FIRE’s choice of America’s ten worst colleges for free speech

February 2, 2023 • 9:35 am

It’s that time of year again: the time when the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE) nominates its ten worst colleges of the year for free speech. (Their list of the best colleges is here, with the University of Chicago back up to #1.)

But today we get an honor roll of shame. Before giving that list, which is not ranked but contains ten miscreant colleges, I’ll show you the précis that came with their email. Note that Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., after appearing on this list for four years, has made the “lifetime censorship list.”:

Every year, FIRE names and shames the worst colleges in the United States for free speech. The new list is out, so please dig in. Frankly, there are some amazing entries this year. (Spoiler alert: art history professor fired for teaching art history, highly “sus” conduct around the airing of a documentary on … free speech, and a college that learned when you play games with faculty speech on FIRE’s watch, you get burned — and much, much more.)Many people get that we have fun with this list every year — guilty as charged. But on the inside? We’re just trying not to give in to despair. After all, it gets frustrating to have to repeatedly tell college and university administrators to stop violating student and faculty rights.Happily, we are making progress on that front, and sharing this list contributes to that progress. Every year, more and more people see the annual “10 Worst” list. More alumni leverage it to fight for change in their schools. Prospective students consider it when deciding where to spend their time and money. And, very often, a school that makes an appearance on the list does not make another one. Unfortunately, a few schools, like Yale UniversityDePaul UniversityRensselaer Polytechnic Institute, and Syracuse University, make the list so often they merit special recognition, in the form of FIRE’s Lifetime Censorship Award. This year, Georgetown University’s breathtaking 112-day investigation into an incoming lecturer’s 45-word tweet earned it that infamous distinction. (By the way, we’ve made it easy for you to tell Georgetown’s president what you think — just click here.)

Click below to read: I’ll show the ten losers and give a few words (FIRE’s are indented, mine flush left):

Again, the order is random as FIRE doesn’t give a ranking. I’ve added links to the school names.

1.) Hamline University (Saint Paul, Minnesota)

Art history professor punished, called “Islamophobic” for showing 14th century painting depicting prophet Muhammad in art history class.

Hamline University, a Minnesota liberal arts college, made international headlines for illiberal art censorship after it punished a professor who dared to show historic Islamic art during a lesson on Islamic art history.

We’ve read about this several times on this site, and the faculty recently gave a big “no confidence” vote to Fayneese Miller, the school’s president. She will, I suspect, soon be gone, and Hamline is the butt of everyone’s jokes.

2.) Pennsylvania State University, State College, Pennsylvania.

Nittany Lion or Cowardly Lion? Penn State cancels student group’s event after initially defending its right to proceed.

On October 24, Uncensored America was set to host Proud Boys founder Gavin McInnes and conservative comedian Alex Stein for a comedy show on campus. A planned protest formed outside the venue. But, amid reports that a few in that crowd of hundreds were involved in skirmishes, Penn State canceled the event before it even began. The university also told protesters to disperseciting “the threat of escalating violence.” Critically, the two violent incidents, one involving spitting, the other pepper spray, were caught on video showing police standing by doing nothing while students and a speaker were assaulted.

. . . One thing is clear: Penn State may defend free expression with words, but when actions are necessary, the university is all-too-willing to turn tail, fleeing from its First Amendment obligations and letting disruptors win.

Penn State didn’t come clean about the threats that supposedly led it to cancel the event, but simply said that it was a “safety risk” (FIRE had asked it to reveal the specific threats that led to the cancellation).

3.) Collin College (McKinney, Texas)

The lesson Collin College can’t seem to learn: When you play games with faculty speech on FIRE’s watch, you get burned.

Given that Collin College has earned a reputation as the “epicenter of censorship in Texas,” it is no surprise that the college makes its third straight appearance on our infamous list.

What did they do? Several things. They warned a history professor about her tweets about the Mike Pence-Kamala Harris debate (and lost a $70,000 lawsuit about that); it fired two professors, apparently for being officers in a non-bargaining faculty union (they’d also criticized the school’s handling of Covid-19), and for that lost another lawsuit and reinstated one professor; and it fired a history professor “for advocating for the removal of Confederate statues and criticizing the college’s COVID-19 policies” (that lawsuit is proceeding). FIRE has sued Collin College three times for violating faculty rights.

4.) Texas A&M  (College Station, Texas)

Texas A&M forgets the First Amendment, repeatedly ignores student groups’ rights.

Journalists, fish, and drag queens: Oh my! In 2022, Texas A&M University stepped on the rights of all kinds of student groups, from the university’s preeminent student paper, to several LGBTQ rights organizations, to a freshman orientation club.

The University violated the rights of several student organizations, all in a singe year.

5.) University of Pennsylvania (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania)

Penn Law dean pressured to “do something” about controversial professor, opts to abandon academic freedom.

Penn Law is willfully ignoring its commitment to free speech and academic freedom in an effort to oust Amy Wax, the tenured professor whose controversial comments on race and immigration have come to define her academic career.

Wax, who spoke at the Stanford Academic Freedom Conference, has made quite a few controversial remarks, and I consider some of them to be offensive and borderline racist. But the university, which should have left her alone, instituted disciplinary charges, including causing “harm.” It is these hard cases where free speech must be defended most vigorously. Although Penn is a private school, it has a strong open expression code that “supports and cherishes the concepts of freedom of thought, inquiry, speech, and lawful assembly.”

6.)  Emerson (Boston, Massachusetts)

Emerson still “kinda sus,” prevents student group from advertising a documentary about — drumroll please — free speech.

First, they were guilty of “suspending and investigating” Turning Point USA for distributing stickers on campus reading “China Kinda Sus,” clearly meaning “China Kinda Sucks”. The admin then put a formal warning on the group’s record.  Sorry, but that’s free speech. But that still wasn’t enough: they continued to overturn free speech:

. . . college administrators denied TPUSA’s request to screen a CBS News documentary about free speech on campus because of alleged factual inaccuracies in the promotional material. Then, it denied approval to post promotional materials for another documentary because the advertisements would provoke “negative responses.”

As I recall, this isn’t Emerson’s first brush with restricting speech.

7.)  Emporia State (Emporia, Kansas)

Emporia State seizes opportunity to axe both tenure protections and 33 faculty members.

Last fall, Emporia State University seized the opportunity to spurn academic freedom and effectively end tenure protections. Under a newly adopted policy, it fired more than 30 faculty members — including one whose newspaper op-ed criticizing the school’s then-impending decision opened with: “I may be fired for writing this.”

They then instituted a policy that allowed them to fire faculty, including tenured faculty, for all kinds of wonky and unjustifiable reasons—and with 30 days notice!

8.) Tennessee Tech (Cookeville, Tennessee)

FIRE dresses down Tennessee Tech for punishing student groups over drag show.

Oldham canceled all campus events of the Lambda Gay-Straight Alliance and the Tech Players student groups after a video of their August 2022 drag show surfaced online. Speaking to the entire campus community, Oldham proclaimed that he was “disturbed,” “dismayed,” and “offended by” the show’s apparent “disparaging mockery toward any religious group.” He banned the students from hosting campus events “pending a review,” which is still ongoing. No disciplinary charges, no hearing, no chance to contest this clearly unlawful prior restraint, just five months (and counting) of censorship for wounding Oldham’s delicate sensibilities.

This is a state school and the censorship above violates the First Amendment. FIRE has complained, but there appear to be no results yet.

9.) The University of Oregon (Eugene, Oregon)

University of Oregon puts words in teachers’ mouths, requires faculty to submit DEI statements to be eligible for hiring, promotion, and tenure.

Are you surprised? The U of O requires all current and prospective faculty to submit DEI statements to be eligible for hiring, promotion, or tenure. This is the first time I’ve seen FIRE go after these statements, which are ubiquitous in America, and are ripe for a lawsuit based on compelled speech. All that’s needed is one person with “standing”: a faculty member who hasn’t been promoted or given tenure because of insufficient DEI statements, or someone not hired on the grounds of a flawed DEI statement (the last one would be hard to prove). But this will happen, and DEI statements will become banned in all state schools or those receiving federal funds. From FIRE:

Oregon. . . directed faculty search committees to use a rubric when evaluating DEI statements, which are intended to further UO’s goals of “becoming an institution committed to antiracism and other forms of anti-oppression.” The rubric gives low scores to an applicant who, for example, says “it’s better not to have outreach or affinity groups aimed at underrepresented individuals because it keeps them separate from everyone else, or will make them feel less valued,” or describes “only activities that are already the expectation of faculty (mentoring, treating all students the same regardless of background, etc.).”

On the other hand, applicants who discuss DEI as a “core [value] that every faculty member should actively contribute to advancing,” and applicants or faculty members who intend to be “strong advocate[s]” for DEI, will earn high scores. This ideological litmus test applies to tenure-track faculty, faculty seeking promotion or tenure, faculty undergoing tenure review, and prospective faculty. Basically, if you want to work at UO, you have to pledge allegiance to and promote administrators’ DEI vision.

These requirements violate faculty’s freedom of expression and academic freedom, as we told the university. Just imagine if a public university bound by the First Amendment (as the University of Oregon is) evaluated faculty based on their commitment to patriotism or color-blindness or socialism.

Berkeley and other state schools use rubrics as well. In my view they are unconstitutional and thus illegal, and I’d love to see somebody file a lawsuit. Fortunately, we don’t use them at the University of Chicago, for they are implicitly forbidden by our Shils Report.

10.) Loyola University New Orleans (New Orleans, Louisiana). 

LOYNO sanctions professor, stifles student’s protected speech.

Loyola University New Orleans spent the last two-and-a-half years subjecting professor Walter Block to investigations and sanctions for his protected speech. Despite its strong promises of free speech and academic freedom, the university targeted Block for everything from his teaching of particular economic theories to his classroom discussions of Gandhi and Hitler.

After a June 2020 student-created petition calling for Block’s termination began circulating, LOYNO defended Block’s classroom speech. But it didn’t have his back for long. In 2021, Loyola determined that some of Block’s teachings on the gender wage gap and the economics of slavery created a “hostile learning environment.” It forced Block to undergo mandatory diversity, equity, and inclusion training.

After this, Block’s speech received more complaints and he had to take yet more training. Loyola is a private Jesuit university, so Block’s speech may not be protected, but all colleges should adhere to First-Amendment principles. I’m not sure what he said about Gandhi and Hitler, as not all classroom “speech” is protected. Loyola, however, makes strong promises of free speech. Further, the administration “cracked down on a student promoting a pro-choice march.”

You can read the details for each University by going to the site, and also see the lifetime raspberry that Georgetown University got:

Because this is the fourth time Georgetown appeared on this list (last year it suspended a faculty member for critical tweets about the new Supreme Court justice nominee), it makes the lifetime censorship list.  And there’s more:

For years, the university refused to recognize the pro-choice student group H*yas for Choice. It argued that doing so would conflict with its Catholic and Jesuit mission. But the university’s speech and expression policy explicitly states that only “time, place and manner” considerations can govern “the expression of ideas and sharing of information that is the very life of the university.” What’s more, H*yas for Choice was denied recognition despite the existence of recognized groups of Muslim and Jewish students who, by their nature, explicitly reject Catholic beliefs.

Let’s also not forget that Georgetown stopped students from tabling for Bernie Sanders’ 2016 presidential campaign — an action so censorial it drew the attention of Congress. There was also the time its satellite campus in Qatar shut down a debate about whether God should be portrayed as a woman. It’s no surprise then, that Georgetown ranks near the very bottom of FIRE’s annual College Free Speech Rankings.

For these reasons, Georgetown joins Yale University, DePaul University, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, and Syracuse University as a recipient of FIRE’s infamous Lifetime Censorship Award.

Raspberries to these schools!

Cathy Young: is she soft on the eroding wall between church and state?

July 6, 2022 • 12:45 pm

The Supreme Court is in the process of remaking American “rights”: prohibiting abortion, allowing people to openly carry handguns in places where that was forbidden, and, in the case of Kennedy v. Bremerton School District, ruling that a public high school football coach who prayed on the 50-yard line after games had a Constitutional right to do so. The vote was, of course, 6-3, the same vote as when the Court allowed taxpayer money to be used to buy vouchers to send kids to religious schools.  The Bremerton opinion was written by Justice Gorsuch, and can be found, along with the dissents, here. (Sotomayor’s dissent is well worth reading.)

Given the religious and Catholic nature of much of the court, and its strong conservative bent, it seems likely we’ll see more disassembling of the wall between church and state that was dictated by the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment—and by its intellectual author, Thomas Jefferson.

This Wall and the Court’s effect on it is the subject of Cathy Young‘s new piece in The Bulwark (a more or less centrist site) which you can read by clicking the screenshot below.  I’ve always found Young thoughtful and sensible, and so I was keen to read her take. This time, though, I don’t really agree with it, as she seems pretty sanguine about the increasing intrusion of religion into government activities.

If you read Sotomayor’s dissent—which has photos, something I’ve never seen in a published decision—you’ll know the privotal issue: were coach Joseph Kennedy’s midfield prayers a personal act, or was it a demonstration that could coerce players, students, and the public into joining him, a behavior that does violate the First Amendment? Six Justices said “no violation,” but the pictures and testimony are pretty convincing otherwise, and back Sotomayor’s words in her dissent:

[Kennedy’s] prayers were intentionally, visually demonstrative to an audience aware of their history and no less captive than the audience in Santa Fe, with spectators watching and some players perhaps engaged in a song, but all waiting to rejoin their coach for a postgame talk. Moreover, Kennedy’s prayers had a greater coercive potential because they were delivered not by a student, but by their coach, who was still on active duty for postgame events

The six members on the other side of the court, religious to a man (and one woman), didn’t seem to have any problem with this. But I do, for if the documentation in Sotomayor’s dissent is correct, there was not only coercion, but a deliberate attempt by Kennedy to mix his Christianity and his public-school football job. It’s a violation of the First Amendment.

Cathy Young does make a point that the wall can be built too high, but she doesn’t seem to be particularly bothered by Bremerton:

And yet before one dismisses Kennedy’s complaints out of hand, it is worth remembering that there is a history of aggressive and illiberal efforts to purge anything with religious themes from the school environment under a misguided reading of strict church/state separation. Thus, high school valedictorians have been forbidden to insert even brief religious references in their graduation remarks, despite the fact that they are not authority figures and are platformed along with many other speakers.

In one particularly ludicrous 1996 incident in New Jersey, a first-grader named Zachary Hood was barred from participating in a classroom exercise in which each student read to the class a short text of his or her choosing because the text he had chosen came from a children’s book of Bible stories (an account of the reunion of estranged brothers Jacob and Esau which made no mention of God or miracles). The federal courts at the time sided with the school district, ruling that to allow Zachary to read the story out loud in front of the class would amount to an impermissible endorsement of the Bible by the public school. However, Zachary and his mother won a settlement in a related case in which a drawing he made was removed from a display of the students’ Thanksgiving art because it was religiously themed. As the Becket Fund, which litigated on Zachary’s behalf, notes on its website, the case resulted in a Department of Education guidance in 2003 stating that “students may express their beliefs about religion in homework, artwork, and other written and oral assignments free from discrimination based on the religious content of their submissions.”

Young is correct here: it’s surely foolish to omit all mention of religion or God in schools: after all, it’s part of our culture, and people need to learn about comparative religion. What cannot happen is that schools cannot endorse one religion—or religion in general, force students to participate in religious exercises, or coerce them to express or adhere to religious sentiments. And what Young describes above doesn’t fall into those categories.

But Young also quotes legal analyst Jeffrey Rosen:

“In an era when religious identity now competes with race, sex and ethnicity as a central aspect of how Americans define themselves, it seems like discrimination—the only unforgivable sin in a multicultural age—to forbid people to express their religious beliefs in an increasingly fractured public sphere.” In that sense, Kennedy v. Bremerton continues a longstanding trend.

True: religion is part of many people’s identity. And the valedictorian above wasn’t doing anything wrong by expressing her belief. But coach Kennedy, who had a long history of coercive prayer in the locker room before he started praying after games, was being coercive, for some testimony says the students felt coerced, and Kennedy invited both his team and their opponents to participate in prayer. If you were on his team, you’d more or less have to. Both that and the “mob scenes” described by Sotomayor go far beyond the trivial incidents described by Young above.

There’s a very good reason to keep that wall of separation high, for there is no ideology so oppressive when it gains power as religion (in fact, that’s what we’re seeing on the Supreme Court now). Religion is arguably the most divisive of human personal beliefs, and that’s why Jefferson was so proud of writing The Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom—the precursor of our First Amendment. He was so proud of it, in fact, that it’s one of the three things he wanted on his gravestone (and NOT the presidency):

From Wikipedia: Jefferson’s tombstone. The inscription, as he stipulated, reads “Here was buried Thomas Jefferson, author of the Declaration of American Independence, of the Statute of Virginia for Religious Freedom, and father of the University of Virginia.”

In the end, after adding religion to the mix of identity politics, and noting that this creates bad behavior by both advocates and opponents of church-state separation, Young winds up with a rather tepid conclusion:

Does Kennedy v. Bremerton take us into new territory when it comes to potential religious coercion in schools? Interestingly, Millhiser and Volokh, who assess the case very differently, agree on one thing: that its impact as precedent is uncertain because the majority opinion relies on the least controversial (from a First Amendment perspective) version of the facts.

That said, it seems all but certain that the ruling will open the door to other lawsuits from teachers and other public employees who will want to challenge whether prayer or other kinds of speech are protected, and in turn from students who might feel more clearly coerced by an authority figure than did the students in this case. The coming years may bring many more opportunities to see to what extent the current Court’s conservative majority has a genuine interest in protecting religious liberty.

Well, when you add that to the school voucher decision forcing taxpayers to subsidize religious education, I think the impact of the courts on the First Amendment—and that includes this case—is almost certain to be dire and corrosive. Of course we’ll have more lawsuits, as more people can climb over the wall that the Court has lowered, but it’s hard for me to believe that Young doesn’t think the current Court’s “conservative majority has a genuine interest in protecting religious liberty.”

Latest chilling of speech on campus: UCLA’s Asian American Studies department goes blatantly political on the Palestine/Israel issue

July 5, 2022 • 10:30 am

What we have below is a prime example of what a University should not be doing: issuing official statements on strong political, ideological, or moral issues.  In this absurd statement, the Asian American Studies Department at UCLA issued a strong attack on Israel and a defense of Palestine—as an official department statement on the department’s website. The only signer is “The Department of Asian American Studies, University of California, Los Angeles,” so I guess it gives the view of every faculty member in Asian American Studies.

There are so many things wrong with it that I barely want to bother. Here are a few:

a.) It’s a statement from a public university that is bound to honor the First Amendment. Issuing statements like this may not violate that Amendment, but (see “b”). . .

b.) “Official” statements that come down hard on one side of a debatable issue—and this one is surely debatable—are liable to chill the speech of other people who adhere to the other side, or don’t agree completely with the statement. After you read it (it’s not long; click on the screenshot), imagine being a graduate student or untenured professor in that department who is Jewish, or who just doesn’t see Israel as the oppressor of Palestinians the way this department does. Would you talk about your opposition, or even write a critique of it on your own social media site? I don’t think so: you’d lose respect, collegiality, and maybe even promotion or tenure.

This is why the University of Chicago has the Kalven Report, a principle that  I’ve discussed in detail. It prohibits departments, administrators, or units of the University from making official statements about politics, ideology, or morality—unless those statements directly involve the mission of the University: freely teaching and learning. Do read the short report; it’s one of the two pillars of academic freedom at the University of Chicago. (The other and better-known of our two free-speech principle are the famous Chicago Principles of Free Expression, now been adopted by over 80 American colleges, both public and private.)

c.) The statement is misleading, tendentious, and biased, neglecting the “settler colonialism” that’s happened all over the world (uniquely singling out Israel in this respect is a sign of anti-Semitism), and completely ignoring the hatred and terrorism that comes from Palestine—an apartheid state that treats gays, apostates, non-Muslims, and women as second-class citizens. It ignores the firing of rockets and killing of innocent Israeli civilians by Palestinian terrorists. It ignores the Palestinians’ repeated refusal to accept or discuss Israel’s offer of a two-state solution.

It is in fact a statement with no purpose other than to demonstrate that the Asian American Studies Department is virtuous in its support of Palestine and hatred of Israel. It is an act of Performative Wokeness.  And believe me, I’d be just as opposed to UCLA if they issued a statement demonizing Palestine instead of Israel. It’s the principle I oppose, though I freely admit that I think this statement is grossly biased against Israel and verges on official anti-Semitism.

I’ll give just two paragraphs of the statement, and urge you to read it for yourself (my bolding). The second paragraph below is particularly ironic, while the first shows multiple but different academic units of UCLA also violating our Kalven Principles.  There is no mention of Palestinian perfidy; one would think that that territory has a spotless record of human rights.

The Department of Asian American Studies at the University of California, Los Angeles stands in solidarity with the Palestinian people as they continue to fight for the right to land, life, dignity, and freedom.  We mourn the staggering loss of life, in which over 200 Palestinians have been killed in one week alone, including 64 children and 38 women at the time of this statement.  The latest upsurge in violence has taken the form of deadly airstrikes, unauthorized evictions, beatings and imprisonments intended to terrorize and displace Palestinians.  Media distortion and censorship has further suppressed Palestinian narratives, and threatened freedom of speech and academic freedom.  With our colleagues from the Palestinian Feminist CollectivePalestine and Praxis: Scholars for Palestinian FreedomNational Women’s Studies AssociationAssociation of Asian American StudiesMiddle East Studies Association,  Gender Studies Departments in Solidarity with Palestinian Feminist CollectiveUCSC Feminist StudiesUCSC Critical Race and Ethnic StudiesUIC Global Asian StudiesUCSD AAPI Studies ProgramUC Berkeley Ethnic StudiesUC DavisUIUC Asian American Studies DepartmentPrinceton University, and Yale Ethnicity, Rights, and Migration, we understand that such violence and intimidation are but the latest manifestation of seventy-three years of settler colonialism, racial apartheid, and occupation.

As an academic department situated on the ancestral and unceded territory of the Gabrielino/Tongva peoples, we oppose settler-colonialism in all its forms, from Tovaangar to Palestine.  We condemn the exploitation, theft, and colonization of land and labor and we strive for freedom and justice for all peoples. Asian American Studies, which traces our history to the Third World Liberation Front Strike of 1968, has long advanced a critique of imperialism, militarism, and settler colonialism in the United States, Asia, Oceania, and elsewhere.  We condemn the exchange of military tactics and financial support between the United States and Israel, noting how U.S. counterinsurgency techniques and military equipment used during the Vietnam War were then extrapolated to the Occupied Territories; how the Israeli military’s policing of the apartheid wall dividing Jerusalem and isolating the West Bank has influenced the U.S.’s own brutal border security policies along the U.S.-Mexico border; and how Israel has too often upheld its support of Asian and Asian American individuals as proof of multicultural democracy, over and against the ethnic cleansing of Palestine via a process of “yellow-washing.”

. . .In solidarity,

The Department of Asian American Studies, University of California, Los Angeles

Well, if you’re situated on stolen land and oppose that, why doesn’t UCLA or the Department give the land back or pay reparations? At least there’s a building housing this department that could be given to the Gabrielini/Tongva people, or reimburse them for the cost of both the L.A. land and the building on it. Of course they won’t, for this is a performative act not meant to accomplish anything beyond saying: “Hey, look! We’re ideologically correct.”

Two of my colleagues had the following reaction to the land-claim bit of the statement that went:

As an academic department situated on the ancestral and unceded territory of the Gabrielino/Tongva peoples, we oppose settler-colonialism in all its forms, from Tovaangar to Palestine.

First response, noting that it’s an Asian-American Studies Department:

I’d like their position on Han colonization of the Yangtze and Pearl valleys and the concomitant colonialist suppression of Yue, Min, Hmong, and other indigenous peoples (to say nothing of Uygers and Tibetans).

Second response:

If more historical knowledge were available, it would surely reveal that the “Gabrielino/Tongva peoples” had colonized the LA region from whoever lived there before too. The natives weren’t sitting around singing Kumbaya before the white man arrived!

Again, although the department says it opposes settler-colonialism in all its forms, the statement is about the “settler-colonialism” of Israel alone. And yet China is one of the biggest settler-colonialist nations going.  What, do you suppose, explains the unique demonization of Israel?

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.


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  or find out more please email

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.

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?

View Results

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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.


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.