Thursday, October 4, 2018

Academic Freedom Hangs By A Thread

In a previous post comparing Chinese and American universities, I noted that applicants for a faculty position at the University of California must submit a Diversity Statement.

This is no minor detail.  In the section on Academic Diversity Statements under Academic Personnel for UC Santa Cruz, the last sentence unequivocally states that “Applications that do not include a Diversity Statement will not be forwarded to the search committee for consideration.”

What should be included in a Diversity Statement?  “Describe any experience or background that has made you aware of challenges faced by historically underrepresented populations.”  These include mentoring activities, committee service, research activities, teaching activities, and other activities that show how you have advanced Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion among underrepresented groups.  In addition, applicants must describe the role they envision in contributing to Diversity in the next two to five years.  Applicants are also encouraged to discuss their philosophy of Diversity as a potential UC Santa Cruz faculty member.

Similar guidelines are posted on the web sites of UCBerkeley, UC San Francisco, UCLA (page 5), and other campuses in the UC system.

Applications will not be accepted for consideration without a loyalty oath to Diversity.  Diversity and Inclusion do not permit questioning or criticizing Diversity and Inclusion as official doctrine of the UC system set forth by the Office of the President overseeing all nine UC campuses and the Chancellor of each campus.  Of course, prospective professors can avoid taking an oath to Diversity.  Do not apply for a faculty appointment in the UC system. 

UC campuses are ranked numbers 1, 2, 5, 7, 10, 12, 26, and 35 among the top 50 public universities in the United States.  It’s only a matter of time until Diversity Statements are required for faculty positions for the 23 campuses of the California State University System, all California Junior Colleges, and most universities and colleges throughout the United States.  Can Academic Freedom survive if the oath is required in the colleges and universities in most or all of the 50 states and federal territories with colleges and universities?

In Defense of Academic Freedom


Closer to home, on November 7, 2017, and February 21, 2018, Stanford’s president and provost posted articles on the Stanford's concomitant commitment to the free exchange of ideas and an inclusive campus culture.  Provost Drell acknowledged that it is extremely difficult to balance the principles of free expression with ideals of an inclusive community.  It is even harder to implement in practice.  When does Diversity and Inclusion curtail or give way to Academic Freedom?

In a statement released on July 20, 2018, Thomas Gilligan, director of the Hoover Institution, announced the Institution’s support of professor Mike McFaul, who the Russian government was seeking to interview.  Gilligan said, “The free expression of ideas is absolutely central to the academic life of the Hoover Institution at Stanford University.  We stand behind professor Mike McFaul’s freedom of inquiry, thought, expression, speech, and publication—ideals that are fundamental to the mission of the university and to the Hoover Institution,  An assault on Mike McFaul’s academic freedom for the purpose of retribution and intimidation cannot and should not be tolerated.” 

A history conference held at Hoover during the 2017-18 academic year was criticized by the provost because it failed to include any female historian paper givers.  The provost stated that she did not want to see any more Hoover conferences with all male presenters.  The Academic Freedom of Hoover fellows to organize conferences as they deem intellectually appropriate was not defended as an exercise of Academic Freedom as it was for McFaul.

In practice, Inclusion trumps Academic Freedom.  It is likely to do so in the overwhelming majority of cases when the two principles conflict.

In marked contrast, conferences consisting of all Black, all Hispanic, or all female paper givers generally proceed without objection.  Over the past 8 years, I attended four events at Stanford’s Clayman Center for Gender Research.  None included a male of any racial or ethnic background.  No problem.

Time will tell if Academic Freedom can coexist with Diversity and Inclusion.  The spread of a required Diversity Statement has already eroded Academic Freedom in California.  Can Chicago hold firm or will it be “Apres Chicago, la deluge.”

It’s only a hop, skip, and a jump to extend the doctrine of Diversity and Inclusion to encompass Inequality Reduction.  Some campuses already use the broader phrase of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion.  Applicants for a faculty appointment at the University of California and other schools could soon be required to complete an Inequality Statement, reporting what they have done to reduce Inequality, and how their research and teaching in the next two to five years will reduce it.

The best artistic representation of the Diversity and Inclusion requirement at the University of California is French painter Jacque Louis David's Oath of the Horatii.


1 comment :

Brian Villanueva said...

Alvin, has the university ever really been a place for "the free exchange of ideas"? I'm sure Catholics at 17th century Oxford wouldn't think so. At Harvard's founding, it's purpose was to "educate ministers for the faith". Did it have a program in Buddhist studies? Of course not -- that would be abrogating its telos, it's reason for existence.

Western universities were founded for the study of God. However, you propose a different telos for universities: promoting knowledge for it's own sake. I'm not sure I agree with you; knowledge and scientific investigation without moral grounding is actually quite dangerous. To my mind, it was your philosophical ancestors who actually set us on the road to our current moral morass by removing God as the center of the university telos. I don't say this to beat you up about it, only to illustrate that you are the descendant of a movement that displaced the original university telos ("glorify God") for one that was, in its time, more inclusive and progressive -- "pursue knowledge".

Today there is a new ascendant telos that is also considered more inclusive and progressive. Defining it is somewhat hard, but it clearly isn't "pursue knowledge" or "pursue truth". The promoters would likely call it "pursue social justice"; as most are ignorant of history, it's likely inaccurate. Thus Harvard, the great university that was founded "to glorify Christ and train his ministers", became the university of "pursue truth", and has today been remade as a bastion of secular progressivism.

I suggest that your objection is isn't really about "academic freedom" at all. You are fighting for your view of the university's telos (pursue knowledge), and your opponents are fighting for theirs. And you are losing. The writing is on the wall -- Hoover will someday lose its home at Stanford. The world will we poorer when it happens, but not because Hoover lost it's "academic freedom", rather because Hoover used that freedom to (mostly) pursue good ideas. It is the loss of the ideas that matter, not the abstract academic freedom.

To return to Harvard, that the university of VERITAS would descend into a cesspool of post-modern drivel is highly ironic and very sad. But we lament not the loss of Harvard's academic freedom; we lament the potential ideas lost as Harvard's intellectual potential is turned to such pointlessness.

Today, the ascendant telos proponents view your telos of "pursue truth" just as you would view a telos of "glorify God and train his ministers". Just as you would recoil against using a university to promote a moral evil like slavery, they recoil against using it to promote such moral evils (in their view) as capitalism, Western civilization, and privilege. You and I both agree they're wrong. Oddly though, both Christian university founders and modern secular liberals understand something that you don't seem to: the ends to which knowledge is put are what matters.

Knowledge and scientific study, by their nature, create the future world. You want to use knowledge and study to create a secular libertarian world. Your provost wants to use them to create an egalitarian atheist utopia. I would use them to create a world ordered by Biblical morality.

The question isn't "do we have academic freedom?" The question is, what world are we using that freedom to create.