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Admit Your Privilege, 6

Associate Professor of Biology Luana Maroja‘s report about the state of free speech at Williams is the most important statement from a member of the faculty in years. Let’s go through it. Day 6.

Furthermore you can learn a lot from arguments you disagree with—something I have learned listening to creationists, climate denialists and even some bigots. I emphasized that the reason we want free speech is not because we want to invite bigots, but because we don’t want to see discussion shut down. The recent cancellation in theater shows how “protection” of feelings actually hurt African-Americans (the artist who wrote the play)! Students are hurting the very cause they think they are defending.

Finally, I re-emphasized that invitation is not the same as disinvitation: the Chicago Statement has rules on what to do once someone is invited, and has no guidelines about who should be invited. Furthermore, the guidelines allow disinvitations for extremist speakers who poses a genuine physical threat to individuals.

1) Just how much time has Maroja spent listening to creationists? Maybe quite a bit, depending on the social milieu in which she was raised in Brazil. But lately? And just what did she “learn?”

2) How does Maroja define “climate denialists?” I know as much about the scientific literature associated with climate change as Maroja, whose field is biology. Why does she insist on insulting people like me by comparing us to those who deny the Holocaust?

3) “the reason we want free speech is not because we want to invite bigots” — Who is the “we” in this sentence? As long as Muroja (and the rest of the faculty . . . and all the students . . .) have no interest in bringing “bigots” — as defined by CARE Now — then there isn’t a problem. In fact, there is no need for the Chicago Statement!

4) Does the Chicago Statement really have “no guidelines about who should be invited?” Key sentence:

Because the University is committed to free and open inquiry in all matters, it guarantees all members of the University community the broadest possible latitude to speak, write, listen, challenge and learn.

Almost everyone involved in this debate believes that this applies to the right of faculty/students to invite whoever they want to campus, so that they can “listen” to them. This is the same right that faculty/students at places like Berkeley and Michigan take for granted.

Does Muroja understand this key point? To the extent that she wants the College to adopt the Chicago Statement, or something like it, the best rhetoric will focus on the rights of students/faculty. Students/faculty hate to be told that they can’t do X. They would be enraged to know that they can’t do X while their counterparts at Umass/Michigan/Berkeley can do X. That framing would maximize support for something like the Chicago Statement.

Indeed, this framing provides a way for President Mandel to solve the problem in a particularly Williams fashion.

The Mandel Doctrine: Williams College enforces fewer restrictions on students/faculty with regard to intellectual activities than any public institution.

No need to parrot the dweebs at Chicago! I don’t particularly like this phrasing — reader suggestions welcome! — but the framing is perfect.

1) The vast majority of Williams students/faculty want at least as much freedom as their counterparts at MCLA down the road. They will be in favor.

2) No need to enter the weeds of who is a “bigot” or what is the definition of “hate speech.” No need to consider the “harms” which might result from a Derbyshire visit.

3) First Amendment jurisprudence, especially with a conservative supreme course, is very strong on the issue of state interference. This means that places like MCLA can’t do anything against an invitation to Derbyshire. They have to treat all activity in a content-neutral way. Mandel does not need to spend her presidency policing the edge cases. She can just defer to the US court system.

I hope that my Hopkins Hall readers will pass on this most excellent idea!


Admit Your Privilege, 5

Associate Professor of Biology Luana Maroja‘s report about the state of free speech at Williams is the most important statement from a member of the faculty in years. Let’s go through it. Day 5.

While most professors at the meeting were highly supportive of free speech and many sent me grateful emails, I was shocked at the behavior of some of my colleagues. For example, one professor turned to the students and said that they should read the names missing from our list of signatories, as “those were professors that were with the students” (an appalling tactic that created an “us vs them” atmosphere). Another professor stated that she was involved in creating violence in UC Berkeley for Milo Yiannopoulos’s disinvitation and would be ready to do the same at Williams.

1) Which professor did the “us vs them” trick? Surely, we have a reader or two who was at the event.

2) A professor threatening violence is nuts! Is anyone else shocked by this? But, at the same time, tell us your story! EphBlog loves a riot. What was the Berkeley riot like? What did you do? What lessons did you learn? Perhaps you could share those lessons with your Williams students . . .

3) Who is the professor? The Record ought to find out. The Course Catalog (pdf) lists faculty backgrounds. Sarah E. Olsen (2016), Ianna Hawkins Owen (2016), Kailani Polzak (2017) and Yana Skorobogatov (2018) are the Williams faculty with the most recent degrees from Berkeley. Of course, just because this professor was at the riot does not mean that she has a degree from Berkeley, but this is the place to start. I also suspect that this is more likely to be a new faculty member since most already-hired Williams faculty would have been teaching during the February 2017 Milo riots.


Admit Your Privilege, 4

Associate Professor of Biology Luana Maroja‘s report about the state of free speech at Williams is the most important statement from a member of the faculty in years. Let’s go through it. Day 4.

I explained how censorship hurts the very cause they are fighting for, noting that because I am Hispanic, people often assume that is the reason I got into Cornell, got a job, and got grants, and that students of color will face the same fate in the outside world.

1) Would most Hispanic students at Williams consider Maroja Hispanic? Honest question! She sure looks white to me. Not that there is anything wrong with that! Maroja was born and raised in Brazil. According to Wikipedia:

The term Hispanic (Spanish: hispano or hispánico) broadly refers to the people, nations, and cultures that have a historical link to the Spanish language or the country of Spain, depending on the context.

It commonly applies to countries once under colonial possession by the Spanish Empire following Spanish colonization of the Americas, parts of the Asia-Pacific region and Africa.

Brazil, of course, was never a Spanish colony, which is why they don’t speak Spanish there. From Pew Research:

Q. What about Brazilians, Portuguese, and Filipinos? Are they Hispanic?
A. They are in the eyes of the Census if they say they are, even though these countries do not fit the official OMB definition of “Hispanic” because they are not Spanish speaking. For the most part, people who trace their ancestry to these countries do not self-identify as Hispanic when they fill out their Census forms. Only about 4% of immigrants from Brazil do so, as do just 1% of immigrants from Portugal or the Philippines.3 These patterns reflect a growing recognition and acceptance of the official definition of Hispanics. In the 1980 Census, about one in six Brazilian immigrants and one in eight Portuguese and Filipino immigrants identified as Hispanic. Similar shares did so in the 1990 Census, but by 2000, the shares identifying as Hispanic dropped to levels close to those seen today.

I bet that there are more than a few student protestors who give Maroja the side-eye when she claims to understand what life is like for “students of color.”

2) Williams has, for decades, been telling me that it places a high priority on hiring faculty of color. I believe it! Don’t you? I believe that, given her willingness to check the Hispanic box, Maroja had an advantage when she applied to work at Williams. And that is OK! Maroja does not make the rules. Nor does it mean that Maroja was not the best candidate for the job, with the strongest teaching/research resume. If you are in favor of affirmative action — and I believe that Maroja is — then you are asking for a world in which “people often assume” that you had an advantage in getting X because you had checked box Y.

Thus, I added, students need to be able to defend their positions with strong reason and argumentation, not by resorting to violence or name-calling. Disinvitations invigorate bigots; they do not suppress their message.

Says who? I think that disinvitations, as part of the broader No Platform movement, work pretty well. Consider a sentiment that John Derbyshire probably would have voiced if Adam Falk has not banned him:

The US should allow fewer immigrants, both legal and illegal, from Mexico.

Was Derbyshire invigorate[d]? Maybe. But he did not get to voice these hateful (?) opinions at Williams. Moreover, students and faculty with similar opinions were intimidating from speaking. Sure seems like a successful example of “suppress[ing] their message.”


Admit Your Privilege, 3

Associate Professor of Biology Luana Maroja‘s report about the state of free speech at Williams is the most important statement from a member of the faculty in years. Let’s go through it. Day 3.

Maroja provides a detailed report, which I hope the Record will verify and expand on:

However, trouble started after a professor opposed to free speech shared the petition with students, who wrongly assumed that we were voting on the issue on November 15. While I did reach out to these students to let them know that no vote was taking place and that this was a faculty forum to discuss ideas, these efforts were in vain. A group of about 15 students waving posters stating “free speech harms” came to our discussion on November 15. The professor leading the meeting was extremely nice, welcoming the students in the room and reading their response aloud.

Who was this professor? Gerrard?

Reading aloud the student petition was, I think, a tactical mistake. Give these activists an inch and they will take a mile. Did he really read the whole thing aloud? It is not . . . uh . . . concise. At most, I would have paused the meeting for a few minutes to allow folks to read it silently to themselves.

But many of the students were disruptive throughout, finally asking white male professors to sit down and admit their “privilege”. They pointed out how horrible the college is in welcoming and including them, but then stated that they want to be protected by the president! They equated free speech with “hate speech” and with the desire of professors to invite John Derbyshire back (Derbyshire a figure within the alt-right movement, was invited by a student group and disinvited by president Falk a couple years ago).

Holy turning over The Log! Did that really happen?Did Williams students really ask (or did they tell? or demand?) that white male professors “sit down and admit their ‘privilege’?” The mind boggles.

I am having a pleasing time imagining what the Williams professors of another era — James MacGregor Burns ’39, Mark Taylor, R. G. L. Waite — would have responded if a similar demand was put to them . . .

Has the Chinese Cultural Revolution finally come to Williams? Let the struggle sessions commence!

the victim of a struggle session was forced to admit various crimes before a crowd of people who would verbally and physically abuse the victim until he or she confessed. Struggle sessions were often held at the workplace of the accused

Admit your privilege, you nasty white men!

Perhaps “Admit your privilege” is a good name for this controversy?


Admit Your Privilege, 2

Associate Professor of Biology Luana Maroja‘s report about the state of free speech at Williams is the most important statement from a member of the faculty in years. Let’s go through it. Day 2.

While several speakers have been invited to talk about free speech (recently Geoff Stone and Frederick Lawrence), and classes on the topic have been taught, discussion about college policy never really got started among faculty or students.

As expected. Would anyone really expect more than a tiny fraction of the students who signed this petition to attend such a talk or take such a class? I wouldn’t! Note this comment from yesterday:

I recall the UChicago speaker [Geoff Stone] from last spring who addressed the topic of free speech on campus, taking what I guess now is a “conservative” stance.

When students who resent free speech spoke during Q&A, their argument began (and stopped) with: what happens when speech makes me/my peers (“marginalized identities”) feel bad?

The reply was simple: do you want authority figures banning speakers who you find offensive? Who gets to decide what’s offensive? What happens when this authority is inevitably extended to someone you disagree with? Do you think the conservative president of a southern university should be allowed to ban a transgender speaker because it makes Christian students uncomfortable? When the issue is framed in this light, the concept of an open platform starts to seem much more attractive.

This reply pretty swiftly made the students actually reflect on the implications of what they were advocating for. It was concerning it took so long for a counterargument to be heard.

Really? I have my doubts about this. There are many plausible counter-arguments — just ask smart EphBlog readers like sigh and abl! — to this hypothetical, not least that no elite college in the last 50+ years has banned or disinvited a leftist/liberal speaker. Back to Maroja:

This is in large part because faculty sharing my concerns about the increasing censorship on campus felt afraid of speaking up, always assuming that they were an insignificant minority.

Again, doesn’t sigh/dcat/me owe John Drew an apology? His claim, for decades, has been that conservative/Republican/libertarian faculty are afraid to publicly voice their opinions. sigh/dcat have largely poo-poo’d such concerns.

But, if Maroja is to be believed, the situation is even worse than Drew led us to believe. Even liberal faculty like her are “afraid” to offer the non-progressive opinion on a given topic.

In my view, the situation became critical when Reza Aslan came for a talk in campus titled “The future of Free Speech and Intolerance”.

Reza Aslan dominated the conversation and, in his always convoluted and self-contradictory style, started by bragging that he had once been disinvited from another venue, proceeding to say that anything that offended him should not be allowed, and finally asserting that “only factual talks” should ever be allowed in campus. This nonsense was met with intense student applause. It was appalling.

Indeed. Am I the only one deeply troubled by this? What say you dcat/abl/sigh?


Admit Your Privilege, 1

Associate Professor of Biology Luana Maroja‘s report about the state of free speech at Williams is the most important statement from a member of the faculty in years. Let’s go through it. Day 1.

As background, there has been a long-running debate at EphBlog about how much (malign) influence progressive members of the Williams faculty have on the evolution of the College. To caricaturize a bit, folks like John Drew have argued that “the postmodern radical ideology which dominates the culture of Williams College appears so unhealthy to well-meaning outsiders.” People like dcat and sigh have argued that this is nonsense, that, while there are liberal/progressive faculty members, they don’t do anything which in any way harms or oppresses non-liberals. For the most part, I have been on team dcat/sigh in this dispute. But perhaps I am wrong . . .

Freedom of speech at Williams College – are the walls closing in?

Many professors at Williams have been feeling the walls closing in. I’m an evolutionary biologist, and in my classes there is increasing resistance to learning about heritability (probably fear of the “bell curve”, something I actually dismiss by contrasting Brazilian with Americans, as I am from Brazil) and even kin selection! (Using the “naturalistic fallacy” argument, students assume that by teaching kin selection I am somehow endorsing Trump hiring his family.) The word “pregnant woman” is out: only “pregnant human” should be now used (after all, what if the pregnant individual goes by another pronoun?).

“Walls closing in” is remarkably strong language, even — dare I say i? — quite John Drewish. Is Maroja providing us with an accurate description of life at Williams today? If so, then wow! Students (in a biology class!) are demonstrating “resistance to learning about heritability?!?” That is nuts! I think that dcat/sigh/me owe John Drew an apology.

In other fields the walls have closed in even more. The theater department recently dealt with two challenges: a cancellation of a show and an uproar about another show – both shows deemed offensive or overtly violent to blacks, yet both written by African-American artists. Williams is now developing a reputation of being unfriendly to artists of color.

1) Again with the “walls” closing in metaphor. In this a fair description of intellectual life at Williams or Fox News nonsense?

2) Are these uproars in theatre connected to Theatre Professor David Gürçay-Morris’s ’96 role in the faculty petition? We are always most conservative about the things we know best. Perhaps these controversies are radicalizing even theatre professors like Gürçay-Morris.

3) I have not provided much coverage on these stories. Do others have comments? I think that there is more complexity to these disputes than Maroja is letting on.


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