UNH Lecturers & Cancel Culture

They Want In On It

As promised/threatened yesterday, here's my take on a recent letter emitted by the Executive Committee of "UNH Lecturers United", the union bargaining unit of non-tenure-track faculty at the University Near Here. Currently available on their website, saved for posterity on my Google Drive:

[UNH Lecturers Mail]

I was sufficiently irritated to (1) download this PNG; (2) install and use Tesseract to OCR it into text; and (3) break out the old fisking template to comment on it as it goes along. The letter's text is on the (appropriate) left, with a lovely #EEFFFF background color; my remarks are on the right.

I do this with some reluctance and regret, because I know and like a number of people on the Executive Committee. But, as the kids say these days, silence is violence. So…

The University of New Hampshire has recently adopted the language of Anti-Racism, […]

Sadly true. Although it ignores a larger truth: UNH has been heavily invested in progressive/leftist trends in racial/sexual/identity/etc. politics for years. For example,

  • It proudly invited "ex"-Communist Angela Davis to speak at its yearly Martin Luther King celebration back in 2009.
  • In 2011, when the Obama Administration tried to use Title IX to bypass due process for college students accused of sexual misbehavior, they sent Joe Biden to UNH for the big announcement, where he was warmly welcomed.
  • And UNH was widely mocked back in 2015 when people noticed its "Bias-Free Language Guide" which attempted to police usage of "problematic" words and phrases like "American", “homosexual,” “overweight,” “rich,” …

But, yes, "recently" UNH has gone all-in on the "anti-racism" fad, making it the school's Official Racial Ideology, featuring its advocates on its website, running the spectrum from left to hard-left, without a single contrary opinion appearing.

So what more could the Lecturers want? Well, as it turns out…

[…] but it is impossible to foster such a belief unless the University’s position is also staunchly and confrontationally Anti-Fascist. Racism, classism, religious intolerance, and sexism are integral to the logic of the far-right. If we truly value diversity, then we must actively oppose any political position structured around inequality.

It's not enough. It's never enough.

Note the implicit assumption that it's UNH's job to "foster belief" in Anti-Racism. That's entirely appropriate language for evangelicals looking to recruit you into a religious cult. For a University, not so much.

But never mind that; apparently UNH's current efforts at evangelism are inadequate to counter the Dread Fascist Menace.

Which the Lecturers apparently equate with the "far-right".

Which the Lecturers apparently equate with "any political position structured around inequality".

It's pretty clear the Lecturers' goal here is to cast a broad and fuzzy net around any political opinion with which they could potentially disagree. Round 'em up, condemn them, either get them to shut up or (preferably) toss them out.

Since the election of Donald Trump, faculty have been encouraged on multiple occasions to respect and tolerate the political positions of students that they may find reprehensible.

Apparently no English teachers were involved in the drafting of this letter; "reprehensible" is a dangling modifier, making it ambiguous whether the faculty find the political positions reprehensible, or the students themselves.

Hey, maybe both. But they should clarify.

It's also unclear what the election of Donald Trump has to do with causing faculty to be encouraged to be more respectful and tolerant. Shouldn't that be a given? A default attitude? No matter who's in the Oval Office?

Nah. My guess: Trump's election caused (some) faculty to be increasingly disrespectful of, and stridently intolerant toward, Trump-sympathizers. Which (I assume) caused enough complaining so that administration urged them to take it down a notch or two. Understandable and plausible.

To our knowledge. no similar statement has been issued to the students, […]

In fact, UNH's handbook of Students Rights, Rules and Responsibilities refers to "our collective commitment to respect the rights, dignity, and worth of all community members" right up front. I'm pretty sure that's been the boilerplate for years. There's no asterisk detailing an exception for reprehensibility.

[…] and the university has hosted hateful and dangerous individuals and organizations on campus.

Dangerous? Once again, remember that UNH once hosted Angela Freaking Davis on campus. Who, back in 70s, owned a shotgun used to blow the head off a judge who'd been taken hostage in an attempted jailbreak.

So we're left to wonder what "dangerous individuals and organizations" the Lecturers are referring to. I can only remember a couple of events, both from the not-particularly-dangerous Turning Point USA (in May 2018, see Eric the Viking for his take; and October 2019, which I attended, my report here). You can plausibly call TPUSA unnecessarily provocative, but deeming them "hateful and dangerous" is way over the top.

So never mind, we're off to…

Faculty have experienced repeated harassment and slander online, and they have been intimidated in the classroom and pilloried in the evaluations that are used to determine promotion and reappointment. This has created chilling effect across the campus that has become an obstacle to the exercise of the academic freedom needed to deliver honest and accurate content.

Stipulated: some students say stupid and malevolent things. (E.g., "I hate you and I hope you die".)

As a one-time UNH Instructor, I agree that student evaluations are hot garbage.

Harassment, slander, and intimidation can and should be dealt with by the normal student conduct process.

But maybe students perceive that they and their opinions are being disrespected in the classroom ("reprehensible", remember?) and decide to reciprocate. Given the instructor/student power imbalance, that might not be prudent, but they deserve points for chutzpah.

President Dean has stated that “we must commit to a sincere search for truth” and that "we must continue our efforts to help people understand the importance of Democracy, the rule of law and how to critically examine information to reach a valid conclusion.” In order to do this the faculty needs encouragement from the administration to combat these elements as they arise and assurances that we will be supported for doing it.

Can we all just get behind reasoned discussion of political differences?

I'd suggest that will not happen when faculty characterize it as part of their job to "confrontationally" "combat" anyone expressing "dangerous"/"hateful"/"reprehensible" ideas. Or (for that matter) anything they see as "structured around inequality".

We are not talking about simple differences of opinion. In the same way that one would assume it is unacceptable to argue that the Earth is flat or only 2000 years old in a Geology class, all faculty must feel secure in saying "No, Fascism and its adjacent attitudes are abhorrent to a diverse and democratic society, and they have no place here.”

This is probably too obvious to point out, but:

Asserting that "woke" anti-racist ideology should be considered to have the same certitude as a spheroidal, 4.543 billion-year-old Earth is utter nonsense.

That said, a decent prof in the sciences should be able to deal with flat-earth students without losing his cool. Or claiming that their views are "abhorrent"; they are simply wacky.

But note that appendage the Lecturers have added to "Fascism": "and its adjacent attitudes". Again we see the vague and potentially sweeping dissenting views the Lecturers want the leeway to ban as having "no place here".

Nothing to worry about there, National Review-reading students. I'm sure they'll come for you last.

As the philosopher Karl Popper has famously articulated, there is a “paradox of tolerance.” In the desire for its own self-preservation, a tolerant society cannot and must not be open-minded toward those that would seek to destroy it is precisely our tolerance and permissiveness that the far-right has exploited in order to disseminate the false information that has led to a deadly Insurrection at the Capitol and to the out-of-control spread of Covid-19.

Taking the low-hanging fruit first: it's certainly a misreading of Popper to claim that he was in favor of suppressing views that might be categorized as intolerant. (Especially by those eager to suppress opposing views.) The Lecturers should read Popper more carefully: "… I do not imply, for instance, that we should always suppress the utterance of intolerant philosophies; as long as we can counter them by rational argument and keep them in check by public opinion, suppression would certainly be most unwise."

I think the Lecturers' views are more akin to Marcuse's than Popper's. But see what you think.

I'm as outraged by the 1/6 Capitol Riot as anyone. Will following the Lecturers' recommendations help circumvent future riots? Doubtful.

And of course, the Covid pandemic is a worldwide phenomenon. Is the "far-right" disinformation really so powerful as to cause its spread from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe?

No, I don't think so either.

But we're on to the grand finale, folks:

UNH Lecturers United hopes that the administration will join us in our commitment to equity, equality, and justice by condemning the poisonous ideologies that have been allowed to fester on our campus and in our nation. We ask that the administration make it clear to the entire campus community what behaviors cannot be tolerated. Faculty should always teach respectfully but with ultimate fealty to the truth. If doing so brings them into conflict with groups or individuals who harbor other beliefs they will have the full support of the UNHLU-AAUP, and we hope the administration will stand with us by publicly asserting its commitment to its core beliefs and its willingness to defend them as necessary.

Why, it's almost as if they imagined this last paragraph be accompanied by rousing inspirational music, perhaps The Internationale.

It's clear that UNHLU-AAUP wants to set itself up as the Ministry of Truth at UNH, deciding what "poisonous ideologies" should be "condemned". And advocating that a broader (but vague) array of "behaviors" should now be grounds for expulsion or perhaps a stint in the re-education camps.

Last Modified 2021-02-23 12:42 PM EDT