A conservative law prof raised the common complaint about the lack of diverse political views in academia, which I figured was a complaint that has played out too many times for anything new to be said. I was wrong. A black prawf chimed in with a series of twits that included this:
My own practice has always been to let students know I have views, where they can find them but that I will always demand that they treat each other with respect and dignity and equality in my classroom and when they fail to do so I will hold them accountable.
What caught my eye was the final phrase, “I will hold them accountable.” I have no idea what the prawf meant by “treat each other with respect and dignity and equality,” as these words convey no substantive meaning. I don’t doubt the prawf uses them with the best of intentions, but what does his idiosyncratic sense of respect, dignity and equality have to do with teaching, and how will he hold students “accountable” for violating his personal views?
Curiously, the prawf who initiated this response deleted his twit, likely to avoid the unanticipated potential backlash of appearing to disagree with a black law professor. Was it wrong to take a different view? Maybe. Who knows? Since that wasn’t the battle he was interested in fighting, he walked away. And that was largely the point of the initial twit, before he was trumped by his interlocutor, whose students either adhere to his personal views of equality or suffer the consequences, no matter how well they do on the final.
Is that the minefield of academia now? At Volokh, Eugene raised a new requirement at University of Maryland for all profs to include in their syllabus.
Diversity Inclusion and Belonging in the School of Public Policy
Commitment to an Inclusive Classroom
It is my intent, as well as the stated policy of the School, that students from all backgrounds and perspectives will be well-served by this course. The diversity the students bring to this class will be seen and treated as a resource, strength and benefit. Materials, discussions, and activities will respect all forms of diversity. All students are expected to promote this aim through their words, actions, and suggestions. If something is said or done in this course, either by myself, students, or guests, that is troubling or causes offense, please let me know right away. The impact of what happens in this course is important and deserving of attention. If you ever do not feel comfortable discussing the issue directly with me, I encourage you to bring the issue to an advisor, administrator or the School of Public Policy Equity Officer.
Pronouns and Self Identification
We invite you, if you wish, to tell us how you want to be referred to, both in terms of your name and your pronouns (she/her, he/him, they/them, etc.). The pronouns someone indicates are not necessarily indicative of their gender identity. Visit trans.umd.edu to learn more.
We acknowledge that we are gathered on the stolen land of the Piscataway Conoy people and were founded upon the erasures and exploitation of many non-European peoples. You can find more information about the Piscataway Conoy Tribe at http://www.piscatawayconoytribe.com. For more information about the University of Maryland’s project for a richer understanding of generations of racialized trauma rooted in the institution visit https://go.umd.edu/SNW.
Suggested placements: We suggest this statement should be placed just prior to or after the learning outcomes in the syllabus as well as prominent within your ELMS site. Faculty should vocally review these statements within class as well.
To many people, none of this would appear to be a problem, as they agree with each of these provisions individually and collectively. And if so, then placing this statement in one’s syllabus presents no issue, even if the fact that you do so not because you came up with the idea and decided it was a good idea, but were compelled to do so by the school in flagrant violation of the traditional notion of academic freedom.
People seem to have no issue shrugging off things being rammed down their throat as long as they either taste fine, or don’t taste bad enough to raise a fuss. After all, they want to keep their jobs, and objecting to forced wokeness is no way to get tenure, particularly when you don’t object to wokeness in general.
But the kicker in here is the first four words, “It is my intent….” Not only does a prof have to include the university’s paean to wokeness, but they has to express it to students as if it’s the prof’s personal ideology.
Conspicuously omitted, of course, is any acknowledgement of faculty or student academic freedom. What if a faculty member doesn’t endorse the land acknowledgment statement, perhaps because he takes the view that conquest of land and the displacement of peoples is the norm in human history (might the Piscataway Conoy have “stolen” land from others who lived there before?), and not something that he thinks merits particular condemnation or explicit attention? Or what if he’s skeptical of claims of “generations of racialized trauma rooted in the institution”? The school may have its own view of the matter, but one principle of academic freedom is that faculty need not endorse all the views that the school endorses, and cannot be compelled to publicly make such an endorsement.
From the imposition of a professor’s personal idiosyncratic “rules” that could do harm to a student’s academic circumstances when he’s held “accountable,” to the school requiring profs to assert their personal belief in rules which they do not, or at least do not accept when forced upon them by administrators or committees, neither student nor professor can confidently believe that they is entitled to express their own views without institutional consequences.
None of this compels anyone to believe anything they don’t actually believe, but one can only question the orthodoxy at one’s peril. And you might have no idea where that line is drawn, what your professor actually believes or whether he, or some classmate or administrator, will end your academic career with prejudice for failing to be sufficiently accommodating to the Piscataway Conoy tribe. You may believe yourself to be woke as hell, but whether that’s sufficiently woke to survive will only be determined if you manage to survive someone else’s minefield.