A victory (?) for academic freedom

November 5, 2021 • 12:30 pm

Remember Bright Sheng, a distinguished professor and composer at the University of Michigan? I reported on him earlier, also linking to the takes of John McWhorter and Cathy Young about the incident Sheng was involved in. At that time, Sheng was in the process of being demonized at Michigan (he probably still is). Here’s what I wrote a few weeks ago, quoting the student newspaper:

A blackface incident has occurred at the University of Michigan, involving, Bright Sheng, Leonard Bernstein Distinguished University Professor of Composition and a well known composer and pianist. But he happened to show the wrong film. As the student paper, the Michigan Daily, reports:

On Sept. 10, Music, Theatre & Dance freshman Olivia Cook attended her first composition seminar with Sheng. This semester, the course focused on analyzing Shakespeare’s works, and the class began with a screening of the 1965 version of “Othello.” Cook told The Daily she quickly realized something seemed strange, and upon further inspection, noticed the onscreen actor Laurence Olivier was in blackface.

“I was stunned,” Cook said. “In such a school that preaches diversity and making sure that they understand the history of POC (people of color) in America, I was shocked that (Sheng) would show something like this in something that’s supposed to be a safe space.”

The predictable outcry occurred, with claims that the film made the students feel unsafe. This resulted in Sheng’s removal as a teacher of undergraduates. He apologized to the faculty and students, but his apology was considered insufficient. Sheng says that he didn’t realize the cultural offense conveyed by blackface.  As the Dean of Sheng’s division revealed in an email, “the incident had been reported to the Office of Equity, Civil Rights, and Title IX.”  Sheng will be lucky if he’s not fired for showing that movie.

As McWhorter points out, the best explication and analysis of this incident is by Cathy Young at Arc Digital, who concludes that Sheng’s screening of the movie induced “moral panic” and a “witchhunt,” with Sheng being the witch.

Well, the good news is that the University of Michigan is not going to punish him further, though he was removed from teaching that class and the school had begun an investigation (believe me, that itself is punishment!). The not-so-good news is that the University’s statement on Sheng, below, supposedly an affirmation of the school’s support for free speech, is a Weasel Manifesto, trying to satisfy everyone at the same time, both the Offender and the Offendees, as well as us free-speech diehards. Click on the screenshot to read:

The University first affirms that Sheng is in the clear, and that Michigan is in favor of free speech, though adding that “the depiction of a white actor in blackface is deeply offensive” without being presented “in proper context. . . and with care and sensivitity.”  Of course, there’s no way Shen could have presented it at all without getting in trouble, but let’s give Sheng a break. Here’s his exculpation:

The University of Michigan strongly supports free speech and academic freedom. We also work hard to establish an inclusive and supportive learning environment for all students.

Bright Sheng, the Leonard Bernstein Distinguished University Professor of Composition, is a highly valued member of the faculty of the School of Music, Theatre & Dance and the university community.  He continues to teach composition lessons this semester in SMTD and is scheduled to teach a regular course load during the upcoming winter term.  No sanctions have been imposed on him.

Then it turns weaselly.  First of all, they call for ENGAGEMENT and conversations:

SMTD will host a series of facilitated conversations to help community members better understand the different perspectives involved in this particular instance and Professor Sheng has said he would welcome an opportunity to meet with students in the seminar.

“I appreciate the engagement of Dean Gier and Professor Sheng in this difficult issue and also our students and faculty who have expressed their views to us. The dean and faculty of SMTD are intently focused on ensuring that their courses actively engage students with discussions of race and racism.  We can all learn as we work together to be a more inclusive community,” said Provost and Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs Susan M. Collins.

Does anyone doubt that these conversations will have only one approved viewpoint—that they won’t be free exchanges of views but propaganda with a preordained “consensus”? This will not be an exercise in free speech, and the dog whistle (sorry, GOP) is “we work together to be a more inclusive community.” For what Michigan hasn’t realized is this: Inclusivity and freedom of speech are not always compatible. 

For example, if you question affirmative action, or “affinity housing,” you will offend minorities while exercising freedom of speech on genuinely debatable issues.

Still Michigan keeps up the pretense:

Vice Provost for Equity & Inclusion and Chief Diversity Officer Robert M. Sellers noted that “being a more diverse, equitable and inclusive community is not anathema to academic freedom.”

“It does mean that we must intentionally work together as a community to understand what academic freedom looks like when we include voices that have traditionally not been at the table. It will not be easy work, but it is essential work. Who better than the University of Michigan to lead this conversation?” said Sellers, the Charles D. Moody Collegiate Professor of Psychology.

Well, how about any of the several free-speech organizations like FIRE, or someone like ex-ACLU president Nadine Strossen? Yes, diversity and inclusivity are not inevitably anathema to academic freedom, but they often are. You can discern that from all the imbroglios on college campuses in the last few years. Case in point: Bret Weinstein and Heather Heying getting piled on by Evergreen State students (and their own faculty) because they refused to leave campus on the “day of absence”. Both of those professors are antiracists, but are also committed to free speech. The result: they exercised their free speech, which brought them both physical and verbal threats. Both eventually left the college.

It’s time for people to stop insisting that you can have your inclusivity and your free speech too. The First Amendment is there for reasons, one being that very little political speech is completely inoffensive. Divergent viewpoints are prima facie examples of “non-inclusivity”.

And look who’s going to be in charge of the “conversation” at Michigan that will supposedly reconcile DEI and free speech:

In further support of the need for continued discourse, the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion and our National Center for Institutional Diversity will work with other university partners to convene a broader universitywide discussion around the challenges and opportunities associated with adhering to principles such as academic freedom while becoming a more diverse, equitable and inclusive community. The issues raised are not exclusive to higher education; they are fundamental to American democracy.

This is like putting a fox in charge of a conversation between chickens. There is only one possible outcome.

h/t: Larry

McWhorter back in form, speaks truth to wokeness in the NY Times

August 25, 2021 • 9:15 am

I was afraid that when John McWhorter ditched his Substack site to write twice weekly for the New York Times, he would tone down some of his strong critiques of woke anti-racism. Apparently he hasn’t, as you can tell from his latest op-ed. (Try clicking below; it’s supposed to be for NYT subscribers but you might get free access, or see it via judicious inquiry).

This piece was even the top of the editorial column yesterday afternoon:

You probably know the story. On the University of Wisconsin campus there used to be a big glacial boulder (I’ve seen it) that was called “niggerhead rock”—exactly one time, by a local newspaper, the Wisconsin State Journal, in 1925.  Here’s that single reference, and archivists have been unable to find another printed usage of that racist name:

Since then, the 42-ton hunk of stone has been known as “Chamberlin Rock” after Thomas Chamberlin, a geologist and former university president. It’s sort of a local landmark, and this is what it looked like in situ.

Photo: Wisconsin State Journal archives

Despite the n-word being used once, and 96 years ago, it apparently has rankled some black students, as the Wisconsin State Journal Reports:

The Wisconsin Black Student Union called for the rock’s removal over the summer. President Nalah McWhorter said the rock is a symbol of the daily injustices that students of color face on a predominantly white campus.

“This is a huge accomplishment for us,” she said on Wednesday. “We won’t have that constant reminder, that symbol that we don’t belong here.”

McWhorter also faulted the Wisconsin State Journal for printing the vulgarity in a 1925 news article.

University historians identified the news story as the only known instance of the offensive term being used. It’s unclear whether or for how long people on campus referred to the boulder as “Niggerhead Rock.” The term itself appears to have fallen out of common usage by the 1950s.

Kacie Butcher, the university’s public history project director, told the Campus Planning Committee that there may be other records beyond the State Journal story, but locating them is difficult because archived records are not well organized. What is well-documented during that time period, however, is the Klu Klux Klan’s active presence in Madison. Campus satire publications and comedy skits also mocked and dehumanized people of color.

Butcher told the committee that the rock’s removal presents an opportunity to prioritize students of color and engage in complex conversations.

Do you get a whiff of dissimulation here?

So the University administration ordered the rock, apparently now seen as a “racist monument” to be removed so the students could “begin healing.” As Spectrum News 1 reports, this was done on orders of the Chancellor herself. The rock now reposes in a distant locale:

After a process of recommendations, Chancellor Rebecca Blank approved removing it from its home on Observatory Hill. Her approval was necessary because it’s within 15 feet of a Native American burial site.

“Removing the rock as a monument in a prominent location prevents further harm to our community, while preserving the rocks [sic] educational research value for our current and future school students,” Brown said.

Friday morning, a crew started the process using harnesses around the boulder to lift it with a large crane. They began just before 7 a.m., and finished up after 11 that morning.

The rock will be moved to UW-Madison property on Lake Kegonsa, where university geologists and researchers can still have access to it.

Here’s the offending boulder being removed, probably at substantial cost (photo from the University of Wisconsin News):

The removal was a painstaking process that lasted just over four hours. Here, workers from JP Cullen and Dawes Rigging & Crane Rental maneuver the rock into position above the flatbed truck that would haul it to  university-owned land southeast of Madison near Lake Kegonsa. PHOTO: BRYCE RICHTER

To anyone with sense, removing the rock because it offends students based on a name used just once, is insane. The normal reaction to those students, and to the chancellor who ordered the rock’s removal to placate the offended, would be “Get a grip, people!”.  And, in fact, that’s exactly McWhorter’s message in his NY Times piece. He even calls it a “niggerhead” rock, printing out the word that, said the Times not long ago, couldn’t be used because intent doesn’t matter, only the effect of the word on people.

McWhorter’s piece is excellent, full of sarcasm, thoughtful analyis and good writing. And most of all, it says the thing that we all want to say when we see such reprehensible and ineffective acts of performative wokeness (but can’t say it unless we’re black):

The students essentially demanded that an irrational, prescientific kind of fear — that a person can be meaningfully injured by the dead — be accepted as insight. They imply that the rock’s denotation of racism is akin to a Confederate statue’s denotation of the same, neglecting the glaringly obvious matter of degree here — as in, imagine pulling down a statue upon finding that the person memorialized had uttered a single racist thing once in his or her life.

. . . If the presence of that rock actually makes some people desperately uncomfortable, they need counseling. And as such, we can be quite sure that these students were acting. Few can miss that there is a performative aspect in the claim that college campuses, perhaps the most diligently antiracism spaces on the planet, are seething with bigotry. The Wisconsin rock episode was a textbook demonstration of the difference between sincere activism and playacting, out of a desire to join the civil rights struggle in a time when the problems are so much more abstract than they once were.

How many of us, even though most of us believe it, would stay that the offending were acting, weren’t really offended, and were engaged in a grab for power? Or that they need counseling if they were that offended?  But of course a big share of blame falls on the cowardly administrators who caved into the students’ ridiculous demand (all bolding is McWhorter’s).

The true fault here lies with the school’s administration, whose deer tails popped up as they bolted into the forest, out of a fear of going against the commandments of what we today call antiracism, which apparently includes treating Black people as simpletons and thinking of it as reckoning.

True wokeness would have been to awaken to the tricky but urgent civic responsibility of, when necessary, calling out Black people on nonsense. Yes, even Black people can be wrong. As the Black professor Randall Kennedy of Harvard Law puts it in his upcoming “Say It Loud!”: “Blacks, too, have flaws, sometimes glaringly so. These weaknesses may be the consequence of racist mistreatment. But they are weaknesses nonetheless.” To pretend this is never the case where racism is concerned is not to reckon but to dehumanize.

But wait! There’s more!

Let us remember: The point here is treating a rock as psychologically damaging because of something someone dug up written about it at a time when people lived without antibiotics, television or McDonald’s. And yes, people often called big rocks and other things that ugly name in those days. But by that logic, we should be lifting away thousands of rocks nationwide. Note the perfect absurdity of an idea that America is “coming to terms” with racism by having cranes laboring all over the country moving boulders to different spots.

. . .My message here is not that the students should have just hit the books and kept their chinny chins up. Black America has problems that cannot be solved via personal initiative alone, and young people eager to help change the world are to be lauded for addressing them. If the Black students who had that rock pulled away do tutoring with Black kids in Madison’s more challenged public schools or get behind police reform efforts in the same city, then they deserve all due support. (I’d even consider giving them school credit for it.)

But the rock episode was settling for performance art and calling it antiracism. Kabuki as civil rights — it’s fake, it’s self-involved, and it helps no one. Yes, racism persists in our society in many ways, and administrators serving up craven condescension as antiracism are fine examples of it.

Them’s strong words, especially from the New York Times. In fact, I haven’t seen anything even close to it in several years. Remember, the NYT fired science reporter Don McNeil for simply saying the n-word in a didactic manner on a New York Times foreign excursion with students. He didn’t even print it, but here McWhorter prints “niggerhead”, and the word stays as a whole. How did he get away with it? Well, for one thing, McWhorter is black.

But the important thing is not just that he got away with it, but he got away with slapping down The Pretend Offended and calling them what they are: students who act out an outrage that’s not really felt. And the University of Wisconsin Administration also gets a trip to the woodshed. How refreshing to see a piece like this published in the New York Times! Is this a harbinger of change? Will the paper let McWhorter say exactly what he wants from now on, or is he doomed to be let go? (I can’t imagine he’d follow any orders to “tone it down.”) Stay tuned.

University of Oklahoma illegally compels students and staff to give “approved” answers during mandatory diversity training

April 11, 2021 • 11:15 am

Many university faculty and staff have taken mandatory training in human resources during their tenure.  For example, not long ago I took a required module in sexual harassment training, even as an emeritus professor (well, I do interact with other faculty, students, and staff). These modules proceed by giving a didactic overview about how to proceed in various situations, followed by a number of questions to determine if you understood the procedures. I didn’t think anything of it, nor did I think the training was out of line, as sexual harassment is illegal and creates a bad environment on campus for the harassed and everyone else.

But training in diversity issues is different, as you’ll see below. So far, the University of Chicago hasn’t instituted required diversity training, and I wouldn’t be happy if they did—not if it was like what the University of Oklahoma’s (UO’s) mandatory training involves. For, according to the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), OU’s training does not let you pass the required modules unless you give certain approved answers. These answers don’t seem to involve obeying the law, but rather force you to agree with the University’s views on diversity. Click on the screenshot below to see a summary of the issue from the FIRE site:

It came to FIRE’s attention that in these modules, UO was forcing the trainees to agree with certain viewpoints—a form of “compelled speech” which, according to the Supreme Court, is illegal in public universities (these must obey the First Amendment). That’s because it may “compel students, faculty, and staff to agree with concepts that may violate their freedom of conscience”.   FIRE notes the Supreme Court precedent that prohibits compelled speech:

Famously, in ruling that schoolchildren cannot be compelled to salute the American flag, the Supreme Court held in West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette (1943) that it’s unconstitutional for the government to require a person “to declare a belief [and . . . ] to utter what is not in his mind.” The Court, correctly, held that compelled speech “would strangle the free mind at its sources.”

How did FIRE know that compelled speech was likely taking place in UO’s training? A letter from FIRE to UO last November (pdf of letter here), reports the experiences of Elizabeth Owen, a (brave!) graduate student and staff member who had access to the diversity training materials. Owen was required to take three commercial diversity-training modules, which presented several hypothetical situations and then asked trainees to provide their “best choice”. Here are two examples of how Owen’s “best choice” was not the University’s. This one is from the FIRE article:

In one of these hypothetical situations, Owen was required to communicate with a fictional colleague named Michael. It showed a video of Michael saying he was “tired of all this transgender stuff” and gave Owen options to select in response. When Owen selected the response that she felt was most similar to her feelings (“I agree. Political correctness can be so tiring”), she was told that her opinion was not the “best choice.”

Had the video simply proceeded, there would arguably be no abridgment of Owen’s rights: She had chosen the answer she thought was best, the university disagreed, and the training would continue. That is similar to how an in-person training would likely work. (Assuming, of course, that the university did not find some other way to take adverse action against those giving “wrong” answers.)

Instead, however, the video automatically rewound, forcing Owen to select the answer choice that OU preferred — “You seem upset. What’s the matter?” — in order to continue. Owen was required to select the preferred answer in order to complete the mandatory training. In doing so, the university, an agency of the state, compelled Owen (and who knows how many others) to express a viewpoint with which she did not agree.

The modules are required, remember, so you have to agree with the University’s views to pass them.

And this example is from the letter that FIRE sent to OU.

Another example was a question about accommodations for an employee with fibromyalgia. The question states:

Anya has fibromyalgia and feels drained and in immense pain by the end of a workday. She sneaks in a few breaks when she can, but her work responsibilities can keep her from getting the rest she needs, and sometimes her efficiency suffers. What should Anya do?

Although Owen originally selected the response that most closely reflects what she would do were she Anya (“Nothing. She takes multiple breaks when she can to help with her disability, which is already more than her peers”), the training program required her to repeat the process, giving her an explanation about why OU did not select this as the proper answer. When Owen selected a second response that she believes would also be appropriate (“Talk to her supervisor about switching to part-time, or a less demanding position”), she was again required to repeat the process. Finally, when Owen selected the response that OU has marked as the correct choice (“Talk to her supervisor about what reasonable accommodations can be made for her”), she was permitted to move on.

On these and other questions, Owen disagreed with the mandatory OU-selected answer but was forced to affirm OU’s preferred response rather than the response that reflects her own conscience. Failing to do so would render her unable to complete the mandatory training and thereby subject her to adverse action by the university.

FIRE concluded its November letter this way, drawing an analogy between being forced to salute the flag—at the time a West Virginia law, which violated the conscience of Jehovah’s Witnesses—and to adhere to the University’s views about what is “appropriate” behavior. (Legal behavior is a separate issue.):

OU’s diversity trainings—however well-intended—require students, faculty, and staff to express the “correct” response and profess their agreement with the ideas that the university disseminates. While, as in Barnette, there would be no constitutional issue or burden on the freedom of conscience if the university’s administration simply shared its own views on the correct response to hypothetical situations, the requirement that students and faculty affirm the “correct” view is similar to the requirement in Barnette that students salute the flag.

If forcing schoolchildren to salute the flag with the goal of building national unity amidst the destruction of World War II did not make the cut for an exception, then neither does diversity training, however well-meaning, permit such an exception now. FIRE again calls on OU — and any other public college or university that uses similar training materials — to immediately remove any requirement that faculty or students agree with the university’s viewpoints and to commit to protecting its students’ and faculty’s rights.

Before FIRE can go further, like instituting a lawsuit against OU (which would probably succeed), it needs access to the modules themselves. After asking for them under the Freedom of Information Act, OU said, well, yes, FIRE could see them, but they’d have to travel to the University itself to see them in person!:

The university’s March 23 response — more than four months after our request — said that FIRE would be permitted to view the training materials, but only in person on OU’s campus in Norman, Oklahoma. In other words, in order to view public records, the University of Oklahoma would require a FIRE staff member to fly across the country (FIRE is based in Philadelphia) during a global pandemic. That’s not exactly a transparency-friendly approach to public records, and it all but ensures that public records remain private.

This is ridiculous, for these models could be made available to FIRE online. That is, in fact, how we take them: we register and then are given a code to access the test. OU is trying to prevent FIRE from coming down on the University for violating the First Amendment.

And it is this which made many of us worried earlier when our Provost suggested that the University of Chicago might also institute mandatory diversity training. The objection is that such training, as at OU, is not to determine if you understand your legal obligations, but if your own opinions conform to a preferred point of view—probably the tenets of Critical Race Theory. That would never fly at this school—at least I don’t think it would. At any rate, the University of Chicago seems to have dropped that suggestion.

But the University of Oklahoma, a public university, is digging in its heels. It really should do what FIRE suggested: stop using forms of training that require the trainees to agree with the University’s own views.

Ivy League librarians call for an end to all policing

December 4, 2020 • 1:00 pm

My impression of librarians is that they are sensible and anti-woke, at least in terms of their stand on free speech and free expression. After all, they are the guardians and disseminators of all knowledge, the opponents of censoring books, and I have respected them immensely. They’ve also been a huge help to me in my academic work as well as in writing my popular books.  I guess I thought this admiring view would hold for their other opinions as well. But I was sorely disabused this week when I read two screeds by high-class librarians.

The first one, below, is from a group of 13 “Ivy League+” librarians—including one from the University of Chicago—who have signed a document calling for major changes in universities and libraries. The most important of these is a call for the complete elimination of the police. Not just campus police, but all police.  This document, in fact, doesn’t materially differ from the unhinged manifestos and lists of “demands” regularly issued by students at American colleges. I am disappointed.

The Ivy+ manifesto begins with the requisite invocation of George Floyd as well as the required (but unevidenced) claim that their institutions are not only structurally racist, but complicit in sustaining that racism (emphases in the following are mine):

In early June, in the wake of the murders of George Floyd in Minnesota, Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia, and Breonna Taylor in Kentucky, library organizations and directors issued statements condemning racism and racial violence. A statement from the Association of Research Libraries [JAC: see below] implored that “[i]t is incumbent upon leaders of libraries and archives to examine our institutions’ role in sustaining systems of inequity that have left Black communities and other people of color in the margins of every aspect of our profession.”

. . . We recognize that librarianship, an overwhelmingly white profession, has systematically marginalized BIPOC, LGBTQIA+, and librarians with disabilities. The conceptualization of our demands would not be possible without the labor and leadership of these very librarians, theorists, activists, and communities. We also recognize the privilege and power held by Ivy+ and other major research libraries, and thus, it is imperative that we use our privilege to speak out against library practices that cause harm. We build from and stand in solidarity with abolitionist movements happening in all library spaces. We believe in order to fully embody the ethics of librarianship it is necessary to align with the practices and aims of abolition. We hope many more voices will join us in signing onto these demands and in this bold and beautiful work of dreaming, demanding, and being in a better world. Reckoning with our own histories of and complicity in white supremacy and anti-Black racism is in the best interest not only of our institutions and patrons but our profession at large. Libraries are not neutral, nor should they be silent — but we’ve heard, seen, and spoken enough — solidarity is not found in statements, but in actions, and the time to act is now.

Have libraries really been this bigoted and nefarious?

And they’re also said to also sustain the police. The group says that they—the librarians themselves—have internalized their bigotry:

. . . we believe libraries have not gone far enough in this examination by refusing to fully consider our relationships with policing, surveillance, and the prison–industrial complex. These library statements do not explicitly name policing itself as the problem — an expression and exacerbation of racial capitalism and violence — despite it being a very real and dire existential threat to Black, Indigenous, and other people of color (BIPOC), as well as those in the LGBTQIA+ community. Therefore, we find these statements morally and politically insufficient responses. Without naming the specific problem of policing, these statements not only let libraries off the hook for the many ways in which we have internalized the practices of the carceral state in our profession, but also leave the door open for “both sides’’ arguments or appeals to “law and order,” and encourage dangerous and ineffective reforms.

I won’t waste my time attacking this, for, according to Hitchen’s Razor, claims unsustained by evidence don’t need to be refuted by evidence. Perhaps these statements  just constitute the necessary self-flagellation and moral preening needed before they call for the elimination of both campus and regular police . They never, of course, say what will replace the police.

The solution to police violence is not reform but an abolition of policing in all its forms. Therefore, we call on the leadership of our institutions and all of our colleagues to embrace an abolitionist vision of a hopeful, life-affirming future and to immediately begin the work of divesting from police and prisons with the ultimate goal of the complete abolition of law enforcement and surveillance from library spaces, campuses, communities — in short, everywhere.

No more cops! They’re not just talking about campus police, for they want the abolition of law enforcement and surveillance from EVERYWHERE. Who will enforce the law, then? Apparently, nobody.  The attempt of students to disband the campus police at the U of C have already failed, but the librarians’ feeble attempt to adduce “evidence” for the ineffectiveness of campus policing is risible.

Many people will acknowledge the harm done by police and law enforcement but question the safety implications of defunding and divesting from policing on campus. But reporting from police forces shows that law enforcement and surveillance do not keep campuses safe. As Black organizers across the country have been declaring in the streets, “We keep us safe.” Therefore, we demand that library leadership remove any reliance on law enforcement as a means of addressing conflicts that arise in all library spaces by 2022.

I invite you to look at the link they give above. It goes to a Twitter thread from an associate professor at our University’s Harris School of Public Policy, a thread that uses our campus police database to show that black people get stopped disproportionately often by the campus cops, both in person and in traffic, compared to their frequency in the Hyde Park as well as in the University of Chicago student population.

That’s it: those data say nothing about the inability of campus police to keep the campus safe. And the disproportionality doesn’t point to any one cause; there could be more incidents involving black people, it could be genuine bigotry and racism, or it could reflect the fact that we’re surrounded by black communities and the campus police patrol a much larger area of the South Side than just Hyde Park. (Hyde Park extends south for 8 blocks, from 51st street to 59th Street, while the campus cops patrol 27 blocks—from 37th to 64th Street: more than 3 times the area of Hyde Park proper, with almost all of the additional area comprising black residents.)

Is this the best that librarians can do to support their claim? Librarians? They have all the research in the world at their fingertips, and this is what they do?

There are many other demands, of course, including eliminating video surveillance in libraries, divesting from companies that use prison labor, and so on, but I’ll let you read the document itself. (I myself happen to agree that prisons should not be privatized.)

And there’s a similar list of demands representing a much more extensive group of librarians—the Association of Research Libraries:

The Association of Research Libraries (ARL) is a nonprofit organization of 124 research libraries at comprehensive, research institutions in Canada and the United States. ARL member libraries make up a large portion of the academic and research library marketplace, spending more than $1.4 billion every year on information resources and actively engaging in the development of new models of scholarly communications.

You can read their statement below. It’s mercifully shorter than the Ivy+ document, but still makes the unevidenced claim that libraries “sustain systems of inequity”. Some of the “demands” are reasonable, like ensuring that there be an equitable proportion of employees of color, but others, like “highlighting the work of theorists, educators, and other scholars who have been studying about these phenomena for decades,” represent an ideological position that is unseemly for librarians. They want to emphasize Critical Theory. (That alone has taken this group down a notch.)

But that’s just my view. It’s Friday, and I’d rather be walking along Lake Michigan (which I will) than calling out these endlessly circulating manifestos of self-flagellation and insupportable demands. So you can read this one for yourself:

It’s not, of course, that I’m in favor of racism. Rather, I’m against extreme and histrionic statements that included unfounded claims, and against proposals that restrict speech and action but do nothing to help solve the problem of racial inequality in America. And I can tell you one thing: eliminating all police, both campus and public ones, is not going to do what the proponents think it will do.

U of C English Department now accepting only grad students intending to work in Black studies

September 14, 2020 • 12:30 pm

In July I wrote about a statement that the Department of English put on its webpage—a statement about social justice that, I thought, contravened the University of Chicago’s Kalven Principles by allowing an official unit of the University to espouse and adhere to ideological principles. (Kalven encourages individual faculty to state their views, but forbids the University, with a few narrow exceptions, from adhering to any political, moral or ideological principles.) Here’s the statement, which was not an expression of individual opinion but an official position of the faculty of the English department. There are no signatures, and no dissenters.

This, I thought, violated the Kalven dictum that the University must take no political positions lest it lead to a chilling of speech and quashing of free discourse—one of the pillars of the University of Chicago. Departmental statements are equivalent to official University statements because departments are not only official units of the university, but are the very places in which saying “wrong” and “offensive” things could penalize your career, your tenure, and your promotions. Individual faculty are, as always, free to express their opinions, even on a department webpage, so long as they’re clearly described as the opinions of individuals.

But I digress. Note the following statement in the report above, issued July 20.

As part of our commitment to funding and fostering scholarship in Black studies, in the coming academic year (2020-2021) we are prioritizing consideration of applicants who work in and with Black studies for admission to our PhD program.

This has now been changed. First of all, there’s a watered-down version of the above in the English Department “news” section, while a stronger statement has migrated to the main English department page itself.  What’s interesting about the new one is that although it also purports to be the “July 2020” statement, there’s been one change (click screenshot below to see full statement):

The change, in the second paragraph above, is this statement:

For the 2020-2021 graduate admissions cycle, the University of Chicago English Department is accepting only applicants interested in working in and with Black Studies. We understand Black Studies to be a capacious intellectual project that spans a variety of methodological approaches, fields, geographical areas, languages, and time periods. For more information on faculty and current graduate students in this area, please visit our Black Studies page.   

In other words, the department isn’t just prioritizing applicants who work on Black studies, but are requiring all applicants to work on black studies. If you want to study Milton, Faulkner, Donne, Naipal, Marquez, or anybody like these, you’re flat out of luck. This is an unconscionable tilting of a department not just toward one area of English, but clearly towards an ideology that infuses black studies: Critical Race Theory. (You can see this by reading the statements above.)

Now the English department has the right to set its own curriculum, for curricular matters don’t violate the Kalven report (though the statements above do). If they want graduate students only in black studies, well, that’s their right. But it isn’t right. It’s a hamhanded attempt to be anti-racist, but at the expense of the very purpose of the university. What about all those potential applicants who want to study other areas of English, or those many professors in English that don’t do black studies? Well, it’s too bad for them.

And does anybody really think that Black studies anywhere represents an area in which all ideas are entertained and debated freely, and in which there is no received wisdom, and no statement considered off limits because it causes “harm” or “violence”? If you think that, you haven’t been following Critical Theory.

This saddens me—not because the English Department is giving more attention to race, but that it’s giving all its attention to race, at least for the time being. And insofar as Black studies hew to Critical Race Theory, this also represents a chilling of discourse. It’s part of the Awokening of the University of Chicago that I feared would come, but is not only here now, but also seems to have its nose—if not its whole head—inside the the tent.

Glenn Loury calls out his university for an official letter on racism that, he says traffics in “sophomoric nostrums.”

June 7, 2020 • 9:00 am

Glenn Loury is a well-known American author and economist, and you might have seen his hard-hitting “The Glenn Show” on Bloggingheads.tv.  Loury was the first tenured black professor of economics at Harvard, but left for Brown University—where he’s now the Merton P. Stoltz Professor of the Social Sciences and Professor of Economics—because he said his appointment at Harvard was a “mistake” (he didn’t feel sufficiently established as scholar).

On June 1, the administration of his school published a “Letter from Brown’s senior leaders“, which not only decried the police killings of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor, but also made sweeping statements about structural racism, the lack of progress in securing civil rights (“we have been here before, and in fact have never left), and, in the end, makes promises about reform:

In the weeks and months to come, we will leverage the expertise of our faculty, staff and students to develop programming, courses and research opportunities designed to advance knowledge and promote essential change in policy and practice in the name of equity and justice.

According to Loury, the letter was sent to “thousands of students, staff, and faculty”.

The letter is signed by every bigwig in the Brown administration, from the President on down through Vice Presidents, deans, executive officers and financial offers. What struck me was that although it was well intentioned, it was an ideological statement by the University itself, which would not be allowed by the University of Chicago’s Kalven Report (1967), which affirms political neutrality of a University, rejecting the idea that a University can hold a position to which all members ascribe, and leaving it up to individuals to make their own personal statements. My own view is that the University should not be issuing statements like this, soothing and empathic, but rather leave these these statements up to faculty who, after all, may dissent from a University position. If Universities start issuing statement on the issues of the day, there will be no end to it (I recommend reading the Kalven report). That, of course, doesn’t mean that the University shouldn’t emphasize its resources for those affected, as our own University’s statement did (see below).

Glenn Loury, however, has no truck with his university’s letter, and has written a scathing response in City Journal, which you can see by clicking on screenshot below:

What struck me on a first reading was how poorly written the Brown letter was, a fact that didn’t escape Loury, who said it “was obviously the product of a committee.” Loury wrote a response (it’s not clear to whom), but shared it with the City Journal website. Here are a few of his pungent remarks about the content of the Brown letter:

I wondered why such a proclamation was necessary. Either it affirmed platitudes to which we can all subscribe, or, more menacingly, it asserted controversial and arguable positions as though they were axiomatic certainties. It trafficked in the social-justice warriors’ pedantic language and sophomoric nostrums. It invoked “race” gratuitously and unreflectively at every turn. It often presumed what remains to be established. It often elided pertinent differences between the many instances cited. It read in part like a loyalty oath. It declares in every paragraph: “We Hold These Truths to Be Self-Evident.”

And just what truths are these? The main one: that racial domination and “white supremacy” define our national existence even now, a century and a half after the end of slavery.

I deeply resented the letter. First of all, what makes an administrator (even a highly paid one, with an exalted title) a “leader” of this university? We, the faculty, are the only “leaders” worthy of mention when it comes to the realm of ideas. Who cares what some paper-pushing apparatchik thinks? It’s all a bit creepy and unsettling. 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?

And that’s why the University shouldn’t speak with one voice, for there may be faculty who dissent from that voice.

You have to admire Loury’s moxie; after all, he’s calling out his own bosses, though of course he’s tenured and can’t be fired. He goes on (the bolding is mine):

They write sentences such as this: “We have been here before, and in fact have never left.” Really? This is nothing but propaganda. Is it supposed to be self-evident that every death of an “unarmed black man” at the hands of a white person tells the same story? They speak of “deep-rooted systems of oppression; legacies of hate.” No elaboration required here? No specification of where Brown might stand within such a system? No nuance or complexity? Is it obvious that “hate”—as opposed to incompetence, or fear, or cruelty, or poor training, or lack of accountability, or a brutal police culture, or panic, or malfeasance—is what we observed in Minneapolis? We are called upon to “effect change.” Change from what to what, exactly? Evidently, we’re now all charged to promote the policy agenda of the “progressive” wing of American politics. Is this what a university is supposed to be doing?

I must object. This is no reasoned ethical reflection. Rather, it is indoctrination, virtue-signaling, and the transparent currying of favor with our charges. The roster of Brown’s “leaders” who signed this manifesto in lockstep remind me of a Soviet Politburo making some party-line declaration. I can only assume that the point here is to forestall any student protests by declaring the university to be on the Right Side of History.

What I found most alarming, though, is that no voice was given to what one might have thought would be a university’s principal intellectual contribution to the national debate at this critical moment: namely, to affirm the primacy of reason over violence in calibrating our reactions to the supposed “oppression.” Equally troubling were our president’s promises to focus the university’s instructional and research resources on “fighting for social justice” around the world, without any mention of the problematic and ambiguous character of those movements which, over the past two centuries or more, have self-consciously defined themselves in just such terms—from the French and Russian Revolutions through the upheavals of the 1960s.

My bottom line: I’m offended by the letter. It frightens, saddens, and angers me.

Brown’s letter is in fact a social-justice screed, not affirming the values of the University to teach or foster critical discussion, but rather presuming unanimous adherence to an approved ideology. Granted, I happen to agree with most of that ideology—but not completely, for, as Loury implies, the Brown letter echoes the Critical-Racism-Theory tone of the New York Times’s 1619 Project. As the Kalven report said half a century ago, a university “is not a club, it is not a trade association, it is not a lobby.”

Brown, of course, has long been a woke university, so its response is not surprising. What did surprise me is that The University of Chicago also issued a letter from our provost—one similar to Brown’s. It’s not nearly as social-justicey, though it does mention “the intractable scourge of racism” (I prefer to think that racism isn’t intractable), and calls attention to various university resources that might be useful to students in these troubled times.  And of course I agree with nearly all of it. My point is that it pretends that we have a collective position when we don’t, just as Loury dissents from his own University’s “official” letter. I remind you again of what the Kalven report says, and I’ve emphasized the last paragraph:

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.

“Endangering the conditions for its existence and effectiveness” means converging on a single acceptable political opinion from which dissent is unacceptable. By all means anybody, from the President to the Provost to the faculty, can expound their own personal opinions. But they should not issue them under the imprimatur of the University, which promulgates the incorrect view that all of us agree with everything in the letter.

h/t: cesar


NIH gets into the game of requiring job candidates to show track records of promoting diversity

February 2, 2020 • 10:30 am

At the end of last year, I pointed out that the University of California system was implementing a new procedure for hiring faculty. It involved candidates submitting “diversity statements” that recounted their knowledge about diversity, their past efforts to increase diversity in their institutions, and their plans for promoting diversity if they were hired.

While I favor a form of affirmative action to increase diversity in hiring, I objected to the diversity-statement procedure because it not only demands adherence to a specific ideology (candidates’ diversity statements were scored on a point system, with higher points given to those whose statements matched the philosophy of the evaluators), but also gives the diversity statement priority over all other qualifications: if a candidate’s diversity score didn’t meet or exceed the cutoff threshold of 11 points, the application was discarded without further review.

This procedure is unfair because of its use of an ideological test, because it doesn’t count other “outreach” activities that are valuable but don’t promote diversity (e.g., giving talks to high school children, writing popular articles on science), and because it bars minority candidates who haven’t engaged in diversity-promoting activities before they apply for jobs.

Imagine, for example, an African-American scholar who has spent her time with her nose to the grindstone, accumulating an admirable academic and teaching record without having had the time or the will to promote diversity. As valuable as she would be to a department—and believe me, universities are desperately looking for good minority candidates—she wouldn’t have a chance of being hired under this “threshold” process. (Such scholars exist, for I know of some.) I find this process ludicrous and counterproductive, as I find the use of all mandatory diversity statements.

Now, however, according to this report in Science magazine, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) is giving a ton of money to 12 universities for “cluster hires” (groups of people hired at once to beef up programs)—and that hiring process, even if not designed to increase diversity, will require every candidate not just to submit a diversity statement, but to show a “track record” of working to promote diversity. (“Diversity”, as always, means racial and gender diversity, not any kind of intellectual, class, geographic, or economic diversity.)

Click on the screenshot to read the news item:

The article reports that the NIH is appropriating $241 million to create a program called Faculty Institutional Recruitment for Sustainable Transformation (FIRST). This will provide roughly $20 million to each of a dozen schools, each aliquot supporting a “cluster hire” of ten new faculty members.  Cluster hires have been used to increase diversity, but also for non-diversity initiatives, like “[accelerating] their capacity to do research in an emerging area, such as computational biology or nanofabrication.”

And the NIH initiative, despite having both diversity goals and “emerging area” goals, is requiring every candidate to prove that they have already promoted diversity. Note that this statement is required because restricting hires to individuals from underrepresented groups is illegal for the NIH. Here’s the crucial statement from the article (my emphasis):

Not all of the 120 new hires would need to belong to groups now underrepresented in academic medicine, which include women, black people, Hispanics, Native Americans, and those with disabilities, says Hannah Valantine, NIH’s chief diversity officer. In fact, she told the Council of Councils at its 24 January meeting, any such restriction would be illegal and also run counter to the program’s goal of attracting world-class talent. But Valantine says every person hired must have a track record of working to change a culture that too often makes scientists from underrepresented groups feel unwelcome on campus and isolated in the laboratory.

This is pretty explicit in imposing a diversity-promoting test on the cluster hires. Every person hired must have a track record. That again leaves out minority candidates who have been doing things other than “changing the culture”. (And it presumes that there is a culture that makes underrepresented scientists feel unwelcome, something for which there is no evidence save anecdotal statements.) Without that record, black or white, male or female, you don’t stand a chance of getting hired under the NIH program. And that in itself is “counter to the program’s goal of attracting world-class talent.”

Fortunately, there are organizations, like that run by Chad Topaz of Williams College, that will, for a donation, help candidates write a diversity statement. All you need is to hand over $100 or more to Topaz’s organization, and they’ll help you look like a great promoter of diversity. (I can only imagine how this works.)

Well, regardless of whether such bigotry exists (this is nearly always the default explanation for underrepresentation of some groups), there’s independent evidence of how valuable minority candidates already are in academia. As the article notes:

New faculty hires don’t come cheap. At Emory, a standard startup package for a new professor in the natural sciences or engineering exceeds $1 million, Freeman says. And Valantine says startup costs for a basic scientist with a wet lab at a medical school could run as high as $3 million. Minority scientists usually command a premium salary because they are in such high demand, Freeman notes. [JAC: Carla Freeman is Emory’s senior associate dean of the faculty.]

Yes, it’s true that minority faculty are in high demand: Chicago is always trying to hire them, but the pool of candidates is small. The failure to land such candidates surely doesn’t reflect bigotry on the part of departments, but, in my view, a paucity of candidates because of poorer educational opportunities available for minorities, including worse schools.

Factors like those make a mockery of the notion of “equal opportunity.” And yes, this lack of opportunity goes way back to bigotry that, in the case of African-Americans, started with slavery. It must be rectified, but one has to diagnose how to fix it—and the fix may not involve assuming that hiring committees are racist or sexist. My own view is that it’s going to require a lot of effort and money to equalize opportunity for all Americans from the outset of their lives, and we all know how hard that is. But it’s something we must do.

As I said, I favor affirmative action in such hires if one wants to increase diversity. But that affirmative action should have nothing to do with “diversity statements” or a track record of changing a culture that may not even exist. You just weight the underrepresented but desired characteristics during the hiring process.

The implicit assumption that bigotry accounts for the whole of minority underrepresentation in academia is probably unjustified. First, as the Science article notes, cluster hiring may be the wrong tool:

The scientific literature on cluster hiring is very thin. Freeman and administrators at a handful of other institutions provide anecdotal evidence of its value in fostering diversity, but there are no rigorous studies of how it compares to other approaches. Steven Brint, a sociologist at the University of California, Riverside, is looking at its impact on interdisciplinary collaborations, the most common goal for institutions that have tried it. And his preliminary findings on research productivity suggest cluster hiring may actually impede efforts to foster diversity.

“Overall, output increases for all researchers,” Blint says. “But the benefits are not evenly distributed. When we analyze the results by race and gender, our results suggest that senior scientists tend to benefit more from such hirings.” Not surprisingly, he adds, those senior scientists tend to be white men.

And this statement in the Science piece implicitly assumes that bias is the cause:

FIRST is the latest in a series of programs NIH has launched since 2014 following a 2011 study that showed black scientists are less likely to receive an NIH award than their white or Asian counterparts. NIH has set itself the goal of eliminating that disparity, and Valantine hopes FIRST will take an important step in that direction by using an unorthodox approach to recruiting academic researchers.

But a study published last year, which was highly anticipated, found—and, I’m sad to say, to some people’s disappointment—that there wasn’t any evidence for either race or gender bias in a detailed study of “mock evaluation” of NIH proposals. (The study isn’t perfect, but if it had shown such bias, nobody would discuss its weaknesses!) And the Science article doesn’t even mention this followup!(Click on screenshot):

But the 2011 study cited above also showed that the funding gap remained after controlling for investigators’ “educational background, country of origin, training, previous research awards, publication record, and employer characteristics”. After removing these factors, African-Americans still were 10% less likely to get an NIH award than whites. Does this prove bigotry in the process? Not necessarily, because the study below was also published last year:

It shows that a substantial amount of the NIH award disparity was due not to bigotry, but to choice of topics: black scientists were more prone to apply for funding in fields less likely to receive funding: fields involving “research at the community and population level, as opposed to more fundamental and mechanistic investigations”. It’s thus a fallacy to assume, at the outset, that a disparity in outcomes automatically reflects bigotry rather than other factors like preference.

But regardless of that, for the funding-rate disparity isn’t the main subject of this post, we still need to study racial and sex disparities, and, if they reflect factors that narrow opportunities, we need to fix those things. Since any fixes will take decades, I favor affirmative action in hiring as well as in accepting students. But I adamantly reject the use of mandatory diversity statements as a tool for promoting academic diversity. It’s the wrong fix. And now not only the University of California uses it, but at least ten other universities are poised to join in—at the behest of the federal government, of which the NIH is part.


Truman State rejects student clubs for no good reason, violating First Amendment

December 15, 2019 • 11:15 am

I once visited Truman State University (it’s in Kirksville, Missouri—Truman’s state) as a guest of Taner Edis, physicist, atheist, and anti-creationist. It was a pleasant visit, and Taner surely couldn’t have played a role in the latest shenanigans at This school, recounted in the article from FIRE (the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education) that you can see by clicking on this screenshot:

Student Naomi Mathew’s animal rights group was rejected for the “emotional risk” it could cause other students. Now she’s fighting back. (Rivera Eye Photography for FIRE)

Note that Truman State is a public university and thus subject to the strictures of the First Amendment. However, as the article recounts, the school has repeatedly turned down students’ requests to form what seem to be perfectly reasonable clubs and organizations—and has nixed them on ridiculous and subjective grounds. You can see more of this history in the letter from FIRE to the President of Truman state (pdf here).

Earlier, Truman State students sought to create a Vegetarian Club, which was rejected because an evaluator said that such a diet could be harmful to some people and that “there could be the potential risk of miseducating people interested in joining the club/lifestyle.” The club was rejected three times.

In October of this year, sophomore Naomi Mathew, pictured above, tried to start an “Animal Alliance” club to promote animal rights. Mathew did everything necessary to get official status, including procuring an advisor, identifying more than ten interested students, and filling out an application form. After a hearing, that club was also rejected because of the potential “risk brought about by [Animal Alliance’s affiliation with PETA]”, because there was “a high emotional and reputational risk” to the university, and because they were worried about having to get police for the club’s events.

FIRE’s letter shows that Truman State has a history of this kind of dumb censorship of clubs. To wit:

Note that several of these rejections involved clubs having to do with religion, and at any rate, the reasons given for rejection are laughable. But the rejections themselves are not: as FIRE argues, these are violations of the First Amendment, citing a Supreme Court decision overturning a college’s rejection of the radical Students for a Democratic Society group. The Court ruled that “denial of official recognition, without justification, to college organizations burdens or abridges [the associational right] implicit in the freedoms of speech, assembly, and petition.”

Yes, the university had “justification” to reject all these applications, but FIRE argues that the criteria it used don’t meet the objective criteria they lay out in the rules, but add subjective factors like “emotional risk” or whether they see the club’s advocates as “sufficiently passionate.” The rejection of religious clubs is particularly offensive, abrogating freedom of religion. And of course arguing against a vegetarian club because the lifestyle is unhealthy is laughable: tell that to a gazillion Indian people!  FIRE makes other arguments, too, but you can read their 12-page letter for yourself. In the net, FIRE asks for Truman State to stop using subjective criteria for evaluating clubs and organization and to recognize the Animal Alliance as a valid club. There’s also an implied threat at the end that should worry the school:

Universities may use objective criteria to grant or deny student groups’ bids for official recognition. But Truman State’s subjective process violates students’ First Amendment rights and results in a double standard, with some controversial groups approved and others ousted. FIRE will continue to monitor the situation and use all the resources at its disposal to ensure a just outcome.

Read: lawsuit, which will cost Truman State a lot of dosh and probably a legal defeat as well.

FIRE gives a contact information to Truman State as well, and I’ll be writing the President an email. It’s time for the school to stop abrogating students’ Constitutional rights. Though this sounds like a small matter, one can’t allow colleges to begin eroding the rights of students in public schools, because this truly is a slippery slope.

CONTACT: Dr. Susan Thomas, President, Truman State University: 660-785-4100; suethomas@truman.edu


The “grievance studies” hoax: a forum at the Chronicle of Higher Education

July 26, 2019 • 2:15 pm

The “grievance studies” hoax conducted by Helen Pluckrose, Peter Boghossian, and James Lindsay is now so well known that it has its own Wikipedia page. I’m sure most of you know some details: the trio wrote and submitted 20 papers to journals dealing with what they call academic “grievance studies”: cultural, queer, race, gender, fat, and sexuality studies. At least seven of the papers were published, including the famous “dog park rape culture” paper, and one even won a prize.  And one of the accepted papers was larded with extensive quotations from Mein Kampf.

Just this week Boghossian, the only hoaxer who has a formal academic position, was disciplined by Portland State University, which, although it didn’t fire him, ordered him to take training in “protection of human subjects.” Until he does that and then convinces the University he understands the rules, he cannot do sponsored research, work on human subjects, or apply for grants. (I have no idea whether he’ll comply.) He had earlier been found guilty of not protecting human subjects—not the bogus subject in the hoax papers, but the reviewers and editors who were deceived by the trio’s papers. That’s a pretty lame accusation.

My own take on this is that while the hoax was duplicitous and deliberately so, it did expose the rot in some parts of the humanities in a way that would have been hard to do by other means. I can write critiques of papers on feminist glaciology or the othering, gendering, and fat-shaming of urban squirrels, but these paper-by-paper critiques showed only that an occasional howler slips through the cracks. (These papers are, however, seen as serious scholarship.) It’s another thing entirely to confect bogus papers that align with Regressive Leftist ideology, and then get these risible “studies” published in decent journals. (One remembers Alan Sokal’s famous Social Text hoax.) In other words, Pluckrose et al. got a lot more attention than I did. And that’s fine. For they did, to my mind, expose a creeping rot in the floorboards of academic humanities, which has becoming increasingly solipsistic, tendentious, propagandistic, and devoid of critical thinking but besotted with intersectionalist ideology. Were it up to me, I would not have punished Peter.

But academics went wild with rage, for, unable to stand the idea that the humanities has been infected with tendentious pomo junk scholarship, they performed what animal behaviorists call “displacement behavior”: they ignored the message and tried to kill the messengers. And you’ll see some of that in a discussion in the Chronicle of Higher Education about the meaning of the Grievance Studies hoaxes. There are seven pieces involving eight scholars on both sides of the issue.

Click on the screenshot to read the pieces, and of course give us your own take in the comments. Below I list the authors and a snippet of their conclusions:

Quotes from the named scholars are indented; my few comments are flush left:

Yascha Mounk. a lecturer on government at Harvard University:

. . . after all, it is possible to glean valuable information from the immoral actions of evil people. And even if all of the charges laid at the feet of Lindsay, Pluckrose, and Boghossian were true, they would have demonstrated a very worrying fact: Some of the leading journals in areas like gender studies have failed to distinguish between real scholarship and intellectually vacuous as well as morally troubling bullshit.

. . one thing remains incontestable in my mind: Any academic who is not at least a little troubled by the ease with which the hoaxers passed satire off as wisdom has fallen foul to the same kind of motivated reasoning and naked partisanship that is currently engulfing the country as a whole.

Carl T. Bergstrom, professor of biology at the University of Washington:

Peer review is simply not designed to detect fraud. It doesn’t need to be. Fraud is uncovered in due course, and severe professional consequences deter almost all such behavior. Nor is the peer-review process designed to weed out every crazy idea. Given the self-correcting nature of scholarship, it is far better to let through a few bad ideas than to publish only those that are so self-evident as to be without controversy.

. . . Attacking a field with satirical nonsense is ineffectual — and just plain lazy. If a field is intellectually vacuous, it is so because its central papers and most exciting conclusions are unjustified or even absurd. To effectively criticize a field, one must engage with its central tenets, its core assumptions, its accepted methods, and its primary conclusions. And then one must show where these are mistaken, incoherent, or preposterous. Sadly, the hoaxers chose a different path. They may have created a media splash, but their stunt is a hollow exercise in mean-spirited mockery rather than a substantive critique of the field.

I disagree—it does constitute a substantive critique of standards of scholarship in several fields.

Justin E.H. Smith, professor of history and philosophy of science at the University of Paris Diderot:

Quite apart from whether “Sokal Squared” has accomplished what its authors claim, I confess I am astounded, though I really should not be by now, by the moralism and the piety toward rules and procedures that so many academics are expressing, as if hoaxing were always unethical and lacking in any potential salutary effects. These academics seem entirely unaware of the distinguished history of hoaxing, and to assume that it dates back no earlier than Sokal.

Natalia Mehlman Petrzela,  associate professor of history at the New School:

In targeting journals that focus on women and minorities, they also channeled their ire at groups still struggling for representation in the academy, from faculty hiring to footnote citations, a quantitative reality that challenges the core assumption of the “Grievance Studies” crowd: that lockstep obeisance to social-justice orthodoxy is corrupting academia. This suggests more about the hoaxers’ arrogance and the limits of their intellectual vision than it does about any inherent flaw in, say, taking seriously feminist spirituality.

. . . And that’s because the greatest crisis in academia is not the peer-review process of some small, specialized journals, but the defunding and devaluing of the humanities — including not just feminist and ethnic studies, but also history, philosophy, literature, and other fields these pranksters would likely deem worthy of continued existence. It is a sad fact that this process will only accelerate, thanks in part to a new rhetorical weapon: “grievance studies.”

Perhaps these areas of the humanities have devalued themselves. In fact, I suspect that’s the case.

David Schieber, doctoral candidate in sociology at the University of California at Los Angeles [Schieber reviewed and rejected one of the hoax papers, on masturbation as a form of violence.]

In their article announcing the hoax, the writers used selected quotes from my review to argue that I supported this paper (despite recommending a rejection). This selective use of my comments seemed disingenuous. They were turning my attempt to help the authors of a rejected paper into an indictment of my field and the journal I reviewed for, even though we rejected the paper.

Heather E. Heying, former professor of evolutionary biology at Evergreen State College:

Consider what led you into academia in the first place. If you have anything of the creator or discoverer within you, remember those drives and recognize that the rising quasi-religious zealotry from those in Grievance Studies has liberty, creativity, and discovery in its cross hairs. For the practitioners of Grievance Studies, the scientific method is a tool of the patriarchy, while beliefs outside of the narrow band of conformity required by the authoritarian left are evidence of fascist, alt-right leanings. This will sound like hyperbole to those without direct experience, but I and many others have observed it firsthand.

. . . Projects like the hoax reveal character, both good and bad. Whether out of error or expedience, many in the academy will dig in on behalf of Grievance Studies. Others will be driven by fear into silence. But if you share a deep commitment to rigorous inquiry, be one of the people who stand up and say: “This is wrong. It must stop. I will help.” Speak up in faculty meetings and in hallways. Join Heterodox Academy. Support FIRE. And when you encounter this distorted pseudo-scholarship delivered as insight, proclaim as loudly as you dare: #TheyDontSpeakForMe.

Laurie Essig, professor of gender, sexuality, and feminist studies at Middlebury College and Sujata Moorti, director and a professor in the gender, sexuality, and feminist studies program at Middlebury College:

Finally, even a cursory reading of the hoaxers’ work shows that much of what they’re claiming as proof doesn’t in fact implicate the field in anything but collegiality. Their claim that their article on the pedagogy of chaining white students received positive feedback? That’s just untrue. It was rejected. Perhaps the reviewers were simply trying to be helpful. That point gets lost in the media coverage and academic trolling from outside the field.

This “Grievance Studies” hoax belongs in a larger political and historical context. Feminist and gender studies are under attack, in Hungary, Russia, and right here in the U.S. As scholars working in the field, we should know. Our own program was attacked by the right for “causing riots” when Charles Murray came to give a talk on campus — which was untrue. This allegation was then used to bring a broader attack on the field, demanding it be shut down.

Many of us in the field receive death threats, rape threats, and calls for our non-existence. The “Sokol Squared” attack sits squarely within this larger assault, whatever the hoaxers profess of their political views or goals.

This is the ultimate displacement behavior: an attack on the hoaxers for participating in an attack on the humanities, and, of course, a victimization narrative that professors in gender and feminist studies receive death and rape threats. The latter is unfortunate, but in this case besides the point. How often do we see people cite their death threats as a substitute for defending their ideas? Of course these scholars are in feminist and gender studies, and of course they’re at Middlebury College, aka Woke University.

Book claiming that Israel deliberately maims Palestinian civilians as a form of punishment wins award in women’s studies

September 17, 2018 • 12:45 pm

According to the Algemeiner (yes, a Jewish site), a book by Jasbir Puar, Professor and Graduate Director of Women’s and Gender Studies at Rutgers University, has won one of the two 2018 Alison Piepmeier Book Prizes awarded by the National Womens Studes Association (NWSA).  According to the Association, the prize is “for a groundbreaking monograph in women, gender, and sexuality studies that makes significant contributions to feminist disability studies scholarship.”

Puar’s book, The Right to Maim: Debility, Capacity, Disability, appears to be a postmodern work, with the main thesis, according to the Algemeiner article (click on link below) being that Israel maims rather than kills Palestinians as a way to keep them under control (see also Amazon summary below):

Published in November 2017 by Duke University Press — which has come under scrutiny for its editorial advisors’ ties to the Palestinian-led boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel — the book posits that the “Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) have shown a demonstrable pattern over decades of sparing life, of shooting to maim rather than to kill.”

Yet it contends that this “purportedly humanitarian practice of sparing death by shooting to maim” is not rooted in a desire to minimize fatalities, but rather seeks to maintain “Palestinian populations as perpetually debilitated, and yet alive, in order to control them.”

The NWSA award’s review committee called The Right to Maim a “major milestone book,” which argues “that debilitation and the state production of disability are biopolitical projects both useful and productive for states under Neoliberal capitalism.”

This is the Amazon summary of the book (click on cover photo below to go there), so the Algemeiner apparently isn’t exaggerating the book’s thesis (my emphasis below):

In The Right to Maim Jasbir K. Puar brings her pathbreaking work on the liberal state, sexuality, and biopolitics to bear on our understanding of disability. Drawing on a stunning array of theoretical and methodological frameworks, Puar uses the concept of “debility”—bodily injury and social exclusion brought on by economic and political factors—to disrupt the category of disability. She shows how debility, disability, and capacity together constitute an assemblage that states use to control populations. Puar’s analysis culminates in an interrogation of Israel’s policies toward Palestine, in which she outlines how Israel brings Palestinians into biopolitical being by designating them available for injury. Supplementing its right to kill with what Puar calls the right to maim, the Israeli state relies on liberal frameworks of disability to obscure and enable the mass debilitation of Palestinian bodies. Tracing disability’s interaction with debility and capacity, Puar offers a brilliant rethinking of Foucauldian biopolitics while showing how disability functions at the intersection of imperialism and racialized capital. [JAC: reread that last sentence.]

I won’t go into the other article describing the ties of the Duke University Press to the BDS movement, but you might have a look at the link, because the claims, if true, are disturbing. It’s all part of academia’s continual demonization of Israel, which in this case seems to be based on deliberate distortion and lying, in contrast to the academically-approved extolling the Palestinian government, one of the most repressive and mendacious regimes around (propagandizing kids with anti-Semitic messages, using human shields, and so on). [NOTE: I was referring here to the government, not the people themselves. Though a lot of Palestinians behave reprehensibly under the sway of religiously-born hatred, I did not mean to imply that all or most of them do.]

I’ve requested the book on interlibrary loan so I can have a look at it it, but apparently it’s all online, as the Algemeiner piece gives this link.  Given the last sentence of the H-Disability review below, I don’t think I’ll enjoy the book.


This is from a review in H-Disability by M. Lynn Rose (my emphasis):

Chapter 3, “Disabled Diaspora, Rehabilitating State: The Queer Politics of Reproduction in Palestine/Israel” takes up “pinkwashing,” which is, Puar claims, Israel’s use of gay rights propaganda to detract attention from its occupation of Palestine. The focus on inclusivity, she asserts, is limited to cisgender and gender conformity, and stands beside gender segregation in Orthodox Jewish communities. In establishing Israel as a rehabilitative act (rehabilitating the debilitations of statelessness and genocide), the model Jewish body was decidedly nondisabled, masculine, and heterosexual. Rehabilitation banished the “Oriental” in the European Jew, recreated Europe in Palestine, and conceptually separated the Jew from the Arab. The fear of maiming then becomes “a spectacular imperial tool, projecting the fear of maiming by Palestinians onto Palestinians through the debilitating effects of the occupation; this mechanism is the displacement necessary to secure able-bodied citizenry of Israel” (p. 107).

“Will Not Let Die: Debilitation and Inhuman Biopolitics in Palestine,” chapter 4, focuses on the population targeted for injury, moving on from the focus in previous chapters on the population that is available for injury. Israel maintains biopolitical control through maiming, not killing; maiming, Puar claims, poses as a humanitarian manifestation of a “let live” mentality, but is actually a manifestation of the mentality of “will not let die” (p. 139). The section “No Future” takes up the fate of Palestinian children, targeted for stunting, PTSD, gunshot wounds, and so on. Puar calls her analysis an “anti-Zionist hermeneutic” (p. 153). “The ultimate purpose of this analysis,” she writes, coming full circle from her opening statement, “is to labor in the service of a Free Palestine” (p. 154).

The postscript, “Treatment without Checkpoints,” looks at debility within disability among the disability service providers at the checkpoints in Palestine, then extends the concept to other populations. Debilitated disability as a result of collective punishment demands a complicated activism. The desire for mobility extends beyond the individual body to the collective displaced population. Progress in achieving a positive disability identity, Puar concludes, will not come about until the end of Palestinian occupation.

The Right to Maim is not written for a general audience. It is a theoretical investigation into the meanings of disability, debility, capacity, queerness, and race in global biopolitical contexts. As such, it is not for everyone. Readers who have never worked their way through Mitchell and Snyder’s Narrative Prosthesis, for example, will find this work slow going. I do not see its place in any undergraduate class, though it could be useful in theory-based graduate seminars. Readers who are fluent in theoretical scholarship, especially in disability theory, will find this to be a fulfilling read.

The “pinkwashing” canard, in which gay rights in Israel were supposedly allowed as a distraction from the country’s nefarious colonizing desires, is simply stupid. If the Orthodox Jews demonize gays, then that’s their right, but they aren’t allowed to violate the law. But beside that stands the arrant fact that Palestine, along with many other Muslim lands in the Middle East has no gay rights at all! Being gay in Palestine will put you perilously close to execution, as it will in Iran, Pakistan, and other places. It’s ridiculously but conventionally postmodern to raise the cry of pinkwashing—an accusation which there’s no evidence save anti-Semitism—while ignoring the blatant homophobia (indeed, making gay acts capital crimes) of Muslim countries. Puar’s emphasis on pinkwashing discredits her as an objective scholar. But of course she’s not objective, as you can see in the second paragraph of the H-Disability review.

Puar’s claim that Israel aims to maim the Palestinians as punishment and control, a ridiculous claim on the face of it, is clearly in the service of her agenda: “to labor in the service of a Free Palestine.” Can anyway take her lucubrations seriously when she so openly states her aim? Regardless, however, I’ll look very carefully for evidence that Israeli government policy is to maim Palestinians as a tool to subjugate them. Until now I always thought that BDS and anti-Zionist claim was that Israel simply wanted to kill noncombatant Palestinians (something I see no evidence for, either), but now it’s devolved to maiming them. And if Israel shoots to maim people rather than kill them if those people are attacking Israeli soliders or civilians, I’d find that admirable rather than detestable. Isn’t it better to shoot someone in the legs than to kill them? If you wanted to control a populace, wouldn’t it be better to kill them rather than maim them? Isn’t death a better deterrent than maiming?

But of course no matter what Israel does to defend itself, it’s going to be criticized. I’m simply waiting for people like Puar to call out the Palestinians for firing rockets at civilian populations, using small children to build tunnels for terrorism, using human shields, and demonizing homosexuals (after all, Puar is involved in queer studies.)

We’ll wait a long time for that, as Puar has not just a beam in her eye, but a whole truckload of them. And her goal, as she stated, is to “labor in the service of a free Palestine”, which may well mean the elimination of Israel as well.

And shame on Duke University Press, Rutgers, and the NWSA for giving awards for and taking so seriously the brand of ideologically-motivated “scholarship” practiced by people like Puar. (I will of course revise my opinion if I find any evidence for her thesis.) In the meantime, this looks like just another example of academia rewarding anti-Semitism. I suppose academic discourse and publishing has always been arcane and ideological, but never in my lifetime have I seen it be so tendentious—at least in the humanities.

If you want to listen to Puar yourself, here’s nearly two hours of her 2013 keynote address from CLAGS’ (The Center for LGBTQ Studies) conference on Homonationalism and Pinkwashing at The Graduate Center, CUNY, New York City. Her talk begins at 02:45.