The Free Speech Union criticizes the ACLU

February 11, 2022 • 10:30 am

Here’s an article from the new American chapter of the Free Speech Union FSU, which also has a Substack site.  Ben Schwarz, one of the authors, is a friend who used to be the national and literary editor of The Atlantic, but now spends a lot of his time defending free speech (I believe he started the FSU). Click on the FSU’s take on the American Civil Liberties Union:

Why only two cheers instead of the usual three? You know why: the ACLU is undergoing mission creep towards progressivism.  It’s prioritizing which speech cases to defend based on whether they “align with our [progressive] principles”, one of their attorneys (Chase Strangio) has called for banning Abigail Shrier’s book on transgender adolescents, and the organization has put its weight behind defending the “right” of transgender women—medically treated or not—to participate in women’s sports. But Schwarz and Zobenica point out other egregious un-ACLU stuff:

Would that it were the only shift. As the Times also noted, during the Brett Kavanaugh Supreme Court confirmation hearings, in 2018, the ACLU—which had so long and so consistently stood up for the rights of the accused and the presumption of innocence—ran an ad that (as nearly as it could within defamation laws) found Kavanaugh guilty in the face of mere allegations (however numerous) of sexual misconduct. For an organization that helped defend the Scottsboro Boys’ rights of due process when confronted with allegations of rape to rely on a simple formula of “believe women” suggests another decided shift in the organization’s priorities.

The Kavanaugh ad solemnly notes: “The ACLU doesn’t support or oppose candidates to political or judicial office. We’ve made a rare exception. Brett Kavanaugh isn’t fit to serve. We’ll get as loud [as] we have to for our opposition to be heard.” This gambit of doing something you stress you don’t do, because, says you, circumstances give you no other choice is unworthy of its presumed solemnity. Fortunately, it’s something one can credibly attempt only once, if that. Let the supposed exception start to look more like a rule, and all claims to be above the fray quickly collapse.

But as the Times notes, that same year, 2018, the ACLU entered the fray again, pouring “$800,000 into what looked like a campaign ad for Stacey Abrams during her bid for governor of Georgia—a questionable move for a nonprofit organization that calls itself nonpartisan.” That the ACLU indulged in partisanship not once, in a “rare exception,” but twice in the same year suggests yet another shift in the organization’s priorities.

I didn’t really know about these matters, but should have. The donation to a campaign ad, and making a one-time exception to diss Kavanaugh, is not really in the “old” ACLU’s line of work  But it is now, as they’re becoming, like every other liberal organization, woke.

I would give the ACLU 1.4 cheers, not two, but the authors seem to have a sentimental streak about the old ACLU—the one we all supported and the one that helped me for free in my lawsuit against the government against having been called up illegally for conscientious-objector service.

Yes, it’s true that some of the “progressive” agenda overlaps with the “classical” mission of the ACLU, particularly defending the civil liberties of the oppressed (the “free speech” overlap is waning). But now the progressive tail is starting to wag the civil-liberties dog, and it may get worse.

I’m downgrading my cheers to one.

A trend explained: why colleges ignore their own free-speech policies

February 8, 2022 • 11:30 am

I’m not going to give any mea culpas for writing about an editorial from the Wall Street Journal, because although their op-ed section definitely leans towards the Right, that doesn’t mean you should ignore it. In fact, I found that the piece below (click on screenshot or make a judicious inquiry for a copy), made sense of something that has puzzled me for a long time. Why do many schools that have such strong official policies favoring free speech nevertheless ignore those policies when it comes to specific instances—especially when the “free speech” being exercised goes against “progressive” Left ideology or heats up a social media mob.

One example of this is the shamelessly hypocritical way that Georgetown University treated two professors who posted inflammatory tweets. The first one,C. Christine Fair, who posted very vicious anti-Brett Kavanaugh tweets during his Supreme Court confirmation, was defended by the GU Law School. The other, Ilya Shapiro, who posted arguably less inflammatory tweets about Biden’s promise to appoint a black woman as a Supreme Court justice, was suspended and forced to apologize. (He’s still suspended; see here and here for the story.)

You can find Georgetown’s policy on speech and expression here, and this is an excerpt:

As an institution of higher education, one specifically committed to the Catholic and Jesuit tradition, Georgetown University is committed to free and open inquiry, deliberation and debate in all matters, and the untrammeled verbal and nonverbal expression of ideas. It is Georgetown University’s policy to provide all members of the University community, including faculty, students, and staff, the broadest possible latitude to speak, write, listen, challenge, and learn.

The ideas of different members of the University community will often and naturally conflict. It is not the proper role of a university to insulate individuals from ideas and opinions they find unwelcome, disagreeable, or even deeply offensive. Deliberation or debate may not be suppressed because the ideas put forth are thought by some or even by most members of the University community to be offensive, unwise, immoral, or ill conceived.

Individual members of the University community have the right to judge the value of ideas, and to act on those judgments not by seeking to suppress speech, but by openly and vigorously contesting those arguments and ideas that they oppose. Fostering the ability of members of the University community to engage with each other in an effective and responsible manner is an essential part of the University’s educational mission.

In the case of Shapiro, they blatantly violated this. He was punished for tweets that were “unwelcome, disagreeable, and offensive”. He shouldn’t have been. As a private school, Georgetown doesn’t have to adhere to such principles of free expression, but they do and say so. This leaves them open to a lawsuit, and I hope Shapiro brings one.

Why do schools do this? I’m deeply afraid that my own school, The University of Chicago, is walking back its well known free speech policy, with deans and departments making statements that regularly violate our Kalven Principle of taking no official stands on politics, ideology, or morality. (Individuals, of course, are welcome to say whatever they want subject to court interpretations of the First Amendment.)  But official statements act to chill speech, making people self-censor lest they be ostracized for bucking “official” opinion. And, though they’ve been declared illegal here by our last President, they still festoon the websites of several departments. Why are they still up? I had no idea.

Here’s a short explanation, which rings very true to me, about why universities don’t seem to care much about free speech (click on screenshot). The author, John Hasnas, is a professor of Law and Business at Georgetown.

Hasnas’s explanation for why colleges don’t care about free speech is simple:

Regardless of Mr. Treanor’s political views, he has every reason to do this. University administrators get no reward for upholding abstract principles. Their incentive is to quell on-campus outrage and bad press as quickly as possible. Success is widely praised, but there is no punishment for failing to uphold the university’s commitment to free speech.

Short and sweet, and probably true. Now a place like the University of Chicago, which does attract students because of our famous support of free-speech, may have some incentive to keep those policies alive. And it’s my mission to keep those policies not only alive, but enforced.  If they’re not enforced, as I fear will happen, well, what does the U of C have to lose?  A few students, perhaps, but what is that compared to the onslaught of a social-media mob that could put the University in a bad public light?

But I digress.  Hasnas is right, I think, but his solution to the problem seems bizarre and unworkable. Here it is:

The solution is to create an incentive for schools to protect open inquiry—the fear of lawsuits. First, universities should add a “safe harbor” provision to their speech policies stating: “The university will summarily dismiss any allegation that an individual or group has violated a university policy if the allegation is based solely on the individual’s or group’s expression of religious, philosophical, literary, artistic, political, or scientific viewpoints.” This language would be contractually binding. Second, free-speech advocates should organize pro bono legal groups to sue schools that violate the safe-harbor provision. This would make it affordable for suppressed parties to bring suits over the violation of their contractual rights.

University counsel, whose primary job is to protect the institution from being sued, would then have incentive to curb administrators’ behavior. They might require that allegations of harassment be reviewed by a member of the counsel’s office who knows how to distinguish complaints about speech from genuine harassment. They almost certainly would revise the university’s antiharassment training to stress that students and faculty shouldn’t file complaints based solely on the content of the viewpoint being expressed. These and other steps they might take would give universities’ abstract commitments to freedom of speech some real bite.

In the absence of damage awards, university administrators won’t act against their own interests merely to uphold an abstract commitment to free speech. The threat of such awards would make universities like Georgetown put their money where their mouths are.

Why won’t this work? Because what incentive do universities have to make themselves liable for lawsuits by adding this “safe harbor provision”? If you have no incentive to keep free expression alive, what incentive would you have to deliberately make yourself liable to lawsuits for violating such expression? Hasnas is asking universities to modify their speech codes to make them into contracts under which people could then sue the university. Why on would they do that? They’d do it only if they cared deeply about preserving free speech. And they don’t.

True, once such contracts are in place, University Legal could fight any speech-repressing behavior of administrators, departments or other University members. They would have to, for their job is to protect the legal interests of the university. But I still don’t understand, nor does Hasnas explain, why universities could create “the fear of lawsuits” by putting these “safe harbor” provisions into place.

It seems to me that only an attorney specializing in criminal law could make such a suggestion. And sure enough, that’s what Hasnas specializes in. First you get your university to make a law whose violation could prompt lawsuits, and then the threat of lawsuits will keep the university honest. But WHY would a university make such a law when it doesn’t care about free speech in the first place?

Maybe I’m missing something, but this sounds weird.

Richard Dawkins writes to New Zealand’s “friends of science and reason”

December 10, 2021 • 9:15 am

As I’ve written a couple of times, New Zealand is undergoing a dilution of its science education since the increasingly woke government and university administrators have decided that indigenous ways of knowing, called “mātauranga Māori”, should be taught as coequal with science in both high school and university science classes. But the Māori “ways of knowing” are a mixed bag. There’s some “practical” science there, like how to determine which areas are likely to flood, and how to catch eels, but there’s also a whole bunch of mythology and superstition that are simply refuted by modern science. These include a creationist view of existing plants and animals. Teaching both in a Kiwi science class is like teaching evolutionary biology alongside creationism in an American evolution class: it’s a recipe for confusion and divisiveness—and an impediment for those Māori who want to become scientists.

Of course “mātauranga Māori” should be taught in some academic venue, as Māori culture is pervasive and influential in New Zealand.. But the venue should involve anthropology or sociology, not science.

A short while ago, seven professors from Auckland University wrote a letter objecting to the proposed coequal teaching of science and mātauranga Māori. Called “In Defense of Science,” it was published in a weekly magazine called “The Listener”, and you can see it here. In response, the Royal Society of New Zealand is considering punishing or expelling the two signers who are members of the Royal Society of New Zealand. And many NZ academics signed a petition objecting to the letter (do read it; it’s inoffensive to anybody who’s sapient). Dawn Freshwater, the Vice-Chancellor of Auckland University, calling attention to the letter and its signers, declared this:

A letter in this week’s issue of The Listener magazine from seven of our academic staff on the subject of whether Mātauranga Māori can be called science has caused considerable hurt and dismay among our staff, students, and alumni.

While the academics are free to express their views, I want to make it clear that they do not represent the views of the University of Auckland.

As I’ve said, it’s not clear whether the Vice-Chancellor has any authority to declare what the “views of the University of Auckland” are, nor whether there are any official views. It’s clear she is demonizing the professors at the same time she says well, they have the right of free speech—but note that the University can officially criticize them and the Royal Society can punish them! As for the Vice-Chancellor emphasizing the “considerable hurt and dismay” at the University, I consider that a ludicrous form appeal to emotion rather than reason. Are you, as a Kiwi, hurt or dismayed by that letter? Too bad. If you have counterarguments, express them, not your emotions.

In response to the threat of punishment of the letter signers by the Royal Society of New Zealand, which has made that society into a joke, Richard Dawkins wrote a letter to the then chief executive of the Society (you can see his letter here), and also issued a tweet:

Now, in response to a request from some of the letter’s signers, Richard has tweaked his letter and aimed it at the people of New Zealand, not at the Royal Society of New Zealand. It has just appeared in the online version The Listener (bad screenshot below), and will be in the paper edition this weekend. I have permission to publish it, and so have put it below. The original title that Richard gave it was, “Dear New Zealand friends of science and reason,” which the editors changed in the published version below. (They also eliminated a reference to “bollocks”.) I like the original title better.

SCIENCE IS SCIENCE

Since the subject of mātauranga Māori was raised through Letters in July, a global response has been building against the ludicrous move to incorporate Māori “ways of knowing” into New Zealand’s science curricula, and the frankly appalling failure of the Royal Society of New Zealand to stand up for science – which is, after all, what the society exists to do.

The Royal Society of New Zealand, like the Royal Society of which I have the honour to be a Fellow, is supposed to stand for science. Not “Western” science, not “European” science, not “White” science, not “Colonialist” science. Just science. Science is science is science, and it doesn’t matter who does it, or where, or what “tradition” they may have been brought up in. True science is evidence­based, not tradition-based; it incorporates safeguards such as peer review, repeated experimental testing of hypotheses, double-blind trials, instruments to sup­plement and validate fallible senses, etc.

If a “different” way of knowing worked, if it satisfied the above tests of being evidence-based, it wouldn’t be different, it would be science. Science works. It lands spacecraft on comets, develops vaccines against plagues, predicts eclipses to the nearest second, dates the origin of the universe, and reconstructs the lives of extinct species such as the tragically destroyed moa.

If New Zealand’s Royal Society won’t stand up for true science in your country, who will? What else is the society for? What else is the rationale for its existence? I hope you won’t think me presumptuous as an outsider (who actually rather wishes he was a New Zealander) if I encourage you to stand up against this nonsense and encourage others to do so.

Richard Dawkins, DSc, FRS
Emeritus Professor of the Public Under­standing of Science, University of Oxford

I especially love the one sentence, “If a ‘different’ way of knowing worked, if it satisfied the above tests of being evidence-based, it wouldn’t be different, it would be science.” That’s classic Dawkins.

Screenshot of above in online version:

If you are a Kiwi scientist who has the bollocks (or ovaries) to stand up to the government’s, universities’, and Royal Society’s nonsense, and to stand up for reason and the value of science in the only institutionalized “way of knowing”, I ask you to join Richard and the “Satanic Seven.” Yes, I know there are real threats of reprisal should you defend evidence and reason. And you remain silent out of fear, I won’t criticize you. But I suggest that you consider joining Dawkins and the Satanic Seven, lest New Zealand science go down the loo.

ACLU admits it screwed up by changing RBG’s words; Michelle Goldberg explains why the changes were misleading

September 28, 2021 • 9:15 am

A week ago I called attention to a tweet by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) that quoted but redacted some words by the late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg (RBG). The ACLU made six changes in just one short quote, including an omission. Here’s what they tweeted:

Here are her real words, which according to Michelle Goldberg’s NYT article below, were uttered during RBG’s 1993 Senate confirmation hearings. As usual, RBG didn’t pull any punches!

“The decision whether or not to bear a child is central to a woman’s life, to her well-being and dignity. It is a decision she must make for herself. When the government controls that decision for her, she is being treated as less than a full adult human responsible for her own choices.”

― Ruth Bader Ginsburg

I added this in my post:

There are six changes, five in brackets, getting rid of “woman” and “her” (substituting “persons” and “people” for “woman” and “they” or “their” for three “hers”).  The missing part of the quote, which is “It is a decision she must make for herself”, could have been altered to “It is a decision they must make for themselves,” but that would add two more sets of brackets and make the whole quotation look really weird.

The explanation is simple and obvious; they are removing RBG’s reference to women having babies since the ACLU, whose mission now includes a substantial amount of transgender activism, is onboard with the idea that transmen, who are now given the pronouns “he” and “men”, can have babies. And indeed, transmen have given birth.

The ACLU is heavily into transsexual rights, which is fine since those are civil rights, but they’ve gone overboard on this before (one of their staff attorneys called for the censorship of Abigail Shrier’s book, and did so again by drastically changing RBG’s words. They’re also slowly but surely removing themselves from defending the First Amendment.  Here’s the tweet (now removed) by their chief attorney for transsexual issues:

I’m pretty fed up with the ACLU, though they’re still doing some good work. But back to the RBG redaction. In her op-ed, Michelle Goldberg (click on screenshot below) puts her finger on two reasons why the alteration of RBG’s words was misleading and invidious.

While Goldberg bends over backwards to approve of gender-inclusive language, she criticizes the ACLU’s changes for two reasons. The first one I raised in my post; the second is one that is more likely to be spotted and raised by a woman.

This was a mistake for two reasons, one that’s easy to talk about, and one that’s hard.

The easy one is this: It’s somewhat Orwellian to rewrite historical utterances to conform to modern sensitivities. No one that I’m aware of used gender-neutral language to talk about pregnancy and abortion in 1993; it wasn’t until 2008 that Thomas Beatie became famous as what headlines sometimes called the “First Pregnant Man.” There’s a difference between substituting the phrase “pregnant people” for “pregnant women” now, and pretending that we have always spoken of “pregnant people.”

What’s more difficult to discuss is how making Ginsburg’s words gender-neutral alters their meaning. That requires coming to terms with a contentious shift in how progressives think and talk about sex and reproduction. Changing Ginsburg’s words treats what was once a core feminist insight — that women are oppressed on the basis of their reproductive capacity — as an embarrassing anachronism. The question then becomes: Is it?

Goldberg clearly thinks “no, it’s not an embarrassing anachronism”, but for a reason that some trans-activists might oppose. (Bolding below is mine.)

A gender-inclusive understanding of reproduction is in keeping with the goal of a society free of sex hierarchies. It is one thing to insist that women shouldn’t be relegated to second-class status because they can bear children. It’s perhaps more radical to define sex and gender so that childbearing is no longer women’s exclusive domain.

Yet I think there’s a difference between acknowledging that there are men who have children or need abortions — and expecting the health care system to treat these men with respect — and speaking as if the burden of reproduction does not overwhelmingly fall on women. You can’t change the nature of reality through language alone. Trying to do so can seem, to employ a horribly overused word, like a form of gaslighting.

“One is not born, but rather becomes, a woman,” Simone de Beauvoir wrote. You can interpret this to support the contemporary notion of sex and gender as largely matters of self-identification. Or you can interpret it as many older feminists have, as a statement about how the world molds you into a woman, of how certain biological experiences reveal your place in the social order, and how your identity develops in response to gender’s constraints.

Seen this way, a gender-neutral version of Ginsburg’s quote is unintelligible, because she was talking not about the right of all people to pursue their own reproductive destiny, but about how male control of women’s reproductive lives makes women part of a subordinate class. The erasure of gendered language can feel like an insult, because it takes away the terms generations of feminists used to articulate their predicament.

The way I would answer this myself is that childbearing remains the domain of biological women (i.e., people who, when born, fit into the biological definition of “female”), even if they’ve become transsexual men.  This is what I think Goldberg means by saying, slyly, that “you can’t change the nature of reality through language alone.”

Her real objection, which I’ve put in bold, is that reproduction is but one of women’s “biological experiences” (I suppose menstruation is another, though I don’t see oppression as a “biological experience”) that cannot be had by biological men, and by “women” she means the term as it was used by earlier feminists. By saying that a man can become pregnant, the oppressor then gains membership in the class (“men”) that many feminists saw and still see as oppressors.

Although Goldberg doesn’t say so, the problem is the failure to distinguish between biological men and women on one hand and men and women who identify as members of the other sex on the other. Importantly, to activists, transmen are considered men in every respect, just a stranswomen are considered full woman.

But to Goldberg, “full” neglects history. What really irks her (and I can understand and sympathize with her position), is that biological women can not only be called “men”, but assumed to be men in every respect, including, thinks Goldberg, in their historical position as oppressors of women. (By the way, I don’t think that the ACLU quote “erased” gendered language, which it didn’t, but erased sexed language.)

Goldberg’s contortions to avoid seeming “transphobic”, I think, has obscured her point, which is a semantic one. (Or so I think: I may have misinterpreted her point.)

And regardless, I think that she’s still going to be demonized for writing this column.  But to her (and the ACLU’s) credit, the organization seems to go along with her. She reports:

On Monday, Anthony Romero, executive director of the A.C.L.U., told me he regrets the R.B.G. tweet, and that in the future the organization won’t substantively alter anyone’s quotes. Still, he said, “Having spent time with Justice Ginsburg, I would like to believe that if she were alive today, she would encourage us to evolve our language to encompass a broader vision of gender, identity and sexuality.”

This may very well be the case. It’s also the case that she spoke specifically about women for a reason.

The problem is that the activists who approve of this redaction don’t care about altering history, even “for a reason”.  They just want to make historical language conform to modern norms.

Manchester Museum to add “multifaith” space (presumably largely for Muslims)

July 19, 2021 • 9:15 am

Reader David Milne, chair of the Greater Manchester Humanists, got the letter below from the “Engagement Manager” of the University of Manchester’s Museum (I use David’s name and position with permission). It announces the creation of a “multifaith space” at the Manchester (University) Museum. Read it and see if there’s any justification for this project.

The letter (I’ve removed the signer’s name):

Dear friend:

As part of Manchester Museum’s transformational development hello future, we are delighted to be creating a multifaith space, which will be opening in autumn 2022.

The Museum is keen to share these ideas for this new space with as many people of as possible, so have created one of the two zoom consultation sessions where you can find out more and share you [sic] views.

These sessions are on

Thursday 22 July 11am-12noon

Or Monday 26 July 6.00-7.00pm

Please do share this invitation with other people in your networks and all at Faith Network for Manchester, as we are keen to work with as many people as possible.

To thank you for your attendance we will be offering a £10 voucher.   If you would like to attend either of these sessions please book at the Eventbrite link https://bit.ly/3e8EZA7  or find out more please email anna.bunney@manchester.ac.uk

Multifaith/Contemplation space

The Multifaith/contemplation space will provide a space for prayer and reflection for people of faith and no faith, as part of the new visitor facilities being created as part of the hello future transformation at Manchester Museum.  Manchester is one of the UK’s most multi-lingual, hyper diverse cities, and providing a multifaith space is part of our commitment to being a truly civic organisation and commitment to the people of our city. 

In multicultural, multi-faith societies there should be respect and even admiration for the varied ways that people of all faiths and none take time out to pause, reflect, pray, meditate.   The Multifaith Room is not just about a space but a way of being and reflected in the way we programme, learn together and respect each other. This work builds on our previous experiences and activities, such as our first ever Iftar in 2019, Diwali celebrations in 2019 and contribution to online Diwali programming in 2020, and the integral place of prayer in the launch event for the Jalianwalla Bagh 1919 Punjab under Siege exhibition and programme.  And our current and future work, such as the ‘Indigenising Manchester Museum’ programme. 

The Multifaith/contemplation room is part of the Museum’s £13.5 million exciting hello future development which includes a new Exhibitions Hall, a South Asia Gallery and Chinese Culture gallery, as well as new visitor facilities, including a new entrance on Oxford Road and our first Changing Places toilet. Through this transformation our ambition is to become the world’s most inclusive, imaginative and caring museum when we reopen in 2022. https://mmhellofuture.wordpress.com/

What it will do

·                  Prayer/contemplation space for people of faith and no faith

·                  To be welcoming to all and respectful of each other for people of faith and no faith  (how to reflect the need to be respectful of gender neutrality and gender specificity)

·                  Feel calm, peaceful and inviting

·To be rooted in Manchester Museum, making links with nature that’s expressed in our collections as well as responding to the multilingual cultures of our city of Manchester: Nature provides a common link between people of all faith and none – recommendation to focus on plants (as representation of animals not appropriate); Geometric designs (but avoiding any religious iconography) 

Manchester Museum is committed to working in partnership and give voice to young people to help shape the Museum and the heritage sector.  To help develop the initial project brief we worked with a group of young people from the Our Shared Cultural Heritage Collective (a National Lottery Heritage Fund, Kick the Dust programme, led by the British Council) and young people associated with the Multilingual Manchester Project.   These young people are continuing to participate in the consultation process.

If you have any questions, please do not hesitate in contacting myself.

Many thanks,
Name Redacted

I share David’s concern about this. For one thing, people can pray in their homes, in private, or in their mosques, temples, or other religious buildings. Why do we need a prayer space in a museum?

Further, it’s very likely this is not really a “multifaith” space, as Jews, Anglicans, and those of many other faith do not need to take time out while visiting a museum to “pause, reflect, pray, or meditate”. Given the reference to the Museum’s own “Iftar” (the meal that Muslims eat after fasting all day during Ramadan), and the fact that devout Muslims must pray several times a day, I suspect this is not designed for Jews, Anglicans, or Catholics, but Muslims. (Do note, however, that the Museum seems to celebrate Diwali, largely a Hindu holiday.) But what is a Museum doing hosting celebrations for religious holidays?

Third, I object to this sentence:

In multicultural, multi-faith societies there should be respect and even admiration for the varied ways that people of all faiths and none take time out to pause, reflect, pray, meditate.

Given the lack of evidence for any religion, as well as the conflicting claims made by all faiths, I have no respect, much less admiration, for “the varied ways that people of all faiths and none take time out to pause, reflect, pray, or meditate.” (Note the reference to “no faith” which by definition is not a faith and doesn’t require a “meditation room”.)  

Finally, the Manchester Museum, owned by Matthew’s university (he has of course no connection with these plans!) is devoted to displays of science:  archeology, anthropology, and natural history, apparently concentrating on the latter.  To put a religious space (yes, you can also “contemplate” there, which is their way to de-emphasize religion), is an unconscionable mixing of faith and science. Note the statement, “To be rooted in Manchester Museum, making links with nature that’s expressed in our collections as well as responding to the multilingual cultures of our city of Manchester: Nature provides a common link between people of all faith and none.”  Well, I’m not sure how Nature provides a common link between people of all faiths except insofar as they’re all part of nature and take advantage of its products. 

Now I don’t know how this project came about: it could have been an accommodationist gesture on the part of the Museum, the result of a request by certain religious people, or via some other force. But it’s out of place. I know airports have these things, too, and they always bothered me a bit, but I don’t object to them as much because in the U.S. they do cater to everyone but mainly provide an island of peace in crowded airports (I’ve never been in one). But in a Museum about natural history? And must we have religion sticking its nose in everywhere? (No, there would be no “interfaith spaces” in a secular society.) Do Sweden and Iceland have “meditation rooms” for their atheistic population?

Please give your take below, because there are arguments to be made for allowing such spaces (though should they be in every building?).  And let’s have a poll, too. But I do want to hear readers’ opinions.

Should the Manchester Museum build a "multifaith space" for visitors?

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Stanford University tries to block student from graduating for publishing a satirical post, fails on First Amendment grounds

June 3, 2021 • 10:40 am

Here’s a pretty blatant violation of the First Amendment by Stanford University as reported by Slate. But to know how it’s a violation, you have to know two pieces of law. Click on the screenshot to read:

In short, a third-year student at Stanford Law School, Nicholas Wallace, decided to make fun of the conservative Federalist Society, some of whose members agreed with the January assault on the U.S. Capitol, by publishing some satire on a listserv:

The flyer promoted a fake event, “The Originalist Case for Inciting Insurrection,” ostensibly sponsored by the Stanford Federalist Society. It advertised the participation of two politicians who tried to overturn the 2020 election, Missouri Sen. Joshua Hawley and Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton. “Violent insurrection, also known as doing a coup, is a classical system of installing a government,” the flyer read, adding that insurrection “can be an effective approach to upholding the principle of limited government.”

Reader Paul found a screenshot of the flyer:

The Federalist society urged Stanford to formally investigate Wallace. When the school did, Stanford put a hold on Wallace’s degree and forbade him from graduating, asserting that Wallace may have violated the University’s code of conduct.  But Stanford, and especially its law school, should have realized two things, which apparently were caught by the estimable Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), whose own statement is here.

On Tuesday, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education sent a letter to Stanford urging the school to “immediately abandon its investigation and commit to procedural reforms to protect the expressive rights Stanford promises to its students.” FIRE pointed out that California’s Leonard Law requires private universities to comply with the First Amendment, and there is no real question that Wallace’s email is shielded by the First Amendment. The Supreme Court has held that satire, including offensive and hurtful expression, constitutes protected speech, and Wallace’s email is obviously satirical. “No reasonable person familiar with the email’s context would understand it to be sincere,” FIRE wrote, noting that it advertises an event that occurred 19 days earlier and is “laden with figurative language intended to impugn national political figures.”

(FIRE’s own statement is here.)

If you knew about the Leonard Law, and that satire is considered free expression, you’d realize that Stanford shouldn’t have even begun an investigation of permitted speech. Indeed, the Federalist Society itself promotes free speech on campus, so why is it doing this? Wallace suspects, correctly, I think, that this is pure retaliation.

But, as the NBC News ends every evening, “There’s good news tonight!”  Yesterday evening Slate updated the article with this:

Update, 9: 30 p.m.:  Stanford has concluded that Nicholas Wallace engaged in protected speech, dropped its investigation, and lifted the hold on his diploma. Wallace has confirmed that he will be allowed to graduate.

What’s especially ironic is that a left-wing school went after a student for making fun of a right-wing organization, all the while violating the freedom of speech that Stanford is required to adhere to.

h/t: Scott

Is social-media criticism by professors bullying and a violation of academic freedom?

March 28, 2021 • 1:00 pm

Here we have a back-and-forth in The Chronicle of Higher Education between two professors at Portland State University (“PSU”; a public college). The first piece is by Jennifer Ruth, a professor of film studies, and the second by Peter Boghossian, a philosopher, anti-woke writer, atheist, and one of the three people involved in the “Grievance Studies Affair“.  Ruth complains that critics of Critical Theory have been bullies by engaging in social-media pile-one (does she know how the Woke do that much more often?), and refers specifically to Boghossian and another professor, Bruce Gilley, who has argued that colonialism is good for the colonized, which of course caused a huge fracas.

As far as I can determine, what happened here is that a student (none of the principals already named) took pictures of some slides in a teacher education course which “offended” him/her because they were of the “Math is Racist” genre, and put the slides on Twitter. Boghossian and Gilley retweeted the slides. Apparently, though, some of the first names of students were on the slides, and so the dean asked Gilley and Boghossian to take down the tweets. They did so immediately. But apparently others joined in on the discussion, and that was considered bullying by Dr. Ruth.

Click on the screenshots to read.

Why was this considered “bullying”? According to Ruth:

[The professor who showed the slides] is shocked, then, to find her name and picture tied to the phrase “math is racist” — shorn of any context or any reference to the CNN article — and posted on Twitter by two of her male colleagues. It is picked up by the anti-woke warrior Chris Rufo, who tags the professional provocateur Joe Rogan and Fox’s voluble and influential Tucker Carlson. She has now become the latest exhibit in a national right-wing campaign to frame university professors as the new apparatchiks of a racially motivated totalitarianism. She shares an article with her students, and she is cast as one of Stalin’s henchmen. She is one of the “new racists.”

Anyone who has lived through one of the right-wing rage-gasms of the past decade — and they are disproportionately women and faculty of color — knows how terrifying they can be. All you have to do is say, “It’s true that the Greeks painted their statues,” or, “Hmm, it seems that the far right is appropriating a lot of medieval imagery,” and you can find yourself in the cross hairs, subject to doxxing, hate mail, physical harassment, and death threats.

Note that neither Gilley nor Boghossian engaged in this pile-on and did not encourage it; others took up the issue and (I didn’t follow this) there was a social media pile-on—one of the kind with which we’re familiar but apparently coming from the anti-woke. Nevertheless, Gilley and Boghossian suffer the consequences and take the blame for the mob. Peter, by the way, is a classical liberal, not “right-wing”.

Ruth continues:

The two men who circulated the “math is racist” meme were outsourcing the harassment of a colleague to the legions of trolls flying from Mr. Potato Head to Dr. Seuss to rapping librarians to the next faux-outrage fury-fest. Every time this happens, the targets of right-wing rage can only hope that a shiny new object will come along to distract their tormentors. But there is always the possibility — given the apocalyptic rhetoric that higher education’s attempts to reckon with systemic racism constitute a Maoist Cultural Revolution — that one of these stunts will get someone hurt.

The above scenario is not a hypothetical. It happened at my university, Portland State, and was instigated by our very own anti-woke warriors, Bruce Gilley and Peter Boghossian. Gilley and Boghossian have been working this beat for years now, on Twitter and on blogs. And they claim to be doing so in the name of academic freedom.

No, Boghossian and Gilley—and no, I don’t agree with Gilley’s thesis, but he has the right to his opinion—did not outsource harassment or encourage it. They were simply exercising the right to criticize ideas like “math is racist.” That is both free speech (PSU must adhere to the First Amendment and academic freedom). And the “math is racist” meme certainly does deserve examination, criticism, and, to my mind, a fair amount of ridicule.

As for the worry that “one of these stunts will get someone hurt”, it’s ironic that Ruth is part of the group who is always claiming that speech itself is considered harm. She’s already been hurt!

The details of this kerfuffle are described in a document by the Oregon Association of Scholars. which links to the following resolution of the PSU Faculty Senate which was the result of the two retweets (click on screenshot):

Part of the resolution:

While we all have the right to express our opinions in accordance with The First Amendment of the United States Constitution, there are limitations to free speech when it violates our laws and when it results in a true threat for an individual or a group of individuals or incites actions that will harm others. It is crucial to ensure that the members of our academic community can learn and work in an environment that is free of hate and hostility.

Whereas When faculty become active in, or even endorse or tacitly support, public campaigns calling for the intimidation of individual colleagues they disagree with, or with an entire faculty they disagree with, they are undermining academic freedom. Intimidation and explicit or implied threats to physical integrity are not accepted as academic methods.

. . . . BE IT RESOLVED

As Faculty, we must be thoughtful in our exercise of academic freedom and guard against its cynical abuse that can take the form of bullying and intimidation. This kind of abuse of academic freedom destroys academic freedom by eroding the trust that makes possible open dialogue, which is a central tenet in university intellectual life as well as in the practice of participatory democracy more broadly.

Again, this meeting was occasioned solely by the two taken-down retweets by Gilley and Boghossian who, needless to say, are not greatly beloved at PSU. And the resolution accuses them, though it doesn’t mention them by name, of intimidation, making threats, and academic bullying.

None of that was true; remember that this comes from just two social media posts taken down at the behest of the Dean. This is, pure and simple, chilling of free speech and academic freedom (which, though Ruth claims are not the same thing, are so closely related—identical in this case—that one must be careful about distinguishing them).

At any rate, Peter (full disclosure: he’s a friend of mine) wrote a response to Ruth’s piece in the Chronicle, and it’s quite good. The take-home lesson is in the title, and we should all make this a mantra:

I’ll give two quotes. Given that two retweets brought down official opprobrium of PSU on Boghossian and Gilley, Peter is quite measured in his response (the bolding is mine):

By claiming that criticism of published ideas and pedagogical models is harassment, and by creating institutional mechanisms that erect barriers to wholly appropriate critique, entire lines of scholarship become exempt from scrutiny. The academic process depends on having the freedom not only to state ideas but also to criticize other ideas. Limiting criticism in academia is tantamount to telling potters they can make all the clay pots they want so long as they never use clay. This is particularly disturbing because the claims in question — almost always about race, gender, and sexual orientation — are presented as knowledge and then used to influence public policy.

It is worth noting that criticism is framed as harassment only by academicians working in certain domains of thought that are in Critical Theory’s orbit. Civil engineers are not claiming that criticism of truss bridge design is harassment. Physicists are not claiming they’re being persecuted when their contributions to quantum theory are criticized. Philosophers are not claiming victimization when their arguments about free will are scrutinized. Claiming criticism is harassment occurs when a discipline’s North Star is not Truth, but ideology.

The internal rationale for calling criticism “harassment” is as simple as it is absurd: because these Critical Theories are believed to proceed from one’s “social position” as an occupant of some “identity category,” the person and her ideas are treated as though they overlap. They do not. Thinking they do is a dangerous mistake for anyone to make, not least institutions that are nominally devoted to Truth. The backbone of rational thought is separating people from ideas to protect the dignity of the former while being free to criticize the latter.

Boghossian defends the use of Twitter as a way of alerting people to what’s going on inside the academy, and also as a way of making arguments—not the best venue for extended discourse, though! However, scholarly journals aren’t accessible to the public. Boghossian ends like this:

There’s a dual irony in Ruth’s accusations. First, if there’s an institutionalized rule that criticism of academic work is harassment, how would Critical Theory, which is entirely predicated on criticizing existing systems, have emerged? It would not have. The ability to criticize has enabled the existence of disciplines in which my colleagues work, and from which they have framed criticism as harassment. Second, Ruth is doing to Gilley and me exactly what she claims we are doing to our colleagues — criticizing us. The only difference is, she takes aim at us, while we take aim at ideas.

Big new British monument to answered prayers

September 13, 2020 • 8:45 am

As Britain races towards secularism faster than the U.S., the faithful are making their last stands. One such stand is this Mobius strip of a memorial slated to be started next spring in Coleshill, near Birmingham. As this article in The Times explains, it’s to be called “The Eternal Wall of Answered Prayer”, and it’s huge. (Of course, an Eternal Wall of Unanswered Prayer would be much, much larger!)

Click to read; it may be paywalled, but judicious inquiry will yield you the document:

Here’s how big it is:

At 169ft tall, the monument will be just a few inches shorter than Nelson’s Column in London but almost three times the height of the Angel of the North, Anthony Gormley’s 66ft-high steel structure in Gateshead, Tyne and Wear.

 

It’s a big ‘un!  It was envisioned by Richard Gamble, former chaplain of the Leicester City football club, who had a revelation to build it.  He began a crowdfunding campaign had an international competition to design it, and then crowdfunded the construction. It’ll contain a gazillion answered prayers (actually, about a million).

Each brick in the wall will be associated with a Christian prayer and feature a unique code that can be read with a smartphone app. Visitors can use their phones to learn about the prayers individuals feel were answered, as well as the personal stories behind them. For bricks out of reach, the app can zoom in on a map of the monument.

Gamble, 51, and a team of volunteers have been collecting people’s testimonies online since 2018, noticing a surge in messages during the pandemic.

“Until this year it had been a small trickle,” he said. “But then it started accelerating. During lockdown it went mad.”

They need £9.35 million to finish it off, but, you know, God will provide; all you have to do is pray. So far God has prompted the faithful to ante up nearly £6 million. And you can submit answered prayers here.

It’s curious that God decided to answer more prayers during the lockdown (were more people were praying?), but the one prayer he didn’t answer was “God, please make this pandemic disappear.” But of course He works in mysterious ways, and one of those ways is killing off lots of innocent people.

The article gives examples of some of the prayers that will appear on the bricks:

The apparent miracles people have shared range from the dramatic to the mundane.

One person wrote about how their baby daughter had been rushed to hospital with a brain haemorrhage but survived and is now a healthy five-year-old. A doctor told a story about how, after 20 minutes kneeling in prayer, he and his team were sent a delivery of personal protective equipment that had been cancelled. Others also talked about mending difficult relationships and overcoming serious illnesses.

At the other end of the spectrum, one person explained how they had managed to have an “impossible meeting” with a dentist while suffering a swollen gum during lockdown.

“God is sooooooooooo good! He listens to our hearts’ cry,” they wrote.

But God is also sooooooo bad! He’s killed a million people in this pandemic, and he could have stopped it. At any rate, there’s been some discussion about “inclusivity”—not racial inclusivity but religious inclusivity. Not all religions are Christian, so they’ll be an exhibit inside about how adherents to other faiths pray.

I still think the humanists should build an Eternal Wall of Unanswered Prayers nearby, but to make its point it would have to be larger than this one, and that would cost too much.

h/t: Dom, Jez

 

Greg Lukianoff of FIRE outlines how colleges should commit to freedom of speech

August 3, 2020 • 10:30 am

Here’s a short video of Greg Lukianoff, president of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), outlining five actions people can take to ensure free speech on college campuses. These are, he says, things that people should demand of all college presidents.  I’ll give a short list of What Is To Be Done, but watch the video:

1.) Stop violating the law if you’re a public university with speech codes that abrogate the First Amendment. There should in fact be no speech codes in colleges beyond those affirming the principles and exceptions of the First Amendment.

2.) Ask the university to reaffirm its commitment to freedom of speech, academic freedom, and freedom of inquiry.  The University of Chicago has led the way in this with its Chicago Principles, though various recent ideological statements by administrators and departments threaten to erode the freedoms of speech and inquiry by creating a chilling effect, one in which University members are implicitly urged to adopt a stance of ideological conformity.

3.) “Defend the free speech rights of your students and faculty loudly, clearly, and early.” This happened here when the students, faculty, and alumni asked for Steve Bannon’s invitation to speak to be withdrawn. The university merely made this statement:

“Professor Luigi Zingales of the Booth School of Business is planning an event with the tentative format of a debate on subjects including the economic benefits of globalization and immigration, and has invited Steve Bannon, former chief strategist and senior adviser in the Trump administration, to debate an expert in the field, with Zingales serving as moderator. More details will be available soon from the Booth School of Business.

“The University of Chicago is deeply committed to upholding the values of academic freedom, the free expression of ideas, and the ability of faculty and students to invite the speakers of their choice.

“Any recognized student group, faculty group, University department or individual faculty member can invite a speaker to campus. We recognize that there will be debate and disagreement over this event; as part of our commitment to free expression, the University supports the ability of protesters and invited speakers to express a wide range of views.”

Now isn’t that great? (Bannon didn’t come, by the way.)

4.) “Teach free speech from Day One.” Every school should, says Lukianoff, have orientation sessions for incoming students to instruct them in the principles, philosophy, and meaning of free speech. I’ve long suggested this. These are not the usual sessions on “hate speech,” but a discussion of the principles of the First Amendment and why they’re important. (There could, for instance, be readings by John Stuart Mill or the viewing of Hitchens’s excellent “free speech” video.)

5.) “Be scholars; collect data.” By this Lukianoff means polling the faculty and students to find out what the climate for free speech is. That will determine what reforms need to be effected. Note that FIRE is willing to help any college that asks to formulate a free-speech policy.

 

At long last, the University of Chicago contravenes its own principles of political and ideological neutrality

July 23, 2020 • 12:00 pm

One by one, elite American colleges and universities (as well as the less prestigious ones) are giving in to Wokeness, rushing to embrace Critical Race Theory, trying to suppress “hate speech,” and indoctrinating students with a preferred ideology when they arrive on campus.  The University of Chicago hasn’t been immune to this, but I’ve taken great pride in the fact that, compared to others, we have remained the Great Holdout among elite colleges.

A large reason for this is because we have several Foundational Principles and Policies that undergird how the University is run. One comprises the Free Speech Principles as outlined by the Report of the Committee on Freedom of Expression. These so-called “Chicago Principles,” mandating near-absolute free speech (and in a private university!), have been adopted by over fifty of our peer institutions.  At Chicago you can say anything you want that’s in line with the courts’ interpretation of the First Amendment, and nobody is going to punish you. You may of course experience “counterspeech,” but the University itself will neither praise nor censure you; it will just say, “Professor X has the right to say whatever she wants.”

The other Foundational principle is the “Kalven Report,” known as the Kalvin Committee’s Report on The University Role in Political and Social Action. I’ve described this report before, but you should read the short document for yourself. It ensures that the University as a whole takes no stands as an institution on political, moral, or ideological issues, but remains neutral. Faculty and other individuals are of course free to write and speak about their own views, but the University does not express official views on politics, ideology, or social issues. Why is this principle so important here? The report explains (my emphasis):

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

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

The neutrality of the university as an institution arises then not from a lack of courage nor out of indifference and insensitivity. It arises out of respect for free inquiry and the obligation to cherish a diversity of viewpoints. And this neutrality as an institution has its complement in the fullest freedom for its faculty and students as individuals to participate in political action and social protest. It finds its complement, too, in the obligation of the university to provide a forum for the most searching and candid discussion of public issues.

The main exception to the Kalven Principles, outlined in the report, occurs when there are cases in “which the society, or segments of it, threaten the very mission of the university and its values of free inquiry.” In such instances, the University is justifiably obliged to combat the threats to its underlying principles. Otherwise, we espouse neutrality. During the two great crises of my college years: the Vietnam War and the Civil Rights Era of segregation, demonstration, and victory for equality, the University of Chicago remained completely silent. Likewise with the McCarthy “Red-baiting” era.

This estimable principle, which was erected to ensure intellectual independence and freedom of expression, is being dismantled quickly.  In the wake of the murder of George Floyd, departments are planning or issuing statements that take explicit ideological, moral, and political stands that have nothing to do with the mission of the university to seek truth wherever it lies. Here’s one from our Department of English Language and Literature, representing the views of the department as a whole, about racial inequality. I’ve put the full text below it (click on screenshot to see it in situ):

What it said (the bolding is mine):

The English department at the University of Chicago believes that Black Lives Matter, and that the lives of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, and Rayshard Brooks matter, as do thousands of others named and unnamed who have been subject to police violence. As literary scholars, we attend to the histories, atmospheres, and scenes of anti-Black racism and racial violence in the United States and across the world. We are committed to the struggle of Black and Indigenous people, and all racialized and dispossessed people, against inequality and brutality. As part of our commitment to funding and fostering scholarship in Black studies, in the coming academic year (2020-2021) we are prioritizing consideration of applicants who work in and with Black studies for admission to our PhD program.

The department is invested in the study of African American, African, and African diaspora literature and media, as well as in the histories of political struggle, collective action, and protest that Black, Indigenous and other racialized peoples have pursued, both here in the United States and in solidarity with international movements. Together with students, we attend both to literature’s capacity to normalize violence and derive pleasure from its aesthetic expression, and ways to use the representation of that violence to reorganize how we address making and breaking life. Our commitment is not just to ideas in the abstract, but also to activating histories of engaged art, debate, struggle, collective action, and counterrevolution as contexts for the emergence of ideas and narratives.

English as a discipline has a long history of providing aesthetic rationalizations for colonization, exploitation, extraction, and anti-Blackness. Our discipline is responsible for developing hierarchies of cultural production that have contributed directly to social and systemic determinations of whose lives matter and why. And while inroads have been made in terms of acknowledging the centrality of both individual literary works and collective histories of racialized and colonized people, there is still much to do as a discipline and as a department to build a more inclusive and equitable field for describing, studying, and teaching the relationship between aesthetics, representation, inequality, and power.

In light of this historical reality, we believe that undoing persistent, recalcitrant anti-Blackness in our discipline and in our institutions must be the collective responsibility of all faculty, here and elsewhere. In support of this aim, we have been expanding our range of research and teaching through recent hiring, mentorship, and admissions initiatives that have enriched our department with a number of Black scholars and scholars of color who are innovating in the study of the global contours of anti-Blackness and in the equally global project of Black freedom. Our collective enrichment is also a collective debt; this department reaffirms the urgency of ensuring institutional and intellectual support for colleagues and students working in the Black studies tradition, alongside whom we continue to deepen our intellectual commitments to this tradition. As such, we believe all scholars have a responsibility to know the literatures of African American, African diasporic, and colonized peoples, regardless of area of specialization, as a core competence of the profession.

We acknowledge the university’s and our field’s complicated history with the South Side. While we draw intellectual inspiration from the work of writers deeply connected to Chicago’s south side, including Ida B. Wells, Gwendolyn Brooks, Lorraine Hansberry, and Richard Wright, we are also attuned to the way that the university has been a vehicle of intellectual and economic opportunity for some in the community, and a site of exclusion and violence for others. Part of our commitment to the struggle for Black lives entails vigorous participation in university-wide conversations and activism about the university’s past and present role in the historically Black neighborhood that houses it.

Note that because it is the statement of the department as a whole, it is also a statement from the University. For at the University of Chicago, more than anywhere else, it is the faculty who are considered to run the school. Departments admit students, set curricula, and in those ways are the heart of the University. Departments have no more right to take ideological or political positions than does the University as a whole, represented administratively by the President and Provost. Nevertheless, we have here a specimen of performative wokeness that violates in may ways the Kalven Report.

Now in some respects the English Department statement also defends the mission of the University, and in that way is fine. It’s within a department’s purview to emphasize equality, assuring students that their freedom of expression, and their rights, will not be abridged on the grounds of ethnicity, race, or sex.  Likewise, it’s within a department’s mission to set its curriculum, and if they want to increase the number of courses on ethnic studies because they think it’s educationally useful in today’s society, then that’s fine, too.

But this statement goes far beyond that. Have a look at the first paragraph. First, the Department explicitly aligns itself not with racial equality, but with the Black Lives Matter movement, which holds to a specific political and ideological view. Have a look at their “What We Believe” page, which says a lot about “state-sanctioned violence”, the death of Trayvon Martin and  Michael Brown (with the shooters exculpated by Obama’s Justice Department), “cisgender privilege”, and a pledge to dismantle the “Western-prescribed nuclear family structure.” Black Lives Matter is a political movement, one that adheres closely to the tenets of Critical Race Theory. Note too the Department’s statement, “We are committed to the struggle of Black and Indigenous people, and all racialized and dispossessed people, against inequality and brutality.” Yes, there’s nothing wrong with holding that view, but doing so as a department violates the Kalven Report in a big way. It is a statement not of academic commitment, but of political commitment. Even in the Sixties we saw no departments, much less the University, issuing such statements. The conflation of academic with political commitments, violating the Kalven dicta, persists throughout the statement. The bolded part at the end again expresses a political commitment.

I emphasize again that during the racial turmoil of the Sixties, inarguably more serious and far-reaching than the troubles going on now, the University remained silent. There were no statements like the above. Individual faculty and students, of course, had plenty to say!

The rest of the Department’s statement, while it could be interpreted as a valid commitment to change the curriculum and to ensure equality of students, is also couched in cringeworthy wokespeak, using much of the argot of postmodernism. The view that “all scholars have a responsibility to know the literatures of African American, African diasporic, and colonized peoples, regardless of area of specialization, as a core competence of the profession”, implies that this is a duty not just of English students and professors, but of all students and professors. That is a prescription for everyone, not just a requirement for those in that niche of English studies.

More important, the statement is one that enforces ideological rigidity and conformity upon the Department. If you were an untenured professor in this department, would you dare challenge the tenets of Black Lives Matter, or question affirmative action? No way! The statement above is ideologically rigid, implying that the Department will brook no dissent. So while you could argue that it’s just mandating and explaining a new curriculum, you’d be disingenuous to think that it isn’t also putting in place a system of political values that will brook no dissent. The University in the Sixties would never have written such an authoritarian screed.

Writing this post gives me no pleasure. I don’t like to criticize my school, of which I’ve been immensely proud for nearly 35 years. And, of course, I’m bucking authority here. But I can’t hold my tongue any longer. It’s not just the English Department, either: other departments are contemplating similar statements. And lately we’ve received notes from the President and Provost that seem to skirt the Kalven Principles in similar ways: by conflating our academic mission with a political and social mission, calling for us to commit to action not just on a university level, but on a national level. Again, while I approve of many of the sentiments, for I accept the need for university initiatives to promote racial equality, including affirmative action, those views should be limited to our mission as a university. While as an individual I’m happy to promote such initiatives on a broader scale, it is not the business of the University—or its departments—to do so, and for the cogent reasons outlined in the Kalven Report.

As that report says, the University “is a community but only for the limited, albeit great, purposes of teaching and research. It is not a club, it is not a trade association, it is not a lobby. . . . . . Since the university is a community only for these limited and distinctive purposes, it is a community which cannot take collective action on the issues of the day without endangering the conditions for its existence and effectiveness.”

I fear that, caught up in the desire to conform to what liberals are supposed to do, my university is indeed beginning to “endanger the conditions for its existence and effectiveness.” We may not wind up in the sad position of The Evergreen State College, but we may well converge on Yale and Harvard, losing all that made the University of Chicago a unique American institution.

UPDATE: Lest you think that this kind of statement is limited to the Humanities, there is an even stronger statement, one that clearly contravenes the Kalven Report by expressing political views and calling for action beyond the University, on the website of the Department of Human Genetics.