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A major flaw in a critique of leadership

At this moment I enter the tragicomedy briefly. I left Williams two months before all of this took off. Before I knew I’d be departing, I chaired a committee responsible for managing Hollander Hall, the very building afflicted by this outrage. After I left, Prof. Keith McPartland took charge in my place. This landed him in a hard spot, because it turns out that that pile of nonsense violates state fire safety regulations, and is probably also contrary to accessibility standards. Staff, however, were presumably too terrified to touch any of it, lest they get fired. So McPartland did what I hope to god I would’ve had the courage to do, had it been me. Because he enjoyed some measure of protection as a tenured professor, he consulted with campus security and then boxed up the offending portions of the memorial himself. As he did this, students confronted him, but he carried on. That night, faculty offices were papered with posters denouncing McPartland as a racist for his trouble.

Maud Mandel, the weak and indecisive president that Williams so richly deserves, then did exactly what you might expect. She took to her email and promptly denounced her committee chair for doing his job.

 

Does anyone else see the major flaw in this critique of Mandel’s performance on this issue? It jumps off the page. Knibbs’ should be challenged on this particular point, as well as the logic (critical of Mandel) that follows.

McPartland had an obligation to tell President Mandel what he was doing so she was not blindsided by his action. The climate was such that this decision he had to make was going to get to the president’s desk. Going rogue on it was a mistake.

That’s not to say McPartland deserved what happened afterwards, but middle managers should understand structure and issues enough to know when to inform higher managers of something controversial.

 

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Against Race Theology, 5

Former Williams History Professor Eric Knibbs wrote “Against Race Theology, or: Williams College is Everywhere Now,” the most scathing attack on the culture that is Williams is years. (Hat-tip to John Drew.) Let’s spend a week going through the highlights of the article, centered around last year’s controversies about White Male Vigilantes, self-CARE Now and Green/Love Black Joy. Professor Knibbs will be responding to (some) comments here.

Knibbs concludes:

Now that Williams College is everywhere, it is worth asking what we can learn from this mess. Perhaps the most obvious is the principle of the high-low alliance, between woke junior faculty and student activists on the one hand; and the highest reaches of the administration on the other. Williams protests like this were coordinated, quietly but surely, by elements within the Williams faculty and particularly the administration. Twenty-foot posters denouncing white people are not the kinds of things that tend to emerge without institutional support. The diversity brigadiers at the bottom almost always end up demanding more administrators, and more power for the administration, at the top. The high and the low array themselves, naturally, against their common enemy in the middle, that is to say those elements with which the administrators are in competition for resources and authority, and who enjoy a regard and security that the lower side of the alliance covets. This common enemy is nothing other than the traditional stuff of higher education itself: the departments and rank-and-file tenured faculty. The American race protests, too, are supported in ways direct and indirect by powerful state and corporate elements, for their own purposes of defeating common, perceived enemies in the middle.

Above all, though, it is the total hollowness of the activists‘ ideology and their complaints that is most salient here. The message of the Williams activists in Spring 2019 had nothing in it that was true, or well-argued, or convincing, or even worth entertaining for a moment. At no point in this embarrassing parody of protest did the facts of what had happened matter at all. It didn’t matter that McPartland did the right thing, it didn’t matter that the memorialized professors, far from dead, were enjoying a semester of unearned leave, it didn’t matter that they hardly bothered to articulate a coherent, specific complaint at all. This didn’t matter to the activists, but it didn’t matter to the administration either. To the end people like Mandel pretended that their cause was justified.

What mattered in these protests was only the flat, atemporal tenets of Race Theology. Events on the ground were forced, however they might fit, into the prefabricated moulds of imagined heresies and an entirely mystical racism. This Race Theology is the very same collection of circular doctrines that all of the protesters are now repeating and spray-painting in cities across the world. These diverge more and more from reality, the more they are elaborated and repeated. This is not the ideology of the oppressed, but the official religion of a comfortable establishment, so confident in its power that it need not justify itself. In fact it is eager to find new ways of provoking and offending. The more ground Race Theology is ceded, the more it will demand. There’s no arguing against it, there’s no convincing or appeasing the race theologians. There is only an opting out of their religion. If enough people do that, they’ll lose their power and their political protection. So, in my small way, I opt out of their enterprise. That’s all.

The Second Coming by William Butler Yeats.

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

If every professor who feels like Knibbs opts out, then what will remain? Where will Williams be in 10 or 50 years? Where will America be? The rest of Yeats’ poem is not cheerful.

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

I had trouble deciding how to end this post. My natural optimism argues that this is a phase, no worse than the 60s/70s, which will pass with time. Williams will always be Williams. The old man in me knows that more than one faculty member at Williams would look at a job application from Eric Knibbs (or me or anyone non-liberal) with a “gaze blank and pitiless as the sun.”

What do readers think?

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Against Race Theology, 4

Former Williams History Professor Eric Knibbs wrote “Against Race Theology, or: Williams College is Everywhere Now,” the most scathing attack on the culture that is Williams is years. (Hat-tip to John Drew.) Let’s spend a week going through the highlights of the article, centered around last year’s controversies about White Male Vigilantes, self-CARE Now and Green/Love Black Joy. Professor Knibbs will be responding to (some) comments here.

Now it is a remarkable thing, that wherever diversity, inclusion and equity are promoted as the highest ideals, you achieve nothing but ever new heights of conformity, social division and unfairness. The truth is that establishing in-groups (“inclusivity”) has a corollary, namely the definition of out-groups, and so you’re just as likely to foster feelings of community by defining and excluding outsiders, as you are to unleash the forces of the cultural revolution upon supposed ideological opponents (“racists”) by demanding a duplicitous inclusion.

Exactly right. I am curious, however, what pragmatic advice Knibbs might offer to Maud? Take as given Maud’s goals: For Williams to remain the top liberal arts college and for Maud’s life to be pleasant. What would Knibbs have her do?

My advice is the same as always: Admit 25 boisterous conservative students in each class. Hire a dozen or so outspoken conservative/libertarian/republican faculty. Show the campus left that there is another side which they need to take seriously. And then stand above the fray! That is a pleasant place to be! When the Left comes with their demands, just ask them to convince the Right first. Set up campus discussion and debates. Let them fight each other.

Because I am a bad person, I love when Knibbs gets catty.

The protesters, meanwhile, kept protesting. At the end of February they organized something called the March for the Damned, which professed „radical love“ for the two professors who were refusing to do their jobs. A semester is a long time to be on strike, so there were always new opportunities to memorialize the absent profs. The issue became a vector for personal animosities, as an unpleasant professor of American Studies named Dorothy Wang staged a spat with the equally unpleasant chair of the English department in front of some students. An investigation was launched; the student-witnesses were summoned to the offices of high administrators to give evidence. Fashionable and self-important people demanded that the English department chair, herself a committed proponent of all the most fashionable leftisms, resign.

1) Perhaps I have been too easy on Katie Kent ’88? If Knibbs has stories about just how “unpleasant” she is, then we want to hear them at EphBlog.

2) There is a great story to be told about Dorothy Wang’s hiring at Williams. “Sure,” those poor old bastards in the faculty thought, “she seems a little off and lefty, but her research is solid and she’ll make a good teacher. And the Dean says we need some minority women. What’s the worst that could happen?”

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Against Race Theology, 3

Former Williams History Professor Eric Knibbs wrote “Against Race Theology, or: Williams College is Everywhere Now,” the most scathing attack on the culture that is Williams is years. (Hat-tip to John Drew.) Let’s spend a week going through the highlights of the article, centered around last year’s controversies about White Male Vigilantes, self-CARE Now and Green/Love Black Joy. Professor Knibbs will be responding to (some) comments here.

Knibbs summarizes the craziness of last year well. He is not a fan of Maud Mandel:

Student activists developed a protest cult to their absent professors [Green and Love]. They established an impromptu “memorial” in the hallway where both had their offices. This consisted primarily of copies of the Record with its libelous headline, as well as strings and other bits of garbage.

At this moment I enter the tragicomedy briefly. I left Williams two months before all of this took off. Before I knew I’d be departing, I chaired a committee responsible for managing Hollander Hall, the very building afflicted by this outrage. After I left, Prof. Keith McPartland took charge in my place. This landed him in a hard spot, because it turns out that that pile of nonsense violates state fire safety regulations, and is probably also contrary to accessibility standards. Staff, however, were presumably too terrified to touch any of it, lest they get fired. So McPartland did what I hope to god I would’ve had the courage to do, had it been me. Because he enjoyed some measure of protection as a tenured professor, he consulted with campus security and then boxed up the offending portions of the memorial himself. As he did this, students confronted him, but he carried on. That night, faculty offices were papered with posters denouncing McPartland as a racist for his troubles.

Maud Mandel, the weak and indecisive president that Williams so richly deserves, then did exactly what you might expect. She took to her email and promptly denounced her committee chair for doing his job.

We were critical of Maud’s actions last year, but not nearly as critical as Knibbs is here. Were we too generous? Is he unfair?

There is a lot to say about this disgraceful, pandering note. That she doesn’t name the committee chair who did what was necessary matters not at all. Everyone, including me, a whole continent away, knew who it was. The tepid hand-wringing, the saccharine morality, the vagueness as to fact and circumstance: All are characteristic of the administrative rhetoric cultivated at expensive schools like Williams. These are letters that communicate nothing clearly save for the emotional state of their authors. The professors not teaching, but retaining their jobs and collecting a salary, are here said to be undergoing “a difficult time.” And Mandel could hardly pass up the chance to suggest that it was the free speech of Profs. Green and Love and their student supporters that was threatened. Thus she cast herself as guardian of the free expression of those selfsame activists whose histrionics were one battle in a wider campaign to deny free speech to everyone else. A leftist protester is gently prevented from violating fire regulations: For Mandel that’s a free-speech issue. Some faculty signed a thing and have a meeting about the Chicago principles: Speech harms, people at the meeting are told; and the administration rings its hands about how deeply complex it all is. The result is that everyone, including free speech activists, defends all manner of disruptive campus leftist performativity, while only a few people bother to defend anyone else’s right to speak. The only unopposed voices on campus? People like Prof. Green, who feared at one point that their program chair was plotting their assassination.

Green is, clearly, mentally ill. How long will they be teaching at Williams?

Relenting does not quiet the mob. It emboldens its worst actors.

Indeed. But doesn’t Maud deserve some credit for standing up to folks like Green/Love/others by restoring free speech to Williams? Knibbs seems to judge Maud against some (unobtainable?) standard of what a Williams president ought to be. I judge her against the standard of other liberal art college presidents. Which is the fair comparison?

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Against Race Theology, 2

Former Williams History Professor Eric Knibbs wrote “Against Race Theology, or: Williams College is Everywhere Now,” the most scathing attack on the culture that is Williams is years. (Hat-tip to John Drew.) Let’s spend a week going through the highlights of the article, centered around last year’s controversies about White Male Vigilantes, self-CARE Now and Green/Love Black Joy. Professor Knibbs will be responding to (some) comments here.

Knibbs begins:

TLDR: What, a few years ago, seemed like the regrettable yet limited excesses of the campus left, has suddenly become a political force in the wider world. The Race Theology promoted by schools like Williams College is everywhere now. It’s important that reasonable people who are not part of this dubious religious revival voice their dissent. That is what this page is. It represents my own thoughts, and my own thoughts alone.

What do our readers think? Is “Race Theology” a useful name? I prefer The Great Awokening myself.

Politics is not what this website is about, and mainstream political debates have never interested me. In the last few weeks, however, it has become impossible to escape the indignities of political discourse. That’s particularly the case since I set up a twitter account to drive some traffic to my academic blog. My time on twitter has proved disappointing, and in some ways it has radicalized me. Judging from many tweets published there, a great part of those people who claim to be scholars in fact devote astounding energy to careening from one fashion-forward moral grievance to the next, all with a completely grating tonal confidence.

Outside of the bourgeois professorsphere, I have been amused to find people marveling at an article by Jonathan Chait in New York Magazine. It’s about an episode of progressive hyperventilation, in which a lot of race botherers and diversity brigadiers crybullied some data analyst out of his job, for the crime of summarizing a political science paper that they found inconvenient.

The emails that Chait quotes are absolutely, to the word, the tone of discussion in American academia, as I experienced it in my time as an assistant and then associate professor of history at Williams College. The people in those emails are engaging in a power process that is well-established among the American intelligentsia. If you don’t like somebody in these circles, this is one way to shut them up and shut them down. It is the way of things at faculty meetings; at talks and lectures; at student protests especially; and anywhere that administrators are likely to gather.

Surely all EphBlog readers agree that David Shor’s firing was absurd. (Right?) But it is one thing to note craziness somewhere. It is another to claim that this craziness is endemic at Williams. We have faculty readers. Is this a far description of Williams today?

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Against Race Theology, 1

Former Williams History Professor Eric Knibbs wrote “Against Race Theology, or: Williams College is Everywhere Now,” the most scathing attack on the culture that is Williams in years. (Hat-tip to John Drew.) Let’s spend a week going through the highlights of the article, centered around last year’s controversies about White Male Vigilantes, self-CARE Now and Green/Love Black Joy. Professor Knibbs will be responding to (some) comments here.

Let’s start with some of Drew’s comments:

Eric describes what it was like to be a recently tenured history professor at Williams College during the 2018-2019 school year. This was a year which white liberal professors found themselves under attack for not being sufficiently woke. He does a compelling job of describing what it was like working for an institution while it was under siege by radical CARE Now students. These students were opponents of modest efforts to bring the Chicago Principles to Williams College and the ardent acolytes of two of the most ridiculous black professors to ever teach at the campus.

What is most alarming to Eric Knibbs today is that the madness he saw taking place at Williams College now seems to be straightforward vision of what violent Antifa terrorists, enraged peaceful protesters, and statue molesters want to impose on the entire country.

I think it is important to read his article in full. Mainly, it demonstrates that it is not so funny to be face-to-face with leftist, extremist students who are quick to assert racism as the motive for anything they dislike. These students have little to lose and nevertheless appear to have more influence with the administration than a well-meaning professor like Eric Knibbs. I should add that the article also displays Knibbs’ entertaining writing, ability to explain things simply, and his conscientious research. His article is a telling reminder of what an elite Williams College professor would be like in a culture that promoted merit rather than identity politics.

Exactly right. I was very sad when Knibbs announced that he was leaving Williams.

There is a great Record article to be written about Knibbs and his critics.

Note: Comments which pick a personal fight with JCD will be deleted instantly. Better topic: Do you agree or disagree with his summary of Knibb’s article?

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Doctrine Propounded

Interesting comment on pronouns from Professor Eric Knibbs:

In 2015 it was still OK to refer to “preferred pronouns.” The same was true in 2016. Right now staff hiring guidelines still suggest asking after a candidate’s “preferred pronoun” (expand “Marital/Family Status” at the bottom).

Clarity from the office of the Dean of the Faculty on when “preferred pronouns” became prohibited would be very helpful.

The LGTBQ Life at Williams page has an entire discourse on pronouns that appears at points to use “non-binary” and “gender-neutral” interchangeably, contrary to the doctrine propounded by the Dean of the Faculty.

References to “male pronoun(s)” and (less commonly) “female pronoun(s)” are scattered across the web presence of Williams College.

Read the whole thread for interesting discussion. Knibbs should join us as an author. (What is the point of tenure if not to have fun on EphBlog?!) We need more contributions from faculty!

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