Philosopher’s Comments On Immigration Cause Stir On Campus


Remarks on immigration by Dan Demetriou, associate professor of philosophy at the University of Minnesota, Morris, have been a subject of controversy at the school recently, according to Inside Higher Ed.

Professor Demetriou’s comments, in the form of a non-public Facebook post, have been circulating around the campus.

(Note: let me register an objection to the practice of publicly broadcasting another person’s Facebook posts not intended for public consumption. I proceed to mention them here because Inside Higher Ed‘s article has made them a subject of public discussion.)

From IHE:

“Illegal immigrants lower the confidence in the rule of law and add people and workers and students we don’t need,” Dan Demetriou, associate professor of philosophy, recently wrote on Facebook, according to screenshots that have been made public. “They on average have IQs lower than natives and low skills. They are harmful to an economy about to automate, especially when it is a welfare state.”

Refugees, meanwhile, are “way worse,” Demetriou wrote, “as most adhere to a religious-political cult with repulsive values at war with the West from its inception. No country who has taken the current crop of refugees has made it work.”

Professor Demetriou is currently on sabbatical in Sweden. Someone at his university printed out and posted his comments around campus, causing a stir.

The Chancellor of the university, Michelle Behr, sent a campus-wide email about the controversy earlier in the week. Again, from IHE:

Chancellor Michelle Behr responded to the controversy earlier this week, saying in a campuswide email that while “democracy should and does rightfully tolerate expression of differences of opinion, some members of our community have found these communications both personally and professionally distressing.” She “strongly reaffirmed” Morris’s “vision that we celebrate and support the multicultural and international inclusiveness of our community. Differences are our strength, and our community values and respects diversity of all kinds.”

Behr said there will continue to be “differences of opinion and perspective,” and that it’s “imperative that we all make every effort to express these differences in a respectful way.” She cited the University of Minnesota Board of Regents’ Guiding Principles, including that the institution “strives to sustain an open exchange of ideas in an environment that embodies the values of academic freedom, responsibility, integrity and cooperation” and “provides an atmosphere of mutual respect, free from racism, sexism and other forms of prejudice and intolerance.”

When I asked him about the controversy, Professor Demetriou provided to me the statement he provided IHE. Here it is:

The post being distributed was written when the Trump travel ban was dominating the news and social media. Like many of my academic friends, I ranted; but unlike almost all of them, I ranted to the right as opposed to the left. No short post on such a complex topic, let alone a rant, could survive much scrutiny. But this post, read with the least charity possible, and isolated from other things I have said on the topic in discussion afterward, has been seized upon in order to further a political agenda and punish a dissenting voice.

The views I shared are not ones I promulgate in my classes, and in fact I don’t even cover these topics in my courses. I expressed my mind in a hot state on my private Facebook page. I am not sure what special “responsibilities to the community” I have there. But if I do, then what shall we say of professors who on their social media advocate for “punching Nazis” or overthrowing an elected government via the “deep state”? I don’t see such outbursts as immoral, inappropriate, or even ill-advised in the context of Facebook. People need a space to vent with their friends, frenemies, and acquaintances. Conversation usually sees us moderate or clarify our positions. 

I am ideologically right in a very ideologically left world. Although I am outspoken in private discussion, I am not involved in any political groups on campus, and I have never rallied for a cause. I am unknown to our chapter of the College Republicans. But I am persuaded that the leftist immigration and refugee policy agenda, especially given the influence of divisive social justice theory and looming automation, is an existential threat to the US and other advanced western nations. We need to talk honestly about social cohesion, assimilation, and the obligations we have to our citizens and our children who appear, as I see it, ignored in expansive homilies about immigration and refugees. As strongly as I feel this, I have done nothing more than state that these are my concerns on my Facebook page and engage in useful debate there.

Some brief comments on this:

  1. Professor Demetriou’s comments are clearly protected as extramural speech under a widely accepted understanding of academic freedom.
  2. It does not appear that the university is taking any official steps to squelch his speech or discipline him for it.
  3. That his comments are clearly protected by academic freedom and the First Amendment doesn’t mean we can’t have normative discussions about their expression.
  4. I happen to know Professor Demetriou from conferences, Facebook, and from his guest posting here at Daily Nous. He is a smart and interesting philosopher with a distinctive take on ethics and politics who is completely open to reasonable discussion about these matters. I disagree with a lot of what he says, particularly on matters pertaining to immigration, but I am glad he is a part of the profession.
  5. A robust culture of disagreement makes for a better academic environment.

Discussion welcome.

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