Philosophy Professor Suspended for Criticizing “Wokeness”


Gregory Schulz, a tenured professor of philosophy at Concordia University in Wisconsin, a private Lutheran university, was “suspended and barred from campus” following his publication of an essay critical of the school on the blog Christian News, according to Inside Higher Ed.

Schulz expresses opposition to diversity initiatives, among other things, saying:

While there is no systemic racism at Concordia because we are committed to Christ incarnate and His universal justification of all human beings without exception, there certainly is systemic Woke-ism.

He also calls for the university, in its search for a new president, to select someone who “believe[s] in and [has] a demonstrated commitment to Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions.” You can read his essay here.

The Academic Freedom Alliance has written a letter to Concordia’s interim president, William Cario, objecting to the suspension, and arguing that even though “Concordia University has not chosen to fully embrace” traditional principles of academic freedom in regard to its own faculty,” it has reason to avoid taking steps that

would represent a narrowing of protected free speech for faculty that would go far beyond what is necessary to render academic freedom compatible with ‘the reality of the scriptural Lutheran faith’ and would damage the university’s ability to operate as an institution of higher education.

Via Inside Higher Ed.

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Preston Stovall
2 months ago

This is beyond satire. Schulz targets “woke-ism” as an ideology (which he characterizes as “a potent cocktail of Progressivism, Neo-Pragmatism, and Marxism“), and charges that woke-ism interferes with the Christian and Lutheran mission of Concordia University. He also raises concerns about the search for a new president, meant to be “disruptive” and “transformative”, in the context of his understanding of Concordia’s mission. He then calls for an open and forthright public discussion over the administration’s aims for this disruptive transformation of Concordia.

The University is negligent if there is not some correspondingly reply. It is petty and vindictive of the Concordia administration to strip Schulz of his role as an educator over his essay. This episode reflects poorly on Concordia’s standing as an institution of higher learning in the U.S. today — to say nothing of its putative foundation in the community of Christ. In that regard, the administration appears to be vindicating Schulz’s assessment of their priorities. Beyond satire.

Welcome to the Millennium, everyone.Report

Jonathan Kendrick
2 months ago

The university overstepped by suspending Schulz, but Schulz’s essay reads like the ravings of a John Birch or QAnon lunatic. First, he characterizes “woke-ism” as a “a potent cocktail of Progressivism, Neo-Pragmatism, and Marxism,” but this is already pretty dubious because these are fairly disparate ideologies only unified by an association with left-of-center politics. He goes on to say stuff like woke-ism isutterly opposed to texts and to textual authority,” but (of course) he provides no evidence beyond a citation of something else he wrote for this bizarre and clearly false claim (unless he means woke-ism is opposed to dogmatically accepting textual authority, but isn’t every reasonable person?) I could go on. His writing seems like the conspiratorial ravings of a complete crank, and I could see why a university would balk at being associated with someone like thisReport

Consolatio
Consolatio
Reply to  Jonathan Kendrick
2 months ago

I can see why someone would take this stance, but I find it a bit uncharitable. As Schulz explains elsewhere, he understands progressivism as the political tendency of governing officials (both Democrat and Republican, as he explicitly qualifies) to speak “not just off script, but off sacred text.” An implication is that the liberal political order can only survive if certain texts—in this case the Constitution and Declaration of Independence—are allowed a sort of sacred authoritative status. This doesn’t mean blind or robotic approach to these texts, but rather a willingness to respect them by default—to live in them, as it were, such that they form the vocabulary and structure of how we think, speak, and act. (As an aside, I find it highly unlikely, not to mention false, that everyone who dogmatically accepts textual authority is unreasonable.)

Schulz makes a similar point about education: education is progressive when it abandons dwelling in and with texts for the sake of some alternative political agenda for the future. In this context, he identifies pragmatism with John Dewey’s educational prioritization of science and scientific method over sacrosanct texts (in the above sense); and he thinks of neo-pragmatism as logically downstream from this, typified in Richard Rorty’s relativist view that all we can hope for are small-T, parochial truths.

Marxism, for Schulz, is understood as an outgrowth of the same impulses that motivate the first two movements: suspension of sacrosanct texts for a political agenda, driven especially by the Marxist frustration with philosophical speculation and discussion as supposedly impractical for genuine social change—as opposed to the dividing up of people based on economic class, and the resulting game of Yahtzee (to use Schulz’s phrase) that Marxism wants to play with them.

Rather than grounding one’s philosophical approach on sacrosanct texts, wokism (like Marx’s social engineering), according to Schulz, stems from a kind of Hegelianism, though not simply Hegelian dialectic. Rather, the cocktail ideology of wokism is driven by what grounds Hegel’s dialectic itself: a merely mythological approach to sacred texts, whether it be spotty, Bartlett-style lip service, or (as in Hegel’s case) a pseudo-Trinitarian mythology.

One might complain that Schulz cites only himself, but that’s understandable if Schulz thinks this is the kind of critique that needs to be made, and that he’s the only person (or one of the only people) making it. He even claims it’s scandalous that there aren’t more studied academic critiques of this kind. Besides, it’s common for research in any niche sub-field of philosophy to cite a small number of scholars, especially if I’m writing a blog post to spread my ideas to a popular or religious audience, which may lack certain academic roadblocks to understanding what I’m getting at.Report

Jonathan Kendrick
Reply to  Consolatio
2 months ago

So, in the name of “charity,” you’re asking the reader to just redefine all the terms used in this article from their commonly accepted uses to Schulz’s own bizarre and idiosyncratic understanding of “progressivism,” “Marxism,” and “neo-pragmatism?” When you have to resort to tactics like that, it’s a good sign that you need to stop showing the author charity. I can only assume Schulz has either never read Marx, Rorty, etc., has read them, but failed to understand them, or understands them and is simply making stuff up to further his political agenda.Report

Miroslav Imbrisevic
2 months ago

I am not surprised that the good Reverend was suspended. He openly challenges the authority of the administrators and the Board of Regents – but backed up by scripture (and Dietrich Bonhoeffer): “the Woke agenda being championed by our BoR committees is literally an illiterate philosophy of education that has no place for authoritative texts.” He asks the leadership in the administration: “Where are your own books, your published journal articles, your white papers, your writings and reasonings about this shift”? – implying professional incompetence. Prof. Scholz also tells them “that the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil (1 Timothy 6:10)”. He also informs them that their systematic Woke-ism “merits personal and institutional repentance.” I am sure they didn’t like any of this – hence the suspension.  

This challenge of authority makes his missive a fun read – I had to laugh several times. I agree that academic wokeness is pernicious – but I would argue from a liberal perspective. This unshakeable conviction to be right, from a philosophy professor, is fascinating; and because of this conviction, he keeps referring the reader to his own writings. I wish I had this kind of self-belief: “I am actually one of a number of divinely called LCMS pastor-professors at CUW.

Prof. Schulz is also a bit of a word-smith, but then, all good pastors should be. He writes: “These are aggressive-progressive Woke mantras.” – this is a nice play on “passive-aggressive”. His diagnosis for what is wrong at Concordia is “Woke Dysphoria” – great phrase; I might use this. I also like the contrasting of ”systematic racism” with “systematic Woke-ism”. The Reverend charges the administrators with “regularizing and normalizing of Woke-ness at the university.” I admit it – this phrase made me crack up (uncontrollably!) several times.

There is only one thing I didn’t like. Prof. Schulz objects to the omission of the pronoun “he”, when anaphorically referring to “the president of the university” in the bylaws. In the “woke-version” they keep using “the president”, thus, avoiding the use of pronouns. This linguistic change opens up the job to women. According to the good Reverend, only a man can lead this institution. A man like Prof. Schulz?Report

Preston Stovall
Reply to  Miroslav Imbrisevic
2 months ago

The objection to the pronoun change jumped out at me as well. I don’t see him claiming that only a man can lead the institution, however. That matters, given the man’s character and intellect are already coming under condemnation by people who think the University position has something to be said for it.Report

Miroslav Imbrisevic
Reply to  Preston Stovall
2 months ago

Yes, I might be wrong, but what other justification might he have to object to the change? There was no consultation about it?Report

Preston Stovall
Reply to  Miroslav Imbrisevic
2 months ago

Well, I read it as part of his general concern about the lack of attention to textual integrity on the part of the administration. Not that this particular instance was the problem (still less because it signaled openness to a woman president), but because it was part of a broader falling away from (what he takes to be) the basis of the University’s mission. That’s something he’s pretty vocal about, and it’s a big part of his critique of the administration, insofar as he thinks they’re pursuing a general aim to “disrupt and transform” the University.

Of course, I could be wrong as well; but in the absence of a discussion with the man over what he thinks about the University’s mission, I don’t think there’s enough evidence to support that reading. At any rate, the failure of the University to address any of this is part of the problem, and I don’t think we should be impugning his character.Report

Last edited 2 months ago by Preston Stovall
Miroslav Imbrisevic
Reply to  Preston Stovall
2 months ago

Agreed – we shouldn’t.Report

Athos Rache
Athos Rache
Reply to  Miroslav Imbrisevic
2 months ago

I strongly suggest you all starts to teach in Latin only where masculine and feminine pronouns are differentiated so you will gain time avoiding this kind of doubt.Report

Joshua Mugg
Joshua Mugg
Reply to  Preston Stovall
2 months ago

His denomination (Lutheran Church Missouri Synod) only ordains men. I think Schulz is claiming that the president should be an ordained pastor in the LCMS, rather than, say, an executive or business leader. As such, the president would be male.Report

James Barlow
Reply to  Miroslav Imbrisevic
2 months ago

Only a man too according to St. Paul 🙄Report

Justin Kalef
Justin Kalef
Reply to  Miroslav Imbrisevic
2 months ago

I think there’s at least a plausible interpretation here in which Schulz is not trying to limit the presidency to males. Quoting from Strunk and White’s seminal The Elements of Style:

The use of he as pronoun for nouns embracing both genders is a simple, practical convention rooted in the beginning of the English language. He has lost all suggestion of maleness in these circumstances. The word was unquestionably biased to begin with (the dominant male), but after hundreds of years it has become seemingly indispensable. It has no pejorative connotation; it is never incorrect.

While the views of intellectuals have shifted considerably on this matter since Strunk and White, the use of ‘he’ as the preferred gender-nonspecific third person singular pronoun was considered normal at the time and for some time after, and we only ended up in the realm of regularly saying ‘he or she’ after it was suggested that the dual use of ‘he’/’him’/’his’ as the masculine pronoun and the indeterminate pronoun psychologically predisposes people to neglect the importance or achievements of women and girls.

Whether or not that suggestion is correct, the greatly reduced use of the nonspecific ‘he’ has sometimes created the unwarranted impression that older writers who used ‘he’ meant by that to exclude women.

The result of all this is that much writing in English from, say, the 1950s and earlier now seems to imply a kind of sexism that the authors probably did not intend at all. But, naturally, some will not tend mind so much that our generation and others to come will be partly alienated from the best writings of older times.

Whatever the majority of us might think about the gender-neutral ‘he’ issue, it was contested at the time, and Strunk and White go on to give stylistic reasons for retaining gender-neutral ‘he’. Moreover, as Schulz says, his school’s bylaws use the pronoun ‘he’ in this apparently generic way, but the pronoun seems to have been carefully omitted in the document he refers to. This will not strike most of us as ‘woke’, just because we’re so used to avoiding gender-neutral ‘he’. But whether we ought to avoid it or not, I think it’s plausible that Schulz’s target in that line is the pronoun issue, not the prospect of a female president. Then again, I don’t know anything else about Schulz.Report

Ned Hall
Ned Hall
Reply to  Justin Kalef
2 months ago

Genuine question: Do you think Strunk & White would have found the following sentence entirely unobjectionable? “If a witness in a jury trial is a man, he will face very different kinds of questioning from what he will face, if he is a woman.”Report

Justin Kalef
Justin Kalef
Reply to  Ned Hall
2 months ago

Genuine answer (as best I can make it) to a genuine question: no, I think they (really, he, since it was Strunk who wrote the line) would have thought that the sentence you provide would have been bad.

Strunk’s main aim was to make writing economical, straightforward, and free from snags that cause the reader to do a double-take and get pulled out of the flow of the writing. He goes on to say, “If you think she is a handy substitute for he, try it and see what happens. Alternatively, put all controversial nouns in the plural and avoid the choice of sex altogether, although you may find your prose sounding general and diffuse as a result.”

The phrase in your suggested sentence, ‘if he is a woman’, is jarring. It is also 28 words long. Strunk would surely prefer something more like ‘Male witnesses in jury trials face very different kinds of questions than female witnesses,’ which is exactly half as many words and contains nothing jarring.Report

Cathy Legg
2 months ago

I read the essay and was amazed to see what pragmatist philosopher Charles Peirce called “the method of authority for fixing belief” (and identified with medieval Europe) alive and well in a US institution of higher education (re. which, I note that Rev Schulz offers his own iconoclastic definition of ‘higher’ in his final sentence). This reminds me of what Dewey said about organized religion, that it tends to preserve inside of itself ancient and otherwise abandoned social structures in fossilized forms.

But I actually think the Reverend makes a really good point where he criticises the search for what is “disruptive and transformational” in University leadership, seemingly for its own sake. Seems to me this is a real trend, and these days, above a certain pay-grade, if one hasn’t disrupted or transformed, one is thought to have been a poor leader, undeserving of promotion or further responsibility. The question “Did X *need* to be disrupted?” doesn’t really seem to come up.

What is the effect on organizations where such a policy is adopted? Perhaps an institutional landscape littered with changes instigated by someone who wanted to prove themselves – then never followed up on – populated by a cohort of shell-shocked manage-ees -?Report

Justin Kalef
Justin Kalef
Reply to  Cathy Legg
2 months ago

Good point, Cathy.

This reminds me of a university I started to work for some time ago, just as it was going through some pretty serious budget- and administration-driven problems. The president there used to boast about the fact that she was a ‘change-maker’ as though that alone were some desirable property in an administration. My colleagues used to comment on this pretty often. She really did make a number of profound changes, one of which was to axe two entire programs — visual arts and computer science — that had been doing very well. In fact, the university was quite small and the visual arts program was one of the things it was known for. Fortunately, the artists who were teaching there seem to have done all right (most of them had successful careers outside of academia) and the computer science professors seem to have landed on their feet. Some of them were hired by their former students! But no matter how many meetings were held in which the faculty demanded some explanation for all this from the administration, the reasoning was never explained. We were just told that there were two kinds of people: those who were ready to embrace change, and those who were not. The constant reply from us that not all change is for the better went nowhere. Maybe this is some general tactic.Report

moderate
moderate
Reply to  Justin Kalef
2 months ago

Our administration also consistently tries to paint anyone who disagrees with their decisions as ‘afraid of change’. If often comes out in the patronizing: ‘Yes, I know change can be scary, but we need to learn to embrace it …’ It’s really effective rhetorically; completely bankrupt conceptually.Report

Jamie Dreier
Jamie Dreier
Reply to  moderate
2 months ago

This is fascinating!
We once had a university president who said moderate’s patronizing thing almost verbatim.
He once sent around a ‘memo’, which was really a weird essay about change. “Why do people resist change?” he asked. “They resist change because change challenges the status quo.”
I felt like saying, “Listen, I happen to be an expert in explanation, and repeating something in different words isn’t ever an explanation.”

But clearly what he was trying to get it is precisely what Cathy, Justin, and moderate have laid out from their admins.

I guess he was hardly unique.Report

Dirk Baltzly
Dirk Baltzly
Reply to  Cathy Legg
2 months ago

The successful Change-Maker has the good sense to move on to a better job after he or she has demonstated the ability to “shake things up” and “drive change”. The point is to get up the ladder of management positions before the full foolishness of the changes they have wrought become manifest to anyone with even a modicum of sense. (The shell-shocked manage-ees generally know all along that this is a bad idea.) But to be a real Flux Merchant and Master Managerialist, you need to pay a bunch of consultants stacks of money to put the manage-ees through the Change House model. Only after you have fattened the accounts of consultants for purveying this vacuous load of cods can you *truly* be a Doyen of Disruption.Report

Eve
Eve
2 months ago

I’m just enjoying this colossal non-sequitur from Schultz: “there is no systemic racism at Concordia because we are committed to Christ incarnate”.

This shows either ignorance about what systemic racism means, or ignorance of the history of Christianity, or both.Report

Consolatio
Consolatio
Reply to  Eve
2 months ago

Or just a different understanding of what it means for racism to be systemic, or perhaps the view that any number of church leaders in history were not, properly speaking, “committed to Christ incarnate and His universal justification of all human beings without exception.”Report