Jonathan Farley: Unhinged (Late Update)

A recent column in the Harvard Crimson by student Sandra Y.L. Korn raised a firestorm by challenging the foundation of academic freedom:

When an academic community observes research promoting or justifying oppression, it should ensure that this research does not continue.

The concept isn’t novel, the elevation of political correctness over the search for unpleasant truth. I had this weird inkling that it was related to something here long ago, but I couldn’t put my finger on it.  I shrugged it off. At my age, forgetting things is like breathing.

Then an email arrived. Brief and unsigned, the only indication of its sender being its gmail address of “lattice.theory.”  There was no subject line, but the body read:


What happened to “please keep it civil and respectful.”

By the way, I am not and never have been a SUNY Buffalo mathematician. Read the website you link to carefully.

Ordinarily, this would go straight to the trash as just another pointless, time-wasting missive, but it obviously related to something I had written, though whoever sent me the email assumed that I would obviously know exactly who he was. Ah, the joys of narcissism, because whoever it was had to be the center of my universe. This is an oddly common thing in blawging.

I could have taken the time to figure out who I had slurred by calling him a SUNY Buffalo mathematician, but why do the work for him?  Instead, I responded:

Who are you and what the hell are you talking about?

It didn’t strike me as a particularly hard question to answer. It’s not offensive. It was, as far as I was concerned, a pretty reasonable query.  A reply soon came, this time with the subject line “unhinged.”  For those of you unaware, “unhinged” is a favorite term in academia, meaning crazy.

Boy, you’re unhinged.  Talk about “insane.”

Apparently, we were working with very different definitions of insane, so I was now moved to figure out who my secret admirer was. A search for “[email protected]quickly revealed it to be Jonathan Farley, who was indeed a mathematician, though it was unclear, amongst all the self-puffery, whether he had a job.

Armed with a name, I was still clueless as to who this guy was and what this had to do with me, so I searched my archives to see whether his name appeared, and I had shamed him by attaching him to SUNY Buffalo, a school he obviously felt was so beneath his dignity that he had to point it out.

And there it was. The post was less about Farley than about Eugene Volokh, whom Farley had attacked.  Eugene, it seems, had stood up for a third-year-student at Harvard Law School who had taken the opposite view of Sandra Y.L. Korn, that academic freedom should allow the questioning of sacred cows, and this outraged Farley, who called for the student’s dismissal.

Eugene Volokh stood up for the student and academic freedom, and hilarity ensued:

At one point, some knave raises Eugene’s post comparing his experience as a child on a bus in Kiev, and asks if Farley really calls for the 3L’s expulsion from Harvard.  Oh boy.

Yes, I am calling for her expulsion. And people like this “Volokh” should never, ever have been allowed into the United States to spew their race hate against Americans (masquerading, the way the white South Africans sometimes did it, as anti-Communism).

Say what?  This “Volokh”?  Spewing race hate against Americans?  I mean, sure, Eugene’s not the snappiest dresser and all, but I always thought that was his real name.

comment followed  giving Farley a second bite:

Professor Volokh is a principled man who believes in academic freedom and most certainly not racist. He did nothing to deserve your vicious ad hominem attacks and misrepresentations (he stated that he was against certain politically correct taboos, and no more) save advocate a different response, and certainly nothing excuses your attack on him.

Feel free to criticize him views. Don’t launch ad hominem attacks.

I suspect you wrote the reply quickly after dealing with right wing nutters and didn’t think about Volokh’s argument before you replied to what you thought was another ill-informed troll. Just think about what he has to say, OK?

Farley wasn’t having any of it.

I responded to Volokh’s views. His view is racist. If it were in my power, I would limit the number of additional racists coming into the United States to attack Americans. Volokh owes African-Americans an apology.

Ahhhh. That Jonathan Farley. Now I remembered.


If I stand next to a poster of Che, does it makes me look radical-ly?

Finally, I had a full understanding of the individual who assumed that I would immediately know exactly who he was, despite the absence of any signature and refusal to tell me.  But now I understood, aside from his ire at being associated with such a low-rent school as SUNY Buffalo, why he was upset.

Of course, the post about Farley and Eugene was nearly four years old, having been posted on May 5, 2010. The worst that was said of Farley, whose publicly expressed view was that “foreigners” like “this Volokh” should never be allowed to come to the United States to enjoy such rights as free speech and academic freedom like real Americans, like Jonathan Farley, was that his view was insane.  And it was.

Now that I did the work for Farley, I realized what I had to do.  First, it appears he was not a SUNY Buffalo mathematician, for which I apologize for offending his elitist sensibilities even though I think SUNY Buffalo is a pretty damn fine school. But it’s not entirely my fault, as Farley can’t seem to hold a job, and his connections to schools is all over the place, and nowhere at the same time.

Second, I now understand why you assumed that I would immediately know who you are, as the manifestations of pathological narcissism are hard to ignore. While you would need a diagnosis first from a competent healthcare professional, I’m pretty sure there are drugs available that can help you.

Third, when I wrote that your views were “insane,” I was being civil. If I wasn’t, I would have called them batshit crazy and you a flaming asshole for your attack on Eugene.

And fourth, I don’t think “unhinged” means what you think it does.

But I must thank Farley for causing me to look back four years and finding the post about the Harvard student who raised the issue of political correctness and challenging political correctness.  It puts Sarah Korn’s article in context, and shows that Harvard students are still pondering controversial questions.  Controversy is a good thing.  And Farley is still nuts, but even unhinged mathematicians are allowed to speak their crazy views in America.

Update (9/8/15): An odd and unanticipated influx of hits on this post suddenly appeared, so I checked it out.  There was my pal, Farley, smacked on a thread with this post after doing his usual attempted-plausible-deniability bragging routine.  But he dismissed this post by writing:

But as for the person who wrote the webpage you linked to, he writes that he had to do some work to find out my name, but my name was in the original email message, so he was simply lying. That kind of dishonesty is typical for people with his politics.

[Edit: Farley’s post has since been deleted, and he has been banned, at the linked post. Fortunately, I have a screen cap.]


Was I simply lying? Let’s see.


How weird is that? I don’t see Farley’s name anywhere. Do you?  Then his second, in reply to my email.


Nope. No name there either, not to mention a direct question of “who are you?”  Well, looks like this mystery is solved, though I’m fairly confident Farley never anticipated that his blatant lie would end up biting him in the ass.

All of which raises a question: does a liar, not to mention pathological braggart, like Jonathan Farley belong in academia? Is this the sort of person who should be shaping the minds of students?


4 thoughts on “Jonathan Farley: Unhinged (Late Update)

  1. BuffaloLawyer

    As a SUNY Buffalo alum (Undergrad and Law School), I was prepared to take offense at Mr. Farley’s dig against my school. However, after learning a little bit about him I simply can’t muster the energy to actually care about what he thinks. He should also probably avoid visiting Buffalo since I don’t think he would relate very well to the decent and friendly people who live here.

    1. SHG Post author

      If being able to relate to decent and friendly people is the metric, there may not be a lot of places where Farley is welcome.

      1. Fubar

        Outside of a mathematician, simple connection to decent and friendly people is a good metric. Inside of a mathematician, space is not simply connected.

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