All posts filed under: Education

Academic Article Withdrawn Following “Serious and Credible” Threats of Violence

Editor’s note: the following article has been updated to include details obtained via a police report from Portland State’s Campus Public Safety Office regarding a voicemail threat sent to Associate Professor Gilley on September 14.  An academic journal that published a controversial article making a case for Western colonialism has withdrawn the piece after its editor received “serious and credible threats” of violence. “These threats are linked to the publication of this essay,” Taylor and Francis, the publisher of the Third World Quarterly (TWQ), wrote in a statement in place of where the article was formerly available. “As the publisher, we must take this seriously. Taylor & Francis has a strong and supportive duty of care to all our academic editorial teams, and this is why we are withdrawing this essay.” The article’s formal withdrawal concludes a month-long controversy that saw its author, Portland State associate professor of political science Bruce Gilley, at the center of an international firestorm culminating in threats of violence against both him and the journal’s editor-in-chief, Shahid Qadir. First published …

The Case for Contrarianism

Another semester, another academic publishing scandal, complete with calls for penitence and punishment. This time the catalyst is “The Case for Colonialism,” a “Viewpoint” editorial in Third World Quarterly. In this essay, Bruce Gilley argued that “it is high time to question [the anti-colonial] orthodoxy. Western colonialism was, as a general rule, both objectively beneficial and subjectively legitimate in most of the places where it was found, using realistic measures of those concepts.” Gilley’s article has since been withdrawn due to “serious and credible threats of personal violence” made against the journal’s editor. This obviously troubling development should make us wonder: just what evil would this article have brought about if not withdrawn? The Streisand effect is in full display here. The article – detailed, abstruse, and not always beautifully written – has no doubt been far more widely read than it would have been without the controversy. The publication of “The Case for Colonialism” faced criticism on several grounds: it was offensive; it was unscholarly; the journal did not follow its normal procedures in publishing it …

In Defence of Private Tuition

“Private tuition can be harmful to the long-term academic prospects of children, a leading London headteacher warned today.” A recent article in the British press employed the usual tone of melodrama and foreboding that is standard for most reporting on educational issues, especially those which focus on parental anxiety and individual choices. The article – of course – lacks nuance; the quoted head teacher of South Hampstead High School has told me personally that “the debate is not binary” and even that she has recommended tutoring on some occasions, a balance to her position somewhat absent in the histrionic tone of the article in which she is quoted. However, she is disquieted by the increasing numbers seeking private tuition, and advocates it only in extremis, when a child is struggling to such a degree that the situation is truly desperate. When I suggested that private tutoring can also provide stretch and challenge, she replied “we provide plenty of this at school,” her words revealing an unease that is familiar to me and which I hope to …

Defending Western History From Political Propaganda

History, Rudge tells us in Alan Bennett’s 2004 play The History Boys, is “one [bleeping] thing after another.” Yet history as a discipline is not solely concerned with facts, or, in other words, with what [bleeping] happened. It also involves interpretation, or, in other words, why things [bleeping] happened, why they [bleeping] mattered and what [bleeping] lessons can be taken for the future. Such interpretations can be controversial. Classical Studies—as Sandra Kotta detailed in these pages—have been subjected to violent fits of politicisation. Donna Zuckerberg (yes, she is Mark’s sister) edits the Classical Studies journal Eidolon. In a recent essay she announced her desire to “model a Classics that is ethical, diverse, intersectional, and especially feminist”. “Classics as a discipline,” she wrote: …has deep roots in fascism and reactionary politics and white supremacy, and those ideologies exert a powerful gravitational pull on the discipline’s practitioners. If we want to fight those forces, we need to actively work against them. How Classical Studies has “deep roots” in fascism when the field predates the dogma is a mystery. More interesting is Zuckerberg’s reference to …

Gender Bias in STEM—An Example of Biased Research?

I don’t agree with everything in the infamous “Google Memo” written by James Damore, but I can understand why one might write such a memo after sitting through one too many training sessions on unconscious bias. I’m a professor in a STEM discipline, and like many STEM fields mine has substantially fewer women than men. Like every STEM professor that I know, I want my talented female students to have fair chances at advancing in the field. I’ve served on (and chaired!) hiring committees that produced “short lists” of finalists that were 50 percent women, I’ve recommended the hiring of female job applicants, I’ve written strong reference letters for female job applicants and tenure candidates, and I’ve published peer-reviewed journal articles with female student co-authors. At the same time, I’ve become increasingly frustrated by the official narratives promulgated about gender inequities in my profession arising from our unconscious biases. These narratives are, at best, awkward fits to the evidence, and sit in stark contradiction to first-hand observations. My field is smaller than many other STEM …

How I Survived the Title IX Star Chamber

In recent years higher education has been roiled by new challenges. We hear constantly about threats to free speech, typically originating from students protesting right-leaning (or putatively right-leaning) speakers or professors. Fanned by conservative pundits, altercations at Evergreen, Middlebury, and other schools have consumed the lion’s share of media attention. Yet something equally corrosive to higher education has flown under the radar: the wanton abuse of Title IX of the Civil Rights Act. This has cost universities and taxpayers untold millions of dollars, and destroyed many lives in the process. Yet institutions of higher education have been largely successful in keeping Title IX cases out of the spotlight. Public scrutiny has finally arrived, most prominently in the work of Northwestern University scholar Laura Kipnis. Her April 2017 book, Unwanted Advances: Sexual Paranoia Comes to Campus, is a sweeping indictment of how Title IX, originally intended to remedy campus sexism, has become a blight on American higher education. Most people think of Title IX in relation to women’s access to college sports, but in fact it …

The Academy Needs to Confront the Danger Within

For its own sake if nothing else. Pew Research Center recently released survey data showing that 58% Republicans and Republican-leaning Americans believe US colleges and universities have a negative impact on our nation, a number that has been steadily increasing over the last several years. Only 19% of Democrats and Democrat-leaning Americans hold such a negative view. Many social commentators and academics have been quick to blame conservative media for this changing view among Republicans by arguing that right-leaning outlets have unfairly portrayed colleges as places of radical left activism and hostility toward conservatives. What exactly have Republicans learned from conservative media? They have learned that there is a vanishingly small number of conservative and centrist professors, especially in the social sciences and humanities. They have learned that certain academic fields are becoming increasingly activist-oriented, pushing an ideological agenda that ignores empirical data. They have learned that when the social justice agenda and truth collide, the social justice agenda typically wins. They have learned that professors who offer divergent perspectives are often ostracized and silenced, …