Tag: academia

An interesting conflict has recently erupted within the hallowed halls of Duke University Divinity School. As I understand it, a renowned professor of Catholic theology, Paul Griffiths, was driven to resign, after daring to question the usefulness and political motives of a weekend workshop on racial reconciliation, to which all faculty were invited.

The problem began when he responded to an email circulated by a junior faculty member, Anathea Portier-Young, which sang the praises of the upcoming workshop: “Dear Faculty Colleagues, On behalf of the Faculty Diversity and Inclusion Standing Committee, I strongly urge you to participate in the Racial Equity Institute Phase I Training planned for March 4 and 5. … Those who have participated in the training have described it as transformative, powerful, and life-changing. We recognize that it is a significant commitment of time; we also believe it will have great dividends for our community. Please find the registration link below. Details about room location will be announced soon.”

Professor Griffiths apparently rolled his eyes and fired off a provocative, sarcasm laced email that exhorted his colleagues not to “lay waste their time”:

“I exhort you not to attend this training. Don’t lay waste your time by doing so. It’ll be, I predict with confidence, intellectually flaccid: there’ll be bromides, clichés, and amen-corner rah-rahs in plenty. When (if) it gets beyond that, its illiberal roots and totalitarian tendencies will show. Events of this sort are definitively anti-intellectual. (Re)trainings of intellectuals by bureaucrats and apparatchiks have a long and ignoble history; I hope you’ll keep that history in mind as you think about this instance.

We here at Duke Divinity have a mission. Such things as this training are at best a distraction from it and at worst inimical to it. Our mission is to thnk, read, write, and teach about the triune Lord of Christian confession. This is a hard thing. Each of us should be tense with the effort of it, thrumming like a tautly triple-woven steel thread with the work of it, consumed by the fire of it, ever eager for more of it. We have neither time nor resources to waste. This training is a waste. Please, ignore it. Keep your eyes on the prize”

Almost immediately he was in hot water with his Dean, Elaine Heath, who fired off her own email, praising the upcoming Racial Equity training and warning all faculty:

It is inappropriate and unprofessional to use mass emails to make disparaging statements–including arguments ad hominem–in order to humiliate or undermine individual colleagues or groups of colleagues with whom we disagree. The use of mass emails to express racism, sexism, and other forms of bigotry is offensive and unacceptable, especially in a Christian institution.

The Dean then insisted on a meeting with Griffiths in which he would not be allowed a representative, and he declined, prompting sanctions that include restriction from faculty meetings and no access to research funding.

Subsequently, the junior faculty member, Dr Portier-Young, lodged a complaint of harassment against Griffiths, via the University’s Office for Institutional Equity (OIE). He is accused of “use of racist and/or sexist speech in such a way as to constitute a hostile workplace.”

More information is available at the New York Times and elsewhere. The initial breaker of this story, and principle source of leaked documents is the blog The American Conservative.

This story has begun to reverberate around the web as an example of an ongoing purge of conservatives from higher education, though I’m not sure whether Professor Griffiths fully fits the mold of “conservative” based on other controversial stances alluded to in the New York Times piece. I also see this being mentioned as a parable of the chilling effect of “social justice warriors” on free speech and academic freedom, and this is certainly disturbing. It should be noted that Professor Griffiths wasn’t actually fired, or directly pressured to resign; he could have fought on for his right to express his opinion, rather than quitting and publicizing the emails. Still, he seems to have accurately described the situation when he criticized the far Left’s “illiberal and totalitarian tendencies.” It is dismaying what an intellectual straitjacket one must wear in academic circles just to survive.

Reflecting further on the express purpose of divinity schools, which is to train pastors, it is also dismaying to consider the potential spiritual wreckage of rampant political correctness. How many intellectually and spiritually eviscerated seminary grads are emerging from places like this and being foisted upon the churches of our land?

In the evolving world of thought control on college campuses, a new concept has emerged. Known as “trigger warnings”, messages akin to the old Surgeon General cigarette labels now flag speakers or concepts that may “cause emotional distress”, so that they may be shunned and avoided. The idea emerges out of the feminist theory of “safe space”, and students, at least radical ones, want their colleges to be “safe” from ideas deemed offensive (in other words, any with which they disagree).

Consider the following excerpt:
You wouldn’t know it to look at her, but Christina Hoff Sommers is apparently the kind of speaker whose very presence on college campuses is so alarming that students require advance notice, also known as a trigger warning.

At least, that’s what happened when the American Enterprise Institute scholar spoke this month at Georgetown University and Oberlin College. Campus feminists kicked into high alert, warning students that her lecture on feminism and criticism of the college “rape culture” could make them “feel unsafe.” (From Washington Times).

It isn’t only conservatives that are disturbed by this. A professor wrote an essay for Vox titled, “I’m a liberal professor, and my liberal students terrify me.”):

I am frightened sometimes by the thought that a student would complain again like he did in 2009. Only this time it would be a student accusing me not of saying something too ideologically extreme — be it communism or racism or whatever — but of not being sensitive enough toward his feelings, of some simple act of indelicacy that’s considered tantamount to physical assault. As Northwestern University professor Laura Kipnis writes, “Emotional discomfort is [now] regarded as equivalent to material injury, and all injuries have to be remediated.” Hurting a student’s feelings, even in the course of instruction that is absolutely appropriate and respectful, can now get a teacher into serious trouble.

Furthermore: In 2015, such a complaint would not be delivered in such a fashion. Instead of focusing on the rightness or wrongness (or even acceptability) of the materials we reviewed in class, the complaint would center solely on how my teaching affected the student’s emotional state. As I cannot speak to the emotions of my students, I could not mount a defense about the acceptability of my instruction. And if I responded in any way other than apologizing and changing the materials we reviewed in class, professional consequences would likely follow.

It may be no big shock to learn that Christian content might induce a trigger warning. In fact here is a passionately written atheist’s perspective on this: “That last point requires a bit more explanation, because I failed to mention that for some formerly devout people, church and churchy talk can actually be triggers for some very negative emotions. I don’t think our friends and family understand this, which makes perfect sense if you think about it. For them, this stuff is all wonderful. It thrills them and they can’t understand why others wouldn’t have the same reactions to songs about Jesus, about sin, about going to heaven and about getting saved from Hell. It seldom occurs to them that the very same songs, turns of phrase, and even mannerisms which feel so right to them can feel so wrong to someone else, especially someone to whom they are closely related.

In an ironic twist, Duke University students who are Christians are now being “triggered” by a book. Read more at Washington Post. It appears that on their way out of the public sphere, Christians have learned a bit from their leftist foes, and are using this kind of reasoning as a rear guard action to opt out of reading material that is offensive to them as Christians:

It’s also the case that these Christians are simply exercising the newest right on campus: the right to not be exposed to ideas or materials exposure to which might result in a bad emotional or intellectual reaction. Leftists on campus, it is well documented, routinely insist that they be warned if they might come within hearing distance of a conservative idea, book, or speaker, lest they find themselves with a case of the vapors. I have no use for such theatrics, especially inasmuch as it has become an authoritarian movement demanding the abridgment of free speech. Nevertheless, what’s good for the goose should be good for the gander. Except that for some, it isn’t.

You may read the entire post “trigger warnings are for liberals only” at the Stand Firm BLog, for an introduction and a sampling of some of the delicious howls of rage from leftists who don’t feel that what’s “good for the goose is good for the gander.”

The sad result, of course, is the slaughter of truth and the murder of intellectual freedom. This also causes further disengagement of Christians and non-Christians from each other’s ideas–for better and worse.

The University of Tennessee has asked its teachers and students to start using gender neutral pronouns in a bid to create “inclusivity” within the campus.

Among the so-called gender neutral singular pronouns are: “ze,” “hir,” “hirs,” “xe,” “xem,” and “xyr.” The said pronouns are encouraged for use within the campus, while gender binary pronouns such as “he” and “she” are discouraged.

Read more at Christian Post

I should note that the proposal was withdrawn after public ridicule and protests from the state legislature, such as this:
A letter written by state Rep. Susan Lynn, R–Mt. Juliet, has 31 co-authors, including the speaker pro tempore of the House, and it condemns the policy as political indoctrination. (The Lebanon Democrat