Bias in Academia

Academic Censorship and Self-Censorship in Germany

Students at the University of Siegen, Germany

Students at the University of Siegen, Germany

“This is a subject that is very difficult for academics to discuss. In fact, I think academics steer way clear of this subject. I found in writing stories about the human genome, anything that touched on race, for example, just petrified the academics I would speak to. I thought it was very sad, that we would have intimidation in this country. So I thought there was an opportunity, maybe a duty to write this book and to break the ice and try to discuss some of these issues.”
Nicholas Wade in a discussion of his book, A Troublesome Inheritance in response to a question from Jason Richwine: “How confident were you that writing this book would not result in the loss of your livelihood?”

Sometimes bad news from the System can turn out to be good news for advocates of free speech. Especially when the System implicitly admits of having to backpedal on its own self-proclaimed canons of free speech, reject is its own much-lauded free academic inquiry, and resort instead to censorship and gagging orders. This was recently the case when I had been invited to give a lecture at the University of Siegen in Germany on the topic of the Der Untergang des Abendlandes, (“The Decline of the West).”

The invitation, as was to be expected, was promptly cancelled by the University Board of Directors. On May 13, 2014, the cancellation of the event was reported by the influential mainstream German daily Westdeutsche Allgemeine Zeitung (WAZ). Professor Jürgen Bellers, who had sent an invitation, is an old colleague of mine, a former visiting professor at Juniata College in Pennsylvania, where I taught in the early ‘90s as a full-time professor of political science. Read more

The Present—And Future—State of Higher Education in America

University professor as cause zealot, mind manager, and syntax mauler.

The public presentations as part of their candidacies by two finalists for a professorship at the University of Vermont:

Keon McGuire, Ph.D. candidate in the Graduate School of Education and African Studies at the University of Pennsylvania:  “Problematizing the Presistent Problematizing of Black Students in Postsecondary Education.”   “In this talk, I discuss methodological tools and theoretical frameworks that educational researchers could employ in order to move beyond studying Black students as problems and investigate new phenomena; namely the intersectionality of students’ racial, gendered and spiritual identities.”

Dr. Kelly Clark/Keefe, Associate Professor, Appalachian State University:  “Becoming Outsider, Becoming Educated, Becoming Undone: Towards an Interdisciplinary Justice-Oriented Perspective on College Student Identity Development.”  “Throughout the presentation, audience members will encounter my process of utilizing arts-based inquiry, inviting considerations that creative methods may help educational researchers to activate their commitment to social justice by carving out epistemic spaces for different ways of expressing unheard of or only partially effable truths.”

A third finalist for the professorship, Dr. Vijay Kanagala, Post-Doctoral Candidate, University of Texas, argues for the contribution he can make to a university setting in the Commission for Social Justice Educators Blog: “If not me, then who will counsel a recent immigrant about race and racism that was experienced at the supermarket or for that matter with an advisor or faculty member on campus?  If not me, then who will work with a White student to encourage the process of self-exploration of her/his identity, privilege, oppression and racism and the ensuing guilt that employs a non-judgmental model for that White student’s ignorance and lack of exposure to diverse issues?”

Felipe Fernandez-Armesto: Cosmic Goddess Explorer

filipeIn the egalitarian world of academia the deeds of great European men stand like an irritating thorn. Allowing university students (the majority of whom are now females) to learn that practically every great philosopher, scientist, architect, composer, or simply, everyone great, has been a male makes them uncomfortable. Academics feel even less comfortable, terrified even, at the thought of teaching their increasingly multiracial classrooms that these males are overwhelmingly European. While universities cannot ignore altogether the cultural achievements of Europeans, otherwise they would have little to teach — all the disciplines, after all, were created by Europeans — the emphasis tends to be on the evolution of “progressive” ideas framed as if they were universal ideals by and for humanity.  Egalitarians particularly enjoy teaching how these ideas have been improved upon, and continue to be, through the “critical thinking” of teachers and activists. Hail to the professors fighting for humanity’s liberation right inside their classrooms!

But it is not always easy to “critically” hide European greatness. It stands out in every subject of human endeavor. I would say that, when it comes to the teaching of history, academics have implemented four major discursive strategies to deal with this irksome issue in an age of egalitarian expectations. The first strategy, and possibly the most influential, is to argue that Europe’s history has to be seen in the context of “reciprocal connections” with the rest of the globe. The Greek classical world was part of a wider network of cultures within the Mediterranean Basin, predated and “fundamentally” shaped by the “foundational” civilizations of Mesopotamia and Egypt. Rome was both Western and Eastern. Christianity originated in the East. Medieval Europe borrowed its technology from China. “Without the Islamic Golden Age there would have been no Renaissance.” The Enlightenment was “the work of historical actors around the world”. Read more

Critical Theory in the American University: A Critical Issue, Part Three

Read Parts One and Two before proceeding here.


It is remarkable how universal a negative, critical, view of Whites as a race is in today’s university.  Every course, every speaker, every professional article and book, every “welcome week” activity in the fall, every program in the dorms, every word uttered in faculty meetings, every committee report, every organization, every administrative pronouncement, every master’s thesis and doctoral dissertation, every group email, every bulletin board notice, etc., etc., etc., etc.—not one positive word about Whites and not one negative word about any other race.  If any university administrator or academic has said a favorable word about White people as a race, verbally or in print, I don’t know about it, and I think I pay attention.

The late novelist and essayist Susan Sontag, a regular on the university commencement speech circuit, captured the view of Whites held by those in power in American universities when she famously wrote, “The white race is the cancer of human history.”22 Indeed, Whites have their dirty linen—every race does—but the picture isn’t all bad in the way universities portray it.  I’d be happy to take the Whites’ side compared to any other race, let’s say Blacks, in accomplishments in philosophy, the arts and humanities, mathematics, science, technology, architecture, literature, philanthropy—you name it.20  I’d be willing to compare White communities to Black communities, anywhere in the world, on the basis of cleanliness, safety, care for children, and civility.  In the area of race relations, you can make the case that Whites are abusing Blacks and I’ll take the other side, which would involve citing interracial crime statistics. In race relations, I’ll cite examples of White individuals and groups trying to help out disadvantaged Black people and ending slavery for moral reasons at a time when slavery was pervasive throughout the rest of the world. And you can cite examples of Black individuals and groups trying to help out disadvantaged White people.

For Whites on campus, even the hint of a positive conception of their racial heritage or of racial consciousness and commitment and solidarity; even a touch of concern for the status and wellbeing of White people; even one word in favor of White advocacy, leadership, organization, and collective action; even the least gesture in the direction of affirming the right of White people to self-determination—don’t you dare.  Whites are obligated to have an all but obsessive concern for the interests of other races, and to serve those interests, while having absolutely no concern for the circumstances and fate of their own people.  In fact, Whites should go to work against their racial brethren (the race traitor idea). Read more

Critical Theory in the American University: A Critical Issue, Part Two

This material depends on familiarity with  Part One. Please read that before proceeding here.

David Roediger is a White professor of African American studies at the University of Illinois. He is a leading voice in the White abolitionist movement, as it is called: “It is not merely that whiteness is oppressive and false,” he asserts, “it’s that whiteness is nothing but oppressive and false.”  As does Peter McClaren (see Part One), Roediger proposes that Whites become “race traitors.”13 He is best known for his book, Wages of Whiteness: Race and the Making of the American Working Class.14 In it, he draws on Marxist ideology and psychoanalysis to sketch the development of racism in the American White working class during the nineteenth century. The book is arguably legitimate academic scholarship. That said, it comes down to portraying Blacks as victims and painting White working people negatively as racists: that’s who they are. That is not the only defensible way to perceive either labor history or the White working class.

If students only encounter this Roediger book, which is how it works in universities these days, they could well assume that this is the definitive take on White identity—overall, not just among working class Whites—and that what was true, or purported to be true, in the nineteenth century still prevails today. That is to say, that the problem in race relations is White racist animosity and feelings of superiority toward African Americans and desires to suppress or hurt them, which is the basic thrust of the Roediger book. Read more

Critical Theory in the American University: A Critical Issue, Part One

I teach a university course in education taken by undergraduate liberal arts students—they aren’t education majors—who take the course as an elective. It focuses on contemporary elementary and secondary public schooling and, to a lesser extent, the circumstance in universities.  Among the required readings this semester (Fall, 2013) are sections of a book edited by James Noll, a retired professor of education, entitled Taking Sides: Clashing Views on Educational Issues.1   The Noll book is made up of twenty-three contemporary schooling issues as Noll defines them, each phrased in the form of a question.  For each issue/question, Noll writes an introduction and then includes two articles he has chosen from the professional literature in education to represent Yes and No answers to the question, thus creating a debate format.  Noll ends each issue with a concluding statement, which includes further readings on this concern.

Noll has done a good job with the book, and I find it useful in my course. I want my students to realize that there isn’t just one right answer to the issues we confront in education (or in anything else, for that matter), that depending on their particular outlooks and values, thoughtful and informed people legitimately differ both as to what is going on in schools and what ought to go on in them. Grounded in that realization, students, I hope, feel invited to analyze and assess arguments and explore their differences and implications, contribute their own best thinking to making sense of the issue, and come to their own conclusions rather than remain uncritical note-taking consumers of the ideas and proposals of others, which unfortunately is too often the role students play in university courses.

A Noll issue I used this semester is titled “Does a ‘Deficit Model’ Serve Poor Children Well?”2 It is clear from Noll’s introductory comments and the two opposing arguments that poverty to these writers means African American students in urban public schools. By deficit, Noll is referring to lack of health care, exposure to crime and drugs, negative adult role models, family instability, and limited exposure to culturally uplifting experiences. Read more