based on its mission statement, which says that the job of the NAS is not to promote ideological positions but to provide scientific advice to the government.

And, as Steve points out below, taking political positions like this (again, a position that both Steve and I agree with to some extent) runs the danger of alienating the public, whether those statements be Left- or Right-wing. I recently posted about a survey in Nature showing that the magazine’s political endorsement of Biden for U.S. President (a one-off endorsement) led Republicans to be more distrustful not just of the journal, but of science in general.

It is for these reasons that scientific journals and organizations should remain as far away as possible from ideological, moral, and political statements. While editors and scientists may feel compelled to inject their opinions into official venues, they are best made in statements clearly labeled as “opinion” (and distinguished from official positions of the organization), as their overall effect on science is negative—both in chilling the speech of scientists and eroding public trust in science.  While I encourage scientists to express their own views on these issues, it should always be done in personal-opinion statements that don’t carry the imprimatur of institutions like the NAS.

In response to the statement above, Steven Pinker, a Member of the National Academy of Sciences, had an email exchange with Marcia McNutt, the NAS President  (His emails were copied to the Presidents of the other two Academies as well.)

There were two back-and-forths between Pinker and McNutt. Steve gave permission to put up his emails here, but Dr. McNutt decided not to have her emails published.

Although it will become clear that I agree with Steve’s point of view in this exchange (after all, I’ve been defending the Kalven Report for years), I am posting this material to begin a discussion about diversity, about affirmative action, and about institutional neutrality. I invite readers to go through this post and give their opinions in the comments.  All I can say now is that McNutt and Pinker were in unanimity about some matters, but differed strongly about others.

Pinker’s emails:

From: Pinker, Steven <>
Sent: Monday, July 10, 2023 11:20 AM
To: McNutt, Marcia K. [JAC: I’ve omitted the NAS Presidents’ email addresses]
Cc:  Anderson and Dzau
Subject: NAS Statement on Affirmative Action

Dear Marcia,

I would like to express my disquiet at the recent NAS Statement on Affirmative Action. The desirability of racial preferences in university admissions is not a scientific issue but a political and moral one. It involves tradeoffs such as maintaining the proportion of African Americans in elite universities at the expense of fairness to qualified applicants who are rejected because of their race, including other racial minorities such as Asian Americans. Moreover it is a highly politicized policy, almost exclusively associated with the left, and one that majorities of Americans of all races oppose.

It’s not clear to me how endorsing one side of a politically polarizing, nonscientific issue is compatible with the Academy’s stated mission “providing independent, objective advice to the nation on matters related to science and technology”.

The problem is worse than being incompatible with the Academy’s mission; it could substantially harm the Academy’s goal of promoting politicians’ and the public’s acceptance of science. Extensive research has shown that rejection of the scientific consensus on evolution, anthropogenic climate change, and other scientific topics is uncorrelated with scientific literacy but predictable from political orientation: the farther to the right, the greater the rejection of evolution and climate change.

In this regard, for the nation’s foremost scientific organization to identify itself with the political left is to all but guarantee that a substantial proportion, perhaps a majority, of politicians and the public will reject science as just another partisan faction with which they have no sympathy. This strikes me as unwise.

I wonder whether these considerations entered into the decision to issue the statement, and the Presidents decided to proceed nonetheless. Perhaps you considered the downsides and decided that the benefits outweighed the costs. Or, am I bringing up something that the Presidents did not even consider? If the latter, I urge you to at least take it into consideration in the Academies’ public communications, and other activities, in the future.

Steven Pinker
Member, National Academy of Sciences
Johnstone Family Professor of Psychology
Harvard University

Dr. McNutt teplied that day, and the next day Pinker wrote the following in response:

On Jul 11, 2023, at 11:15 AM, Pinker, Steven <> wrote:

Thank you, Marcia, for your swift reply. My concerns, though, have not been allayed.

First, if your goal in issuing the statement was not to criticize the Supreme Court decision, I believe you did not succeed. Nowhere did the statement distinguish legal from scientific issues, the first two sentences are:

“Yesterday the Supreme Court issued a ruling to restrict affirmative action that will present challenges to efforts to diversify the nation’s colleges and universities. We strongly believe that the nation should remain committed to these efforts …”

I don’t think any reader of the letter could read that as anything but a criticism. If the Presidents’ goal was to issue a statement that was not perceived as criticizing the Supreme court or defending affirmative action, was a draft shown to politically diverse commentators (that is, including ones who are not on the political left) to ascertain whether it would be understood that way?

It’s also hard to understand how the statement did not “defend the approach to diversifying the student bodies that was struck down by the courts.” The third sentence approvingly says, “A 2011 National Academies report stated that policies that have included affirmative action are fundamentally important….” But it is exactly the policy of affirmative action that the court struck down. Even more puzzlingly, the 2011 report in fact says little about affirmative action, does not review research on its effects on innovation or global economic leadership, and does not list it among its six “Recommendations” or two “Priorities.”  The citation on p. 100 merely lists it among a range of policies it deems “fundamentally important.”

Even more concerning, the statement could have been lifted out of the pages of any recent left-wing opinion magazine, since it reiterates the current conviction that racial inequities are primarily due to “past and current racial discrimination and structural, systemic, and institutional racism in education” and to “individual bias and discrimination.” Entirely unmentioned are other potential causes of racial discrepancies, including poverty, school quality, family structure, and cultural norms. It is surprising to see a scientific organization attribute a complex sociological outcome to a single cause.

Finally, the statement, and your letter, equate diversity of ideas with diversity of race. The advantages of intellectual diversity are obvious (though I have not seen any statements from the Academy addressing the shrinking political diversity among science faculty, nor the increasing campaigns that punish or cancel scientists who express politically unpopular views). The assumption that racial diversity is the same as intellectual diversity was exactly what the Supreme Court decision singled out and struck down, since it carries with it the racist assumptions that black students think alike, and that their role in universities is to present their race-specific views to their classmates.

Of course, citing rigorous empirical research that is relevant to the issues facing the court or guiding admissions policies going forward would be a highly appropriate role for the Academies. These might include comparisons of the outcomes of racial versus socioeconomic preferences, the effects of standardized test­-based admissions policies on student success, and the implications for scientific quality at institutions like UC Berkeley and the University of Michigan of mandates to eliminate racial preferences. But simply extolling the ambiguous word “diversity” would seem to be beneath the intellectual standards we expect of a scientific academy.

Our goals are the same: to enhance the progress and political and public acceptance of science. In that regard I urge the three of you to give more consideration to the way that communications from the Academies signal solidarity with a political faction rather than “providing independent, objective advice to the nation on matters related to science and technology.”


Dr. McNutt replied soon thereafter, but the response is redacted at her request.

NYT claims that a course on “The Problem of Whiteness” tests the University of Chicago’s commitment to free speech

July 3, 2023 • 12:20 pm

What we have in this NYT story is an outraged conservative being peeved after finding out that there was going to be a University of Chicago anthropology course on “The Problem of Whiteness”. The student put information about the course, including publicly available information on the instructor’s photo and email address, on social media.  It of course went viral among a certain set of The Easily Offended that does not include me.

Naturally, the instructor was harassed big time. She complained to the University about it—twice.  While one dean characterized the social-media onslaught as “cyberbullying,” eventually  the University dismissed the instructor’s complaints. She postponed the course one quarter (she not on tenure-track here, but a teaching instructor and a new Ph.D. looking for a job). Then, with University’s security and support, she taught the course twice.

The student who “doxxed” the instructor was not punished or sanctioned in any way. The University took this affair as a pure matter of freedom of speech, with no First Amendment violations committed by anyone. Of course we’re a private university and don’t have to abide by the First Amendment, but our well known Principles of Freedom of Expression (adopted by about 80 other universities) ensure that we do.

Click below, or find the article archived here.

A few details:

Rebecca Journey, a lecturer at the University of Chicago, thought little of calling her new undergraduate seminar “The Problem of Whiteness.” Though provocatively titled, the anthropology course covered familiar academic territory: how the racial category “white” has changed over time.

She was surprised, then, when her inbox exploded in November with vitriolic messages from dozens of strangers. One wrote that she was “deeply evil.” Another: “Blow your head clean off.”

The instigator was Daniel Schmidt, a sophomore and conservative activist with tens of thousands of social media followers. He tweeted, “Anti-white hatred is now mainstream academic inquiry,” along with the course description and Dr. Journey’s photo and university email address.

Spooked, Dr. Journey, a newly minted Ph.D. preparing to hit the academic job market, postponed her class to the spring. Then she filed complaints with the university, accusing Mr. Schmidt of doxxing and harassing her.

Mr. Schmidt, 19, denied encouraging anyone to harass her. And university officials dismissed her claims. As far as they knew, they said, Mr. Schmidt did not personally send her any abusive emails. And under the university’s longstanding, much-hailed commitment to academic freedom, speech was restricted only when it “constitutes a genuine threat or harassment.”

Schmidt sounds like a bad piece of work, but Journey’s photo and email address are freely available on the Internet, so he didn’t do anything but disseminate publicly available information.  Not that I think the course is great, but if the University approved it, we can’t really beef.  Nor can we say that Schmidt violated our principles of free expression.

Mr. Schmidt has found himself in adversarial roles before.

Over the last year or so, he actively supported Kanye West, the artist now known as Ye, for president — work that he promoted with Nick Fuentes, a Holocaust denier. Mr. Schmidt declined to comment on his political activism or his dealings with Mr. Fuentes.

In his first year at the university, Mr. Schmidt was fired from The Chicago Maroon, the student newspaper, after his editors said that he had repeatedly antagonized another columnist on Instagram, and encouraged others to spam her. Mr. Schmidt said he was simply “calling out a public figure.”

After he was also fired from a conservative campus publication, Mr. Schmidt turned to his own website, College Dissident, which featured articles like “Time to Fight Anti-White Hatred on Campus.”

His activism has helped fuel an industry dedicated to accusing universities of liberal orthodoxy. Websites like Campus Reform and The College Fix have for years trained students to report on campus controversies, hoping that conservative news outlets like Fox News, Breitbart and The Daily Caller will whip out their own stories.

All three publications ended up writing about Dr. Journey’s class.

And after the course catalog said the class was canceled for the winter, Mr. Schmidt celebrated. “This is a huge victory,” he tweeted.”

What we seem to have is a professional kvetcher who comes down on liberals, but again—he didn’t do anything that violated the law or accepted university principles of free speech.

And here’s the support that Dr. Journey got from the University, which is important, and something that (as Greg notes below) the NYT didn’t make a big deal about. But that is the important part of the story since so many colleges refuse to defend their instructors attacked on social media (remember Hamline University and the Muhammad paintings?):

Administrators had already amped up security. They had moved Dr. Journey’s class to a building that required key-card access and did not publicly list the location. Dr. Journey said the university beefed up security patrols.

Officials also took key steps that supporters of academic freedom say many colleges fail to do: They affirmed Dr. Journey’s right to teach the class and did not distance the institution from her.

I sure as hell wouldn’t do what what Schmidt did, though in the past I have occasionally put up contact information for what I see as egregious circumstances. But a course doesn’t fit that description; it’s a course, and even if it be woke, I can write about it; but it’s rude and bad form to sic a bunch of angry conservatives on a new Ph.D. looking for a job.

I think that Geof Stone of the Law School, one of our big free-speech advocates, has the right take on this situation:

Professor Stone, who wrote the Chicago statement [of Free Expression], agreed that the student’s actions could have a “chilling effect” on speech. But, he asked, who determines the difference between, say, a newspaper reporting on an individual and Mr. Schmidt’s actions? Both can result in hate mail and threats, he said.

The university, as a private institution, could change its policies to say that students, staff and faculty cannot post material that is intended to be intimidating, Professor Stone said.

But such a move — which he does not recommend — would run afoul of the First Amendment if the university were public, and would bring its own complications, he said.

“It’s very hard for either law or institutions to monitor those sorts of things,” he said. “Your administrators may be biased in terms of who they go after, and who they don’t go after.”

And while a strong case could be made that Mr. Schmidt’s intent was to intimidate, Professor Stone said, “Do you really want to get into the business of trying to figure out what the purpose was?”

Finally, here’s Greg Mayer’s take on the whole business, quoted with permission.

Complaining about the class is fine, including identifying the instructor. If Schmidt did tweet out her email address, that’s unkind and uncalled for, and someone should talk to him about etiquette. It would also clearly NOT fall under one of the exceptions to the First Amendment, though: as Jerry noted to me, there was no call for imminent lawless action. Schmidt probably, though, hoped to generate a Twitter mob, which I guess he did.

Political ads that call for people to harass a politician are standard these days. (“Joe Biden wants to take away your Medicare. Call Joe Biden now and tell him to keep the government out of Medicare! Call xxx-xxx-xxxx now!”)

The University could have rules that are more restrictive than the First Amendment. But fashioning them could be difficult– what would cross the University’s (as opposed to the First Amendment’s) line? Name-calling? Incivility? But how to define these?

The U of C did stand by the instructor, which I think is the key here: the institution resisted the Twitter mob. Policing individuals is tough, in part because of the problem of defining where the “line” is; and there are so many individual miscreants one could go after. But having those in charge stand up for the academic freedom of the instructor is a rarity these days, and is the real story, which the Times barely mentions.

The course sounds like a real stinker– an exercise in the cultural typological essentialism which is sort of the guiding principle of neo-racism. But, as Voltaire didn’t say, “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”

JAC: I agree with everything Greg says, except that if someone “talks to Schmidt about etiquette”, it should be one of his friends, not a University official. The University has no business chilling speech through “a talk about etiquette.”

Professor loses job offer at UCLA after grad students object to his views about DEI statements

June 29, 2023 • 9:15 am

I’m not sure why the Chronicle of Higher Education wrote such a long story about this issue, but probably because it instantiates an ongoing controversy in higher education. Actually four controversies, the last of which isn’t mentioned in the article:

1.) Should candidates be required to submit “DEI statements” when they apply for a job at a university?

2.) Should those statements be vetted against a given “correct” ideological position by the university or department?

3.) Should the candidate be denied a job if their DEI statements aren’t ideologically correct?

4.) Is it legal to require these statements (especially at a state university) since they may violate the Constitution by being loyalty oaths and subject to “viewpoint discrimination?”

In the case of psychologist Yoel Inbar, a professor at the Unversity of Toronto who applied for a joint hire with his partner at UCLA’S Department of Psychology, UCLA’s answer to the first three questions was, respectively, yes, yes, and yes.  He didn’t get the job. The Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE), however, thinks the answer to #4 is “no,” and is investigating the issue.

Click to read:

There are a lot of twists and turns here, and I won’t describe them, as they’re in the article. The short take is that Inbar was probably going to be offered the job, but lost it after a bunch of grad students in the department objected to his take on DEI—a take expressed in a five-year-old podcast. From CHI:

A psychologist spoke out this week about what critics see as a job offer gone awry over an ideological spat about diversity statements.

Yoel Inbar, an associate professor at the University of Toronto, was up for a job at the University of California at Los Angeles. But the psychology department there decided not to proceed after more than 60 graduate students in the department signed an open letter urging the university not to hire him.

At issue, the students wrote, were Inbar’s comments on his podcast expressing skepticism about the use of diversity statements in hiring, as well as about other efforts intended to make the academy more inclusive.

In the letter, which circulated on Twitter, the students wrote that Inbar’s hiring “would threaten ongoing efforts to protect and uplift individuals of marginalized backgrounds” and that Inbar “prioritizes advocating for those he classifies as political minorities in academia” over fostering inclusivity. In a meeting with graduate students, the letter continues, Inbar’s answers to questions about diversity, equity, and inclusion were in some cases “outright disconcerting.” (Inbar shared his account on a podcast episode released on Tuesday, and spoke with The Chronicle on Wednesday.)

You can also see students’ letter here. This was one of those incidents that go viral on Twitter, though since I’m told that (or am sent tweets), I haven’t verified that for myself.

But what’s clear is that Inbar is a liberal, and that he’s not against departments promoting diversity. His objection was to mandatory DEI statements, an objection that repelled the students. There’s also another twist; the students think that, as a psychologist studying “moral and political ideology”, Inbar’s work wasn’t sufficiently imbued with issues of race, gender, and other work about discrimination. In other words, they objected as much to his lack of ideologically-infused research as to his objection to DEI statements, statements that he considers aren’t efficacious but which serve only to flaunt virtue.  From CHI:

The story began, Inbar said Tuesday on the podcast Very Bad Wizards, when his partner received a job offer from the UCLA psychology department. When she inquired about the possibility of bringing Inbar on as a partner hire, the department was receptive, Inbar said. During a campus visit in late January, faculty members seemed enthusiastic about him as a candidate.

But he told the hosts of Very Bad Wizards that his meeting with the diversity-issues committee was one of several “strange things” that happened while he was on campus. At the end of the meeting, in which the committee asked standard questions about his approach to diversity in his teaching and research, Inbar said he had been asked about a December 2018 episode of Two Psychologists Four Beers.

In that episode, Inbar said that diversity statements “sort of seem like administrator virtue-signaling,” questioned how they would be used in a hiring process, and suggested “it’s not clear that they lead to better outcomes for underrepresented groups.”

The committee asked: Was he prepared to defend those comments now?

“To be honest, I wasn’t, because this episode is like, four and a half years old,” Inbar said on Very Bad Wizards. But he explained his current stance: “The very short version is, I think that the goals are good, but I don’t know if the diversity statements necessarily accomplish the goals.” (One host of Very Bad Wizards, David A. Pizarro, a professor of psychology at Cornell University, said he’d let Inbar’s comments on the podcast speak for themselves.)

So Inbar is in favor of promoting diversity, but said that he didn’t think that DEI statements were the way to do that; that they are “virtue-signaling”.  I agree with Inbar, and diversity statements are not allowed at the University of Chicago precisely because, I believe, they violate freedom of speech and are a form of compelled speech when vetted compared to desired “rubrics.”

Here are the graduate students objecting not just to his views on DEI statements (it’s not enough that he’s in favor of the statements’ goals), but also to the insufficiently “minoritized” character of his academic work:

Then Inbar met with some of the graduate students. Both parties recalled the meeting as unusual. The students wrote in their letter that Inbar had told them that his “work does not really deal with identity,” which they found problematic. Inbar studies morality and political ideology, the students wrote, so “it was deeply troubling to hear that he does not believe identity (i.e., individual background as it pertains to race, gender, sexuality, class, or ability) has bearing on these research questions.”

But Inbar said the graduate students had never asked him directly about the podcast episodes mentioned in their letter. “To be honest, it wasn’t entirely clear what they were getting at” in the meeting, Inbar told The Chronicle; if they had asked more-direct questions about, for instance, his approach to mentoring students from diverse backgrounds, he said he could have answered them.

It seems to me that calling for Inbar not to be hired because his work isn’t centered on “identity” constitutes a violation of his academic freedom. Inbar is a highly respected scholar, and here we have students saying “you’re working on the wrong thing” when in fact they offer no critique at all of his research.

In the end the department, rattled by the graduate students’ statement, convened an unusual special committee to re-evaluate Inbar’s application. The committee went along with the students and Inbar he didn’t get the job.

I think FIRE’s take on what happened seems accurate (read the students’ letter):

Meanwhile, the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression has requested from UCLA documents related to Inbar’s case, including the committee’s report; the university denied that request in March and an appeal this month. Alex Morey, director of campus rights advocacy at FIRE, told The Chronicle that her organization is preparing a second appeal, arguing that the records are a matter of public interest.

“What we suspect may be happening here is that because Professor Inbar allegedly did not parrot the correct views on DEI and some students objected to that, he may have been discriminated against because of his views in the hiring process,” Morey said. That’s not allowed at a public university, she said: “They can hold faculty to viewpoint-neutral type of criteria, objective standards, but they can’t say, ‘If you don’t pledge allegiance to our particular view on diversity, you can’t have a job.’”

They’re right: there is strong evidence here for viewpoint discrimination. What’s odd is that the very views held by Inbar—that the goal of increasing diversity is good but mandatory DEI statements for applicants are not—is the very goal of schools like the University of Chicago, which tries to preserve freedom of speech and academic freedom while seeking a diverse student body.  DEI statements should not be required for application, and if that’s the case then questions #2 and #3 above become superfluous.

In 1972, the University of Chicago issued the Shils Report, which lays out the criteria for hiring, retention, and promotion within the University. Here are the four criteria listed in the report (my bold):

Any appointive body must have a standard by which it assesses the merits of the alternative candidates before it. Academic appointive bodies in general, and at The University of Chicago in particular, must have clearly perceived standards which they seek to apply to particular cases. They must seek to choose candidates who can conform most closely with these standards in their most exigent application. The standards to be applied by any appointive body should be those which assess the quality of performance in (1) research; (2) teaching and training, including the supervision of graduate students; (3) contribution to intellectual community; and (4) services. Distinguished performance in any one of these categories does not automatically entail distinguished performance in the others. For this reason, weighting of the various criteria cannot be avoided by appointive bodies. The Committee thinks that the criterion of distinction in research should be given the greatest weight.

It’s understood that “services” means “services to the University,” like serving on committees and the like. You’d be hard pressed to shoehorn “correct ideology towards diversity in there,” and, as I understand it, the powers that be here have decided that requiring DEI statements violates the Shils criteria. (This is my interpretation from what I’ve heard, so don’t take it as an official policy of the university.)  At the same time, the University is dedicated to maintaining diversity, including diversity of thought. We have a strong policy to that effect. It seems to me that our own policy, which promotes diversity while insisting on freedom of expression and academic freedom, expresses the very views that cost Inbar his job.

This is not a “cancelation,” but only the failure to offer a job, and Inbar is being sanguine about it:

Meanwhile, Inbar is not asking for sympathy. His partner received a one-year extension of her job offer from UCLA, which he told The Chronicle was “spectacular,” and the couple may consider moving to Los Angeles if Inbar can find a job in the area. “I don’t want people to cry over this for me,” he said on Very Bad Wizards.

In the past, he added, he’s urged faculty members to speak up about potentially controversial topics they believe in. His recent experience has changed his mind.

“Is there a cost to opening your mouth about this stuff? Absolutely, there is,” he said. “Would I advise a junior person to take any sort of heterodox position on this publicly? Absolutely not, because you only need to piss off a few people. It just takes one or two to sink you. Just stay out of it.”

That last paragraph shows how institutional policies requiring or promoting a specific ideology (in this case, one construal of DEI) can chill speech. And that’s why we don’t have such policies.

A few tweets. Below is Matt Yglesias laying out what happened, and then Sean Carroll apparently misunderstanding Yglesias’s tweet, which includes part of the students’ statement and a link to it.  The actual beliefs at issue are, in fact, part of what Yglesias said.

Jesse Singal then weighs in, saying that Carroll apparently missed what Yglesias was writing about.

FIRE has been trying to get UCLA’s records about the Inbar decision, records that should be public since UCLA is a state school. They have a series of ten tweets about it; I’ve put three below.  I doubt that this will lead to a lawsuit against UCLA, but it’s time that required DEI statements be adjudicated as possible violations of the First Amendment.