A Sarah Lawrence professor describes the cowardice of his fellow faculty

About a week ago I described the situation of Samuel J. Abrams, a professor of politics at the swanky and expensive Sarah Lawrence College in Yonkers, New York. Abrams, a conservative, had penned an op-ed in the New York Times giving the results of his survey of the political leanings of 900 American college administrators. He found that they were overwhelmingly on the Left (12:1 liberal:conservative), more so than college faculty (6:1) and even more so than incoming college students (2:1). Abrams decried this trend as eroding “viewpoint diversity” and leading to programs that indoctrinated college students with Leftist ideology. People have questioned the rigor of Abrams’s survey, but nobody doubts that the trend he descried is real.

The editorial is pretty tame, but of course Abrams was vilified. As I wrote, a group called the Diaspora Coalition immediately took the opportunity to issue a list of demands, some of them reasonable but most unattainable, impractical, or fatuous (the latter includes free detergent and water softener for students to use).

But the most invidious demand was for a review of Abrams’s tenure, even though he’s already tenured:

In the article below from the Spectator (click on screenshot), Abrams described further defamation as well as threats to him and family and nasty signs put on his door (the same thing happened recently at Williams College, which is going down the Evergreen State/Sarah Lawrence road to perdition). Here are some of the signs:

I ask you: what kind of twisted ideologue would put up signs like that, calling a professor an “asshole” and demanding that he quit? This kind of entitled and unforgiving attitude is spreading on American, Canadian, and UK campuses; read Abrams’s editorial if you want to see how disproportionate and unhinged the students are.

And Abrams, expecting some support from his fellow faculty, didn’t get much. Click below:

Because an earlier survey by Abrams showed that 93% of professors supported freedom of academic inquiry, Abrams expected some support against the tsunami of hatred. Instead, he got tepid support. As he describes,

While the college president eventually issued a perfunctory statement noting that I had ‘every right, and the full support of the college, to pursue and publish this work,’ the faculty’s support was minimal.

The college’s faculty ‘Committee on the Conditions on Teaching’ attempted to draft a strong declaration supporting the right of all faculty to free speech, but it was eventually watered down to into a weak message that simply supported the official statement that had already been issued by the president. Only 27 members of the faculty community signed the document, roughly 7 percent of the total faculty. Thus, to my shock, a proclamation in defense of academic freedom, freedom of speech and mutual respect clearly was deemed controversial and not overwhelmingly supported by my own colleagues.

Now, six months later, with the Diaspora Coalition’s latest attempt to attack academic freedom, the Sarah Lawrence faculty could have redeemed themselves and been galvanized to support free expression. Instead, they opted for silence — and, what’s worse, many of them were supportive of the student protesters’ demands.

As of this writing, 40 professors signed on and endorsed the Diaspora Coalition’s demand list. While not a huge percentage, 12 percent of the faculty — more than the number who supported the general statement about free speech back in October — endorsed the students’ demand to challenge my tenure and my right to free speech and the expression of ideas. All this, mind you, because I wrote an opinion piece based on original survey data, which was vetted and published by the New York Times.

What shocked me here is that only 27 faculty members signed a free-speech document tacitly supporting Abrams’s right to say what he wanted, but 40 of them signed onto the Diaspora Coalition’s list of demands, which include a tenure review for Abrams conducted by the Diaspora Coalition itself and at least three faculty of color. Talk about a Star Chamber!

If you’re a student or professor at Sarah Lawrence, and you haven’t defended Abrams’s right to say whatever he wanted (and yes, you are welcome to criticize what he said: that’s what free speech is also about), then you are derelict in your duty.  Too many professors and students are becoming cowed and afraid to speak because they fear repercussions of the type Abrams experienced. It’s shameful.

21 Comments

  1. Posted March 20, 2019 at 12:44 pm | Permalink

    Fine discussion. The big issue is not the faulty ideology of the Diaspora Coalition (although that is a problem) but their far-reaching ability to cow students and faculty who deviate from the norm into silence.

  2. Posted March 20, 2019 at 12:55 pm | Permalink

    Yes. Free speech is difficult and some are fearful ideas from them will make us fail.williams suffered same when student Zachary had people speak with ideas counter to some.
    New Yorker stalwarts said Remnick should not discuss with Bannon. A friend told me Banno was too street smart for Remnick. Liberals should be able to discuss any argument reasonably

  3. Posted March 20, 2019 at 1:18 pm | Permalink

    He found that they were overwhelmingly on the Left (12:1 liberal:conservative), more so than college faculty (6:1) and even more so than incoming college students (2:1). Abrams decried this trend as eroding “viewpoint diversity” and leading to programs that indoctrinated college students with Leftist ideology. People have questioned the rigor of Abrams’s survey, but nobody doubts that the trend he descried is real.

    Further reading: https://quillette.com/2019/03/06/how-ed-schools-became-a-menace-to-higher-education/

  4. gravelinspector-Aidan
    Posted March 20, 2019 at 1:21 pm | Permalink

    (the latter includes free detergent and water softener for students to use).

    Oh dear, it’s pet rant time. Water softener is relevant IF you live in an area with hard water, and irrelevant if you don’t.
    I grew up in a hard water area, and never used the stuff – you just de-scaled things regularly and lived with it. I moved to a soft water area – one of the softest areas in the country, and only started seeing water softeners on sale there, where they’re utterly useless. Now I see them in all areas of the country, regardless of their water hardness.
    I smell the stink of a successful advertising campaign, dedicated to stealing money from people for the benefit of the people who hired the applied psychobabblologists to write the campaign. It’s the sort of thing that brings a worse name to the sordid science.

    • Christopher
      Posted March 20, 2019 at 4:13 pm | Permalink

      So the use of unnecessary water softeners is over-softening the minds of university students and some professors, thus leading to the mush-brained reactionary fight against science and free speech! 🤪

      • gravelinspector-Aidan
        Posted March 23, 2019 at 9:27 am | Permalink

        There would be a geological effect then in soft-brained student behaviour. And I don’t know enough about the distribution of USian student insanities – the names of the universities don’t impart any geographical data to me.

  5. JAH43
    Posted March 20, 2019 at 1:34 pm | Permalink

    Courage is a virtue, but so is wisdom. Only the survivors can build and fortify a better tomorrow. As the Marxists used to say: “Negation begets its own negation.” The quiet faculty colleagues may not be numb but only temperate, waiting for their day.

  6. Posted March 20, 2019 at 1:34 pm | Permalink

    There is a comment in the link that expresses an interest in… scrutinizing the 27 who signed in support of Sam Abrams.

  7. Curtis
    Posted March 20, 2019 at 1:37 pm | Permalink

    I understand the reluctance to stand for what is right. I had a untenured position at a university and there was a SJW issue. Although I cared, all my comments were anonymous and I did not appear at the public session. The issue did not involve someone’s career. If it had, I might have done more but, honestly, I don’t know. I have a family to feed and that makes me a coward.

    If I had tenure, I am pretty sure I would have spoken out.

  8. Ken Kukec
    Posted March 20, 2019 at 1:50 pm | Permalink

    The Diaspora Coalition sure employs some non-standard definitions for words and phrases such as “safety and well-being” and “harm” and “wounded” and “forced to debate our very existence.”

    • Deodand
      Posted March 20, 2019 at 6:09 pm | Permalink

      You can add to those phrases, “diversity and inclusion”, “ally” and “free speach”, the last is usually defined to mean ‘that which we agree with’.

  9. Randall Schenck
    Posted March 20, 2019 at 1:51 pm | Permalink

    It is obvious that teachers are not safe and the whole story proves it. Standing up and speaking out when this far left controls the schools – forget it.

  10. Richard Sanderson🤴
    Posted March 20, 2019 at 2:12 pm | Permalink

    But, but, but the likes of “skeptics” such as Thomas “SeriousPod” Smith and Peter “Humanisticus” Ferguson insisted this sort of stuff was all a HOAX.

    Then again, these NewRacist pieces are always in the wrong.

  11. CJColucci
    Posted March 20, 2019 at 2:13 pm | Permalink

    The students demanded a tenure review, an official college statement condemning Abrams, an apology from the college for refusing to protect students who disliked Abrams’ piece, and a public apology from Abrams himself.
    As best I can make out, exactly none of this has happened or will happen.

  12. eric
    Posted March 20, 2019 at 3:11 pm | Permalink

    93% say they support free speech in a survey, but 7% actually support it when it’s highly unpopular with the student body.

    Honestly…I can’t say I’m surprised. This aligns with the ‘common sense’ (i.e. I have no data to back this up) notion that many people will support a cause when they can’t be hurt by doing so…but much fewer will when they can.

    I wonder if this has anything to do with Milgram’s findings about a relatively small (5-15%) perfect of people being willing to buck authority figures who give unethical orders…if so, one interesting thought about this situation is that there appears to have been an inversion of typical authority perceptions on highly liberal campuses, with student left-wing groups now being seen as the primary source of authority (at least in social justice matters) rather than the administration or the professors.

    • Posted March 21, 2019 at 12:26 pm | Permalink

      “there appears to have been an inversion of typical authority perceptions on highly liberal campuses, with student left-wing groups now being seen as the primary source of authority (at least in social justice matters) rather than the administration or the professors”

      I think events at Evergreen and elsewhere prove that, indeed, this is the case.

  13. max blancke
    Posted March 20, 2019 at 4:14 pm | Permalink

    Two of my sisters went there. That was about 20 years ago, and they are pretty conservative. I imagine if they attended today, their conservatism would be kept as secret as communist leanings in the 1950s. Sort of opposite.
    I guess if the trend continues, they can once again require the old question before admission: “Are you now, or have you ever been, a member of the Communist Party?”. Except the respondent will have to say “yes” to be admitted.

  14. Posted March 20, 2019 at 4:48 pm | Permalink

    “…what kind of twisted ideologue would put up signs like that, calling a professor an “asshole” and demanding that he quit?”

    Clearly one who is also deficient at spelling.

  15. DrBrydon
    Posted March 20, 2019 at 11:44 pm | Permalink

    “First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out…”

  16. Posted March 21, 2019 at 11:40 am | Permalink

    Do I understand correctly that the students were *successful* in their demand for tenure review? Or just that the faculty allowed them to *make* the claim? I am, admittedly, confused.

  17. Posted March 21, 2019 at 12:30 pm | Permalink

    This is scary! And it seems to become worse with time.


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