Today in Academic Crazy

Peter Boghossian is (actually, after today, was) a professor of philosophy at Portland State University, and although he has always considered himself a progressive liberal, he has become completely alienated from our university culture today. His resignation letter to Portland State Provost Susan Jeffords is up at Bari Weiss’s popular Substack channel, and I encourage you to read the whole thing if you have time. I am glad to see it is getting a lot of attention today.

Key bits:

Dear Provost Susan Jeffords,

​​I’m writing to you today to resign as assistant professor of philosophy at Portland State University. . .

[B]rick by brick, the university has made this kind of intellectual exploration impossible. It has transformed a bastion of free inquiry into a Social Justice factory whose only inputs were race, gender, and victimhood and whose only outputs were grievance and division.

Students at Portland State are not being taught to think. Rather, they are being trained to mimic the moral certainty of ideologues. Faculty and administrators have abdicatedthe university’s truth-seeking mission and instead drive intolerance of divergent beliefs and opinions. This has created a culture of offense where students are now afraid to speak openly and honestly.

I noticed signs of the illiberalism that has now fully swallowed the academy quite early during my time at Portland State. I witnessed students refusing to engage with different points of view.  Questions from faculty at diversity trainings that challenged approved narratives were instantly dismissed. Those who asked for evidence to justify new institutional policies were accused of microaggressions. And professors were accused of bigotry for assigning canonical texts written by philosophers who happened to have been European and male.

Portland State has issued a generic statement claiming that “Portland State University is committed to academic freedom and free speech. We respect and support the right of faculty, staff and students to share their views on any platform they choose.” But the statement does not address a single point in Boghossian’s letter.

I got curious about the Provost, Susan Jeffords. And she’s pretty much what you’d expect. From a PSU news release on her hiring from the University of Washington three years ago:

Prior to UW Bothell, she was vice provost for global affairs for UW in Seattle. She also was an English professor at UW before becoming chair of the women studies department. She went on to become divisional dean for the social sciences. . .

Jeffords has written and taught broadly in the area of American popular culture, with a particular emphasis on Hollywood film, the Vietnam War and feminism. She is committed to increasing opportunities for more diverse and underrepresented communities to participate actively in higher education, including expanding opportunities for international engagement.

So, a product of an English department. Great. And with no evidence of social science methodology expertise, somehow ended up as dean of social sciences at UW. And about those “diverse and underrepresented communities” in higher education—does that include white males, who appear to be very underrepresented in higher education administration, at least if Portland State’s senior academic affairs staff is any example?

I looked: PSU’s academic affairs staff is currently 18 people (this obviously leaves out the Title IX offices, DEI offices, etc). Thirteen of the 18 are women. So much for gender equity. Four of the five men may be white males (one is clearly Asian from the name)—it is hard to tell without photos. But it certainly sounds like an “underrepresented community” to me.

I keep hearing anecdote after anecdote of academic searches where white males are simply ruled out of a search selection on the basis of their skin and gender alone. They say the plural of anecdote is data: I think the EEOC ought to do an investigation of college hiring searches, and compile the statistics over time for how many white males made it to the typical three-finalist pools from which hires are made. My hypothesis is that the results would look as blatantly embarrassing as the information that came out on Harvard’s deliberate discrimination against Asians.

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