Lunacy in Academia

Several decades ago I attended the University of North Texas (its name at the time was North Texas State University) for a master’s degree program in history. Most faculty members in that department (and nearly all the students) leaned to the political left even then. Though my politics generally did not align, I never had an indication or believed any of the professors were lunatics, and all were open to reasoned academic discourse.

That doesn’t appear to the be case today.

Last December 2019, Nathaniel Hiers, an adjunct professor in the mathematics department, went in to the faculty lounge one day and notice a flier near a blackboard published by the University of New Hampshire entitled “How to Identify Microagressions.” Hiers casually skimmed it, then wrote on a chalkboard, “Please don’t leave garbage lying around,” and drew an arrow pointing to a flier. The next day, Ralf Schmidt, the chair of the mathematics department, emailed his staff with a photo of the chalkboard message. “Would the person who did this please stop being a coward and see me in the chair’s office immediately. Thank you.” Hiers replied and wrote that he was responsible. That it was intended as a joke, and was his opinion. He refused to apologize. Hardly a cowardly response.

Hiers was subsequently taken to task by the department head, Schmidt and the administration. Even though he had entered into a contract to teach math during the spring semester, UNT unilaterally canceled the contract and effectively fired him. The reason for Hiers’ dismissal was unambiguously because of his comment critical of the concept of “microagressions” that allegedly victimizes “marginalized” groups.

The Alliance Defending Freedom has taken Professor Hiers’ case. ADF lawyers filed has filed suit on Hiers’ behalf in the U.S. District Court Eastern District of Texas Case # 4:20-cv-00321. The 30 page Complaint, with numerous exhibits attached, states facts in excruciating detail that describes the wrongful acts and policies of UNT and its administration’s members. It alleges alleging eight claims or causes of action under the United States Constitution and civil rights statutes as well and breach of contract under Texas law. Hiers is seeking money damages, injunctive relief, and his attorneys’ fees. Fifteen defendants, all members of the Board of Regents or officers of UNT, are named defendants.  Complaint

The Complaint quotes a passage from Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt’s book The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas Are Setting up a Generation for Failure commenting on political correctness and so-called microagressions:

. . . encourage students to find more things offensive (leading them to experience more negative impacts), and you also tell them that whoever says or does the things they find offensive are “aggressors” who have committed acts of bigotry against them, then you are probably fostering feelings of victimization, anger, and hopelessness in your students. They will come to see the world—and even their university—as a hostile place where things never seem to get better.

If someone wanted to create an environment of perpetual anger and intergroup conflict, this would be an effective way to do it.

Lukianoff, who is the president of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (The Fire) and Haidt, a New York University faculty member (NYU-Haidt) point out that much of the so called microagression movement is intended to discourage the use of language in ordinary discourse that can reasonably taken to be demeaning. Courtesy and civility in speech and manner can aid persuasiveness, and avoid generating more heat than light in an argument. Litigators and negotiators are taught this, and the ones who take it to heart are the successful ones.

But, in Professor Hiers’ case, it is obvious to one who reading the UNH flier that it is an attempt to impose orthodoxy in thought, which should have no place in an American institution of higher learning. The orthodoxy here, of course, is left-wing, of the most extreme kind.

Now, this is not to deny that people sometimes say stupid things based on assumptions and stereotypes. This is part of the dominant collectivist theory that being the perceived member of an artificial group imbues certain characteristics, desirable or undesirable, to individuals. Perhaps there are those who would find such speech offensive, but there is no right to freedom from being offended. As matter of fact, such experience can be a motivating factor to show a uninformed speakers that they are wrong in their assumptions.

College campuses are places for learning, not only academic skills, but also social skills. Social skills include how to get along with other people who may have different opinions, how to disagree without being disagreeable, and how to synthesize ideas from opposing points of view. Establishing orthodoxy in thought stifles free inquiry. Unfortunately many campuses, obviously UNT is one, have abandoned academic freedom, even of their faculty, who should be the most academically inquisitive of all the members of the community of scholars that is a university.

It is also particularly ironic that Hiers, a mathematics professor, should be the one pilloried for unorthodox opinions, even though they had nothing to do with his subject. Mathematics, of course, is the one discipline where outcomes of inquiry can be definite right or wrong (except possibly in its ethereal realms). Two plus two equals four; the square root of 100 equals 10; and so forth. No argument, except in George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, where it could be thoughtcrime, if the Party mandates otherwise.
Anyway, UNT and its administration, as well as the faculty members involved in sacking Professor Hiers, need to get spanked, and spanked fairly hard. Those who believe in freedom of speech should certainly hope so.

Read more here .

A Side Note

Co-incidently, the local newspaper recently re-published a series of Garry Trudeau’s comic strips Doonesbury that first appeared in the 1990s or early 2000s. Trudeau’s strip first appeared in the late 1960s and has commented on politics and popular culture, usually from a left-wing point of view (some newspapers have placed it on the op-ed page rather than with the other strips). This series had perhaps three weeks of episodes in which a math professor at Trudeau’s fictional Walden College was sued for giving a student a “B” on a math paper, and thus allegedly causing the student (a jock and frat member – two of Trudeau’s usual targets) mental distress and humiliation. The strip, of course, drips with satire. It’s fictional setting is not quite congruent with Professor Hiers’ situation, but it suggests that such lunacy has been around for awhile.

One comment on “Lunacy in Academia

  1. Joe Ptak says:

    Bob–Just a side note to your side note: Garry Trudeau’s “comic” football character was based upon Brian Dowling, who is a 1965 graduate of St. Ignatius High School in Cleveland. I believe that your Uncle Bob Mazanec also attended SIHS as did my Dad and grandfather and the Horak brothers and I. I also believe that Dowling, a locally renowned high school quarterback, was with Trudeau at Yale. He also was an elementary school classmate of my wife Kate. So—you have a familial albeit tenuous connection with Garry Trudeau!! I hope that makes your day a little brighter.–Cousin Joe

    Like

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