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

July 17, 2023 • 11:00 am

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

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


Intro (by JAC):

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

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

National Academies Presidents’ Statement on Affirmative Action

Statement | June 30, 2023

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

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

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

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

Marcia McNutt
President, National Academy of Sciences 

John L. Anderson
President, National Academy of Engineering 

Victor J. Dzau
President, National Academy of Medicine 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pinker’s emails:

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

Dear Marcia,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Vanderbilt’s Chancellor sticks up for institutional neutrality

May 16, 2023 • 9:15 am

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

On University administrators and departments making political, ideological, or moral statements

December 16, 2022 • 12:30 pm

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

We are in fact the only university I know that has an official policy of viewpoint neutrality, though the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill is in the process of enacting the policy, too. But that’s it. In the article below, form the Inside Higher Ed (click to read), various universities ponder making viewpoint-neutrality policies, but they all chicken out in the end and simply proffer “recommendations” which, if implemented, could create a viewpoint-neutral university. But there’s no requirement for such a policy anywhere except here and at UNC-CH.

The article centers on two schools: the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) and the University of California system.

Here are the “guidelines” passed by the UIUC Senate:

The UIUC Senate guidelines include five major recommendations, beyond the ultimate counsel against broad departmental statements on external matters:

  1. Academic unit bylaws should detail a clear process, based on shared governance principles, for issuing any statement expressing the position of that unit.
  2. Any faculty members who believe a departmental statement violates their academic freedom can appeal to standing faculty committees.
  3. To avoid giving a “false impression of unanimity, in many cases (especially on highly contentious and controversial issues),” it’s better to issue a statement signed by specific signatories and to include any dissenting views.
  4. To “prevent any misunderstanding,” statements should include a disclaimer that the unit doesn’t represent the university as a whole.
  5. As specific academic units don’t own their websites, departments “should not post on their website, or disseminate through university-affiliated departmental social media sites, statements that are not directly tied to the unit’s core academic research and teaching activities or addressing matters of university policy.”

UIUC’s Senate approved the policy committee’s work 76 to 19, with 22 abstentions.

While #5 recommends that departments cannot post on their websites statements unrelated to their mission of teaching and research, remember that this is only a recommendation, not a requirement.

Here it’s required, and in the last several years ten University of Chicago departments or units have published ideological statements on their websites. Nine of them have been forced to remove those statements. Only one remains, and people are discussing it. In the end, UIUC can still issue departmental statements, as the guidelines are merely recommendations.

Note as well that UIUC allows the administration and University officials to make political/ideological statements, but according to a “clear process” that hasn’t yet been developed. In other words, the President of UIUC can say what he wants about politics or social issues and so on. So can other officials like deans and provosts.

It’s similar at the University of California, which has these rules:

The University of California’s Academic Council, part of the system’s Academic Senate, also approved new recommendations for departmental statements in May. Drafted by the University Committee on Academic Freedom, these recommendations say that:

  • Departments should develop clear but flexible standards for developing and issuing statements on controversial topics.
  • Departments “should be transparent about who is included when the department speaks as a department” and whenever possible vote anonymously to “minimize chilling effect or pressure on members of the department with minority views.”
  • All statements on controversial matters should explain the position taken and who is taking it.
  • Departments ideally should consult with their campus Committee on Academic Freedom prior to publishing a departmental statement on a controversial issue.

Brian Soucek, professor of law and Chancellor’s Fellow at UC Davis, and former chair of the systemwide academic freedom committee, said the points are “guidance, not regulations or mandates. The gist is that departments should develop procedures for how statements on controversial issues get made. They need to think about—and make clear in the statement—who those statements are speaking for. And they should include a disclaimer making clear that they are not speaking on behalf of the University of California.”

Again, there are no prohibitions here, merely a recommendation for developing “clear but flexible standards for developing and issuing statements on controversial topics”, and it’s recommended that such statements should include who, exactly, stands behind them.

These schools are cowardly. Viewpoint neutrality, like freedom of speech, is a principle that has a clear purpose: fostering free expression. There is not much wiggle room here, and the University of Chicago has almost none (the University did support DACA because overturning it would mean that we’d lose some of our students). The reason schools are so timorous about implementing Kalven-like regulations is because departments and faculty INSIST on having their say, on University websites, about politics and ideology. They have a burning, aching need to parade their virtue and weigh in on issues of the day.

Well, they can have their say on private websites, or in letters to the school newspaper, or in non-official statements.  Viewpoint neutrality of colleges remains, in my opinion, the best way to maintain freedom of speech at a university, as well as at many other institutions.

I’ll give one quote from our Kalven Report that I love:

A plea for “institutional neutrality” from Princeton

August 18, 2022 • 9:15 am

As I’ve written several times, one of the foundational principles of the University of Chicago—institutional neutrality on political or ideological issues—is embodied in the Kalven Report of 1967. The report, which has become a stated policy of the University, is that no unit of our University, be it the administration, departments, or official units, can take official positions on ideological, moral, or political issues—with the rare exception being any issue that directly impacts the mission of the University as outlined in the Report’s first paragraph below. Ergo, there can be no statements about candidates or elections, Supreme Court decisions, wars, Critical Race Theory, the unacceptability of speakers, and so on.

Here’s an excerpt from Kalven. The second paragraph is a classic:

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

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

Over the years, the University has taken a hard line on this, angering both Right and Left by refusing to condemn Communism, the Vietnam War, the war in Darfur, having Steve Bannon as an invited speaker, and refusing to let politics influence the University’s investments.

The purpose of the Principle is to create a climate for enacting one of our other principles, the Chicago Principles of Free Expression, which guarantee free speech. Those principles have been adopted by over eighty universities in America. The Kalven report is in place to allow people to speak freely without fear of retribution. If departments or the University itself took official positions on controversial, debatable issues like abortion, it would chill the climate needed for free speech.

For example, if departments issued statements damning Dobbs and favoring Roe versus Wade, as Princeton and The University of California have apparently done (see below), those who are “pro life” wouldn’t feel free to speak. Can you imagine a grad student or untenured faculty member, opposed to Roe v. Wade (which, by the way, was a decision I favored), feeling free to express an anti-abortion position? You would become an apostate, not to mention having your tenure or degree endangered. (This isn’t just hypothetical; it happens all the time in universities.)

Kalven, then, is one of our two pillars of free speech: creating a climate in which speech isn’t chilled, and then promoting the right of people to speak freely.

In December of last year, I reported how two Princeton University undergrads called out their own school for repeated violations of institutional neutrality, though Princeton doesn’t have the equivalent of our Kalven Principles. It took two undergrads to lecture the faculty about how speech should be handled. Here’s one violation:

[The students] Anthony and McKnight give several examples of the violation of “basic neutrality”, but concentrate on one at their own school: an official statement by Dean Amaney Jamal of the School of Public and International Affairs, issued after the Rittenhouse verdict.  Conveyed by email to the entire study body of her department, Jamal’s statement went like this:

[Dean Jamal decried] Kyle Rittenhouse’s not-guilty verdict. She lamented with a heavy heart the “incomprehensib[ility] . . . of a minor vigilante carrying a semi-automatic rifle across state lines, killing two people, and being declared innocent by the U.S. justice system.” Furthermore, she situated the verdict within the context of the racism embedded “without a doubt . . . in nearly every strand of the American fabric,” thus implying that defenders of a not-guilty verdict are defenders of racism.

A Princeton dean has no business making an official statement decrying a jury verdict, whether or not Rittenhouse was found innocent. He happened to be found innocent, so the Dean was officially kvetching about what a jury decided.

This is the kind of stuff that shouldn’t be happening in universities, but it’s happening everywhere, including even Chicago. It takes constant vigilance to ensure that these statements are not made officially. (Private statements by faculty are fine, though I’d be wary of, say, a University dean or president speaking about politics in public giving his/her university identification.)

It would be great if other universities would follow Chicago—not just in our principles of free expression, but in adhering to the Kalven report. One has already started: the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, whose Trustees adopted both our free speech and Kalven principles just last month.

Now we have a statement by Princeton academic Robert P. George, McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence and Director of the James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions at Princeton University (his Princeton bio is here), urging his university to adopt Kalven. Click below to read his short statement (it’s not a political statement, but one that bears directly on the mission and principles of Princeton):

He begins by noting that Princeton does seem to have have a Kalven-ish principle, but apparently violates it regularly, although his own program does not:

It had been my understanding that units of Princeton University were not permitted to adopt official positions on matters of ethics, public policy, constitutional law, and the like. So, although I have in various forums both on and off campus freely expressed my own opinions on such matters, the Madison Program has refrained from taking positions on them and I have been careful never to associate the Madison Program with my personal beliefs. Others connected with the Madison Program have done likewise.

It has, however, been brought to my attention that some units of the University have, in the wake of the Dobbs decision, adopted and proclaimed on their websites official positions on the constitutional law, public policy, and morality of abortion. If in fact, as I had supposed, the University is committed to a policy of institutional neutrality on such questions, then these units are in violation of that policy. But perhaps I have been mistaken about whether that is indeed the University’s policy. I have therefore entered into conversations with appropriate University officials to have the matter clarified.

As I noted above, it’s one thing to enact a principle of institutional neutrality (I had no idea that Princeton had one), and another entirely to ensure that principle is followed. Academics these days simply can’t refrain from making “official” statements about politics. They must pronounce on the Dobbs decision or the Rittenhouse verdict, though it’s not a University or department’s business to make such statements. Still, those determined to do so will always try to find some way why it’s the University’s “mission” to take such a stand, but that is really a form of weaseling—indeed, of authoritarianism and indoctrination. Very few such statements actually do bear directly on a University’s mission, which according to Kalven is “the discovery, improvement, and dissemination of knowledge.” The mission is not to enforce ideological conformity or make pronouncements on debatable issues of politics, morality, or ideology.

To end, I’ll put up one excerpt from George’s statement favoring institutional neutrality, even though he knows that it may not be enforceable at Princeton. Academics are too eager to parade their virtue. Emphasis is mine.

The question is whether those of us who lead University units may associate those units with, or commit those units to, particular positions on the vast range of moral, political, constitutional, religious, and other issues in dispute among reasonable people of goodwill on our campus and across our country.

I have made clear that my own preference would be for the University and its units to respect institutional neutrality. I think that such a policy best serves the mission of universities such as ours by fostering for our students as well as our faculty the conditions of robust, civil debate. Where institutional neutrality is respected, no one is a heretic for deviating from an official party line. What the university and its units provide is a forum for the presentation of reasons, evidence, and arguments by people representing different views—a forum in which there is a genuine engagement among equals with no institutional thumb placed on the scales.

To my mind, the best policy is the one set forth in the University of Chicago’s Kalven Report, which was issued in 1967 and whose principles have guided that distinguished institution ever since: is external). As it happens, and entirely independently of recent developments such as the Dobbs decision, the Madison Program’s Initiative on Freedom of Thought, Inquiry, and Expression, under the co-directorship of Professors Keith Whittington and Bernard Haykel, is planning a day-long conference on the Kalven Report this Fall.

Princeton would do well to follow Professor George’s advice.  And I wish they’d invite me to that conference—I’d have a thing or two to tell them!

h/t: Anna

The University of California system issues an official critique of the Dobbs decision, chilling speech of those who disagree

July 7, 2022 • 9:15 am

I happen to be one of those who favored the Roe v. Wade decision; in fact, I’d go farther than the judges in that one by extending the term limits for abortion. Ergo, I think that Dobbs was a bad decision and that some way must be found around it. All American women who want an abortion should be able to get one without having to travel to other states.

This is my personal view, though I know many others disagree. Universities, in particular, which are supposed to serve as venues for debate, should not take official positions on such issues, as that chills or squelches the speech of faculty, staff, and students who disagree with those positions but fear reprisals if they disagree publicly.

This is why we have the Kalven Report at the University of Chicago, and, given my many posts on it, you should be familiar with it by now. Let me just quote a bit of that short report, which is one of our two pillars of free speech at the University of Chicago (the other is The Chicago Principles of Free Expression). I do recommend reading the short Kalven Report in its entirety, but here’s the most-quoted bit (emphasis is mine):

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

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

The University of Chicago does not issue official statements about ideology, politics, or morality unless some aspect of society “threaten[s] the very mission of the university and its values of free inquiry. In such a crisis, it becomes the obligation of the university as an institution to oppose such measures and actively to defend its interests and its values.” But these “aspects” are only ones bearing on the “discovery, improvement, and dissemination of knowledge” within the institution.

The Dobbs decision is not such an aspect.  Sure, you can stretch nearly every issue into one that “threatens the mission of the university”, but we have a high bar for that, and the University does not—or is not supposed to—issue statements about issues like war, apartheid, abortion, guns, Palestine vs. Israel, and so on. (There have been violations here, and some of us are working on those).

The University of California, on the other hand, takes the opposite position, going full tilt by issuing statements about nearly every sociopolitical issue. These can come from either the UC administration or departments of various campuses. All of them should be taken down.

On June 24, the President of the University of California system, Michael Drake, took it upon himself to criticize the Dobbs decision of the Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade. His statement, as you see, is labeled as being a “UC statement” (University of California), not his personal opinion. It is thus the opinion of a huge and powerful educational institution, and a public institution.

Drake oversees the entire UC system; as his webpage notes:

Dr. Michael V. Drake is the 21st president of the University of California. He oversees UC’s world-renowned university system of 10 campuses, five medical centers, three nationally affiliated labs, more than 280,000 students and 230,000 faculty and staff.

Is he speaking for all of them in his statement? Click on the screenshot below:

The statement is short, and I reproduce it in its entirety:

University of California President Michael V. Drake, M.D., today (June 24) issued the following statement on the United States Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization:

For nearly 50 years, people in the United States have had the right to make private, informed choices about their health care and their futures. I am gravely concerned that today’s U.S. Supreme Court decision removes that right and will endanger lives across the country. This decision overturns decades of legal precedent and could pave the way for other fundamental rights to be removed.

The Court’s decision is antithetical to the University of California’s mission and values. We strongly support allowing individuals to access evidence-based health care services and to make decisions about their own care in consultation with their medical team. Despite this decision by the Court, we will continue to provide the full range of health care options possible in California, including reproductive health services, and to steadfastly advocate for the needs of our patients, students, staff, and the communities we serve. We will also continue to offer comprehensive education and training to the next generation of health care providers, and to conduct life-saving research to the fullest extent possible.

This is a sobering moment for many of us at the University of California and throughout the nation. Today, we stand with California leaders and health care advocates who are taking critical steps to protect Californians’ human rights and their access to affordable and convenient health care choices.

As you see, he says that Dobbs decision is “antithetical to the University of California’s mission and values”. But where in its mission and values does it mention that its values include “access to evidence-based health care services”? That is a policy, not the mission of the University of California. And that shows that any social event, law, or policy can be stretched to warrant damnation by the University of California.

But what about those half a million students, faculty, and staff? Do they agree with what President Drake said? I doubt it. Dobbs is now the law of the land, but California permits abortions, and may, this fall, add a clause to the state’s constitution protecting the right to abortion. Good for them! In fact, Drake didn’t have to say anything, for his University and his state (and UC hospitals)  already allow abortion. What he’s doing here is giving official condemnation to the Dobbs verdict without having to do anything about it (he can’t; it’s the law for the time being). The statement represents another case of performative wokeness that shows Drake’s virtue—but at the cost of repressing the speech of those who are “pro-life”. (I hate to write that term, preferring “anti-abortion”).

And Drake could do this for nearly everything, though of course so long as the Left is ascendant at his University, his statements will always be pro-Left. Another state’s University system could issue a completely different statement: one approving Dobbs and damning Roe v. Wade.

But the point is that none of this has anything to do with the mission of a university. Drake and others could write as individuals, but they should never write as if they represent everybody involved with the University of California. (Of course were I Drake, I’d keep pretty much to myself, like a judge, because he has professional cachet even when writing as an individual. But that is his choice.)

Eugene Volokh, writing at his site “The Volokh Conspiracy” at Reason, agrees with me. Click the screenshot to see his take:

Volokh adheres to our Kalven Report and even quotes it, but you can read that for yourself.  Here’s his take on Drake, and I heartily agree:

I don’t think that a public university’s “mission and values” should be to promote a reading of the Constitution as securing abortion rights, or as not securing abortion rights, as opposed to promoting research on this and related questions. And while of course a public university that runs hospitals should generally perform legal medical procedures, and train doctors with regard to legal medical procedures, I don’t think that justifies the university taking a stand on whether such legality is determined by state legislatures or by Supreme Court Justices.

That’s especially so when, as the UCLA Chancellor’s follow-up letter points out, “The decision is not expected to affect women’s reproductive rights in California,” so UC doesn’t even have much of a direct interest in the outcome of Dobbs as it affects its own operations. (There may be more room for statements by a public university president as to political decisions that do directly affect the operations of the university, such as changes in funding, statutes related to student admissions, and the like.)

It turns out that the University of California has its own version of a Kalven Principle, issued in 1970. Volokh quotes it:

More broadly, I tend to agree with the 1970 statement by the Office of the UC President:

There are both educational and legal reasons why the University must remain politically neutral. Educationally, the pursuit of truth and knowledge is only possible in an atmosphere of freedom, and if the University were to surrender its neutrality, it would jeopardize its freedom. Legally, Article IX, section 9, of the State Constitution provides in part that “The University shall be entirely independent of all political or sectarian influence and kept free therefrom in the appointment of its regents and in the administration of its affairs…”

And yet here we see Drake violating the very principles of his own university system!

Volokh then points to the Kalven Report, including the famous excerpt I put above, and then reproduces an email written by Professor Leslie Johns of UCLA’s political science department to the UCLA chancellor—an email that includes this:

Abortion is not a simple matter of access to health care. It is a complex moral and political question that involves balancing fundamental rights to life and physical autonomy. By denying this reality, you are asserting a political position. Yet your employment as a public employee explicitly prohibits you from using your office for political purposes. It is both inappropriate and illegal for you (and for me) to use our official capacity to make claims that specific abortion policies or constitutional interpretations are “antithetical to the University of California’s mission and values.”

In effect, she’s underlining the Kalven Principle that a university should not issue statements that will chill discussion, nor should it issue definitive proclamations on debatable issues. I’m not sure if Drake is, as Johns asserts, doing something illegal by issuing the “UC Statement.” But Kudos to Professor Johns for taking the Chancellor on a trip to the woodshed!

Like freedom of speech itself on campus, the Kalven Principle is always under assault by those who want to control political discourse at universities. It’s a never-ending fight, even at the University of Chicago which, like the University of California, professes political and ideological neutrality—but doesn’t hesitate to violate it when it professors or administrators want to flaunt their virtue.

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?

Another public university speech kerfuffle: On the defense of liberal but not conservative speech by San Diego State

December 29, 2021 • 10:45 am

In an op-ed in the Times of San Diego, we read that a Dean at San Diego State University, a public California college, emitted some pretty inflammatory tweets dissing Republicans and making other extreme political statements. The question is not whether this is a free speech issue (it isn’t, despite what the headline below implies), but whether the Dean’s speech was wise, advisable, and could have the effect of chilling other people’s speech. And there’s another question about whether SDSU really defends everyone’s speech, or only the speech of faculty having the “correct” ideology (i.e., that of the “progressive” Left).

Click on the screenshot below to read.

From author Herman:

On Dec. 1. Monica Casper, dean of the College of Arts and Letters at San Diego State University, tweeted: “Just so we’re clear on the Right’s agenda — racism good, abortion bad, money good, women bad, capitalism good, sustainability bad, stupidity good, science bad, power good, equality bad, white people good, nonwhite people bad. Stench, indeed.”

And a day later, Casper followed up with this observation about the Supreme Court: “Two sexual predators, a white lady, and some racists walk into a courtroom…” Sure enough, the conservative media picked up the story.

First, on Dec. 21, The College Fix, a right-leaning online news site focusing on higher education, ran a story about how an “SDSU dean publicly criticizes ‘stench’ of conservative agenda.” The next day, Fox News ran a more extensive story on their national site which has garnered, as of this writing, over 8,000 comments.

Here are Casper’s tweets; she is Dean of the College of Arts and Letters and a Professor of Sociology, so she’s what the Brits call “a big noise” at the  school (i.e., she has power):

This one came after Kyle Rittenhouse’s “not guilty” verdict:

And here’s the tweet she wrote when the Supreme Court began hearing the Dobbs v. Jackson case, about Mississippi’s new and draconian anti-abortion law:

First of all, is this free speech? Yes, of course! She’s tweeting from her personal Twitter account, where she can say pretty much what she wants. I’m not sure whether deeming two Supreme Court justices—presumably Clarence Thomas and Brett Kavanaugh—”sexual predators” would constitute defamation, but I’ll leave it to the lawyers here to decide. I have no quarrel with the content of her tweets vis-à-vis the First Amendment.

Is it advisable speech? Well, if I were Dean I wouldn’t have said these things for two reasons. First, it paints Casper as a hothead, and someone so woke that she sees the Rittenhouse verdict as an example of “white supremacy”. And even I, as someone opposed to the Republican Party and what it stands for, wouldn’t paint Republicans with such a broad brush. After all, the party contains a lot of women, and not all of its adherents are racists. Nor would I diss the Supreme Court that way, though I’ve argued strenuously that it’s now full of religion-soaked conservatives that have created a right-wing activist court.

But there’s another reason why Casper’s tweets were inadvisable. As the Dean with the most power, what she says, whether or not it’s prohibited by the Constitution, will have a tendency to chill the speech of faculty and students over whom she has power. Faculty and students alike will be aware of her rather extreme views, and that is liable to inhibit the speech of those who take issue with her views—especially students and faculty, whose promotions and tenure she presumably vets.  This chilling of speech is the topic of the University of Chicago’s Kalven Report, prohibiting the University from making official statements on politics, ideology, and morality.

But again, her statements aren’t official ones, so she didn’t violate the Kalven report’s dictates, even though no school other than ours has such a report. No, what’s wrong with Casper’s statements is that they paint her as a hotheaded and non-judicious person, which could be damaging to her, and they’re also liable to make those below her at SDSU keep their mouths shut if they’re more conservative than she. In other words, she had a right to say all that on Twitter. But, like somebody standing outside a synagogue with a “Gas the Jews” sign, her speech is legal but unwise.  Deans should have better sense than to issue such stuff. But she should not be punished. She should be countered with words that are critical, like the ones I’ve just written.

Of course people complained, and the President of SDSU did what she should have done: asserted that Casper had a right to say what she did. Fox News provided a response of President Adela de la Torre:

“It is important to know that faculty speech is protected by both the First Amendment and academic freedom principles, which are advanced by the American Association of University Professors,” the school said in a statement to Fox News. “At SDSU, we encourage all members of our community, including our faculty, to engage in open discourse, as it is our responsibility as a public institution to uphold and protect free speech. We know that open dialogue may introduce conversations about topics that are uncomfortable for some.”

That’s what the University of Chicago would say in any similar case.

de la Torre’s own Twitter feed is very tame, touting the achievements and goodness of her school. She would not, I think, get embroiled in ideological issues.

Well, actually she did—at least once. The op-ed in the Times of San Diego reports this:

In 2018, shortly after President Adela de la Torre arrived, someone sought to discredit a conservative economics professor by digging up and publishing satires that this person published when he was an undergraduate over twenty years ago.  Rather than defending this distinguished member of the faculty and denouncing the use of ancient juvenilia to discredit him, the university responded by condemning the professor: “The language and sentiments expressed in these posts are counter to the values of any institution which supports the principles of diversity and inclusion.”

And yes, here’s the President’s tweet from 2018, which is very different from her response to Casper’s intemperate tweets:

This apparently refers to SDSU Professor of Economics Joseph Sabia, who is reported in the school paper, The Daily Aztec, of having made offensive blog posts when he was a Ph.D. student  at Cornell between 2001 and 2003—fifteen or more years before the President declared that his posts were “contrary to the values of diversity, respect, and inclusion.” The paper reports some of what he said in these posts; I’ll give two examples from the Daily Aztec (now deleted but archived). Note that the op-ed maintains that these statements were satirical, not serious:

One of the blog posts, written by economics professor Joseph Sabia, attempts to strike a metaphor between gay sex and campaigns against high-fat foods.

“In gay sex, we have an activity that is clearly leading to disastrous health consequences,” Sabia wrote in the 2002 blog post. “What rational person would engage in this sort of activity? There is only one solution – let’s tax it.”

Note that Sabia is gay!

There’s more:

Another blog post, published in March 2002, attacks the sexual promiscuity of girls in college.

“The chant of Gen. Y college babes might as well be ‘We’re here, we’re whores, get used to it! No, most girls are not actually uttering those words, but the slutty sentiments are implicit in the standard female college behavior – wearing tight shirts and pants, getting publicly drunk, hanging on every guy around, and engaging in random sex,” the blog post read.

Yes, these are stupid and offensive, even if satirical, but he had a right to say what he wanted. And SDSU could have found them before they hired him and promoted him to full professor. Now it’s too late.

The statements came to light in 2018 only when Sabia was invited to testify before a House Committee, but someone dug up the old blog posts and so the committee canceled Sabia’s appearance. That’s when an outcry brought those early statements to the notice of SDSU’s president.

Should Sabia be disciplined? Of course not: those statements constituted free speech, and only came up years after he made them. One of them is clearly satirical, as Sabia is gay. And Sabia apologized for them in 2018:

“I regret the hurtful and disrespectful language I used as a satirical college opinion writer 20 years ago,” said Sabia. “I am a gay man in a long-term, committed relationship and these charges of homophobia deeply hurt both me and my family.”
“My peer-reviewed professional work on veterans’ health, school shootings, discrimination against LGBTQ individuals, the opioid crisis, and the minimum wage are a more accurate representation of my more than 14-year career as an applied microeconomist,” Sabia continued.
So was President de la Torre justified in condemning Sabia’s blog posts as her “personal response”? Well, that’s disingenuous, because most of what she said is also an official response of SDSU published on the official SDSU News Site.  The official response, though not identical to what de la Torre wrote, is so similar that it was probably written by her and tweaked by Legal (or vice versa):
The language and sentiments expressed in these posts are counter to the values of any institution which supports the principles of diversity and inclusion. SDSU unequivocally rejects any sentiment which seeks to undermine or devalue the dignity of any person based on their gender, orientation, ability, or any other difference among people which has been an excuse for misunderstanding, dissension or hatred.
Freedom of speech is the right of every individual, and that right affords the responsibility to challenge and to oppose the spread of fear and intolerance. This responsibility extends to challenging and reflecting on our own former statements and beliefs. We believe that diversity and inclusion is a journey, not a destination and that many individuals will change their perspectives over time. SDSU promotes open expression of our individuality and our diversity within the bounds of courtesy, sensitivity and respect.
Whoever wrote the statement above violated the principles of our own Kalven report and produced words that could chill free speech. Who decides what the “values of San Diego State University” are? Do ALL the faculty, alumni, and students agree with her? If you criticize Islam, is that also “counter to the values of SDSU”?  And as for the President’s “personal statement” asserting that free speech is a “two way street” (always be aware of hedges like that), it’s only so because if you speak freely, you invite others to challenge you by speaking freely.  You might be demonized, and that goes with the territory. But what de la Torre means by a “two way street” is that you’re free to speak, but you’d better speak responsibly!

By calling out Sabia many years after the fact, and asserting that his earlier statements violated the “values of SDSU”,  President de la Torre overstepped her bounds. Yes, again what she said was not illegal, but it was certainly chilling of the speech of others.  What she should have said is exactly what she said in defense of the Republican-hating speech of Professor Casper, which I repeat:

“It is important to know that faculty speech is protected by both the First Amendment and academic freedom principles, which are advanced by the American Association of University Professors,” the school said in a statement to Fox News. “At SDSU, we encourage all members of our community, including our faculty, to engage in open discourse, as it is our responsibility as a public institution to uphold and protect free speech. We know that open dialogue may introduce conversations about topics that are uncomfortable for some.”

In fact, Sabia wasn’t even on the faculty when he made the offending statements! (The President could have added that.) But a version of this same statement would have served as a response to the Sabia kerfuffle.

Or does SDSU defend only liberal faculty and condemn the speech of conservative faculty as “contrary to its values”?

Atlantic article on why universities shouldn’t make official political or ideological statements

November 27, 2021 • 11:45 am

I swear, maybe I should try writing some of my website posts as articles for magazines, where I could actually get paid.  It’s not that I need the dosh, but getting a check is a special form of love in return for one’s words.  Don’t worry, though, I’ll never monetize this site.

The reason I thought about this is because monetized sites, like the Atlantic piece below by Conor Friedersdorf, often have articles about the very same topics I’ve written about days before. You’ll know about the several posts I’ve done about universities like UC Irvine and UC Santa Cruz making unwarranted statements about the Rittenhouse verdict (opposing it because it’s supposed to be an instantiation of “white supremacy”), when they should not be making any official statements at all.  Such statements violate the spirit of the University of Chicago’s “Kalven Report”, which prohibits my university from making official statements about any ideological, political, or moral issues unless they directly impact the mission of the university.  Why? I’ll reiterate what I wrote a week ago:

There are actually two principles of free speech that should be proclaimed and adhered to by every college and university in America, whether they be private or public. (Religious schools, of course, must exempt themselves.)

1.) There must be freedom of speech for all as that freedom is described by the First Amendment and construed by the courts.

2.) The university must remove itself from making official pronouncements on morality, ideology, or politics, except when those statements affect issues that could impinge on the mission of the university itself: teaching, debating, and learning.

The second principle is there to protect the first one. For if the University makes political statements, like the one we’ll discuss today, that chills or quashes the speech of other people who might fear punishment from the administration for their opposing stands.  If an administrative or departmental website puts out a statement supporting the goals of Black Lives Matter, or that the Kyle Rittenhouse verdict demonstrates white supremacy in action, or that science is structurally racist and misogynist, what student or untenured professor is going to contradict that in public?  We already know that about 55% of college students feel that the climate on their campus prevents them from saying things they believe. That goes for professors as well, though the percentage would be lower. Ideally, the figure should be 0%.

The University of Chicago has adopted both of these principles. The first is the famous 2014 “Report on the Committee of Free Expression” headed by Law Professor Geoffrey Stone, with the committee convened by the then President Robert Zimmer. Now called the “Chicago Principles“, the statement has been adopted in its entirety or near-entirety by over 80 American colleges and universities.

Now if I’d had the gumption, I’d have proposed a piece on Kalven and its violation by Rittenhouse-dissing universities. Sadly, the laws of physics prevented me. However, they didn’t prevent Friedersdorf, who undoubtedly got a big wad of green stuff for the piece below (click on screenshot). However, I’m not all that jealous because a.) he did a much more thorough job than I of collecting statements and parsing their meaning, and b.) He’s a better writer than I. So read the article (it’s free); you will find even more examples of miscreant university administrators, though his conclusion is the same as mine: universities should abide by the Kalven Report:

Friedersdorf summarizes several places where administrators issued negative statements on the Rittenhouse aquittal; these include UC Santa Cruz, UC Irvine, and the “progressive” New School, whose President, Dwight McBride, published an official statement that violates Kalven seven ways from Sunday. Friedersdorf’s take on McBride:

At the New School, McBride described a starkly different ethos:

I don’t know immediately how to parse the Rittenhouse verdict at a university where students, faculty, and staff work so tirelessly and passionately for social justice. Therein may lie the answer in this moment: when we don’t know yet what to say, let’s take solace in each other. Let’s unite in our shared commitments and values. I am grateful to be part of this community that is so driven to confront inequality, unpack systemic racism, challenge oppression, and create positive change.

Tellingly, McBride continued:

While we don’t know what to say, we know what to do, which is to act to build stronger communities, unite amongst ourselves, and use our scholarship and research in service of social justice.

He’s not calling for searching, candid discussion among people with diverse views. He’s presuming that the community is united in one collective view––and, what’s more, that the community is somehow united both in not knowing what to say and in knowing what to do about it! And what about professors and students who disagree that the verdict was unjust, or feel upset by inaccuracies in media coverage, or believe that Rittenhouse was a victim of prosecutorial misconduct, or worry that widespread criticism of the verdict is undermining the jury system?

Now deans and departments at my own University of Chicago have issued similar verboten political statements, though none that I know of about Rittenhouse. They’ve concentrated on systemic racism, and they all violate the Kalven Report. In that sense we’re hypocrites, for while ex-President Bob Zimmer recently reaffirmed that departments of our University cannot issue such official political statements, they’ve done it anyway, and the administration is too timorous to order these statements removed.

If nothing is done, the University of Chicago will go the torturous way of the New School and the University of California campuses, issuing statement after statement that gives “official” positions or, like the New School’s statement, tells all the students what they do or must believe and how they must act.  Parents of prospective students, I think, won’t be keen to send their parents to such woke schools, for they’ll get no instruction about what free speech means, much less how to exercise it.  And I’m sad because the unique aspect of the University of Chicago: it’s near-absolute encouragement of free speech, will erode away to nothing.

Those “official” statements are unnecessary anyway. Their main (if not only) purpose is to affirm the virtue of the writer by setting out ideological and behavioral principles that jibe with the progressive Zeitgeist. By doing that, though, they’re chilling the speech of anybody who thinks that, for example, the Rittenhouse verdict was correct. The uselessness of these statements is limned by both Friedersdorf and Glenn Loury:

But most top-down proclamations from administrators are unnecessary: As the Brown University professor Glenn Loury explained last year, they either affirm platitudes or present arguable positions as certainties. “We, the faculty, are the only ‘leaders’ worthy of mention when it comes to the realm of ideas,” he insisted. “Why must this university’s senior administration declare, on behalf of the institution as a whole and with one voice, that they unanimously—without any subtle differences of emphasis or nuance—interpret contentious current events through a single lens?”

It really is crazy—and totally unnecessary. Professors and administrators can write their own personal statements on websites and the like—that is free speech. But they need not, and should not, present those opinions as official views of their universities.

So I echo, and have anticipated, Friedersdorf’s conclusions, which are that universities should adhere to the Kalven principles. The Atlantic has a huge and intelligent audience, and though the Chicago Principles of Free Speech are widely known—and have been adopted by over 80 American universities—the Kalven Report is much less known, and Friedersdorf sets out its history as well as its principles. The report is here, and every university that has adopted the Chicago Principles of Free Speech should also adopt the Kalven Principles. They are simply two arms of the same endeavor: to allow free speech without intimidation. Friedersdorf has one a service by simply bringing this issue to the nation’s attention. But of course administrators at schools like Williams, Berkeley, and Santa Cruz simply can’t restrain themselves from weighing in on politics, thereby making themselves look empathic and sensitive.

Friedersdorf’s beginning:

At universities, the recent acquittal of Kyle Rittenhouse should be an opportunity to study a divisive case that sparked complex debates about issues as varied as self-defense laws, guns, race, riots, the rights of defendants, prosecutorial missteps, media bias, and more. If administrators were doing their jobs, faculty and students would freely air a wide variety of viewpoints and have opportunities to better understand one another’s diverse perspectives. Instead, many administrators are preemptively imposing their preferred narratives.

And his ending:

Indeed, there are as many different views of what’s wrong in the world as there are individuals on a campus. People also differ widely in which news events, if any, they find upsetting. Students and faculty should challenge university leaders who, as if speaking for their entire communities, put forth subjective assessments and notions of what everyone else thinks or “must” do. These administrators tell the group what they think it wants to hear, create incentives for people to hide other views, and harm everyone’s ability to inquire and to learn from one another.

I wish that all the readers who fight for free speech at universities would also fight for the prevention of official statements on politics and ideology by those schools which, by giving “official views”, chill everyone’s speech. We already know that many professors and students—more than half of the latter in the U.S.—are intimidated from speaking freely about certain topics. That’s no way to get an education, much less produce a good citizen.