Experimenting with Higher Education (updated)


A new university is being created by a group of academics and media personalities who, unlike you and the university you work or study at, care about the truth:

And, might I add, they care about it fearlessly:

Featuring a number of figures who have fearlessly quit previous jobs rather than be around people who disagreed with them, the University of Austin promises to be “fiercely independent—financially, intellectually, and politically,” by being funded via a libertarian think tank.

It will have a physical campus in Austin, Texas, because “it’s good enough for [thinkers as radically different from one another as] Elon Musk and Joe Rogan.”

The full curriculum is still in development, though it appears the university’s first offering will be a summer program entitled “Forbidden Courses”:

You know, this very morning my students and I discussed the value of sex in a good life, the question of whether “incels” and others should have a right to sex, and why this is a question worth asking. In order to cover controversial questions like this, I teach this course on my own time, in secret—like most other professors of moral and political philosophy. (We meet in the “Great Books” room of the library, since no one goes there anymore.) It is so refreshing to learn that a university will finally have the guts to put something like “Contemporary Moral Problems” in its course catalog.

The University of Austin aims to start an undergraduate college in 2024. In the meanwhile, there are plans to launch MA programs in several fields, including: “Entrepreneurship and Leadership”, “Politics and Applied History,” and “Education and Moral Panics.”

*  *  *  *  *

Okay, okay, okay.  Some of you will have not liked that ( ↑ ) at all.

You can read the announcement of the creation of University of Austin from its president, Pano Kanelos, here.

In all seriousness, I think there are multiple reasons to favor experiments in higher education, so if the University of Austin survives its over-fertilized beginnings and blossoms into something beyond a safe space for status-quo warriors, that would be great. As an experiment in higher education, the University of Austin does not strike me as all that radical. (Jason Brennan of Georgetown University has his own reasons for thinking that, which he shares here.) But it has some very talented and, I’m sure, well-meaning people involved, so we’ll see. In the meanwhile, what would constitute a radical experiment in higher education?

UPDATE (11/15/21): Over the past week, a bunch of folks in the comments here whined about how I made fun of the stupid things that were said as part the University of Austin’s launch, and:


Related: “Illusion and Agreement in the Debate over Intolerance


guest
195 Comments
Oldest
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Incel University
20 days ago

LOLReport

Prof L
20 days ago

What would be a radical experiment in higher ed, hmm, maybe … stop making life so miserable for people who disagree with you, such that it makes complete sense for them to seek refuge with those who are like-minded in a friendlier, more intellectually open institution.

I get the eye-rolling: is this really *fearless*? Doesn’t getting all these people together somehow undermine the purported purpose of the free exchange of ideas? If they really care about that, why the retreat to an institution of like-minded people?

Sure. Would that there could be a free exchange of ideas within institutions. But I don’t think anyone could reasonably expect people to stay put in places where they are under attack.Report

James C Olsen
20 days ago

David Staley’s Alternative Universities: Speculative Design for Innovation in Higher Education is a philosophically informed and worthwhile read. I’d love to see more people seriously thinking through possibilities for higher education.Report

7654
20 days ago

To those who unhesitatingly dismiss the need for such a university, I suggest you may be ignorant of the extent to which many humanities departments (excluding philosophy) are plagued by dogmatic and illiberal faculty and students, and the greyness of the intellectual climate that results from their political intolerances. It is a real problem, but that’s not to say this project is a suitable solution.Report

Postdoc
20 days ago

I’m fine with a little academic sneering, Justin, I just wish you’d sneer left every once in a while instead of sneering exclusively to the right. Of course, I understand why you don’t sneer left: you’re prudentially rational. You know that, if you sneer left, you’ll be hammered by predominately left-leaning academics in the field and you judge (correctly) that it’s not worth it. Better to sneer right where the social cost-benefit analysis is more clearly positive.Report

Hey Nonnny Mouse
Reply to  Postdoc
19 days ago

I don’t think we have grounds to question Justin’s motivations, even if we disagree with his stance.Report

Postdoc
Reply to  Hey Nonnny Mouse
18 days ago

Ah yes, Justin can publicly mock (on one of the mostly widely read blogs in the discipline) his fellow academics trying to remedy a widely recognized problem with the academy. All fine. All part of the academic give and take. But my questioning Justin’s motives? Well, now that’s just too far. Makes sense.Report

JTD
JTD
Reply to  Postdoc
18 days ago

You are conflating two different things here. We need to distinguish what Justin permits himself and others to do on this blog vs. what Justin and everyone else should or shouldn’t be doing when they post/comment on public blogs like this. Justin permits himself sneer at other people’s projects and permits others to question his motives when he does this (after all, he allowed your comment). I think that Justin shouldn’t sneer and you should make assumptions about people’s motives and I think that each of you shouldn’t do that even if the rules that Justin has set out for how DN is run permits each of you to do that.

By the way, whatever we think of Justin’s editorializing (my view is that sometimes he editorializes way too much in favor of his own political views) I think that he at least deserves credit for allowing people to openly criticize his editorializing in the comments and even accuse him of being a bad actor. Many people in his position would struggle to not abuse their moderation powers and shutdown voices who oppose them.Report

Hey Nonnny Mouse
Reply to  JTD
18 days ago

Thank you, JTD. That is exactly my position.Report

David Wallace
20 days ago

I actually think this bit is more interesting than the more visible freedom-of-speech bit (and also closer to Justin’s question about what would actually count as a radical experiment):

If we were mimicking the traditional model of higher ed, then yes, that would cost billions. But we’re not doing that. Building a university from the ground up affords us the opportunity to reexamine the legacy practices of universities. UATX is developing a new model that reverses higher ed’s lopsided priorities of building up a bureaucracy at the cost of instruction. Our university operations put intellectual development and scholarly achievement at the center. Student affairs, athletics, and extraneous services will be outsourced or streamlined whenever possible to keep costs down.

I’m not sanguine that it will work, for reasons overlapping with Jason Brennan’s, but it will be interesting to watch.Report

Robert A Gressis
Robert A Gressis
Reply to  David Wallace
20 days ago

One of the reasons Brennan thinks it won’t work is that 30 years down the line, it will be co-opted by people whose priorities no longer agree with those of the founders. (I can’t tell whether this is supposed to be an instance of Conquest’s second law or not.) But even if it succeeds in what it claims it’s trying to do for, say, twenty years, that would still be pretty cool.Report

Rollo Burgess
Reply to  Robert A Gressis
17 days ago

thanks Robert for causing me to look up Conquest’s second law, which I think I had heard of before but had forgotten. I will use this regularly!Report

V. Alan White
20 days ago

Uh, I think my University System beat them to it a few years ago. The last two lines of the following statement from 1894 is on a plaque at every University of Wisconsin campus, and the full statement concerns the findings about a professor at UW accused to teaching socialism:

As Regents of a university with over a hundred instructors supported by nearly two millions of people who hold a vast diversity of views regarding the great questions which at present agitate the human mind, we could not for a moment think of recommending the dismissal or even the criticism of a teacher even if some of his opinions should, in some quarters, be regarded as visionary. Such a course would be equivalent to saying that no professor should teach anything which is not accepted by everybody as true. This would cut our curriculum down to very small proportions. We cannot for a moment believe that knowledge has reached its final goal, or that the present condition of society is perfect. We must therefore welcome from our teachers such discussions as shall suggest the means and prepare the way by which knowledge may be extended, present evils be removed and others prevented. We feel that we would be unworthy of the position we hold if we did not believe in progress in all departments of knowledge. In all lines of academic investigation it is of the utmost importance that the investigator should be absolutely free to follow the indications of truth wherever they may lead. Whatever may be the limitations which trammel inquiry elsewhere we believe the great state University of Wisconsin should ever encourage that continual and fearless sifting and winnowing by which alone the truth can be found.
— 1894 Ely trial committee final report, via Herfurth’s Sifting and Winnowing[Report

Kenny Easwaran
20 days ago

It’s interesting that although they have a large board of advisors, they only have three listed “founding faculty fellows” – Peter Boghossian, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, and Kathleen Stock.Report

Kenny Easwaran
Reply to  Kenny Easwaran
18 days ago

Also, this makes a lot more sense of recently reported stories about Boghossian and Stock leaving their institutions claiming to have been hounded out. Making those announcements before this new story probably gave them one relatively friendly media cycle, rather than seeing them as following the money.Report

Justin Kalef
Reply to  Kenny Easwaran
18 days ago

Please imagine how it would be if the situation were politically reversed: the great majority of faculty, administrators and students are far right, and there are constant calls to de-platform or fire left-wing faculty members. Three left-wing professors come under particular fire: one for her advocacy of a radical pro-trans agenda, one for repeatedly and publicly opposing US foreign policy in Latin America and the Middle East, and one for defending abortion rights. All three of them are regularly the targets of protests at their own campuses for the views they hold, and they are therefore recruited by the leadership of a new university whose funding comes from civil libertarian and left-wing sources.

Would you write so cynically about these hypothetical colleagues of ours in this case, running down their characters and motivations in a public forum?Report

David Wallace
Reply to  Justin Kalef
18 days ago

But of course that happens too, and I think some of the cynicism here comes from the perception that these threats to academic freedom from right-wing sources is being ignored. It is an interesting thought experiment to ask how people would have reacted if UATX had had, say, Nathan Jun and Steven Salaita in its founding faculty, * in addition to * Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Kathleen Stock and Peter Boghossian. I think a lot of people would have been confused.Report

Preston Stovall
Reply to  David Wallace
18 days ago

“Perception” has factive and nonfactive uses, and if you mean the first claim nonfactively then that may be fine as an explanation but it doesn’t justify the condescension and cynicism Justin’s pointing to. And if it’s used factively, then I wonder whether threats to academic freedom from the right really are being ignored. Part of the problem is that I’m not sure what you mean by ignored. Do you mean ignored in the profession generally? In online fora? At this blog? In the culture at large? I just don’t know how to read the first sentence except as either an explanation that doesn’t touch the underlying normative issue, or a sketch of a justification that needs more work.

And from my point of view, if the University of Austin had wrangled a group that included Jun, Salaita, Ali, Stock, and Boghossian, I would have been thrilled at the thought that so otherwise divergent a collection of thinkers had found a way to come together and intellectually break bread with one another. But I can see how some people might have found that confusing.Report

Justin Kalef
Reply to  Preston Stovall
18 days ago

So would I. Is Salaita having a hard time finding a job in academia? I don’t know who Jun is.Report

Alastair Norcross
Reply to  Justin Kalef
18 days ago

The last I heard, Salaita was driving a school bus.Report

Mary
Mary
Reply to  Alastair Norcross
18 days ago

And Jun is receiving inpatient psychiatric care after a failed suicide attempt. His life and career have been *completely* obliterated, yet no one is interested in his case.Report

Chris
Chris
Reply to  Justin Kalef
18 days ago

I guess, given your apparent political orientation, I’m not surprised that you don’t know who (Nathan) Jun is – but if you really want to take a principled stand about academic freedom and cancel culture, you should know about the cases where the victim is “on the left”, as it were (I know, the right-left political distinction is narrow and not all that illuminating…)Report

Mary
Mary
Reply to  Chris
18 days ago

In fairness, Jun’s case has received virtually no attention, especially in comparison with the far less cut-and-dried cases of Boghossian and Stock. This is utterly confounding to me in light of what the man was put through because of *single tongue-in-cheek Facebook post.*Report

Laura
Laura
Reply to  Mary
17 days ago

If I understand correctly, it’s even worse than other cases insofar as it was a joking remark he posted on a friend’s facebook page, not publicly shared, and it was screenshotted and distributed without his knowledge. In essence, the rule being followed in his “canceling” is that people cannot make this type of literary-reference parody joke on social media, and private comments to friends should be treated as public remarks.Report

Mary
Mary
Reply to  Laura
17 days ago

That is exactly what happened.Report

Khull
Khull
20 days ago

Oh, dear brother, please. One wishes you had taken a pill, slept on it, and reconsidered in the light of a new day. The U of A initiative looks to be a departure from the status quo in higher Ed these days, viz., they seem to self consciously aim at disentangling our current, extreme political agenda from the radical, albeit ancient, pursuit of truth… Why did Socrates die? And why must he always die?Report

Daniel Weltman
Reply to  Khull
19 days ago

Socrates died because the Athenians were still smarting about Alcibiades’ treachery and they couldn’t get back at the man himself, since he had gone and gotten himself killed. So they settled for his sweetheart, with whom they were generally acquainted only through the completely false and unflattering picture painted by Aristophanes. They would’ve been happy to exile the guy but he basically forced them to execute him by suggesting a ridiculous alternative punishment to death and then refusing to do what any typical person would’ve done, which is let his rich friends spirit him away.

Socrates thus rather bull-headedly got himself killed to make a point despite having plenty of other options available to him. Whether that is or is not representative of the actions of certain people involved in the establishment of this university is an exercise I leave to the reader.

One potential difference between the cases is that Socrates proclaimed that the Athenians were harming only themselves by persecuting him. Another potential difference is that Socrates refused to allow like-minded rich people to give him a cushy landing in exile. Again, I leave it as an exercise to the reader to decide to what degree these two points describe people involved with this university.Report

Paul
Paul
Reply to  Daniel Weltman
18 days ago

I found this comment a little condescending in parts. I’ll leave it to the reader to figure out which bits rubbed me up the wrong way.Report

Daniel Weltman
Reply to  Paul
18 days ago

I apologize (to Khull) if my tone ended up sounded condescending: my goal instead was to be diplomatic, since I think there is a rather wide variation among the people involved in this university when it comes to the degree to which they do or do not resemble Socrates. But to lay it out more forthrightly in a way that is less liable to sound condescending, I think there are no deep similarities between Socrates and most of the people involved in UoA beside the fact that they are all intellectuals who made people mad because of what they’ve said and potentially faced consequences.

This is not a trivial similarity: I think the worry that intellectuals will face certain consequences for saying certain things is a very important one, and if UoA weren’t behaving like a comedically clueless braggadocio with respect to its similarities on this point vis a vis basically any decent university in the West, I’d applaud it as much as it would be applauding itself (in this counterfactual scenario in which it were applauding itself an appropriate amount, as opposed to the actual amount). Indeed, I’m an intellectual who almost certainly can’t say publicly say some stuff or else I’ll get deported, and in general the climate here for intellectuals saying some things is rather nasty. So this is a topic I agree is very important, and it does involve Socrates, I guess, like it involves plenty of other examples throughout history.

But, to frame it in terms of his death seems to me to be a rather ridiculous suggestion with respect to most of the people involved in UoA. Socrates’s death had a number of features that rendered it quite touching, noble, and particularly philosophical, at least if we don’t take Plato to be making everything up out of whole cloth. I’ve taken a drubbing below from Nicolas Delon for saying Aristophanes got Socrates killed (which is an uncharitable reading of what I said – I only suggested that it was through Aristophanes that the general public acquired an unflattering picture of Socrates, and that this was most people’s only acquaintance with him) and for suggesting Plato was writing anything other than propaganda, so maybe I should shut up here.

But (in the spirit of saying more and digging one’s hole deeper, which makes me quite similar to Socrates if you think about it, but please withhold your plaudits until I get executed, if ever), if it’s true that Socrates refused to play by the typical rules of Athenian trials and thus practically asked for the death sentence; and that he had aristocratic friends who could’ve spirited him away whose help he refused; and he professed that death was not bad for him because he had philosophical reasons for thinking so, and instead his death hurt only the Athenians – all of which I think is either in agreement with or at least hardly contradicted by Xenophon or by the thesis that Plato was not merely reporting history, which of course he wasn’t – then I think that there’s a lot that is extremely moving about his case that I don’t see much of in UoA. There are bits and pieces among various people involved, but not a lot, and certainly nobody I’d hold up as a modern example of Athens foolishly killing off its most valuable asset, a wise and ornery philosophical gadfly who wished to make others virtuous.Report

Nicolas Delon
Reply to  Daniel Weltman
18 days ago

I’ve taken a drubbing below from Nicolas Delon for saying Aristophanes got Socrates killed (which is an uncharitable reading of what I said – I only suggested that it was through Aristophanes that the general public acquired an unflattering picture of Socrates, and that this was most people’s only acquaintance with him) and for suggesting Plato was writing anything other than propaganda, so maybe I should shut up here.

Plato wrote a lot more than propaganda (which is marvelous itself!) and much that I admire and enjoy reading and teaching! My uncharitable reading, and if that’s not what you meant I apologize, was prompted by the context of the paragraph (emphasis mine):

Socrates died because the Athenians were still smarting about Alcibiades’ treachery and they couldn’t get back at the man himself, since he had gone and gotten himself killed. So they settled for his sweetheart, with whom they were generally acquainted only through the completely false and unflattering picture painted by Aristophanes. They would’ve been happy to exile the guy but he basically forced them to execute him by suggesting a ridiculous alternative punishment to death and then refusing to do what any typical person would’ve done, which is let his rich friends spirit him away.

So, if you were not suggesting that Aristophanes was (i) unfair to Socrates and (ii) played a role, however unintentionally, in turning the Athenians against Socrates, I apologize. I also didn’t say you said Aristophanes got Socrates killed; I simply questioned the causal link between Aristophanes’ lampooning and Socrates’ trial. As you note, the outcome of the trial could have been different.Report

Last edited 18 days ago by Nicolas Delon
Nicolas Delon
Reply to  Daniel Weltman
18 days ago

Hi Daniel,

You write:

So they settled for his sweetheart, with whom they were generally acquainted only through the completely false and unflattering picture painted by Aristophanes. 

This is quite uncharitable to Aristophanes, who wrote comedy, not journalism, and hilarious comedy at that. Plato and Socrates, on the other hand, were not exactly known for their love of poetry and theater. From what I understand, the public’s reaction to Socrates was overdetermined and shaped largely independently of Aristophanes’ lampooning. That people to this day consider Aristophanes’ depiction of Socrates as “completely false” is one thing (it’s comedy!), but to imply that it played an important causal role in Socrates’ trial is to the credit of Plato’s marvelous propaganda machine. This is what Socrates suggests in Plato’s Apology, but it’s just that–Plato putting words in Socrates’ mouth. And Plato is no more reliable as a historical source than Aristophanes. Let’s not fall for it and let Plato continuing to gaslight us into thinking comedians are threatening the city.

https://blog.oup.com/2015/12/birth-comedy-socrates-aristophanes/
https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/socrates/Report

Last edited 18 days ago by Nicolas Delon
Dale E Miller
Reply to  Khull
18 days ago

Why did Socrates die? Well, all men are mortal…Report

SEC Postdoc
20 days ago

Well, I for one did not realize “good enough for Musk and Rogan” was something they were saying about themselves. I for sure thought it was a joke people were making ABOUT them.Report

Michel
19 days ago

Good grift if you can get it, I guess.Report

Ian
Ian
19 days ago

I’m not sure I see any reason to think that this college is going to be any different from any other?

Every university claims to do everything that this college is claiming to. It just so happens that this one is composed of poor unfortunate souls who happened to have the “wrong opinions.”

If there are problems with universities not actually caring about the truth, and just agreeing with orthodoxies, I’m not sure how this one is going to combat that issue if it’s just the same model. The orthodoxies are just going to be different.Report

Steven DeLay
19 days ago

Ah, so good to see Steven Pinker and Larry Summers have been brought aboard. Pity Jeffrey Epstein won’t be around to receive the royal treatment here that he once did at Harvard.Report

Molly Gardner
19 days ago

I will be impressed by your libertine Contemporary Moral Problems course only if you are discussing excerpts from Kathleen Stock’s Material Girls.Report

Evan
Evan
Reply to  Molly Gardner
19 days ago

Only? Wouldn’t that be one-sided? Would you also be impressed if he *also* included an academic article responding to Stock’s/GC Feminist views?

Ex: “Philosophical Problems With the Gender-Critical Feminist Argument Against Trans Inclusion” by Aleardo Zanghellini?Report

Paul J
Paul J
Reply to  Evan
19 days ago

I don’t think you understand how necessary conditions work.Report

Evan
Evan
Reply to  Paul J
19 days ago

Well, isn’t that why I asked in the first place? The comment was ambiguous. Paul, you should read carefully before responding.Report

Last edited 19 days ago by Evan
jmugg
jmugg
Reply to  Evan
19 days ago

No, it wasn’t ambiguous: “P only if Q” means “Q is a necessary condition on P.” Or, in material conditional: If Q, then P. ‘Only if’ and ‘if’ mean different things.Report

Evan
Evan
Reply to  jmugg
19 days ago

I think you’re forgetting how other people (non-philosophers) *use* or interpret that phrase to mean. Hence why it’s ambiguous.Report

David Wallace
Reply to  Evan
19 days ago

(i) this is a philosophy blog
(ii) it’s unambiguous in ordinary English too. (‘We will retaliate only if directly attacked’ clearly does not mean that we will not retaliate if we are both directly attacked and insulted.)Report

Evan
Evan
Reply to  David Wallace
19 days ago

1) Not all philosophers study or specialize in logic or language. The amount of misinterpretations I witnessed on this blog (by philosophers) leads me to conclude that your premise is unconvincing here.

2) Do you have data/survey on how unambiguous it is in ordinary language as well? Many philosophers already misinterpret one another’s words here, let alone laypeople.Report

Geoffrey Bagwell
Geoffrey Bagwell
Reply to  Evan
19 days ago

Understanding the difference between necessary and sufficient conditions is not the purview of specialists in logic and the philosophy of language alone. The distinction is taught explicitly in all undergraduate logic and critical thinking courses in both the analytic and continent traditions and comes up often in most others. So, it is more than reasonable to assume as everyone here has done that philosophers reading a philosophy blog understand what “only if” is intended to signify regardless of where or what they studied.

It is also clear, I think, that in order to make Molly’s statement ambiguous, you have to move “only” to a different place in her sentence, which changes its meaning. This is what you have done. What Molly wrote is not ambiguous; what you wrote probably is.Report

Evan
Evan
Reply to  Geoffrey Bagwell
19 days ago

1) It’s such a small and subtle difference. Again, philosophers are not immune to misinterpreting things or making basic first-order mistakes even if they’ve been initiated into critical thinking.

2) I didn’t do anything but ask for her to clarify because it could have been misinterpreted by others.Report

Geoffrey Bagwell
Geoffrey Bagwell
Reply to  Evan
19 days ago

(2) is fair. I would never criticize someone for asking for clarification. I wish my students would ask for such things. I was not and do not criticize you for asking for clarification even if Molly’s original statement is, in my view, clear enough. What I (and David) are criticizing is the implication in your reply to jmugg that it is unreasonable to assume that readers of this blog understand the difference between necessary and sufficient conditions. The reasonableness of this assumption on this platform is a separate question from your asking for clarification.Report

Evan
Evan
Reply to  Geoffrey Bagwell
19 days ago

You wrote: “What I (and David) are criticizing is the implication in your reply to jmugg that it is unreasonable to assume that readers of this blog understand the thendifferenxe between necessary and sufficient conditions.”

My response to jmugg was that others who may *not* be philosophers may misinterpret it or find it ambiguous or not know the difference. I gave philosophers the benefit of the doubt. I never used the general term “readers” in my response to them.

David then responded saying that this is a blog for philosophers (true). But again, even some philosophers may misinterpret it. And also, philosophers are not the *only* readers of this blog.

Interestingly, Molly dodged my other question.Report

Prof L
Reply to  Evan
19 days ago

MG didn’t dodge it, since clearly the answer is yes, on a correct reading of her original statement.Report

Evan
Evan
Reply to  Prof L
19 days ago

She said “I will be impressed by your libertine Contemporary Moral Problems course only if you are discussing excerpts from Kathleen Stock’s Material Girls.”

This does not guarantee that she’ll be impressed if responses or criticisms of Stock were also taught. Nowhere in that statement does it indicate that she’ll feel the same way about articles responding to Stock. She was just talking about Stock’s piece in particular. I don’t know her mind so, I still gotta ask.Report

Last edited 19 days ago by Evan
David Wallace
Reply to  Evan
18 days ago

Since my previous illustration was apparently insufficiently clear, let me try another:

I should stop responding to people only if they are trolls =/= I should stop responding to people if they are only trolls.Report

Jen
Jen
Reply to  David Wallace
18 days ago

This illustration makes me wonder whether you should stop responding to me.Report

David Wallace
Reply to  Jen
18 days ago

Not under either disambiguation. The number of people on DN who will push back in a civil way against errors or overreach on both sides of an argument can be counted on the fingers of one hand. Kudos.Report

Jen
Jen
Reply to  David Wallace
17 days ago

Thanks! This means a lot, especially from someone like you.Report

Evan
Evan
Reply to  David Wallace
18 days ago

Again, what does that have to with the wider *perception of* such a semantics? Even if you are correct, you failed to address the fact that some people could have misinterpreted it.Report

Geoffrey Bagwell
Geoffrey Bagwell
Reply to  Evan
18 days ago

No one need to address the wider perception of such semantics in this context because, as I said before, it is reasonable to assume that the people who would be interested in reading this blog would understand the semantics. Why should anyone on this blog be tailoring their writing for the very small audience of people who have no knowledge of the difference between necessary and sufficient conditions? Furthermore, why should anyone on this blog concern themselves with the possibility that even philosophers might misunderstand the difference between these conditions? When people write about anything, they have to make some assumption about who their audience is and the most reasonable assumption in this context is that philosophers who have learned the difference between these conditions will be that audience. If this assumption is unreasonable, then everyone will have to define every term they use on the off chance that someone reading this blog *might* have a different “perception of the semantics”. This is, I think, a completely unreasonable expectation to have in this context.Report

Evan
Evan
Reply to  Geoffrey Bagwell
17 days ago

I asked a question because it was ambiguous to me. Molly answered it.

At this point, the comments responding to me are going astray. But if you (or others) want to bend over backwards trying to argue against everything y’all even vaguely disagree with, then dig to your heart’s content.Report

Last edited 17 days ago by Evan
Molly Gardner
Reply to  Evan
19 days ago

only if you are discussing =/= if you are only discussingReport

Spencer Jay Case
19 days ago

Every attempt to form an alternative risks falling into a trap. Fox News and conservative talk radio were initially supposed to add balance to a liberal-leaning press, which was (and is!) a real problem. But what ended up happening is that they created echo chambers that ended up making the right worse, and giving left leaning outlets something to react against, helping the left to become worse, too. It’s entirely conceivable that this will end similarly. I still think it’s worth doing. Even in the worst case scenario, I think I’d rather have both Fox News and MSNBC than just MSNBC, though I admit not by much.

The need for alternatives really should be manifest at this point. The layers of ideological litmus testing are getting more numerous, and thicker. A few years ago, a “diversity statement” was just supposed to show that you’re willing and able to teach a diverse body of students. Now you’re being asked to list your personal contributions to DEI, and your plan to keep promoting it upon being hired. (Who, starting graduate school ten years ago or so, knew that this was going to be a hurtle that needed to be cleared before you could get a foot in the door?) I’m hearing from people on admissions committees that this stuff is more than perfunctory. And many of the job ads I’m seeing include something, either in the AOC or the general job description, to signal that they are interested in hires who are interested in left-wing identity politics issues, and sub-disciplines that are constructed out of them. There’s a sense that this is just going to keep being ramped up for the foreseeable future, escalating hostilities between academics and the public, who understandably find universities alien, or even hostile, to their beliefs and interests.

You can shrug at that if you want, but I doubt you’d shrug if the political boot were on the other foot. (I know, Socrates said that the opinions of the foolish don’t matter, but that’s also because he thought that death wasn’t among the things that matter) If you want to mock this endeavor, fine. It might not turn out well. But if you do, I’d like to see your alternative proposal for dealing with the problem of political monoculture in academia. Because that is a real problem.Report

David Wallace
Reply to  Spencer Jay Case
19 days ago

This.Report

V. Alan White
Reply to  David Wallace
19 days ago

I for one would like to see a statistical analysis of the frequency of the use of blatantly demonstrable lies by Fox and Newsmax et al versus MSNBC and CNN et al. That might have a bearing on things like commitment to truth in journalism as against some other emotivist-style agenda. Could there be an asymmetry? Would this new institution be interested in that?Report

Spencer Jay Case
Reply to  V. Alan White
19 days ago

I haven’t been keeping score. It’s hard to see who an objective referee would be. But even if your suspicions are correct, I’d still rather it be thus than to have all the bias and all the lies going in one ideological direction.Report

V. Alan White
Reply to  Spencer Jay Case
19 days ago

What I’m trying to point out is that the political so-called left extremism in academia (which I do not not endorse and is inappropriately called “left”) is dwarfed in scope and influence by the (what I call) emotivist activism of extreme right-wing media that has no regard for the truth that this new institution is supposedly vaunting. I have several huge signs in my community that proclaim “FUCK BIDEN”, protected by first amendment rights it seems. What’s the truth value of that? And may I say that no one will post “FUCK TRUMP” in rightful fear of reprisals. And that FB phrase is shouted by thousands at sports venues, not to mention the “Let’s go Brandon!” meme. And the truth value of all that? (Oh, and try to post “TUCK FRUMP” on your yard and feel safe.) Will this new institution have any real effect over the enormous influence of media, and especially one part of the media that apparently has no qualm about pressing emotional buttons simply for profits and power? Please excuse me for my skepticism here if it’s misplaced.Report

Spencer Jay Case
Reply to  V. Alan White
19 days ago

Your skepticism is misplaced, and you’re excused.Report

V. Alan White
Reply to  Spencer Jay Case
19 days ago

Thanks. Tells me all I need to know.Report

Notapostgrad
Reply to  V. Alan White
19 days ago

It’s possible to be 1) disgusted by the right-wing machine and the Republican party that have gleefully embraced any form of manipulation to achieve power, and 2) very much concerned that institutions of higher education are being increasingly captured by an ill-liberal, anti-intellectual, with-us-or-against-us, oppressor-or-oppressed obsessed ideology.Report

Hey Nonnny Mouse
Reply to  Notapostgrad
19 days ago

There are even those of us who believe that this right-wing machine draws strength from ill-liberal academia. Right-wing media and politicians have certainly been obsessed with ill-liberal academia. Obviously, the machine distorts the truth, but it can still make use of it.Report

David Wallace
Reply to  Hey Nonnny Mouse
18 days ago

Absolutely. If your opponent is making political hay by criticizing a bad thing you are doing, it is probably advisable to stop doing that bad thing, rather than complain that your opponent does much worse things – even if the complaint is true.Report

V. Alan White
Reply to  David Wallace
18 days ago

David, there is criticism of a bad thing–like that of the illiberalism/wokeness in the academy here that intransigently works against real free dialectical speech–and demonization of things that really aren’t bad at all by amoral emotivist manipulation of language. As Julian Zelizer said–the reaction of democrats to last weeks thumping in Virginia was reflection about messaging–the reaction of republicans about 2020 was to claim the election was stolen. As he says, this is asymmetrical politics–and I see elements of this asymmetry at work in this whole thread.Report

David Wallace
Reply to  V. Alan White
18 days ago

I think it’s tremendously asymmetric. I don’t think that undermines my point.Report

Edward Teach
Edward Teach
Reply to  Spencer Jay Case
19 days ago

The analogy/precedent set by how the current media landscape developed is worth paying attention to, both for those seeking an alternative to the status quo and those who are puzzled at the idea that an alternative is even needed:

“The moral of the story is: if you’re against witch-hunts, and you promise to found your own little utopian community where witch-hunts will never happen, your new society will end up consisting of approximately three principled civil libertarians and seven zillion witches. It will be a terrible place to live even if witch-hunts are genuinely wrong.”

https://slatestarcodex.com/2017/05/01/neutral-vs-conservative-the-eternal-struggle/Report

Kenny Easwaran
Reply to  Edward Teach
18 days ago

Looking at their advisory board, I think Nadine Strossen is one of the three principled civil libertarians, and there may be one or two others as well.Report

John
Reply to  Spencer Jay Case
19 days ago

Picking up on one of Spencer’s points:

The diversity statements in applicants’ files have became de facto political litmus tests. Putting aside the fact that many of these statements are clearly contrived, I have seen first hand (and heard second hand) candidates being mothballed by this part of their application.

Write a diversity statement about how you’ll reach out to the children of white, West Virginian manual workers who live in abject poverty and are riddled by the ravages of intergenerational addiction, and tell me about all the job offers you’re deciding between.Report

Some Viewpoint Diversity abou Diversity Statements
Some Viewpoint Diversity abou Diversity Statements
Reply to  John
19 days ago

, as someone who finds diversity statements very useful, that’s precisely the sort of thing I’m be looking for (or rather: would be if I taught in rural WV or somewhere similar). When people use the diversity statement to make vague proclamations of commitment to inclusion (“I include X, Y, or Z on my syllabus or whatever”), I find that neither helpful nor harmful. But when applicants use it to show they’ve actually thought about how to teach, say, students living in poverty, or students working full-time, or first-generation college students, that’s precisely what I want to know because those are my students (and it’s hard to find evidence that they’d be a good fit in that way it elsewhere in an app…)Report

ABD
ABD

Justin: The above comments suggest that having an open forum on diversity statements in philosophy job applications would be a good thing. What are appropriate functions/uses? What are inappropriate functions/uses? Rightly or wrongly, the notion that they are obligatory pledges of ideological fealty, and the resentment that engenders, especially given the extremely tight job market, is sufficiently widespread to warrant discussion.Report

grymes
grymes
Reply to  John
19 days ago

I teach in West Virginia. I would indeed take it to be a red flag if an applicant wrote about how they would reach out to “the children of white, West Virginian manual workers who live in abject poverty and are riddled by the ravages of intergenerational addiction.”

Of course, I’m delighted when people write convincingly about how they intend to teach West Virginian students, many of whom are indeed first-generation college students from working class backgrounds. But somebody who leaned entirely on stereotypes about life in Appalachia to do so wouldn’t be very convincing. (What “manual” work do you have in mind, I wonder? (I don’t actually wonder.) Health care is by far our state’s biggest sector. Walmart, Kroger, and Lowes are all bigger employers than either Contura or Murray Energy.)

And I have no idea what good reason an applicant could have for specifying that they would reach out to our white students in particular. I hope to hire people who would reach out to our nonwhite first-generation college students as well!Report

Spencer Jay Case
Reply to  grymes
18 days ago

“And I have no idea what good reason an applicant could have for specifying that they would reach out to our white students in particular. I hope to hire people who would reach out to our nonwhite first-generation college students as well!”

Yes, but then we should also wonder: “Why specify any race, gender, sex, orientation in any of these contexts?”Report

grymes
grymes
Reply to  Spencer Jay Case
18 days ago

Sure, well worth wondering! Though it’s not my own considered take, I have plenty of respect for serious versions of the stance that no such factors are ever worth specifying. (And I hope to remain forever blissfully ignorant of all students’ orientations.) However, I tend to doubt that “think of the poor whites!” is compatible with holding a version of the anti-diversity-statement-stance worth taking seriously.Report

Spencer Jay Case
Reply to  grymes
18 days ago

Agreed.Report

John
Reply to  grymes
18 days ago

Agreed as well–though that observation confirms the (intended) irony of my example.Report

grymes
grymes
Reply to  John
18 days ago

Could you spell this confirmation of irony out? Because I don’t get it. If the insinuation is that reasonable people should recognize no difference between mentioning reaching out to white students and mentioning reaching out to, e.g., black students, then we definitely don’t agree (and I’d be disappointed if Spencer agreed with you after what I took to be a productive exchange)!Report

John
Reply to  grymes
18 days ago

Sure–I admit I’m wondering if we’re talking a bit past each other, too.

The intended irony of my example arises from a tension between (i) DEI initiatives and (ii) what I believe is the common practice of arbitrarily excluding certain demographics from these initiatives.

I think (i) should entail ~(ii). But it doesn’t. Hence my comment about job seekers likely being unsuccessful if they attempt ~(ii).

So, ultimately, I suppose I was attempting a reductio of (i).

In your follow-up with Spencer, you said: “I tend to doubt that “think of the poor whites!” is compatible with holding a version of the anti-diversity-statement-stance worth taking seriously.”

Since, as I’ve now tried to explain, my injunction to ‘think of the poor whites!’ was ironic, the fact that this is incompatible with ~DEI stances is neither here nor there: I too am sympathetic to the view that none of these factors is worth considering. Report

grymes
grymes
Reply to  John
18 days ago

Gotchya. To clarify: my comments were intended to cast doubt on your belief that the practice you identify is all that common. Part of my doubt stems from the fact that people running DEI initiatives at institutions like mine care a great deal about first-gen and working class students. Another part of my doubt stems from the fact (which I think everybody, including anti-diversity-statement folks arguing in good faith, ought to countenance) that the choice to specify how one will reach out to black students (rather than white students) is far from arbitrary (whether you think it wise or not).Report

Derek Bowman
Derek Bowman
Reply to  Spencer Jay Case
18 days ago

I find your (reluctant) endorsement of Fox News astonishing. Normally the clash of ideas and spreading of a diversity of viewpoints is argued to be good on the grounds that such a clash will help us to identify and better understand the truth. On your analysis, having a devoted right-wing media outlet has had the opposite effect – it has made everyone worse. I guess I’m feeling a bit Socratic here – what can you even mean by saying that a condition in which everyone is worse is better than one in which everyone is better?

This looks like a commitment to a rather perverse sort of leveling-down egalitarianism: Yes, there is more vicious lying and half-truths, but at least the lies are more evenly balanced. I wonder if you hold a similar view about political violence – yes, it’s unfortunate when protests escalate into violence, but a small amount of one-sided violence is worse than escalating violence with better ideological balance?Report

Laura
Laura
Reply to  Derek Bowman
18 days ago

Exactly. The truth is the standard by which we should judge media that regularly presents false and badly distorted claims. If all of them are lying, so much the worse for everyone, but the remedy is truth, not more balanced lying.Report

Spencer Jay Case
Reply to  Derek Bowman
17 days ago

Fair enough. I’m a bit conflicted about how I feel about it, and on a second reading that wasn’t especially clear.

Maybe if I spent more time watching Fox News I would share your degree of revulsion. I one sense it has certainly contributed to polarization and epistemic silo-ing, both very bad things. But if at this point they disappeared off the face of the earth and left us with an uncontested left wing media– whom I think FN indirectly helped to create –that might be even worse.

I can see grounds for reasonable disagreement with me on this. Certainly we can agree that neither is optimal. We shouldn’t have to choose between institutions that are adversarial in the worst way and those that are monolithic in the worst way. Which of these ways of going wrong is worst? I think the latter, but who knows? Bottom line is we need much better, in media and academic institutions alike.Report

Spencer Jay Case
Reply to  Spencer Jay Case
17 days ago

CS Peirce had a quote to the effect that opposing partisanship in investigation is no substitute for objectivity, and I wouldn’t dispute that. But I think it’s generally better than one-sided partisanship. Then again, maybe not!Report

Laura
Laura
Reply to  Spencer Jay Case
17 days ago

An example might be in the legal system, partisan advocates are pitted against one another in arguments, and this is a better way of getting to the truth than having the case presented only by one partisan side. On the other hand, the goal of the conflict is to uncover the closest thing to truth (and justice), and the procedures in place are in theory designed to aid in achieving that ultimate goal. If the debate is fair and aimed at truth, opposing partisans imo are good; if it’s a free-for-all mudfight, not helpful to contribute. Just my 2 cents.Report

Evan
Evan
Reply to  Laura
16 days ago

Yeah and also a third party is present (e.g. judge). In fact, the presence of a judge significantly changes the game because both sides will have a hard time getting away with arbitrary and fallacious arguments.

Michael Sandel is an excellent moderator in his Justice class on Youtube. It’s 12 years old. Over a decade! I’m always impressed by how the students can talk about controversial topics so easily and have their own views questioned while being respectful. Sandel’s oration, care, and knowledge makes his class enjoyable despite touching on controversial ideas. He even provided a trigger warning on the first class. And yet most students still stayed. Go figure.

His example does somewhat undermine the claim that students in America are being coddled. His class also has millions of views.Report

Spencer Case
Reply to  Evan
16 days ago

I think with the media, the consumers are the ones who are supposed to be playing the role of the judges to make this adversarial model work. But many consumers of media have just abdicated this responsibility. Lots of people just want confirmation bias candy and epistemic comfort food.Report

Evan
Evan
Reply to  Spencer Case
16 days ago

I try to be sympathetic to them even though what you say is true for the most part. Most people lack the epistemic tools and skills to adequately evaluate claims. It’s unfortunate, but a part of me doesn’t blame them that much seeing how such ignorances were inevitable. This is one reason why many people pursue teaching: to ensure that such ignorances are not inevitable for at least some segment of the population.Report

Spencer Case
Reply to  Evan
15 days ago

Yes, this is a very worthy goal of philosophy education. I 100% agree.Report

David Wallace
19 days ago

Justin writes:

“[The project is] Featuring a number of faculty who have fearlessly quit previous jobs rather than be around people who disagreed with them“.

There are only three faculty listed on the website. Of these:

  • Peter Boghossian alleges treatment from Portland State that, if true, goes well beyond ‘disagreement’. Justin agreed in his blog post on the subject that the devil was in the details and that Portland may not have done enough to investigate the alleged events.
  • Kathleen Stock alleges treatment from faculty, students and (originally) admin at Sussex that, likewise, goes well beyond disagreement if true. Justin wrote to me (in response to a comment intended for posting on the closed thread, prior to her resignation) that “a lot hinges on the nature, extent, duration, and specific location of the protests, and I don’t think we have a clear picture of that”.
  • Ayaan Hirsi Ali hasn’t, so far as I’m aware, resigned from any job even nominally because of ‘people who disagreed with’ her. She has spent most of the last 20 years under extremely credible threat of death from Al-Qaeda and associated groups, so – whatever you think of her views – there is not much of a case for regarding her as fearful of criticism.

In short, unless there is a longer faculty list I’m missing, this comment is unfair, and not consistent with the more careful tone Justin has previously used about issues this delicate and this factually contested. (That’s without prejudice to the overall value of this project, about which I have extremely mixed feelings.)Report

ABD
ABD
Reply to  Justin Weinberg
19 days ago

Progress. But still, who then were the faculty you were accusing of this? Has Dorian Abbot resigned? Were you just referring to Bari Weiss all along? Perhaps it wasn’t a reference error but a bit of “partisan” exuberance, which is a phenomenon worth distinguishing.Report

Kenny Easwaran
Reply to  David Wallace
18 days ago

I do think that the existence of this university changes the character of the Boghossian and Stock quittings – at the time, there was a plausible case to be made that they were quitting in protest of poor treatment, but knowing now that they surely knew a few weeks ago that they had the potential for a big payday coming, it at least raises questions about whether they were just trying to improve their branding by quitting before this university was announced.Report

David Wallace
Reply to  Kenny Easwaran
18 days ago

I think “raises questions” is about right – it’s not conclusive evidence of anything but it certainly complicates the narrative, and it would be good to have some transparency about the sequencing.Report

Kenny Easwaran
Reply to  David Wallace
18 days ago

I was trying to figure out more about the timeline – it looks like Peter Boghossian announced his quit on Bari Weiss’s blog two months ago: https://bariweiss.substack.com/p/my-university-sacrificed-ideas-for

Kathleen Stock’s quit was announced less than two weeks ago: https://twitter.com/docstockk/status/1453737720316981249?s=21

I would be surprised if an announcement of this scale hadn’t been at least somewhat in the works two months ago. But it’s definitely not conclusive.Report

Justin Kalef
Reply to  Kenny Easwaran
18 days ago

Suppose you’re right about this, Kenny: suppose that Boghossian and Stock were both miserable at their universities after enduring years of students putting up posters across campus denouncing them personally, petitioning the administration to fire them, screaming at them as they walked across their own campuses, made the subject of vitriolic comments online, hauled into investigations, and so on. Imagine going through that for even a day, let alone several years. They find it hard to live with, but they stick it out because they don’t want to be hounded out of the profession.

Finally, someone comes along to offer an opportunity to move to an environment where they won’t need to keep putting up with this. It requires them to get involved in an experimental new university that might fail, and it also requires them to pack up, say goodbye to their friends and neighbors, and move across country (or in Stock’s case, to a new country altogether) to invest in the new project. They are asked not to mention the new university right away because a big announcement of its grand opening is planned. They agree to keep it under wraps. Of course it makes the news when they quit their jobs, but they stick to the agreement and don’t give the reason.

What, exactly, is the source of outrage here? I don’t get it.Report

Kenny Easwaran
Reply to  Justin Kalef
17 days ago

Yes, this is fair.

I don’t mean to suggest “outrage” as the appropriate response. My point is just to say that they timed their announcements in a way that seems well-designed to elicit outrage on their behalf.Report

David Wallace
19 days ago

I’d really like to be optimistic about this project. I think the issues driving it are real, severe, and worsening, and I think its board of advisors contains (mostly) people who have (mostly) been on (what I think is) the right side in the academic-freedom wars of the last few years. (Sohrab Ahmari is the obvious, troubling, exception, having been on the ‘wrong’ side in the Right’s own academic-freedom fight last year.) And I don’t share Justin’s sarcastic skepticism about the incompatibility of financial/intellectual independence with libertarian-think-tank startup funding – any project like this is going to need a nine-figure startup fund and it’s going to have to come from somewhere, so the only alternative to negotiating appropriate independence from a donor is being the pet project of a billionaire who’s personally in charge. A libertarian think tank sounds as good as any other source, and better than many.

But.

Academic freedom is critically important for a university to fulfil its function, but it’s not in itself the function of the university – any more than due process is the function of a legal system. Courses *on* academic freedom would be great, but they’re going to make up only a very small part of any sensible curriculum. And the advisory board for the project seems to be pretty much exclusively people known for their views on academic freedom/free speech, with very little evidence that broader academic and pedagogical goals were considered in putting it together – it has some very serious scholars on it, but that seems to be almost by accident. From this point of view it’s actively a bad thing that I recognize pretty much every name on the list. 

To be sure, it’s early days. But while I think this group of people can (and probably will) put together an absolutely stunning lecture series or mini-course specifically on academic freedom and political conformity issues, I’m not yet confident they’re set up so as to put together a first-rate undergraduate education. Report

Dennisi Arjo
Reply to  David Wallace
19 days ago

I think this is exactly right, and if this endeavor succeeds it will be because the actual institution doesn’t live up to some of the rhetoric surrounding its launch. In academia, the ‘fearless search for truth’ is means excluding voices judged to be wrongheaded according to the strict application of disciplinary standards.This is what is lost when academic freedom is confused with libertarian free speech.Report

Justin Kalef
Reply to  David Wallace
18 days ago

All the more reason for *all* of us to fight hard for viewpoint diversity and robust freedom of inquiry at the existing colleges and university.Report

Dennisi Arjo
Reply to  Justin Kalef
18 days ago

I very much agree. I think ‘cancel culture’ kinds of threats to academic freedom are serious, and that the statutory attacks on CRT are way worse. But they both point to a growing collective need to work on understanding, explaining, and defending academic freedom across the board.Report

Margaret
19 days ago

comically bad startReport

Justin Kalef
19 days ago

I’m a big fan of free inquiry at the universities. What I want most of all is for all universities to be funded and run by people of diverse political outlooks who stand united in an agreement not to allow political slant to influence faculty culture, student culture, research, teaching, admissions or hiring in any way whatsoever. I’d even favor a law requiring that.

As someone in this discussion has pointed out, this demand is not new. It’s been understood for well over a century as a cornerstone of a proper university. We seem to have lost our way, probably to some extent because of the problem of expanding administrators and the commercialization of the universities.

But let’s suppose that this new university turns out to have a marked libertarian or right-wing slant because of its funding. Okay: how does it fare in comparison with universities whose administrations have been taken over by people who hold positions on what would have been considered the radical identitarian left until a few years ago, who impose those political ideas on everyone connected with the university, even to the point of requesting blatantly partisan ‘diversity statements’ from all new faculty (and sometimes even require those faculty members to attend what amounts to indoctrination sessions), who often require incoming students to pass online ‘courses’ promoting the same ideology before they enter the first day of class with a professor, all with nary a whisper in protest from the faculty or even the faculty unions, who instead stand by and applaud?

I don’t know how the new university in Austin will measure up, point for point, in its indoctrination of students and political selection of its faculty. But this strikes me as interesting:

– How many colleges and universities in this country have websites, statements from presidents and chancellors, and so on that openly promote the politically partisan ideology of identitarian social justice? How many departmental websites openly have declarations of support for organizations such as Black Lives Matter? How many colleges and universities have a vast network of diversity administrators (where ‘diversity’ does not mean viewpoint diversity, but something that presumes all sorts of partisan political goals and claims)? How many have departments that host one identitarian-left conference after another, without a single libertarian, right-wing, or even centerist one for balance?

I find it hard to find any colleges and universities today that *don’t* fit that description. Now:

– How many colleges and universities in this country are primarily supported by libertarian interests?

Well, we’ve got at least one… but does anyone seriously think that these outnumber the identitarian left-leaning institutions, especially at the top? Does it even come close?

And yet, we’re to act as though this new player on the scene somehow deserves to be singled out for mockery or contempt because of the specter of political partisanship from its supporters?

When I see that, what comes to mind for me is that the people raising the criticism simply can’t see the partisanship of their own institutions. How can that be, when it’s so glaringly bright? The simple answer, I think, is that water tends to be pretty hard to notice when you’re immersed in it, even if you see others drowning in it, especially if you’ve been born with gills and they haven’t. To someone who’s surrendered her life to Christianity, a huge Jesus mural on a wall and a massive Ten Commandments monument won’t seem in any way out of place. As the nonbelievers leave the area and the deck gets stack with more and more avid devotees, it fails to dawn on people that these things are even partisan or exclusionary: at least, such things don’t exclude *the people who matter to them*. But the minute someone starts building someone similar without a big cross on the roof, something seems odd and worthy of being pointed at with sarcasm or concern.

The fact that it no longer dawns on most of us that our own ways are now the dominating ones among universities, and that these criticisms apply even more strongly in the opposite direction, is exactly the problem that, I think, makes such new universities necessary at the moment. They shouldn’t be necessary. We should never have let things get so partisan and skewed at all the other universities. But we have, and I think the best remedy is to start by cleaning up the mess at home.Report

Jen
Jen
Reply to  Justin Kalef
19 days ago

“The fact that it no longer dawns on most of us that our own ways are now the dominating ones among universities, and that these criticisms apply even more strongly in the opposite direction, is exactly the problem that, I think, makes such new universities necessary at the moment.”

Assuming that your understanding of the problem you express is correct, the new university isn’t *necessary*. But maybe you simply mean ‘very important’ or ‘much needed’. Still, I’m not convinced. What is actually very important or much needed is that faculty and administrators begin thinking much more clearly about the issues. Unfortunately, they stand little chance of accomplishing this feat on their own or even with guidance.Report

Laura
Laura
Reply to  Justin Kalef
18 days ago

I find it easy to locate examples of universities that bear no resemblance to this description. I am more familiar with problems coming from, to put it loosely, the other direction. I am sure experiences on this point vary considerably – merely wanted to point out that they do.Report

Mich Ciurria
19 days ago

A radical experiment in higher education in the U.S. would be making education free & democratic instead of in thrall to billionaire philanthropists & corporate think tanks who see Marxists, critical race theorists, critical disability theorists, etc., as their personal enemies. The so-called University of Austin has not received accreditation or official nonprofit status from the federal government, and is using billionaire philanthropy & money from Cicero Research, run by Austin-based tech investor Joe Lonsdale, to operate. Taking money from rich philanthropists & corporate think tanks is, to quote Sally Haslanger, ‘fundamentally undemocratic’ & epistemically harmful:
https://www.newstatesman.com/politics/2020/10/problem-philanthropyReport

David Wallace
Reply to  Mich Ciurria
19 days ago

If US higher education is in thrall to billionaires and think tanks who see critical race theorists as their personal enemies, there is a surprising amount of critical race theory in US universities.

I demand a more competent class of plutocrat.Report

grad student
grad student
Reply to  David Wallace
19 days ago

The implied argument (David Wallace’s) is silly. We might have the amount of “critical race theory” (whatever that means) we do in spite of being in thrall to billionaires and think tanks. Universities are complex organizations and donors with a specific ideology may have an inappropriate amount of power over them without that meaning that everything going on in universities is something they would approve of.Report

Jen
Jen
Reply to  grad student
19 days ago

David Wallace’s comment, I guess, was made in jest, but still:

Doesn’t the extent of its silliness depend on how much CRT there actually is in universities? There’s a threshold at which it is at least very difficult to imagine universities being *in thrall* to enemies of CRT in spite of there being *that* amount of CRT in universities, right? So your point depends on a claim that the amount of CRT in universities hasn’t reached the threshold. I doubt you’re prepared to support the claim.Report

grad student
grad student
Reply to  Jen
19 days ago

I don’t agree that there is any such threshold, at least not one we can specify without more context. Here’s a toy model that drastically oversimplifies the actual situation but I think will be illuminating. Say that universities have an arbitrarily high amount of CRT (that is, 100% of the faculty hired have some commitment to CRT, again, whatever that means). Say that the enemies of CRT have little power over what amount of CRT is already there (that is, they can’t get rid of faculty that are already hired) but they do have the ability to prevent new CRT from being put in (that is, they can prevent faculty that subscribe to CRT from being hired). If the enemies of CRT were to exercise this power (as I submit they did in, for example, the Nikole Hannah-Jones’s hiring at UNC Chapel Hill), this would be inappropriate. And even if they choose not to exercise this power in a given case, it’s inappropriate that they have it in the first place. I think it’s accurate to say that in this toy model, the universities are “in thrall” to enemies of CRT, but note that them having the power to prevent new CRT from being added to the university is compatible with any amount of CRT in the universities already existing. So I don’t think there’s a threshold amount of CRT that automatically falsifies the thesis that universities are in thrall to enemies of CRT. The enemies of CRT may not be absolutely powerful over universities but they may still have an inappropriate influence over them that is worth protesting.Report

Jen
Jen
Reply to  grad student
19 days ago

I don’t think it is correct to say of the universities in your example that they are in thrall to enemies of CRT. But it depends on what it is to be in thrall to x, which is something akin to being x’s slave. However, the enemies of CRT in your example, as you say, have little power to rid the universities of faculty with commitments to CRT, so the universities are not akin to slaves.Report

Khull
Khull
Reply to  Jen
19 days ago

Go, Jen.Report

grad student
grad student
Reply to  Jen
19 days ago

I suppose if we understand the phrase “in thrall to” in the way you are suggesting, then I agree that there that there being significant respects in which the philanthropists and think tanks referred to by Mich Ciurria have limited power over universities is incompatible with the universities being “in thrall to” them. I do not think that is a reasonable interpretation of Ciurria’s original post. As I understood them, they were simply saying that philanthropists and think tanks have significant and inappropriately undemocratic influence over universities. This is compatible with saying that there are important ways in which their power over universities is limited. I’m happy to abandon the use of the phrase “in thrall of” to express this idea if it is confusing. If our disagreement is only about how to properly understand this phrase, then it’s not a disagreement worth having.Report

Thomas Nadelhoffer
Reply to  David Wallace
16 days ago

Is there really a surprising amount? Here’s a way of looking at it: If you add up all that is being taught at any given institution, how much CRT is actually being taught? Little to none in physics (as you know), biology, astronomy, etc. Little to none in mathematics, statistics, computer sciences, etc. Presumably little to none in business schools, tourism programs, etc. Little to none in the foreign languages. That leaves the social sciences and humanities. But even there, how much of the overall content includes CRT. Think of all of the psychology courses where it is unlikely any CRT is taught (e.g., developmental psychology, abnormal psychology, etc.). Think of all of the history classes where it is unlikely CRT is taught (e.g., ancient history). Think of all of the philosophy courses (e.g., logic, epistemology, philosophy of language, non-race-related metaphysics, philosophy of mind, ancient and modern philosophy, etc.). There is certainly some CRT being taught, but I suspect it is a fraction of the overall content being taught (and hence not especially surprising to me). I think conservatives have created the appearance of a crisis that makes no sense when one thinks through the issue. I don’t remember these same people complaining when white supremacy was being taught.Report

Chris Bertram
19 days ago

Well it is certainly a heterodox bunch, since it includes a scientist who is a vax refuser and ivermectin enthusiast on its board of advisers.Report

Steven DeLay
Reply to  Chris Bertram
19 days ago

Yes, terrible. Pfizer is God.Report

Dova
19 days ago

I don’t see UATX as an experiment so much as a continuation of the status quo. I hear something nearly every single day from this same band of marginalized iconoclasts. They seem to have little trouble being heard, getting interviews, publishing articles and books, and whatever else public-facing intellectuals are want to do. It’s plainly evident that they even have access to the Scrooge McDuck piles of money that would allow them to parlay that into a new university.

And I hear from them not only directly but also through countless think-pieces either gushing over their heterodoxy or else disagreeing with what they say but defending to the death their right to say it. Comments and discussions broadly sympathetic to these folks get showered with likes, as you can see in this thread for example.

And yet the feeling that it’s *just not enough* grows. There is an amorphous ‘problem’, a real head scratcher that serious rational people do well to take seriously and rationally. Something vaguely about ‘diversity’ and ‘inclusion’ and also maybe about threats to ‘Western values’.

But maybe the problem being so ill-defined is the reason solutions like UATX are so ill-conceived. Report

Notapostgrad
Reply to  Dova
19 days ago

So, in Ferguson’s piece in Bloomberg yesterday about the university he notes:

Mitchell Langbert’s analysis of tenure-track, Ph.D.-holding professors from 51 of the 66 top-ranked liberal arts colleges in 2017 found that those with known political affiliations were overwhelmingly Democratic. Nearly two-fifths of the colleges in Langbert’s sample were Republican-free. The mean Democratic-to-Republican ratio across the sample was 10.4:1, or 12.7:1 if the two military academies, West Point and Annapolis, were excluded. For history departments, the ratio was 17.4:1; for English 48.3:1. No ratio is calculable for anthropology, as the number of Republican professors was zero. In 2020, Langbert and Sean Stevens  found an even bigger skew to the left when they considered political donations to parties by professors. The ratio of dollars contributed to Democratic versus Republican candidates and committees was 21:1.

And, I think AEI just put out a by-the-numbers report that suggests that almost of 80% of academic job ads in US elite universities talk about “diversity,” and around a third require a diversity statement.

So, the notion that the people involved in this project are just “status quo” promoters seems odd to me.Report

Jen
Jen
Reply to  Notapostgrad
19 days ago

I think the point was not about the status quo in academia, but about the broader cultural, political and social status quo, which includes academia as only a minor part.Report

Notapostgrad
Reply to  Jen
19 days ago

That makes more sense. Still odd to me though. Like, the proposed university is quite different from the political monoculture of higher-education, but it’s still just part of the status quo because, what?, the political monocultural of higher-education hasn’t extended to the wider world yet? It’s not really clear to me how what the proposed university is suggesting is really just inline with the wider status quo, since I don’t think the status quo (in the wider sense) is nearly as much of a monoculture as higher-education.Report

Laura
Laura
Reply to  Notapostgrad
18 days ago

Yet doesn’t the evidence cited above show that the political monoculture exists in the literature or history departments of top-ranked liberal arts colleges, as measured at the moment when Trump was elected? How do you suppose it compares to the political culture of, say, business college faculty at the top-50 universities in undergraduate enrollments?Report

Notapostgrad
Reply to  Laura
17 days ago

I suppose I don’t “propose” anything. I would be sincerely interested in any data here. My suspicion is that econ and business departments lean right, but I don’t know if that is true or by how much. I guess, as a philosopher, I am more interested in the humanities, since that is who is paying the piper for me.Report

Last edited 17 days ago by Notapostgrad
Preston Stovall
Reply to  Notapostgrad
17 days ago

There’s a fair amount of work that’s been done on political orientation within different disciplines, and your suspicions are borne out by it. This research has generally been pursued on the basis of voter registration, however, and as Alastair Norcross notes below, that doesn’t cut at a sufficiently fine grain in terms of political identities. But the Higher Education Research Institute uses a five-point scale from far left to far right, and asks respondents to self-identify.

Here’s a metastudy from a year ago written by two political scientists, Sam Abrams and Amna Khalid, the former leaning to the right and the latter to the left, taking into account the HERI methodology:

https://heterodoxacademy.org/blog/are-colleges-and-universities-too-liberal-what-the-research-says-about-the-political-composition-of-campuses-and-campus-climate/

It’s worth a read. They write:

The data for three campus constituencies [students, faculty, and administrators] unequivocally [emphasis in the original] show that liberals are considerably overrepresented on university and college campuses. And the research on campus climate reveals a decrease in openness to non-liberal viewpoints. But it is important to decouple these two issues; the political leanings of academics cannot be seen as directly determining the state of campus discourse.  

Interestingly, they identify administrators as a potential contributor toward the problem of the suppression of dissenting views:

In his 2017 survey Abrams asked both administrators and faculty which is more important for colleges and universities to do: maintain an open learning environment by exposing students to all types of speech and viewpoints, even if it means allowing speech that is offensive or biased against certain groups of people OR prohibit certain speech or expression of viewpoints that are offensive or biased against certain groups of people. Seven out of ten professors wanted to create an open environment even if that offended some compared to less than five out of ten administrators.

 

There is arguably an alternative curriculum being advanced through new student orientation and programs with names like “Stay Healthy, Stay Woke,” “Microaggressions” and “Understanding White Privilege.” Administrators, intentionally or unintentionally, are signaling to students which topics are open to debate and identify which questions should simply be overlooked for fear of negative consequences. The irony is that those who are purportedly working to increase diversity are often the ones who are responsible for limiting the scope for diversity of viewpoints. In the words of Nicholas Kristof, colleges and universities “embrace diversity of all kinds except ideological…We want to be inclusive of people who don’t look like us — so long as they think like us.” 

Report

Kenny Easwaran
Reply to  Notapostgrad
18 days ago

I’m pretty sure that 100% of the people involved in this new university talk about “diversity” in the work they are being involved for.Report

Notapostgrad
Reply to  Kenny Easwaran
18 days ago

Do you think these are the people that will require diversity statements and talk about diversity in job ads (if there ever are any jobs ads), or was your comment just mere sneer?Report

Kenny Easwaran
Reply to  Notapostgrad
17 days ago

They may well do so, given that the founding message of the university is a very specific type of diversity ideology!Report

Bob Kirkman
19 days ago

Your commentary on the proposed university was uncommonly snide and dismissive, and really unworthy of you. Please note that some of the people “who have fearlessly quit previous jobs rather than be around people who disagreed with them” were all but driven from their jobs by campaigns of harassment and intimidation. Kathleen Stock is among them, regarding whom your discussion in this space was much more sympathetic.

I’d be interested to know how many who read this site and contribute to discussion here have felt the need to self-censor, to avoid certain topics simply to avoid the kind of trouble faced by Stock, and Abbot, and Singer, and others.Report

Kenny Easwaran
Reply to  Bob Kirkman
18 days ago

I agree with the first sentence – the original post was unnecessarily snide and dismissive.

That said, I think this new announcement shows that Stock wasn’t “all but driven from” her job, but was in fact *lured* from her job by this new job (but she chose to time the announcement of her leaving her current job in such a way that people would naturally assume she had been “all but driven from” it).Report

Molly Gardner
Reply to  Kenny Easwaran
18 days ago

Are you suggesting that, in fact, 3 years of harassment from her colleagues and the public at large didn’t phase her? She didn’t mind being continually misrepresented, targeted, and vilified–at least, not enough to want to leave her job? That sounds highly implausible to me.

Keep in mind that she was at Sussex for 18 years. She does not appear to be someone who skips from job to job looking for more money and fame. And notice that she is not actually moving to Austin. Her family is in the UK, and her wife is expecting a baby, I believe. So it’s really not clear to me at all that this was some kind of 3-D chess scheme to make it look like she was driven from her job when, in fact, she was lured away.Report

Kenny Easwaran
Reply to  Molly Gardner
17 days ago

This is fair. I don’t mean to suggest that she enjoyed the situation she was in, and left because she enjoys this new option more.

My point is just that a lot of people formed an opinion of the explanation for her departure two weeks ago, when she posted that she was leaving in a way that suggested she was quitting academia rather than continue this job. However, it seems likely that this was a mistaken impression of the choice she in fact made.

I don’t mean to say that the way she has been treated is an appropriate way to treat anyone. (I definitely don’t know many of the details of how she has been treated.) But if she is in fact leaving for a new opportunity, I can appreciate the reason for wanting to separate the public perception of the leaving from the public perception of the new opportunity.Report

Linda Mars
Linda Mars
Reply to  Kenny Easwaran
16 days ago

The opinion that a lot of people formed was that she was motivated to resign to a large extent because she felt she had been the victim of a prolonged and personally distressing harassment campaign. I’m sorry to be blunt, but am really having trouble understanding the point you are trying to make here and in some of your other comments in this thread.Report

Spencer Jay Case
Reply to  Kenny Easwaran
18 days ago

Might the luring have been more effective given the sort of environment that she was facing? It doesn’t have to be one or the other.

I figured that if Stock landed on her feet elsewhere, as she almost certainly would, some would say: “Ah, you see– no real problem here, it was all just a way of moving up.” Similar things were said about Bari Weiss when she left NYT. Of course, these people were never going to end up living out of cardboard boxes.Report

Molly Gardner
Reply to  Kenny Easwaran
18 days ago

Not to say you’re doing this, but:

Trying to convince yourself that in the end, Kathleen Stock didn’t really mind having her character relentlessly attacked for three years–that it didn’t do enough psychological damage to make her want to leave–is like trying to convince yourself that in the end, pigs don’t really mind being farmed and eaten.Report

Molly Gardner
Reply to  Molly Gardner
18 days ago

To clarify my above comment, here are 2 things Stock’s detractors can say:

(1) No, we played no causal role in driving her out of her job, because she wanted to go to U of Austin anyway; or

(2) Yes, we played a causal role in driving her out of her job, but that’s ok because we believe she deserved it.

I think the second claim is more honest than the first.Report

Molly Gardner
Reply to  Molly Gardner
18 days ago

Actually I guess there’s also a third thing:

(3) Yes, we played a causal role in driving her out of her job, but we actually helped her rather than harmed her, because now she’ll have more money and fame than she did before.

In response, I’d suggest that you can wrong people without harming them, so whether or not Stock lands on her feet is largely immaterial to whether she was wronged.Report

Kenny Easwaran
Reply to  Molly Gardner
17 days ago

This all seems like a fair response.Report

Molly Gardner
19 days ago

I suggested this to Justin a while ago privately, but I think I might just say this here, while we’re talking about who funds whom. I would really be interested to know what proportion of grants to philosophers comes from (a) right wing and libertarian organizations, (b) Christian organizations, (c) left wing organizations, and (d) other sources.Report

Postdoc
Reply to  Molly Gardner
19 days ago

I’d welcome data on this too. Wouldn’t be surprised to see libertarian and Christian organizations out-spending left-wing organizations when it comes to projects in academic philosophy. But, if that turns out to be true, we’d then need to ask: Is the disproportionate funding by these groups evidence of their undue influence, or rather a legitimate attempt by these groups to rectify an unjustified exclusion of their views by an overwhelmingly left-wing academy? I’m inclined to think it’s the latter, but the point for now is that it wouldn’t be immediately clear what conclusion we should draw from such disproportionate funding. Maybe left-wing groups aren’t funding projects because they’ve already got the academy more-or-less in the palm of their hand.Report

Preston Stovall
Reply to  Postdoc
19 days ago

Depending on what one means by “more-or-less in the palm of their hand”, a statistic Notapostgrad cites above suggests that leftwing support of higher education in the U.S. needn’t be a priority when it comes to expected return on investment:

In 2020, Langbert and Sean Stevens found an even bigger skew to the left when they considered political donations to parties by professors. The ratio of dollars contributed to Democratic versus Republican candidates and committees was 21:1.

Report

Alastair Norcross
Reply to  Preston Stovall
19 days ago

That ratio might be relevant, if more than a tiny number of Democratic candidates were actually left wing. Only someone in thrall to the idea that the Republicans and Democrats represent the right and left wings of politics respectively, rather than the extreme right and the soft right, could think that giving to Democratic rather than Republican candidates is proof of left wing ideology. Perhaps most of the US professoriate is really left wing, and choosing to support the less extreme wing of the right (because it’s generally pointless to support third-party candidates). Or perhaps lots of US professors are really centrist/soft right in their leanings. These donation figures alone can’t tell us.Report

Preston Stovall
Reply to  Alastair Norcross
19 days ago

I was trying to speak to the existing conversation, and I took my use of “leftwing support of higher education in the U.S.” to be consonant with the original comment, which distinguished funding from (a) right wing and libertarian organizations, (b) Christian organizations, (c) left wing organizations, and (d) other sources. In an examination of funding sources for U.S. higher education, it would be an odd study that grouped institutions whose significant participants identified as Democrats, or were interested in fostering stereotypically Democratic policies, under (a), (b), or (d) in that taxonomy.

But to speak to your concern, I’m happy to modify my comment to include, after “depending on what one means by ‘more-or-less in the palm of their hand”, the clause “and depending on what one means by leftwing”.Report

Last edited 19 days ago by Preston Stovall
Preston Stovall
Reply to  Alastair Norcross
17 days ago

Hi Alastair. Just a quick follow up, since I referenced this in a comment above a moment ago. And my apologies if you’re familiar with this information. The Higher Education Research Institute at UCLA (HERI) uses a metric for measuring political affiliation in terms of a five-point scale, rather than by looking at voter registration. This is from Abrams and Khalid’s discussion, linked below:

The HERI approach that asks how faculty members self-identify across the political spectrum gives us a better sense of the ideological leanings among the professoriate. It powerfully shows that the number of faculty on the right is far outweighed by those who identify as moderate or on the left. In 1989-1990, when HERI first fielded this survey, 42% of faculty identified as being on the left, 40% were moderate, and another 18% were on the right. This is not a normal curve – it is a clear lean to the left. 

Almost three decades later in 2016-2017, HERI found that 60% of the faculty identified as either far left or liberal compared to just 12% being conservative or far right.  In 1989, the liberal: conservative ratio of faculty was 2.3. So in less than 30 years the ratio of liberal identifying faculty to conservative faculty had more than doubled to 5. 

Compare this to the 5-point liberal-conservative poll for the US population, which shows only minor changes over time and an appreciably different curve. In the fall of 1989, 26% of Americans were on the liberal side of the spectrum, 42% were moderate, and the remaining 29% described themselves as conservative. This is a normal distribution and shows a tendency to cluster toward the center. Three decades later, the numbers do not look all that different. Thirty one percent of Americans state that they are conservative or very conservative, 43% are moderate, and the 24% are liberal or very liberal. The American population as a whole went from a 0.9 liberal: conservative ratio to a 0.8 – this is a minor change and shows that the nation as a whole leaned a bit to the right during this time period while college and university faculty lunged toward to the left

Moreover, the data on the American population as a whole confirm two well-known robust findings from political science; the first is the relative stability and robustness of ideology in the electorate. The second is the general trend toward centrism. That is not the case with faculty whatsoever. As Phillip Magness recently pointed out, the evidence that faculty lean heavily to the left is so clear that any claims to the contrary must necessarily be based on a gross misinterpretation of the data.

To be clear, I’m not trying to make a backhanded accusation that anyone here is presenting a gross misinterpretation of the data. And this still doesn’t show that a putative absence of funding from left-of-center organizations is to be explained by the sense that they have the academy “more-or-less in the palm of their hand”. After all, we don’t know (as far as I am aware) whether funding discrepancies of the sort noted above would show up here as well (though I suspect it would, given the correlation between identifying as left of center and voting for and supporting the Democrats). And perhaps there’s a case to be made that self-identifying as on the left doesn’t suffice to capture the “real left”. But I wanted to point out that voter registration isn’t the only source of support for identifying a leftward slant in the academy, and tracking its growth in the last thirty years.Report

Alastair Norcross
Reply to  Preston Stovall
17 days ago

Thanks Preston, I do recall seeing discussion of that a while ago, but had forgotten the details. I would raise the same caveat against this as I did against the voter registration data, though. The political parties in the US probably, for many people at least, serve as proxies for liberal-moderate-conservative attributions. There is no doubt that the Republican Party, at least beginning with Reagan, has lurched ever further to the right. The Democratic Party followed suit under Clinton, and only moved slightly back under Obama (we thought it would be further back to the left, but, as we all know, that wasn’t to be). Many academics who might have described themselves as moderates in the days of Nixon and Humphrey might now describe themselves, with the exact same views, as liberal or even ‘far left’. When arguing that the US population should have the same access to healthcare as the Germans, French, or British under their respective market-oriented governments is labelled as advocating for “socialism” or at least “socialized medicine”, it would be hardly surprising that someone who would have voted for Merkel, Macron, or even (gasp) Johnson, had they been living in Germany, France, or the UK, might at least describe themselves as ‘liberal’ in the US.Report

Preston Stovall
Reply to  Alastair Norcross
16 days ago

Thanks Alastair, that’s all fair. I certainly agree that we could use a more fine-grained set of classifications when looking at this trend. I’m hopeful that the kind of work Heterodox Academy members have been drawing together in the last few years will help us get a better handle on what’s going on, and why.Report

Molly Gardner
Reply to  Preston Stovall
19 days ago

I am always happy to be proven wrong with empirical evidence, but I see little a priori reason to think that the proportion of grants given to philosophers by different groups is going to correlate with proportion of political donations from professors to different groups.

It could be, for example, that professors give more to the Democrats than to the Republicans, but what they give to the Democrats is some piddling dollar amount, compared to what, say, the Templeton Foundation gives to the philosophers. Or whatever. I would just like to know the numbers.

It’s also interesting to me that when philosophers win grants from ideological organizations, they are usually praised on this blog. But when they’re going to work for a university funded by what Justin calls “a libertarian think tank,” this is taken to be a reason to deride them. It seems like this is a double standard.Report

Preston Stovall
Reply to  Molly Gardner
19 days ago

Yeah, the double standard is pretty glaring. And I hear you about the proportions not being commensurate. But in the context of deciding where to spend money in support of their causes, that kind of widespread commitment to the Democratic party gives some support for Postdoc’s hypothesis. And of course it’s possible that leftwing institutions are supporting projects in academia; I don’t know either way. So I agree that it would be good to have the data.Report

David Wallace
Reply to  Molly Gardner
18 days ago

I think it would be quite difficult to define. Bill Gates is quite right wing in some respects, but the Gates Foundation gives tons of money to causes that aren’t obviously right-wing. But it does have a certain political slant that some left-wingers regard as right-wing. Jeff Bezos is quite right wing on some metrics but just endowed a massive anti-climate-change fund; presumably it’ll give money to universities, and presumably opposing climate change isn’t right-wing, but there are big political issues in how to fight climate change (climate justice vs technocracy, etc) and I imagine Bezos’ foundation will have a take on this. Templeton is *kind of* right wing and *kind of* Christian, but has a much more idiosyncratic take than that simple metric would define.

My guess is that explicitly right-wing / libertarian organizations give much more than explicitly left-wing organizations, but that most of the money comes from organizations that aren’t explicitly left-wing or right-wing but still have political views that color their funding choices (and that probably divide liberals from leftists more than liberals from conservatives).Report

Robert A Gressis
Robert A Gressis
Reply to  David Wallace
17 days ago

What are Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos “quite” right wing on? Serious question!Report

David Wallace
Reply to  Robert A Gressis
17 days ago

I had low taxes in mind, but on reflection that’s a bit thin. Both seem to be, roughly, centrist Democrats, but with complicated idiosyncrasies. That I automatically categorized that – even qualified – as “quite right wing” probably means I was normalizing to academic politics without noticing (speaking as a “centrist Democrat with some complicated idiosyncrasies” myself!)Report

Alastair Norcross
Reply to  David Wallace
17 days ago

Given that centrist Democrats are quite right wing, you should stick with your initial attribution.Report

David Wallace
Reply to  Alastair Norcross
16 days ago

Well, normalized to academic politics…Report

Thomas Nadelhoffer
Reply to  David Wallace
16 days ago

Normalized to Western Europe, South America, etc…Report

lowlygrad
lowlygrad
Reply to  Molly Gardner
18 days ago

Per Michele Lamont, philosophers tend to do pretty poorly in interdisciplinary grants, and I reckon especially so for those that have “lefty” DEI aspects/requirements, like the Ford Foundation. I would think that this would skew philosophical funding rightwing compared to the Social Sciences and Humanities more generally.Report

Justin Kalef
19 days ago

It’s so strange to see people here (or anywhere) who scoff at the idea that such a university, or the Journal of Controversial Ideas, is needed, on the grounds that those who *disagree* with the radical identitarian left wing hold sway in academia everywhere.

I’m really trying to understand this. It seems well-nigh indubitable that student groups and other activists orchestrated a campaign to get Kathleen Stock sacked from her university (there is abundant photographic and other evidence, and they openly celebrated their victory when she left), and that Dorian Abbott was no-platformed at MIT because of some criticisms he had made against some DEI initiatives, and that protestors at Rhodes College managed to get the Peter Singer talk cancelled because of Singer’s views on disabled newborns.

Those are all cases from the last month or so, as I recall.

Are there *any* cases from the last month, the last year, the last decade, or even the last quarter century of people receiving this sort of treatment because they argued *for* what Stock disputes, *for* what Abbott disputes, or *against* Singer’s position on disabled newborns?

Here’s my best explanation of what’s going on here: many views that the radical identitarian left support were, long ago, fringe views. Defenders of those views, however many decades ago, acquired some perhaps well-deserved credit for having the guts to hold views that very few among their peers or employers would go near. But then, those views became dominant, and even aggressively dominant, within the university and beyond. However, one of the exciting things about maintaining these views is that they supposedly set one apart as a bold rebel who loves to live dangerously. Hence, this desperate clinging to the romantic illusion that we’re living in 1962 and the world isn’t ready for these shocking underground beliefs yet.

That’s meant not as a refutation but rather as my best diagnosis of how people could come to think that these views are edgy and underrepresented at colleges and universities today, where all the power is held by right wingers and libertarians. I don’t know how a refutation could even be necessary, since the evidence that it’s not true seems to be staring us all in the face, and nobody’s ever made a clear argument for this (to my mind bizarre) view.

To put it another way: how can it possibly be that a range of views is against the grain at a university when those same views are repeated endlessly by the upper administration in press releases and emails sent to the faculty, when these views are taught or presumed in nearly all the lectures and publications on the topic that are produced at the university, when applicants to positions at the university have to prove their commitment to those views, when the students arriving there come from school systems that generally predispose them to accept those views, and when considerable portions of the university administration is hired to promote those views and remake the university in line with those same views?

I can see why some people accept those views. What I can’t see is how anyone who’s looked at the evidence can seriously maintain that those views are not the dominant ones at universities.Report

Jen
Jen
Reply to  Justin Kalef
19 days ago

Maybe their only impressions of universities and of the people who hold sway in them are acquired by perusing commentary on Daily Nous.Report

Prof L
Reply to  Jen
19 days ago

I also share JK’s puzzlement that JW and others here seem to think that there’s not some massive problem with what one can and cannot say in a university without fear of retribution. So sure, mostly anonymous comments and likes on blogs may present a certain picture of what I take to be the majority opinions among philosophers—and we should all be grateful to JW for hosting these discussions. But our universities make abundantly clear that certain positions are out of bounds, and this certainly does not appear on the ground to be the majority position of philosophers, since if we say these things out loud, in our classes, in faculty meetings, in publications, and so on, there is a completely reasonable fear of career-ending blowback.

I’m not really sure what to make of this perspective that worries about “cancel culture” in academia and academic freedom are blown out of proportion. Is it that people genuinely think that one can say (for example) that teaching anti-racism is harmful? Or that it’s a bankrupt way of approaching issues of racial justice? I know I can’t say or publish that, because if students or colleagues complained that expressing this view of things constituted a hostile environment, the institution would likely not back me up, and, if they exerted enough pressure on the institution, I might get fired. Or do they think, yeah you can’t say that, but that’s fine, because that view of things is false and harmful. I really don’t know.Report

Jen
Jen
Reply to  Prof L
18 days ago

I’m not nearly as puzzled. Probably because I don’t think highly of most people. The following is an oversimplification that I think can roughly account for the majority in academia:

Most people are incapable of thinking clearly, and there is at least a kernel of truth in many of the “left-wing” views. Since people can’t or are unwilling to identify the kernel and clearly articulate how it is to be distinguished from the wrong-headed things people say, if they don’t want to be associated with the “opposite side,” they agree with the general direction in which universities are moving and move on with their lives. This, for them, is enough to view things as at least OK.Report

Jen
Jen
Reply to  Jen
18 days ago

Perhaps I should add: if they are willing to be associated with the “opposite side,” they come to Daily Nous to post a comment or to like David Wallace’s comments.

Just kidding.Report

David Wallace
Reply to  Jen
18 days ago

Everything is proceeding as I have foreseen.Report

Louis F. Cooper
Louis F. Cooper
Reply to  Prof L
18 days ago

@ Prof L
I’m not familiar at first hand with the current environment on campuses, but I would assume you could say something like: “Antiracism as defined in the writings of x,y, or z [fill in the blank] is not, in my view, the most effective or constructive or persuasive way of approaching issues of racial justice, for the following reasons [and then give them]. My preferred approach is [such-and-such].” If your institution wouldn’t back you up if you said something like that, then maybe — if feasible for you, which it might not be — you should consider moving somewhere else.

I would note that leftists historically have thrived, if that’s the right word, both on arguing among themselves and arguing with their ideological opponents, and if there is indeed an atmosphere of ideological uniformity on campuses today (I say “if” deliberately), that’s something of a departure from the culture of dispute and argument that leftist intellectuals have, at least for much of the not-so-distant past, found congenial. (Obviously, there was a time in the mid-twentieth century in the U.S. when leftists risked being accused of Communist ties or sympathies, or past or present CP membership, and having their academic careers either set back or in some cases ruined, but that’s another topic.)Report

Justin Kalef
Reply to  Jen
19 days ago

Yes, I can imagine that people you describe — who have no idea what’s going on in the universities but get their impressions solely from what gets discussed here — might well have such misconceptions.

That would be a pity, though. Justin Weinberg knows what anyone running a high-volume philosophy blog needs to know: if you keep the discussion one-sided by routinely shutting down the comments when those with non-elite views speak their minds, you’ll lose most of your readership. I suspect that the hosts of the big blogs tend to learn that lesson the hard way. If you want the traffic, you generally have to allow relevant comments from dissenters who are prepared to make them. And since comments can go on for as long as we like, the space to comment is non-competitive.

Universities operate differently. There are only so many spots to fill, and there are well-paid careers attached to them. They also have more-or-less-guaranteed funding. If they can be taken over by partisans, they can do exactly what we see: create de facto loyalty oaths, play along with the demands of protestors who share their political image (or the one they want to select), and so on. Getting you thrown out of a university or ‘de-platformed’ doesn’t just mean that you’re silenced there: it means that they can push to have someone else with their views to take your place, and hence pursue their goals of ideological hegemony, all the while getting across the message that bad things can happen to those who dare to challenge the sacred ideas.

Justin Weinberg no doubt disagrees with many things I say and wishes I wouldn’t say them, but he has no professional interest in shutting me down and replacing me with someone who toes the party line. The same is not true of a highly ideological member of a university.Report

Justin Kalef
Reply to  Justin Weinberg
18 days ago

Haha! Wow — thank you, Justin W.! Very good of you to say. I’ve been back and forth about Daily Nous, and have given it a wide berth sometimes. But you still hold the best big discussions in town here, I think (‘town’ being a fairly big area on the internet), and I’m grateful that you’re letting these points go through even though you must dislike them. It has kept me coming back even now. So, well done.Report

a grad student
Reply to  Justin Kalef
18 days ago

I guess I shouldn’t, but I do find it shocking that you think that Daily Nous has the “best big discussions in town.” I find the discussions here to be filled with a lot of uncharitable readings of each other, bad faith arguments, and generally really poor critical thinking skills. Reading the comments here makes me ashamed to be working in academic philosophy. I prefer the quality of discussion of many smaller blogs by quite a bit, but I contribute here anyway exactly because it is so much more central — I feel the responsibility to make sure certain points of view get some representation on the biggest philosophy blog. I guess I am posting this because I also want to make sure that my feelings about the comments section here also gets representation — I suspect that I am not alone in feeling this way.Report

Justin Kalef
Reply to  a grad student
18 days ago

I’m keen to hear recommendations for other blogs!

I won’t say that I’m not *disappointed* by many of the discussions I read here — I often am — but at least it’s better than the wall of viewpoint monoculture that used to be found everywhere. More people with alternative views are speaking up and I think that makes the discussions better.

Also, by ‘in town’, I had in mind the ‘town’ consisting of widely-attended and influential philosophy fora with regular open discussions. I’ve had discussions with far more limited groups (sometimes, a group of two) than I’ve found more rewarding than anything I’ve found on the bigger blogs. But as far as big and open platforms with reach go, this is where I stop by to check things out. And I do find, nowadays at least, that there are more diverse political views expressed here than at most conference/colloquium discussions I’ve attended in some time (though perhaps things have changed: I used to travel great distances to attend philosophy talks on such topics, but the intellectual monoculture just got to me after awhile, so I tuned out of much of it).Report

Thomas Nadelhoffer
Reply to  Justin Kalef
18 days ago

You bemoan the “intellectual monoculture” and cite it as a reason for your decision not to seek out and attend talks, etc. Other than some approaches to some topics in ethics and political theory, there is a vast amount of interesting work being done in the philosophy of mind, the philosophy of language, epistemology, epistemics, the philosophy of biology, the history of philosophy, technology and ethics, etc. that have little to no connection to the sorts of identity politics you deride. Indeed, there is much work even in value theory that doesn’t depend on the forces about which you’re complaining. Moreover, there are philosophers working within a plurality of traditions ranging from stuff in the analytic and Continental traditions to experimental philosophy and work at the crossroads of computer science and philosophy. Yet, you talk about a monoculture. I wonder whether you simply mean to pick out the narrow range of approaches to topics which disagree with your favored approach. Or do you really mean to say that most of the widely varying philosophical projects being explored by philosophers in the US are all contaminated by the fact that philosophers are more likely to vote for Democrats than Republicans?Report

Jen
Jen
Reply to  a grad student
18 days ago

You’re here, as you say, because you care about representation of views and feelings. Kalef is here because he cares about the representation of political views without fear of retribution. You apparently have more in common with Kalef than you have with me: I’m here because I care about the truth.Report

Thomas Nadelhoffer
Reply to  a grad student
18 days ago

I share your sentiment. The things you dislike are all on full display in this very thread.Report

Spencer Jay Case
Reply to  Justin Weinberg
18 days ago

Agreement between the Justins! Do wonders never cease?Report

Alastair Norcross
Reply to  Justin Kalef
19 days ago

Justin, your point may be helped if you don’t include claims that are false: “It seems well-nigh indubitable that… protestors at Rhodes College managed to get the Peter Singer talk cancelled because of Singer’s views on disabled newborns.” As you should know, given how much time you spend on this blog, the protesters didn’t succeed in getting the talk cancelled (https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2021/09/30/rhodes-sticks-invitation-peter-singer). Your point would be almost as forceful, if you had stuck with the true claim that protesters tried hard to get the talk cancelled. (or perhaps you think that “well nigh indubitable that p” is consistent with “not p”?)Report

Justin Kalef
Reply to  Alastair Norcross
18 days ago

Hi, Alastair. Am I mistaken? I thought the talk wasn’t able to be held at Rhodes College because of the protests, and that it was instead hosted by the ‘Brains in Vats’ YouTube channel. If I’ve got that wrong, mea culpa!Report

Alastair Norcross
Reply to  Justin Kalef
18 days ago

As I understand it, the talk went ahead, and was also broadcast on YouTube (maybe afterwards). But I wasn’t there. Maybe Rebecca could chime in and tell us?Report

Spencer Jay Case
Reply to  Justin Kalef
18 days ago

it appears that in this particular Alastair… is… right. Man, that was painful, but I said it.Report

Spencer Jay Case
Reply to  Spencer Jay Case
18 days ago

But the college refused to post it to their YouTube as they normally do, which is why BiV hosted it. So there was that concession to the dumb mob.Report

Justin Kalef
Reply to  Spencer Jay Case
18 days ago

Thanks, both. In that case, I stand corrected on that point!Report

Alastair Norcross
Reply to  Spencer Jay Case
18 days ago

It hurts so good, doesn’t it Spencer?Report

Laura
Laura
Reply to  Justin Kalef
18 days ago

It could be because it’s not true for their universities, or the ones with which they are most familiar? In the category “people I know of who have been fired or disciplined or confronted for expressing political views publicly”, all of my first real-life examples are people who were expressing leftist or atheist views. My experience may not be normal – honestly don’t know – but it’s no less real.Report

Preston Stovall
19 days ago

This discussion leaves me optimistic about the prospects for the University of Austin. You don’t have to be a Deweyan to think that an experimentalist spirit is central to American identity, particularly as it concerns our institutions. So let 100 flowers bloom in U.S. higher education. And what a great location – a (would-be) free-thought bastion in the liberal heart of conservative Texas.

Whatever they do, I hope the different faculties take moral psychology and the study of our moral sentiments seriously, particularly (at least in the beginning) as that research illuminates the rise in political polarization in the U.S. over the last two decades. A first-year course on “having conversations with people who disagree with you”, or something to that effect, might be a good place to start.

And for those who identify with the snide condescension illustrated in Justin’s opening remarks, it’s worth keeping in mind how far leftward the U.S. professoriate has swung in the last thirty years, as against the rest of the country. Some of the positions that academics, and the elites they’ve been educating, take for unquestionable assumption today were quite otherwise even five or ten years ago. Meanwhile, the American electorate has only moved slightly leftward since the 1990s. Step outside the walls of the academy, and the U.S. is a lot more ideologically diverse about certain issues than would be expected given the conversations taking place in some quarters of the academy today.

Leave the U.S. and the situation is similar. Having lived in Central Europe for the last four years, it’s been refreshing to see that the more extremist and fanatical elements of the U.S. system are looked at rather differently here. And I know some people like to be snide about these things, but it’s not uncommon for people who were adults during the Soviet period to compare the ideological atmosphere of that time with what is broadcast from some quarters of the U.S. education system today. It would behoove all of us if those inclined to snideness were more affectively and cognitively sympathetic to those points of view.Report

Moti Gorin
19 days ago

Universities are mostly training grounds for the professional class and, relatedly, debt-generating mechanisms, which is why the current non-threatening identity-politics brand of centrist politics flourish there.

This new university, if it actually becomes one, will almost certainly become the same sort of thing, but with a different patina, i.e., branding.Report

Evan
Evan
18 days ago

Some questions I have:

1) What will their admissions be like once it is established?
2) What will their policies be like regarding student dissent/protest?
3) What will their hiring practices be like?
4) Why haven’t the founders considered making more “conservative” (or even “truth-telling”) academic journals for conservative academics to publish in if that’s also one of their concerns?

I’m not against the establishment of this university, but I’m also not impressed or swayed by it either. Their ad does seem petty, immature, and disrespectful by accusing established universities for not being committed to truth. I get the same vibes I get from those political ads of politicians attacking each other. I don’t want to attend a university whose PR sounds more like a corporation/political campaign than a place of knowledge acquisition and production.

I think there is some truth to the phrase “good things speak for themselves.” Perhaps more universities can learn from that adage.Report

Last edited 18 days ago by Evan
Maria
Maria
Reply to  Evan
17 days ago

Reading their announcement, I’m reminded of how PragerU was originally intended to have a substantial in person teaching component, which it abandoned due to expense, and so it now exists as a production house for online videoReport

Evan
Evan
Reply to  Maria
17 days ago

From my observation, universities also economically thrive from *local* wealthy donors. These people often visit the campus and keep up with the university because they live in the area. A lot of universities and even hospitals in my area have donors from the same people who live in the area or near by. Even if U. Austin attracts a few billionaire ideological based-donors here and there, there is no guarantee that their university can and will be sustainable for long in the traditional way.

People often forget that there is A LOT that goes into making and funding a university. You can’t just talk the talk and expect a long lasting sustainable traditional university. Most students, parents, and donors want to see evidence of whether or not such university is worth the investment. Non-ideological based donors who generally care about research and student learning are willing to keep donating so long as the university can prove they producing adequate results in research, teaching, and learning. Obviously, this requires being “seasoned” or established for a long time for such evidence to be documented in the first place.

From a strategic perspective, I’m not sure if they’ll be realized if they keep making such bad PR moves.Report

Last edited 17 days ago by Evan
ty mcnabb
18 days ago

‘…survives its over-fertilized beginnings and blossoms into something beyond a safe space for status-quo warriors, that would be great.’

Says an academic philosopher at a public research university.Report

Kaila Draper
18 days ago

Yes, cancel culture is real. But the University’s announcement is ridiculous and unintentionally funny. It is difficult not to make fun of it.Report

Preston Stovall
Reply to  Kaila Draper
18 days ago

I don’t know Kaila. A substantial portion of the U.S. population, both among the elites and certainly outside the urban centers, think some fields in U.S. higher education can be rightly characterized today as havens for political agents agitating for fundamentally illiberal programs in American society today, rather than for truth. Maybe they’re crazy. But the urge to laugh at their concerns, or to display the snide condescension of Justin’s post, is a huge part of the U.S. left’s problem right now.

And this isn’t a new or particularly shocking thesis. The Heterodox Academy has been highlighting the growing conflict between a university founded on a telos of truth and one founded on a telos of social justice almost since it’s founding in 2015. I don’t endorse everything HxA has done, but that’s part of the virtue they embody as an institution: I can appreciate some of the work of its members, even if I maintain principled disagreement with other work. They’re practically founded on that ideal. And as an institution, they’ve been out in front of a lot of what’s happened since 2015.

At this point in the evolution of our timeline, I think it’s an open question whether the U.S. education system is rightly characterized as one where a telos of social justice is threatening the pursuit of truth. I’m sure (in the factive sense) that there’s a standpoint explanation (in the nonfactive sense) for why that’s the case. I think it’s probably found in the Chicago Principles somewhere.

Of course, if all you meant to do was elicit a belly laugh, then I’m sorry for mucking up the joke.Report

Derek Bowman
Derek Bowman
Reply to  Preston Stovall
16 days ago

I don’t know, Preston. A substantial portion of the Athenian citizens think Socrates is guilty of corrupting the youth. And this isn’t a new or particularly shocking thesis. Aristophanes has been highlighting the way in which he undermines his students’ respect for their parents since 423. At this point in the evolution of our timeline I think it’s an open question whether Socratic inquiry is rightly characterized as one where a telos of novelty and pedantic disputation is threatening the genuine pursuit of truth.Report

Last edited 16 days ago by Derek Bowman
Preston Stovall
Reply to  Derek Bowman
16 days ago

I see no reason to think that the members of the Heterodox Academy are anything like the people who criticized Socrates’ pedagogy. This is all the more evident given the fact that the former group of people is openly advocating for viewpoint diversity and respect for dissenting views.Report

Jean Kazez
18 days ago

Justin, You seem to be saying that if you can openly teach a highly controversial topic, then there’s nothing to the idea that others don’t have the freedom to teach highly controversial topics. (If you’re not saying that, then I don’t see the point of your anecdote.) But there are clearly differences between controversial topics. There’s a lot that can be said about the factors that go into a topic being teachable and a topic being untouchable…if you’re willing to take the whole matter seriously.Report

Jean Kazez
Reply to  Justin Weinberg
17 days ago

Sure, their rhetoric is overblown. It’s true though that controversial topics in certain areas (race, gender, disability, probably a few others) can get you into trouble, to the point that your employment is in danger, especially if you’re untenured. It would be a problem if controversial topics in those areas couldn’t be taught except by tenured risk takers. If that’s true, I see the problem the U of A is trying to solve, even if I don’t think they have the solution. The example in your post is intriguing, because if you’re talking about teaching Amia Srinavasan’s stuff on the right to sex of incels (??) the real topic there is the racial and other prejudices people have in their choice of partners. So this is a perfectly “woke” topic and the U of A crowd is going to say it’s unsurprising that you feel comfortable teaching it.Report