Saturday, October 4, 2014

An Open Letter Concerning Colgate's Responses to the Association for Critical Collegians

by Aaron Robertson
Professor of Mathematics
Faculty Advisor for Colgate's Young Americans for Liberty

Dear President Herbst,  Dean Hicks, and Dean Nelson,

I support the students’ rights to free assembly in order to make substantive change at Colgate.  The issues of bias on campus are real; the majority are student interactions, while there are only some select cases of inappropriate discussions by a few faculty members. I do not, however, subscribe to the belief that policy measures dictated by students (with select faculty exhorting the ACC’s demands) will ameliorate the problems in any significant way.  In fact, several of the well-intentioned “solutions” could easily have the opposite effect.

It is unsettling and incongruent that mandating compliance and adherence to a certain viewpoint is perceived as a good method to foster an atmosphere of diversity and inclusivity.  This certain viewpoint is also one championed by the political left, and given the (political) liberal privilege on this campus (and many others), only serves to further disenfranchise those who do not espouse such left-leaning solutions.  Furthermore, the new regulations placed on faculty, staff, and – to a lesser degree – administration, presume a widespread racial bias problem within the ranks at Colgate.  This belies the majority of student racial bias experiences being about student-on-student bigotry.

Even more disturbing, and another example of (political) liberal privilege, is the new mandate being handed down by administrators who do not engage in faculty hiring.  For years we have been told to create as large and diverse a pool of applicants as possible.  This we have done.  This makes sense.  We are now being asked to require applicants to write about how they would address – and promote -- diversity and inclusivity issues on campus.  Such a requirement (an optional statement in a job application is a requirement; the only option is that if the applicant does not write one, and then he or she will not be fully considered) will decrease the pool of applicants.  This is antithetical to what we have been urged to do. 

In a job application, diversity is synonymous with racial diversity.  As such, to a conservative- or libertarian-identifying candidate, this is tantamount to advising them not to apply, as the line to toe in academia vis-à-vis diversity is clearly defined through a (politically) liberal lens. It also will give pause to any racial minority who does not want to come to a campus where her or his race will be a central part of their academic position.  To believe otherwise is to not understand (political) liberal privilege.  To argue otherwise, under the guise of all viewpoints on diversity being equally valid, I must wonder why we are to be taught “how to read the responses,” as I have been informed will be the case. This begs the questions: what is the “correct” answer?  If all are equally correct, why is the question being asked?

According to the New York State Department of Labor’s website (, political affiliation and belief is to be protected from discrimination:

"Under Federal & New York State laws, discrimination occurs when you are treated differently in a way that causes an adverse impact to you, based on your: race, gender, age, disability, religion, national origin, political affiliation or belief, genetics, arrest and conviction record, marital status, genetic predisposition and carrier status, veteran status, sexual orientation, or retaliation." [emphasis added]

Based on research done (from the journals of Association of Psychological Sciences, The Forum, articles referenced in The Chronicle of Higher Education and Inside Ed, as well as studies from The Independent Institute), not only are conservative-leaning academics far underrepresented, but also willingly discriminated against by a large percentage of liberal-leaning faculty members.  A telling quote from one of the articles (Unnatural Selection, Chronicle of Higher Education, by Peter Wood) is:

“The most effective way to keep out a whole class of people who are unwelcome isn’t to bar entry, but to make sure that very few in that class will want to enter. If it comes down to it, entry can still be impeded through other techniques, the feminist and the multiculturalist vetoes on the faculty search committee being the deadliest as far as conservatives go, although there are others”

Daniel Klein, Professor of Economics at George Mason, an expert in the field of faculty political attitudes, has said that the fact that academia is left-leaning is not surprising: “[the] `tendencies toward uniformity’ in disciplines and departments, [is] that these tend to build upon themselves.” (Survey finds that professors, already liberal, have moved further to the left, Inside Higher Ed, by Scott Jaschik).

To wit, Colgate must explain why a fantastic teacher, who engages all students equally and fairly, and has glowing reviews from all students, but does not deem it necessary to discuss diversity and inclusivity in, say, a chemistry class, is not welcome at Colgate.  Why do we not want such a teacher?  Please note that the race of such a teacher was not mentioned, either; it discriminates against such a teacher regardless of race.  The discussion of diversity is a politically loaded question, one from which right-leaning candidates will shy away. It lessens political diversity at Colgate and will lead to an even more uneven political structure.

Even more damning is research done by Yoel Inbar and Joris Lammers (Political Diversity in Social and Personality Psychology, Association for Psychological Sciences) in which they conclude, via a large survey, that conservatives have a good basis to fear negative consequences when revealing their political beliefs to colleagues.  “Many social and personality psychologist said that they would discriminate against openly conservative colleagues.”  In fact, more than one in three would discriminate, based on their survey evidence.  Correlatively, “[t]he more liberal respondents were, the more they said they would discriminate.”  Even more disheartening is their result proving a blindness to (political) liberal privilege: “[t]he more liberal respondents were, the less they believed that conservatives faced a hostile climate.”

In fact, according to Inbar and Lammers, applying the outcome of Teamsters v. United States, 1977, the current degree of academia’s liberal tilt can actually be considered “prima facie evidence of discrimination.” 

In Colgate’s administrative response to the ACC demands, it was stated that the piloted program for requiring some type of diversity statement from candidates was successful.  Based on this declaration, the following questions merit an answer:

  • How are you defining success in this situation?
  • What percentage of applicants wrote such a statement?
  • Of those who wrote a statement, what percentage addressed racial diversity?
  • How are the responses to be interpreted in any substantial way that will aid in the hiring in a specific field other than to screen for the “correct” type of person?
  • Is an applicant who does not address such an “option” necessarily precluded from being hired?

The administrative tactic of speaking about a broad definition of diversity while internally implementing a policy of how to interpret responses proves that there is some type of "correct" diversity, which is, of course, hidden in all public responses.   The rhetoric and practice must be the same.  To feel the need to train professors on “how to read the responses to diversity issues” implies that the practice may not be as broad as the rhetoric.

Another affront to academic freedom, and liberty, in general, is your response that “[w]e will do this” when asked for “stronger disciplinary action for hate speech of any kind.” This is a slippery slope and infringes on the right to protected free speech.  Since this new “hate speech” disciplinary action will be implemented, I call for this to be strictly enforced on top-level administrators as well.  Given your response to this particular demand from the ACC, there should be no reason for concern by top-level administrators (and faculty should feel free to audio-record such meetings given that Colgate may be policing students’ words (words very rarely result in a crime, which is why surveillance cameras don’t record audio) on a private bus).  

Hate is a subjective term and will surely only be applied in cases where the “hate” is deemed the correct type of “hate.”  This will have a chilling effect on political viewpoints and free-flowing exchanges of ideas both in and out of the classroom.  Social peer pressure to not allow hurtful dialogue is much more effective than punitive measures based on some (however carefully crafted) definition of “hate.”  Hate crime is one thing (crime); hate speech is another (speech).

The proposed responses to decreasing incidents of racial bias will not help to any significant extent (except for, perhaps, bystander intervention).  The change must be in the social structure at Colgate.  Students must be willing to speak out when such incidents happen.  We must foster student interactions in a non-confrontational, non-academic way, but not in a directed fashion.  Discussions and workshops will not serve as agents of change. For years, Colgate has been putting into place social policies that segregate students by class structure.  We no longer have open, inviting parties; they must be small and by invitation.  Since human nature is to first be attracted to similar people, Colgate is exacerbating self-segregation.  To this end, I find it irresponsible that Colgate is re-implementing strict social policies/policing that were started under Charlotte Johnson, our former Dean of the College.  If you wonder how Colgate got to where we are, look from where we came.  Look at her track record at Dartmouth, where she went after Colgate.  Reimplementation of failed policies is fatuous.

I would propose that on-going meetings (say, every week) between top-level administrators, students, and faculty (and not the ones who helped to craft the list of ACC demands) to hash out the actual problems that students face would prove far more fruitful in creating the type of environment the students deserve.  It would provide an opportunity to get to the real issues that need to be addressed.  Bystander intervention training for students is a good start, but we need more actions like this. A policy heavy on administrative policies and faculty training/intervention will do nothing to ameliorate the student-on-student biases that occur, and should only be implemented if there is evidence of widespread bias among Colgate employees.

I urge that you rescind your response actions that you have stated you will implement.  These well-intentioned policies could easily serve to shape Colgate into a less inclusive, less inviting, less free place. 

No comments: