Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Foundation for Individual Rights in Education: "chilling academic freedom"

From the FOUNDATION FOR INDIVIDUAL RIGHTS IN EDUCATION: "FIRE’s mission is to defend and sustain the individual rights of students and faculty members at America’s colleges and universities. These rights include freedom of speech, freedom of association, due process, legal equality, religious liberty, and sanctity of conscience — the essential qualities of liberty."
Peter Bonilla (FIRE): ... it’s worth visiting the case of Stephen Hsu at Michigan State University. His case is more sobering, because the campaign succeeded in forcing his resignation as MSU’s Vice President for Research and Graduate Studies. (Hsu, a theoretical physicist, remains on MSU’s tenured faculty.) Hsu was brought down in significant part by the pressure on MSU generated by a Twitter thread and accompanying petition by MSU’s Graduate Employees Union, which cobbled together a string of decontextualized, condensed remarks on genetics and intelligence to brand Hsu “a vocal scientific racist and eugenicist.”

Hsu rebutted the claims in a post on his personal blog, accusing the petitioners of acting in bad faith. He had a point. Apart from the fact that Twitter is a woefully inadequate forum to debate intricate matters of science (or even to accurately characterize them), some of the claims against Hsu are dishonest on their face. To highlight one example, the GEU seized on the fact that a study supported in part through his office’s funding (Hsu oversaw research expenditures of roughly $700 million) suggested that there was no widespread racial bias in police shootings. GEU characterized this by saying that “Hsu’s office appears to have directed funding to research downplaying racism in bias in police shootings,” implying that this was his very goal. This is a striking charge to make against a scientist’s integrity without presenting any evidence; it’s also simply not how scientific inquiry works.

The claims against Hsu alleged no concrete misconduct or malfeasance in carrying out his administrative duties; rather, they amalgamated a disparate set of remarks, attributed the least charitable set of motives to his making them, and stated that someone holding those purported beliefs was per se unfit to hold his position. Unfortunately, MSU went for it. On June 19, MSU president Samuel Stanley demanded, and received, Hsu’s resignation as VP.

Spillover effects on academic freedom

The president of MSU’s Graduate Employees Union cheerfully expressed the opinion that the Hsu episode should have no chilling effect on academic freedom, because the GEU only sought to have Hsu removed from his administrative position and not from the tenured faculty. To be sure, there are significant differences between the two propositions, and administrators are generally considered at-will employees who can be fired any time. (Administrator cases are also outside the scope of FIRE’s mission of defending student and faculty rights.). But from someone who’d just helped mount a successful campaign that worked in part by declaring a range of opinions on certain issues effectively outside the bounds of legitimate academic inquiry, this assertion is laughable.

Faculty will most certainly take note of the actions colleges take against administrators, note the implications they may have for academic freedom, and adjust accordingly. Universities may not be so easily able to rid themselves of tenured faculty members, but several years of faculty cases suggest that universities can be quite willing to override faculty governance for the purposes of pursuing discipline (including termination and loss of tenure) against faculty for speech demonstrably protected by their academic freedom. ...

Media coverage:

A Twitter Mob Takes Down an Administrator at Michigan State (Wall Street Journal June 25)

Scholar forced to resign over study that found police shootings not biased against blacks (The College Fix)

On Steve Hsu and the Campaign to Thwart Free Inquiry (Quillette)

Michigan State University VP of Research Ousted (Reason Magazine, Eugene Volokh, UCLA)

Research isn’t advocacy (NY Post Editorial Board)

Podcast interview on Tom Woods show (July 2)

College professor forced to resign for citing study that found police shootings not biased against blacks (Law Enforcement Today, July 5)

"Racist" College Researcher Ousted After Sharing Study Showing No Racial Bias In Police Shootings (ZeroHedge, July 6)

Twitter mob: College researcher forced to resign after study finding no racial bias in police shootings (Reclaim the Net, July 8)

Horowitz: Asian-American researcher fired from Michigan State administration for advancing facts about police shootings (The Blaze, July 8)

I Cited Their Study, So They Disavowed It: If scientists retract research that challenges reigning orthodoxies, politics will drive scholarship (Wall Street Journal July 8)

Conservative author cites research on police shootings and race. Researchers ask for its retraction in response (The College Fix, July 8)

Academics Seek to Retract Study Disproving Racist Police Shootings After Conservative Cites It (Hans Bader, CNSNews, July 9)

The Ideological Corruption of Science (theoretical physicist Lawrence Krauss in the Wall Street Journal, July 12)

Foundation for Individual Rights in Education: "chilling academic freedom" (Peter Bonilla, July 22)

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