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I Don’t Debate

Professor Chad Topaz’s latest twitter thread deserves a thorough fisking. Key section:

Key sentence:

I don’t debate social justice.

What are we to make of this?

1) I believe Topaz. He has no interest in a debate. (I reached out to him and received no response.)

2) There is a long tradition at Williams of refusing to debate, although it has been somewhat dormant in the last 50 years. The ministers who started Williams had no interest in debating the divinity of Christ. Mark Hopkins refused to allow Ralph Waldo Emerson on campus. Adam Falk banned John Derbyshire. Can any historians flesh out the attitude of Williams faculty toward debate during the 19th century? Topaz is a modern version of that worldview.

3) Nothing wrong with a refusal to debate, of course, if, that is, you are running a Madrassa. Is that what Williams is? I hope not!

4) I have no objection to Williams professors who prefer to have nothing to do with Topic X. Life is short! They are busy with their students and their research. But it seems unusual for a professor, like Topaz, to be so engaged in social justice issues — as he obviously is — and yet, at the same time, to refuse to discuss/debate the topic. Most SJW professors won’t shut up about social justice.

5) I recommend that Topaz’s opponents, like Professor Colin Adams, publicly challenge him to a debate about diversity statements and the desirability of publishing the views of their critics.

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9 Comments To "I Don’t Debate"

#1 Comment By Whitney Wilson ’90 On December 2, 2019 @ 12:18 pm

It seems like Prof. Topaz’s twitter feed is private.

#2 Comment By David Dudley Field ’25 On December 2, 2019 @ 3:05 pm

In fact, he has now deleted all his old tweets. Nothing wrong with that!

#3 Comment By That Guy On December 3, 2019 @ 11:30 am

Lol, ok, let’s demand a public debate with Ephblog on the topic “you guys are a bunch of douchebags.” Refusal to participate in this debate means Ephblog is a Madrassa.

#4 Comment By Chief Eph On December 3, 2019 @ 6:43 pm

Nothing wrong with a refusal to debate, of course, if, that is, you are running a Madrassa. Is that what Williams is? I hope not!

Madrassas are schools of Islamic law and theology. Tremendous debate and discourse happens within these institutions, as scholars and clerics negotiate interpretations of the Quran, historical precedent for juris prudence, and circumstantial/time-dependent changes – the effects of which are felt by anywhere from the millions of adherents to a particular school of law to the over billion followers of Islam. Certainly more debate happens within these institutions than at elite American colleges. Further, the extent to which certain madrassas were hotbeds of extremism is the same extent to which churches in the US have been hotbeds for prejudice, hatred, discrimination etc…

Choose your words more wisely, as your ignorance continues to depreciate the value of being a Williams alumnus.

#5 Comment By a_sunny_moo On December 3, 2019 @ 11:12 pm

Chief Eph: Although DDF goes too far, his comparison to a madrassa is fairly apt. The whole point is that in a madrassa one may discuss many aspects of Islam without ever addressing the most fundamental question: is Islam the one true religion? Similarly, Professor Topaz may well be willing to discuss some of the finer points of how to best practice social justice, but is apparently unwilling to debate Social Justice as a concept (or the need for diversity statements).

#6 Comment By abl On December 4, 2019 @ 12:06 am

Chad is a math professor. I don’t think there’s anything particularly unfair or oppressive about a math professor wanting to discuss social justice issues online without debating fundamental questions about social justice (such as ‘should we strive for social justice?’). As a general matter, it’s entirely appropriate for anyone, especially professors, to define the desired scope of a discussion. Doing so often makes discussions far more productive. A science teacher might say, for instance, that she is unwilling to debate the scientific method. I don’t think a science classroom with such an expectation is “like a madrassa” in the sense that David’s getting at above.

#7 Comment By a_sunny_moo On December 4, 2019 @ 7:23 am

abl: Of course Professor Topaz can assert whatever he likes (although I think his calls for publicly shaming Professor Thompson were mean and undignified, the type of behavior I’ve grown to expect from Trump and some of his acolytes but not from a Williams professor).

That said, I find it disheartening when intelligent people take ideas for granted. When a science teacher doesn’t debate the scientific method, I think that (a) it’s a bit of a lost educational opportunity, and (b) it’s quite likely that she has thought critically about the scientific method earlier in her life. Has Professor Topaz ever questioned the efficacy of diversity statements? I can’t know the answer. But if he hasn’t—if he’s unwilling to consider that question—then we’ve entered religious territory, and the madrassa analogy becomes reasonable.

#8 Comment By That Guy On December 4, 2019 @ 9:47 am

Chief Eph is of course correct, and I regret adopting the erroneous Madrassa analogy in my comment. I hereby revise it to say: Let’s demand a public debate with Ephblog on the topic “you guys are a bunch of douchebags.” Refusal to participate in this debate means Ephblog is a bunch of douchebags.

#9 Comment By Aidan On December 4, 2019 @ 12:21 pm

I just stopped by to comment that “Chad Topaz” sounds like Tom Wolfe was bored while ideating character names.