Commentary - Issues and Discussion from Around the Country
Click on any bulleted item for direct access:
Reaping What We Have Taught (New)
By Harvard Prof. Harry R. Lewis
[Editor's note: Prof. Harry R. Lewis is a Gordon McKay Research Professor of Computer Science and who served as Dean of Harvard College from 1995 to 2003. His op-ed was initially published at The Harvard Crimson.]
Let’s go back to how Harvard’s current crisis began: charges of antisemitism.
Why antisemitism seems to be a problem at Harvard and other universities is one of the still-unanswered questions that precipitated the University’s downward spiral.
But, it surely is not Claudine Gay’s fault. It is not because Harvard admits antisemitic students or hires antisemitic faculty. No one is suggesting there are comparable antisemitism problems in other kinds of institutions — such as hospitals or libraries — so there must be something that uniquely happens in universities.
That something must be the source of our woes.
Unapologetic antisemitism — whether the incidents are few or numerous — is a college phenomenon because of what we teach, and how our teachings are exploited by malign actors.
The Harvard online course catalog has a search box. Type in “decolonize.” That word — though surely not the only lens through which to view the current relationship between Europe and the rest of the world — is in the titles of seven courses and the descriptions of 18 more.
Try “oppression” and “liberation.” Each is in the descriptions of more than 80 courses. “Social justice” is in over 100. “White supremacy” and “Enlightenment” are neck and neck, both ahead of “scientific revolution” but behind “intersectionality.”
Though word frequency is an imperfect measure and the precise counts are muddied by duplicate numberings and courses at MIT, this experiment supports the suspicion that the Harvard curriculum has become heavily slanted toward recent fashions of the progressive left. For example, “intersectionality” was almost unattested before the year 2000, while published uses of “decolonize” have more than tripled since then. Merchants of hate are repurposing these intellectual goods that universities are producing. When complex social and political histories are oversimplified in our teachings as Manichaean struggles — between oppressed people and their oppressors, the powerless and the powerful, the just and the wicked — a veneer of academic respectability is applied to the ugly old stereotype of Jews as evil but deviously successful people. While Harvard cannot stop the abuse of our teaching, we, the Harvard faculty, can recognize and work to mitigate these impacts. The political bias in our faculty is now widely accepted. One solution is to use a kind of affirmative action program for conservative thinkers to change the faculty, but that idea is noxious and misses a crucial point. Professors should not be carrying their ideologies into the classroom. Our job as teachers of “citizens and citizen-leaders” is not to indoctrinate students, but to prepare them to grapple with all of the ideas they will encounter in the societies they will serve. Instead, individual faculty might diversify what they teach. Committees and departments could enforce a standard that curricula exhibit intellectual diversity and a variety of agreed-upon topics and techniques. If done correctly, it would not infringe upon individual academic freedom to allow our faculty colleagues to have a stronger role in shaping each others’ syllabi and curricula. Nor would it be improper for the Board of Overseers — with its elaborate Visiting Committee structure — to weigh in on the evident political biases and ideological vectors in our educational program. As obvious as this all may sound, it would be a big change from the present. Over the fifty years I have been on the Harvard faculty, the expectation has evolved that individual Harvard professors are free to teach whatever they wish to whomever they wish. It was once the norm for faculty to rotate through courses of unpredictable size and with stable curricula, but now enrollments are predetermined quite rigorously and even introductory courses may change their reading lists and lecture topics drastically when new professors take charge. Curricular committees theoretically vet these courses, but not annually, and not for the kinds of political biases that have skewed undergraduate education. The result is to favor the hip, current, and “relevant,” over foundational learning — what instructors personally believe to the exclusion of what students should learn to participate knowledgeably in the world outside our gates. The leftward shift of Harvard’s faculty deserves scrutiny. Judicious changes to the hiring and promotion process can thwart intellectual inbreeding — just as the current tenure system, now tired and manipulable, was once an innovative revamp of a system that resulted in ethnic and gender homogeneity. Now is the time to change a system that will take decades to alter the composition of the faculty. But there is no need to wait for that reform. The goal is not to give students a choice between courses reflecting different ideologies. Harvard should instead expect instructors to leave their politics at the classroom door and touch both sides of controversial questions, leaving students uncertain where their sympathies lie. Professors should have no more right to exclude from their teaching ideas with which they disagree than students should expect to be shielded from ideas they find disagreeable. All that is required is for faculty to exhibit some humility about the limits of their own wisdom and embrace the formula for educational improvement voiced by Le Baron R. Briggs, a Harvard dean, more than a century ago: “increased stress on offering what should be taught rather than what the teachers wish to teach.”
How to Fix Harvard - it’s time we restore veritas to my alma mater (New)
By Bill Ackman, January 3, 2024 (links in the original)
[Editor’s note: Per Wikipedia, Bill Ackman is an American billionaire hedge fund manager who is a Harvard alum and the founder and CEO of Pershing Square. His full op-ed, printed below, is also available at various other sources including Free Press.]
In light of today’s news, I thought I would try to take a step back and provide perspective on what this is really all about.
I first became concerned about Harvard when 34 student organizations, early on the morning of October 8—before Israel had taken any military actions in Gaza—came out publicly in support of Hamas, a globally recognized terrorist organization, holding Israel “solely responsible” for Hamas’ barbaric and heinous acts.
How could this be? I wondered.
When I saw then-president Claudine Gay’s initial statement about the massacre, it provided more context (!) for the student groups’ statement of support for terrorism. The protests began as pro-Palestine and then became anti-Israel. Shortly thereafter, antisemitism exploded on campus as protesters who violated Harvard’s own codes of conduct were emboldened by the lack of enforcement of Harvard’s rules, and kept testing the limits on how aggressive, intimidating, and disruptive they could be to Jewish and Israeli students, and the student body at large. Sadly, antisemitism remains a simmering source of hate even at our best universities among a subset of students.
A few weeks later, I went up to campus to see things with my own eyes, and listen and learn from students and faculty. I met with 15 or so members of the faculty and a few hundred students in small and large settings, and a clearer picture began to emerge. I ultimately concluded that antisemitism was not the core of the problem. It was simply a troubling warning sign—it was the “canary in the coal mine”—despite how destructive it was in impacting student life and learning on campus. I came to learn that the root cause of antisemitism at Harvard was an ideology that had been promulgated on campus, an oppressor/oppressed framework, that provided the intellectual bulwark behind the protests, helping to generate anti-Israel and anti-Jewish hate speech and harassment. Then I did more research. The more I learned, the more concerned I became, and the more ignorant I realized I had been about DEI, a powerful movement that has not only pervaded Harvard but the educational system at large. I came to understand that diversity, equity, and inclusion was not what I had naively thought these words meant. I have always believed that diversity is an important feature of a successful organization, but by diversity I mean diversity in its broadest form: diversity of viewpoints, politics, ethnicity, race, age, religion, experience, socioeconomic background, sexual identity, gender, one’s upbringing, and more. What I learned, however, was that DEI was not about diversity in its purest form. Rather, DEI was a political advocacy movement on behalf of certain groups that are deemed oppressed under DEI’s own methodology. Under DEI, one’s degree of oppression is determined based upon where one resides on a so-called intersectional pyramid of oppression where whites, Jews, and Asians are deemed oppressors, and a subset of people of color, LGBTQ people, and/or women are deemed to be oppressed. Under this ideology which is the philosophical underpinning of DEI as advanced by Ibram X. Kendi and others, one is either an anti-racist or a racist. There is no such thing as being “not racist.” Under DEI’s ideology, any policy, program, educational system, economic system, grading system, admission policy (and even climate change, due its disparate impact on geographies and the people that live there), etc., that leads to unequal outcomes among people of different skin colors is deemed racist. As a result, according to DEI, capitalism is racist, Advanced Placement exams are racist, IQ tests are racist, corporations are racist—in other words, any merit-based program, system, or organization that has or generates outcomes for different races that are at variance with the proportion these different races represent in the population at large is by definition racist under DEI’s ideology. In order to be deemed anti-racist, one must personally take action to reverse any unequal outcomes in society. The DEI movement, which has permeated many universities, corporations, and state, local, and federal governments, is designed to be the anti-racist engine to transform society from its currently structurally racist state to an anti-racist one. After the death of George Floyd, the already-burgeoning DEI movement took off without any real challenge to its problematic ideology. Why, you might ask, was there so little pushback? The answer is that anyone who dared to raise a question that challenged DEI was deemed a racist, a label that could severely impact one’s employment, social status, reputation, and more. Being called a racist got people canceled, so those concerned about DEI and its societal and legal implications had no choice but to keep quiet in this new climate of fear. The techniques that DEI has used to squelch the opposition are found in the Red Scares and McCarthyism of decades past. If you challenge DEI, “justice” will be swift, and you may find yourself unemployed, shunned by colleagues, canceled, and/or you will otherwise put your career and acceptance in society at risk. The DEI movement has also taken control of speech. Certain speech is no longer permitted. So-called “microaggressions” are treated like hate speech. “Trigger warnings” are required to protect students. “Safe spaces” are necessary to protect students from the trauma inflicted by words that are challenging to the students’ newly acquired worldviews. Campus speakers and faculty with unapproved views are shouted down, shunned, and canceled. These speech codes have led to self-censorship by students and faculty of views privately held, but no longer shared. There is no commitment to free expression at Harvard other than for DEI-approved views. This has led to the quashing of conservative and other viewpoints from the Harvard campus and faculty, and contributed to Harvard’s having the lowest free speech ranking of 248 universities assessed by the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression. When one examines DEI and its ideological heritage, it does not take long to understand that the movement is inherently inconsistent with basic American values. Our country, since its founding, has been about creating and building a democracy with equality of opportunity for all. Millions of people have left behind socialism and communism to come to America to start again, as they have seen the destruction leveled by an equality of outcome society. The E for “equity” in DEI is about equality of outcome, not equality of opportunity. DEI is racist because reverse racism is racism, even if it is against white people (and it is remarkable that I even need to point this out). Racism against white people has become considered acceptable by many not to be racism, or alternatively, it is deemed acceptable racism. While this is, of course, absurd, it has become the prevailing view in many universities around the country. You can say things about white people today in universities, in business, or otherwise, that if you switched the word white to black, the consequences to you would be costly and severe. To state what should otherwise be self-evident, whether or not a statement is racist should not depend upon whether the target of the racism is a group who currently represents a majority or minority of the country or those who have a lighter or darker skin color. Racism against whites is as reprehensible as it is against groups with darker skin colors. Martin Luther King Jr.’s most famous words are instructive: “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” But here we are in 2024, being asked and in some cases required to use skin color to affect outcomes in admissions (recently deemed illegal by the Supreme Court), in business (likely illegal yet it happens nonetheless), and in government (also I believe in most cases to be illegal, except apparently in government contracting), rather than the content of one’s character. As such, a meritocracy is anathema to the DEI movement. DEI is inherently a racist and illegal movement in its implementation even if it purports to work on behalf of the so-called oppressed. And DEI’s definition of oppressed is fundamentally flawed. I have always believed that the most fortunate should help the least fortunate, and that our system should be designed in such a way to maximize the size of the overall pie so that it will enable us to provide an economic system that can offer quality of life, education, housing, and healthcare for all. America is a rich country and we have made massive progress over the decades toward achieving this goal, but we obviously have much more work to do. Steps taken on the path to socialism—another word for an equality of outcome system—will reverse this progress and ultimately impoverish us all. We have seen this movie many times. Having a darker skin color, a less common sexual identity, and/or being a woman doesn’t make one necessarily oppressed or even disadvantaged. While slavery remains a permanent stain on our country’s history—a fact that is used by DEI to label white people as oppressors—it doesn’t therefore hold that all white people, generations after the abolishment of slavery, should be held responsible for its evils. Similarly, the fact that Columbus discovered America doesn’t make all modern-day Italians colonialists. An ideology that portrays a bicameral world of oppressors and the oppressed based principally on race or sexual identity is a fundamentally racist ideology that will likely lead to more racism rather than less. A system where one obtains advantages by virtue of one’s skin color is a racist system, and one that will generate resentment and anger among the disadvantaged who will direct their anger at the favored groups. The country has seen burgeoning resentment and anger grow materially over the last few years, and the DEI movement is an important contributor to our growing divisiveness. Resentment is one of the most important drivers of racism. And it is the lack of equity (i.e, fairness) in how DEI operates that contributes to this resentment. I was accused of being a racist by the president of the NAACP among others when I posted on X (formerly Twitter) that I had learned that the Harvard president search process excluded candidates that did not meet the DEI criteria. I didn’t say that former president Gay was hired because she was a black woman. I simply said that I had heard that the search process by its design excluded a large percentage of potential candidates due to the DEI limitations. My statement was not a racist one. It was simply the empirical truth about the Harvard search process that led to Gay’s hiring. When former president Gay was hired, I knew little about her, but I was instinctually happy for Harvard and the black community. Every minority community likes to see their representatives recognized in important leadership positions, and it is therefore an important moment for celebration. I, too, celebrated this achievement. I am inspired and moved by others’ success, and I thought of Gay’s hiring at the pinnacle leadership position at perhaps our most important and iconic university as an important and significant milestone for the black community. I have spent the majority of my life advocating on behalf of and supporting members of disadvantaged communities, including by investing several hundreds of millions of dollars of philanthropic assets to help communities in need with economic development, sensible criminal justice reform, poverty reduction, healthcare, education, workforce housing, charter schools, and more. I have done the same at Pershing Square Capital Management when, for example, we completed one of the largest IPOs ever with the substantive assistance of a number of minority-owned, women-owned, and veteran-owned investment banks. Prior to the Pershing Square Tontine, Ltd. IPO, it was standard practice for big corporations occasionally to name a few minority-owned banks in their equity and bond offerings, have these banks do no work and sell only a de minimis amount of stock or bonds, and allocate to them only 1 percent or less of the underwriting fees so that the issuers could virtue signal that they were helping minority communities. In our IPO, we invited the smaller banks into the deal from the beginning of the process so they could add real value. As a result, the Tontine IPO was one of the largest and most successful IPOs in history, with $12 billion of demand for a $4 billion deal by the second day of the IPO, when we closed the books. The small banks earned their 20 percent share of the fees for delivering real and substantive value and for selling their share of the stock. Compare this approach to the traditional one, where the small banks do effectively nothing to earn their fees—they aren’t given that opportunity—yet they get a cut of the deal, albeit a tiny one. The traditional approach does not create value for anyone. It creates only resentment, and an uncomfortable feeling from the small banks who get a tiny piece of the deal in a particularly bad form of affirmative action. While I don’t think our approach to working with the smaller banks has yet achieved the significant traction it deserves, it will hopefully happen eventually as the smaller banks build their competencies and continue to earn their fees, and other issuers see the merit of this approach. We are going to need assistance with a large IPO soon, so we are looking forward to working with our favored smaller banks. I have always believed in giving disadvantaged groups a helping hand. I signed the Giving Pledge for this reason. My life plan by the time I was 18 was to be successful and then return the favor to those less fortunate. This always seemed to be the right thing to do, in particular, for someone as fortunate as I am. All of the above said, it is one thing to give disadvantaged people the opportunities and resources so that they can help themselves. It is another to select a candidate for admission or for a leadership role when they are not qualified to serve in that role. This appears to have been the case with former president Gay’s selection. She did not possess the leadership skills to serve as Harvard’s president, putting aside any questions about her academic credentials. This became apparent shortly after October 7, but there were many signs before then when she was dean of the faculty. The result was a disaster for Harvard and for Claudine Gay. The Harvard board should not have run a search process that had a predetermined objective of hiring only a DEI-approved candidate. In any case, there are many incredibly talented black men and women who could have been selected by Harvard to serve as its president, so why did the Harvard Corporation board choose Gay? One can only speculate without knowing all of the facts, but it appears Gay’s leadership in the creation of Harvard’s Office of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging and the penetration of DEI ideology into the corporation board room perhaps made Gay the favored candidate. The search was also done at a time when many other top universities had similar DEI-favored candidate searches underway for their presidents, reducing the number of potential candidates available in light of the increased competition for talent. As a side note, unrelated to the DEI issue, I would suggest that universities should broaden their searches to include capable businesspeople for the role of president, as a university president requires more business skills than can be gleaned from even the most successful academic career with its hundreds of peer-reviewed papers and many books. Universities have a dean of the faculty and a bureaucracy to oversee the faculty and academic environment of the university. It therefore does not make sense that the university president has to come through the ranks of academia, with a skill set unprepared for university management. The president’s job—managing thousands of employees, overseeing a $50 billion endowment, raising money, managing expenses, capital allocation, real estate acquisition, disposition, and construction, and reputation management—are responsibilities that few career academics are capable of executing. Broadening the recruitment of candidates to include top business executives would also create more opportunities for diverse talent for the office of the university president. Furthermore, Harvard is a massive business that has been mismanaged for a long time. The cost structure of the university is out of control due in large part to the fact that the administration has grown without bounds. Revenues are below what they should be because the endowment has generated a 4.5 percent annualized return for the last decade in one of the greatest bull markets in history, and that low return is not due to the endowment taking lower risks as the substantial majority of its assets are invested in illiquid and other high-risk assets. The price of the product, a Harvard education, has risen at a rate well in excess of inflation for decades (I believe it has grown about 7–8 percent per annum), and it is now about $320,000 for four years of a liberal arts education at Harvard. As a result, the only students who can now afford Harvard come from rich families and poor ones. The middle class can’t get enough financial aid other than by borrowing a lot of money, and it is hard to make the economics work in life after college when you graduate with large loan balances, particularly if you also attend graduate school. The best companies in the world grow at high rates over many decades. Harvard has grown at a de minimis rate. Since I graduated 35 years ago, the number of students in the Harvard class has grown by less than 20 percent. What other successful business do you know that has grown the number of customers it serves by less than 20 percent in 35 years, and where nearly all revenue growth has come from raising prices? In summary, there is a lot more work to be done to fix Harvard than just replacing its president. That said, the selection of Harvard’s next president is a critically important task, and the individuals principally responsible for that decision do not have a good track record for doing so based on their recent history, nor have they done a good job managing the other problems that I have identified above. The corporation board led by Penny Pritzker selected the wrong president and did inadequate due diligence about her academic record despite Gay being in leadership roles at the university since 2015 when she became dean of the Social Studies department. The board failed to create a discrimination-free environment on campus, exposing the university to tremendous reputational damage, to large legal and financial liabilities, Congressional investigations and scrutiny, and to the potential loss of federal funding, all while damaging the learning environment for all students. And when concerns were raised about plagiarism in Gay’s research, the board said these claims were “demonstrably false” and it threatened the New York Post with “immense” liability if it published a story raising these issues. It was only after getting the story canceled that the board secretly launched a cursory, short-form investigation outside of the proper process for evaluating a member of the faculty’s potential plagiarism. When the board finally publicly acknowledged some of Gay’s plagiarism, it characterized the plagiarism as “unintentional” and invented new euphemisms (i.e., “duplicative language”) to describe plagiarism, a belittling of academic integrity that has caused grave damage to Harvard’s academic standards and credibility. The board’s three-person panel of “political scientist experts” (that to this day remain unnamed) who evaluated Gay’s work failed to identify many examples of her plagiarism, leading to even greater reputational damage to the university and its reputation for academic integrity as the whistleblower, and the media continued to identify additional problems with Gay’s work in the days and weeks thereafter. According to the New York Post, the board also apparently sought to identify the whistleblower and seek retribution against him or her in contravention to the university’s whistleblower protection policies. Despite all of the above, the board “unanimously” gave its full support for Gay during this nearly four-month crisis, until eventually being forced to accept her resignation earlier today, a grave and continuing reputational disaster to Harvard and to the board. In a normal corporate context with the above set of facts, the full board would resign immediately to be replaced by a group nominated by shareholders. In the case of Harvard, however, the board nominates itself and its new members. There is no shareholder vote mechanism to replace them. So what should happen? The corporation board should not remain in their seats protected by the unusual governance structure that enabled them to obtain their seats. The board chair, Penny Pritzker, should resign along with the other members of the board who led the campaign to keep Claudine Gay, orchestrated the strategy to threaten the media, bypassed the process for evaluating plagiarism, and otherwise greatly contributed to the damage that has been done. Then new corporation board members should be identified who bring true diversity, viewpoint and otherwise, to the board. The board should not be principally composed of individuals who share the same politics and views about DEI. The new board members should be chosen in a transparent process with the assistance of the 30-person Board of Overseers. There is no reason the Harvard board of 12 independent trustees cannot be composed of the most impressive, high integrity, intellectually and politically diverse members of our country and globe. We have plenty of remarkable people to choose from, and the job of being a director just got much more interesting and important. It is no longer, nor should it ever have been, an honorary and highly political sinecure. The ODEIB should be shut down, and the staff should be terminated. The ODEIB has already taken down much of the ideology and strategies that were on its website when I and others raised concerns about how the office operates and who it does and does not represent. Taking down portions of the website does not address the fundamentally flawed and racist ideology of this office, and calls into further question the ODEIB’s legitimacy. Why would the ODEIB take down portions of its website when an alum questioned its legitimacy unless the office was doing something fundamentally wrong or indefensible? Harvard must once again become a meritocratic institution that does not discriminate for or against faculty or students based on their skin color, and where diversity is understood in its broadest form so that students can learn in an environment that welcomes diverse viewpoints from faculty and students from truly diverse backgrounds and experiences. Harvard must create an academic environment with real academic freedom and free speech, where self-censoring, speech codes, and cancel culture are forever banished from campus. Harvard should become an environment where all students of all persuasions feel comfortable expressing their views and being themselves. In the business world, we call this creating a great corporate culture, which begins with new leadership and the right tone at the top. It does not require the creation of a massive administrative bureaucracy. These are the minimum changes necessary to begin to repair the damage that has been done. A number of faculty at the University of Pennsylvania have proposed a new constitution, which can be found here, and that has been signed by more than 1,200 faculty from Penn, Harvard, and other universities. Harvard would do well to adopt Penn’s proposed new constitution or a similar one before seeking to hire its next president. A condition of employment of the new Harvard president should be the requirement that the new president agrees to strictly abide by the new constitution. He or she should take an oath to that effect. Today was an important step forward for the university. It is time we restore veritas to Harvard and again be an exemplar that graduates well-informed, highly educated leaders of exemplary moral standing and good judgment who can help bring our country together, advance our democracy, and identify the important new discoveries that will help save us from ourselves. We have a lot more work to do. Let’s get at it.
Timeless Counsel from Former Notre Dame President Theodore Hesburgh
[Editor's note: The following is a condensed version of the letter former Notre Dame President Father Theodore Hesburgh sent to the Notre Dame community in February, 1969, during times of major campus controversies similar to what is being experienced today and that we have downloaded from the New York Times archives. It is counsel we suggest leaders at Stanford as well as at other colleges and universities nationwide might want to consider. And we again urge Stanford's faculty, trustees and leaders to adopt all three parts of the Chicago Trifecta as long posted here.]
Dear Notre Dame Faculty and Students,
This letter has been on my mind for weeks. It is both time and overtime that it be written. I have tried to write calmly, in the wee hours of the morning when at least there is quiet and pause for reflection.
My hope is that these ideas will have deep personal resonances in our own community, although the central problem they address exists everywhere in the university world today and, by instant communication, feeds upon itself. It is not enough to label it the alienation of youth from our society. God knows there is enough and more than enough in our often non-glorious civilization to be alienated from, be you young, middle-aged, or old.
The central problem to me is what we do about it, and in what manner, if we are interested in healing rather than destroying our world. Youth especially has much to offer — idealism, generosity, dedication, and service. The last thing a shaken society needs is more shaking. The last thing a noisy, turbulent, and disintegrating community needs is more noise, turbulence, and disintegration.
Understanding and analysis of social ills cannot be conducted in a boiler factory. Compassion has a quiet way of service. Complicated social mechanisms, out of joint, are not adjusted with a sledge hammer.
The university cannot cure all our ills today, but it can make a valiant beginning by bringing all its intellectual and moral powers to bear upon them: all the idealism and generosity of its young people, all the wisdom and intelligence of its oldsters, all the expertise and competence of those who are in their middle years. But it must do all this as a university does, within its proper style and capability, no longer an ivory tower, but not the Red Cross either. Now to the heart of my message. You recall my letter of November 25, 1968, which was written after an incident. It seemed best to me then not to waste time in personal recriminations or heavy-handed discipline, but to profit from the occasion to invite this whole university community — faculty, administration and students — to state their convictions regarding protests that were peaceful and those that threatened the life of the community by disrupting the normal operations of the University and infringing upon the rights of others. In general, the reaction was practically unanimous that this community recognizes the validity of protest in our day — sometimes even the necessity — regarding the current burning issues of our society: war and peace, especially Vietnam; civil rights, especially of minority groups; the stance of the University vis-à-vis moral issues of great public concern; the operation of the University as a university. There was also practical unanimity that the University could not continue to exist as a society, dedicated to the discussion of all issues of importance, if protests were of such a nature that the normal operations of the University were in any way impeded, or if the rights of any member of this community were abrogated, peacefully or non-peacefully. I believe that I now have a clear mandate from this University community to see that: (1) our lines of communication between all segments of the community are kept as open as possible, with all legitimate means of communicating dissent assured, expanded, and protected; (2) civility and rationality are maintained; and (3) violation of another’s rights or obstruction of the life of the University are outlawed as illegitimate means of dissent in this kind of open society. Now comes my duty of stating, clearly and unequivocally, what happens if. I’ll try to make it as simple as possible to avoid misunderstanding by anyone. Anyone or any group that substitutes force for rational persuasion, be it violent or non-violent, will be given fifteen minutes of meditation to cease and desist. They will be told that they are, by their actions, going counter to the overwhelming conviction of this community as to what is proper here. If they do not within that time period cease and desist, they will be asked for their identity cards. Those who produce these will be suspended from this community as not understanding what this community is. Those who do not have or will not produce identity cards will be assumed not to be members of the community and will be charged with trespassing and disturbing the peace on private property and treated accordingly by the law. After notification of suspension, or trespass in the case of non-community members, if there is not within five minutes a movement to cease and desist, students will be notified of expulsion from this community and the law will deal with them as non-students. There seems to be a current myth that university members are not responsible to the law, and that somehow the law is the enemy, particularly those whom society has constituted to uphold and enforce the law. I would like to insist here that all of us are responsible to the duly constituted laws of this University community and to all of the laws of the land. There is no other guarantee of civilization versus the jungle or mob rule, here or elsewhere. We can have a thousand resolutions as to what kind of a society we want, but when lawlessness is afoot, and all authority is flouted — faculty, administration and student — then we invoke the normal societal forces of law or we allow the university to die beneath our hapless and hopeless gaze. I have no intention of presiding over such a spectacle. Too many people have given too much of themselves and their lives to this University to let this happen here. Without being melodramatic, if this conviction makes this my last will and testament to Notre Dame, so be it. May I now say in all sincerity that I never want to see any student expelled from this community because, in many ways, this is always an educative failure. Even so, I must likewise be committed to the survival of the University community as one of man’s best hopes in these troubled times. I know of no other way of insuring both ends than to say of every member of this community — faculty and students — that we are all ready and prepared and anxious to respond to every intellectual and moral concern in the world today, in every way proper to the University. At the same time, we cannot allow a small minority to impose their will on the majority who have spoken regarding the University’s style of life. I truly believe that we are about to witness a revulsion on the part of legislatures, state and national, benefactors, parents, alumni, and the general public for much that is happening in higher education today. If I read the signs of the times correctly, this may well lead to a suppression of the liberty and autonomy that are the lifeblood of a university community. It may well lead to a rebirth of fascism, unless we ourselves are ready to take a stand for what is right for us. History is not consoling in this regard. We rule ourselves, or others rule us in a way that destroys the university as we have known and loved it. Devotedly yours in Notre Dame, (Rev.) Theodore M. Hesburgh, C.S.C. President
The Westminster Declaration About U.S. and Worldwide Censorship
[Editor's note: We are reprinting below a paper known as the Westminster Declaration regarding censorship activities in the U.S. and worldwide and involving universities, government and non-government entities, nonprofits and others. See also our prior posting about the activities of the Stanford Internet Observatory and related entities.]
We write as journalists, artists, authors, activists, technologists, and academics to warn of increasing international censorship that threatens to erode centuries-old democratic norms.
Coming from the left, right, and centre, we are united by our commitment to universal human rights and freedom of speech, and we are all deeply concerned about attempts to label protected speech as ‘misinformation,’ ‘disinformation,’ and other ill-defined terms.
This abuse of these terms has resulted in the censorship of ordinary people, journalists, and dissidents in countries all over the world.
Such interference with the right to free speech suppresses valid discussion about matters of urgent public interest, and undermines the foundational principles of representative democracy.
Across the globe, government actors, social media companies, universities, and NGOs are increasingly working to monitor citizens and rob them of their voices. These large-scale coordinated efforts are sometimes referred to as the ‘Censorship-Industrial Complex.’
This complex often operates through direct government policies. Authorities in India and Turkey have seized the power to remove political content from social media. The legislature in Germany and the Supreme Court in Brazil are criminalising political speech. In other countries, measures such as Ireland’s ‘Hate Speech’ Bill, Scotland’s Hate Crime Act, the UK’s Online Safety Bill, and Australia’s ‘Misinformation’ Bill threaten to severely restrict expression and create a chilling effect.
But the Censorship Industrial Complex operates through more subtle methods. These include visibility filtering, labelling, and manipulation of search engine results. Through deplatforming and flagging, social media censors have already silenced lawful opinions on topics of national and geopolitical importance. They have done so with the full support of ‘disinformation experts’ and ‘fact-checkers’ in the mainstream media, who have abandoned the journalistic values of debate and intellectual inquiry. As the Twitter Files revealed, tech companies often perform censorial ‘content moderation’ in coordination with government agencies and civil society. Soon, the European Union’s Digital Services Act will formalise this relationship by giving platform data to ‘vetted researchers’ from NGOs and academia, relegating our speech rights to the discretion of these unelected and unaccountable entities. Some politicians and NGOs are even aiming to target end-to-end encrypted messaging apps like WhatsApp, Signal, and Telegram. If end-to-end encryption is broken, we will have no remaining avenues for authentic private conversations in the digital sphere. Although foreign disinformation between states is a real issue, agencies designed to combat these threats, such as the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency in the United States, are increasingly being turned inward against the public. Under the guise of preventing harm and protecting truth, speech is being treated as a permitted activity rather than an inalienable right. We recognize that words can sometimes cause offence, but we reject the idea that hurt feelings and discomfort, even if acute, are grounds for censorship. Open discourse is the central pillar of a free society, and is essential for holding governments accountable, empowering vulnerable groups, and reducing the risk of tyranny. Speech protections are not just for views we agree with; we must strenuously protect speech for the views that we most strongly oppose. Only in the public square can these views be heard and properly challenged. What's more, time and time again, unpopular opinions and ideas have eventually become conventional wisdom. By labelling certain political or scientific positions as 'misinformation' or 'malinformation,' our societies risk getting stuck in false paradigms that will rob humanity of hard-earned knowledge and obliterate the possibility of gaining new knowledge. Free speech is our best defence against disinformation. The attack on speech is not just about distorted rules and regulations – it is a crisis of humanity itself. Every equality and justice campaign in history has relied on an open forum to voice dissent. In countless examples, including the abolition of slavery and the civil rights movement, social progress has depended on freedom of expression. We do not want our children to grow up in a world where they live in fear of speaking their minds. We want them to grow up in a world where their ideas can be expressed, explored and debated openly – a world that the founders of our democracies envisioned when they enshrined free speech into our laws and constitutions. The US First Amendment is a strong example of how the right to freedom of speech, of the press, and of conscience can be firmly protected under the law. One need not agree with the U.S. on every issue to acknowledge that this is a vital 'first liberty' from which all other liberties follow. It is only through free speech that we can denounce violations of our rights and fight for new freedoms. There also exists a clear and robust international protection for free speech. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) was drafted in 1948 in response to atrocities committed during World War II. Article 19 of the UDHR states, 'Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.' While there may be a need for governments to regulate some aspects of social media, such as age limits, these regulations should never infringe on the human right to freedom of expression. As is made clear by Article 19, the corollary of the right to free speech is the right to information. In a democracy, no one has a monopoly over what is considered to be true. Rather, truth must be discovered through dialogue and debate – and we cannot discover truth without allowing for the possibility of error. Censorship in the name of 'preserving democracy' inverts what should be a bottom-up system of representation into a top-down system of ideological control. This censorship is ultimately counter-productive: it sows mistrust, encourages radicalization, and de-legitimizes the democratic process. In the course of human history, attacks on free speech have been a precursor to attacks on all other liberties. Regimes that eroded free speech have always inevitably weakened and damaged other core democratic structures. In the same fashion, the elites that push for censorship today are also undermining democracy. What has changed though, is the broad scale and technological tools through which censorship can be enacted. We believe that free speech is essential for ensuring our safety from state abuses of power – abuses that have historically posed a far greater threat than the words of lone individuals or even organised groups. For the sake of human welfare and flourishing, we make the following 3 calls to action. -- We call on governments and international organisations to fulfill their responsibilities to the people and to uphold Article 19 of the UDHR. -- We call on tech corporations to undertake to protect the digital public square as defined in Article 19 of the UDHR and refrain from politically motivated censorship, the censorship of dissenting voices, and censorship of political opinion. -- And finally, we call on the general public to join us in the fight to preserve the people's democratic rights. Legislative changes are not enough. We must also build an atmosphere of free speech from the ground up by rejecting the climate of intolerance that encourages self-censorship and that creates unnecessary personal strife for many. Instead of fear and dogmatism, we must embrace inquiry and debate. We stand for your right to ask questions. Heated arguments, even those that may cause distress, are far better than no arguments at all. Censorship robs us of the richness of life itself. Free speech is the foundation for creating a life of meaning and a thriving humanity - through art, poetry, drama, story, philosophy, song, and more. This declaration was the result of an initial meeting of free speech champions from around the world who met in Westminster, London, at the end of June 2023. As signatories of this statement, we have fundamental political and ideological disagreements. However, it is only by coming together that we will defeat the encroaching forces of censorship so that we can maintain our ability to openly debate and challenge one another. It is in the spirit of difference and debate that we sign the Westminster Declaration.
California Community College Professors Sue Over Newly Imposed DEIA Hiring and Performance Standards (see also a PDF copy of the California Community College DEIA glossary, pasted below) (Updated)
According to a WSJ editorial published on July 21, 2023, a lawsuit had been filed by Bakersfield Community College Prof. Daymon Johnson who has been teaching since 1993 and refused to comply with DEI requirements adopted three months earlier by the California Community College System. Per the editorial, under the newly adopted regulations, California community colleges must "place significant emphasis on DEIA competencies in employee evaluation and tenure review.” A full copy of the editorial is here.
More recently, another lawsuit has been filed by FIRE and a number of faculty members at other California Community Colleges regarding what they believe are inappropriate intrusions on academic freedom and other rights. A copy of the the pleadings in this second lawsuit is found here.
As part of its activities, the California Community College leadership also has adopted a DEIA Glossary. Excerpts from the glossary include the following:
"Equity: The condition under which individuals are provided the resources they need to have access to the same opportunities, as the general population. Equity accounts for systematic inequalities, meaning the distribution of resources provides more for those who need it most. Conversely equality indicates uniformity where everything is evenly distributed among people.
"Merit: A concept that at face value appears to be a neutral measure of academic achievement and qualifications; however, merit is embedded in the ideology of Whiteness and upholds race-based structural inequality. Merit protects White privilege under the guise of standards (i.e., the use of standardized tests that are biased against racial minorities) and as highlighted by anti-affirmative action forces. Merit implies that White people are deemed better qualified and more worthy but are denied opportunities due to race-conscious policies. However, this understanding of merit and worthiness fails to recognize systemic oppression, racism, and generational privilege afforded to Whites.
"White Privilege: Refers to the unquestioned and unearned set of advantages, entitlements, benefits and choices bestowed on people solely because they are White. Generally White people who experience such privilege do so without being conscious of it."
[Editor's note: We have downloaded a complete copy of the California Community College DEIA Glossary, below, and where similar DEI glossaries appear to be in widespread use around the country. See also the list of discredited words and phrases that Stanford's IT unit created in recent years, a PDF copy of which is posted at our Stanford Concerns webpage; was similarly developed in coordination with other entities nationwide; and was implemented at Stanford solely by administrative staff and notwithstanding California's ban on speech codes.]
More About Campus Bias Response Teams and Programs
[Editor’s note: This federal appellate court decision, Speech First vs. the President of Virginia Polytechnic Institute, was issued on May 31, 2023 and involves a program at Virginia Tech similar to programs at many U.S. colleges and universities that allow students, faculty and even third parties to report, even anonymously, something that a student might have said or done as being inappropriately biased. The full text of the court’s decision can be found here and our prior discussion of Stanford’s Protected Identity Harm program can be found here.]
Excerpt from dissenting opinion of J. Harvie Wilkinson III, U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals
“Consider a 19-year-old sophomore at Virginia Tech sitting in a favorite class, one involving the role that race, ethnicity, and gender play in contemporary American politics. During a lively class discussion, an interesting but controversial topic comes up. She considers raising her hand to add her thoughts to this fascinating debate, but she hesitates.
“She remembers hearing about the University’s Bias Intervention and Response Team, which Virginia Tech established to ‘eliminate acts of bias’ through ‘immediate direct or indirect responses to bias-related incidents.’ She cannot recall how ‘bias incident’ was defined but thinks it was something about ‘expressions against a person’ in a protected class. She knows that biased speech can be reported anonymously online. In fact, Virginia Tech ‘encourages’ students ‘to make a report’ if they ‘hear or see something that feels like a bias incident’ even if they are ‘unsure.’ She vaguely remembers that those reported for bias will be invited to a meeting with the Dean of Students or referred to another University office. Students are told the meetings are voluntary, but word travels quickly on college campuses, and she does not want to be ‘that girl who got reported.’ She cannot recollect whether those who get accused of bias get in trouble with the University, but she knows the Dean of Students keeps a file of all complaints.
“She thought she had an insightful comment to add to the discussion, but it might not be worth risking an encounter with the bias response team, especially because the team comprises representatives from the offices of Inclusion and Diversity, Student Conduct, the Dean of Students, and the Virginia Tech Police Department. “Faced with these circumstances, what would a reasonable student do? Speak up and risk an anonymous report? Or keep her head down, sit silently, and avoid the potential fallout? A student in this situation will almost always choose the latter. And this is how Virginia Tech objectively chills speech. … “How did it ever come to this—that such a fine and distinguished university would institute a policy with such incipient inquisitional overtones, one that turns its campus into a surveillance state? The First Amendment guarantees to everyone not just passive access to but active participation in the marketplace of ideas. Today, the majority breaks that promise to a segment of society who needs it most—college students. … “It is beyond wrong to place these students in the crosshairs. It was beyond wrong in the civil rights era to make those courageous voices for racial equality subject to vilification or worse. It was beyond wrong to make American pacifists in times of war feel beyond the pale of civil discourse. The First Amendment does not permit the fevers of majority passions to deny the minority its say.”
Cornell Alumni Urge Emphasis on Free Speech and Critical Thinking
During New Student Orientation
An alumni group at Cornell similar to ours has written two letters (one last May, one this week) to Cornell’s president, urging that a free speech instruction unit be included in new student orientation. The more recent letter states in part, “This is not a partisan issue and should not be treated as such. Every side of a debate must be open to intellectual challenge if we, as a society, and the university, as an engine of open inquiry, are to have any chance of surviving. . . . We propose training to assist students in recognizing the difference between speech and violence . . . [and that] through listening to reasoned challenge they may become wiser and more thoughtful adults.” See the following most recent letter (January 9, 2023) to Cornell's president:
Dear President Pollack, We are writing on behalf of the Cornell Free Speech Alliance (CFSA) to reiterate a request made earlier in the year for inclusion of a free speech instruction unit during Freshman Orientation. We applaud your public statements in defense of free speech and civil discourse on campus. An orientation program is among the policies and activities that will be instrumental to achieve the conditions envisioned in the University’s Statement of Core Values on the fundamental nature of Free and Open Inquiry and Expression: We are a community whose very purpose is the pursuit of knowledge. We value free and open inquiry and expression—tenets that underlie academic freedom—even of ideas some may consider wrong or offensive. Inherent in this commitment is the corollary freedom to engage in reasoned opposition to messages to which one objects. Engaging new students can begin to address the current threats to these values, but also presents an opportunity, one for which we believe Cornell is supremely advantaged, to become a pacesetter of academic freedom. CFSA wants to support the University in this goal. The speech and assembly rights protected by the First Amendment are necessary to self- governance; and the “mission of the university is the discovery, improvement, and dissemination of knowledge.”2 Thus strengthening the skills of speaking, listening, and engaging new or uncomfortable ideas is critical to the success of the university and the country as a whole. This is not a partisan issue and should not be treated as such. Every side of a debate must be open to intellectual challenge if we, as a society, and the university, as an engine of open inquiry, are to have any chance of surviving. As the Kalven Committee pointed out over fifty years ago, “[f]rom time to time instances will arise in which the society, or segments of it, threaten the very mission of the university and its values of free inquiry. In such a crisis, it becomes the obligation of the university as an institution to oppose such measures and actively to defend its interests and its values.” In its most recent rankings, The Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE) awarded Cornell its highest, “green light” rating4 for its “Demonstrations Not Involving Structures”5 policy. Nevertheless, in its 2022-2023 College Free Speech Rankings, Cornell came in at number 154 out of the 203 universities ranked, earning an overall evaluation of Below Average. Perhaps more concerning for university students in general, “More than three-in-five students (63%) expressed worry about damaging their reputation because of someone misunderstanding what they have said or done;” “just over one-in-five (21%) reported that they feel a lot of pressure to avoid discussing controversial topics in their classes;” and, “[m]ore than three-in-five students (62%) said that students shouting down a speaker to prevent them from speaking on campus was acceptable to some degree.” The gap between Cornell’s free speech commitment and its campus reality were demonstrated by the events of November 9, 2022, during which invited speaker Ann Coulter’s (Cornell ’84) event was disrupted and ultimately shut down. While the University’s response was consistent with its own free speech principles, clearly students need resources to walk- the-walk when it comes to speech rights. Strengthening the skills of speaking, listening, and engaging new or uncomfortable ideas will enable students to navigate the current environment and close the gap between the “green light” policies and the below average rating. Elements of a Free Speech Training These skills must be learned and honed. For many students, their time at Cornell is their first, best, and (sadly) potentially last opportunity to do so. And like any skill, the proficiency in engaging in rational discourse requires practice—repetition in the face of inevitable failures, encouragement to try again, and the opportunity to experience the benefits of success. We propose training to assist students in recognizing the difference between speech and violence; in differentiating between pre-school level “expressions” such as loudly blowing a whistle versus the reasoned discourse expected from a student at a world class university; that listening to ideas is a necessary predicate to considering them; that listening alone does not equal endorsement; and that some dearly held beliefs—that students sincerely believe reflect their own views—are opinions assigned to them by the environment in which they grew up and which they have never seen competently challenged. In other words, through listening to reasoned challenge they may become wiser and more thoughtful adults. Two models of student orientation training we recommend for your consideration, the Purdue model7 and FIRE’s freshman orientation modules8. CFSA has access to expert and proven resources and stands ready to assist Cornell in selecting an appropriate model or developing a Cornell-specific approach to opening ears and minds. Thank you for your consideration. We would appreciate the opportunity to meet in person with you to discuss how we may support this initiative. Please let us know whom on your staff to contact to discuss next steps. Best Regards //SIGNED// Cornell Free Speech Alliance