Pedagogy of the Oppressors

From a statement by the National Association of Scholars, a right-wing lobbying group: 

Just last week, Ohio State Senator Jerry Cirino introduced Senate Bill 83—also known as the Ohio Higher Education Enhancement Act. This is one of many bills introduced across the U.S., both for K–12 and higher education, that are inspired by model legislation drafted by the National Association of Scholars and the Civics Alliance. In response to SB 83’s introduction, NAS promptly published an enthusiastic endorsement. SB 83 and our Model Higher Education Code provide a solid foundation upon which to rebuild Ohio’s colleges and universities, and to fight back against overreach by diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) activists. …

SB 83 would prohibit state-funded colleges and universities from requiring diversity statements for promotion, hire, and admissions, and would ban DEI concepts in classrooms and on campus. The bill would also mandate syllabus transparency and further commit to intellectual diversity and institutional neutrality. …

In a day and age where free speech is a nonstarter in higher education, legislation like SB 83 offers hope for the preservation of American ideals, as well as the restoration of institutional integrity and academic freedom.

Freedom isn’t free. There’s a hefty fucking fee.

19 thoughts on “Pedagogy of the Oppressors

    • And reading the bill itself doesn’t exactly reassure me.

      Universities are forbidden to “require diversity, equity, and inclusion courses or training for students, staff, or faculty.” How is forbidding required courses on a certain subject consistent with academic freedom?

      I see further that every course must have its syllabus publicly posted a week before the start of classes (many of us haven’t even finished writing our syllabi by then); the syllabus must list all required or recommended readings (so no flexibility as the course goes along); and the syllabus must include “biographical information on the course instructor” (!!!).

      The law also requires that “no aspect of life at the institution, within or outside the classroom, requires, favors, disfavors, or prohibits speech or
      action to support any political, social, or religious belief.” Yet it also says that universities must support an “ethic of civil and free inquiry, which
      respects the autonomy of each member.” These two requirements will obviously come into conflict as soon as any group starts engaging in speech or action in support of political views that oppose respecting some people’s autonomy. The document gives no guidance on how to deal with such cases; on the face of it, it looks as though universities are simultaneously required and forbidden to tolerate the intolerant.

      The law also — of course — calls for a massive load of bureaucratic paperwork, including “intellectual diversity rubrics for course approval.”

      Conservatives seem to have a rather Orwellian conception of freedom.

      Liked by 1 person

            • In college I was writing simultaneously for the Harvard conservative student paper, the Harvard libertarian student paper, and the MIT-based Objectivist student paper ERGO. And I was a member of Young Americans for Freedom. And I voted for Reagan. Poor confused Roddy.


              • I was a conventional, garden-variety liberal Democrat in college. I started writing for The Princeton Tory, a conservative magazine, for purely practical reasons: they allowed me to write long-form essays, they didn’t demand that I write on a set schedule, and they put up with me (no mean feat). I was very far from being a “leftist,” but was considerably to the left of everyone on the magazine. It became a kind of joke.

                The Tory was funded by some right-wing network with a lot of money, which is what funded my internship at NAS. I took the NAS job not because I agreed with their mission, but because their office was across the street from the university, they gave me flexible working hours, and I was doing a “long-distance” romance with a girlfriend in Philadelphia, which was expensive.

                So while you were confused, I was just a shameless opportunist. But I got to meet a lot of famous right-wing ideologues through this network (whatever it was called), including William F Buckley, Alan Keyes, Charles Kesler, Fred Barnes, and a couple of others. I had dinner once with Irving Kristol and Gertrude Himmelfarb after an NAS conference. This was a couple of days after a mean-spirited letter of mine, targeting Kristol, had been printed in the Wall Street Journal. Kristol gave me these hostile glares the whole time, but Himmelfarb took a shine to me, and wouldn’t stop talking, so that saved the evening. I found the whole situation uproariously funny. God, I was an asshole. Actually, I still find it funny, so I guess nothing has changed.

                I so far have not had dinner with Bill Kristol.

                Liked by 1 person

                • Back in the late 90s (I forget the precise year), Leonard Liggio did me the favour (if that’s the word for it) of getting me a fellowship to spend some time (I can’t recall whether it was one week or two; it felt like two) at the Heritage Foundation’s Salvatori Fellows program. I got to meet a raft of conservative luminaries, including Ed Meese, Dick Armey, Bill Bennett, Linda Chavez, Ed Feulner, and Lynne Cheney. The hellish experience accelerated my movement to the left.

                  Liked by 1 person

                • Or, as see that I put it in an email from a few years back:

                  “I spent a week or so at Heritage during the 90s as part of their Salvatori program. I have rarely experienced an intellectual atmosphere of such bloodthirstiness, bigotry, and contempt for other human beings.”


                • I think I either applied for a Salvatori fellowship and didn’t get it, or someone recommended me and I didn’t apply. I don’t remember which, but your comment reminds me that I interviewed Lynne Cheney for the Tory, got into an argument with her during the interview, and was then obliged to trash half the interview, because the editor wouldn’t run the argument. You’re right, though; it’s hard to imagine how unsavory these people were until you met them.


  1. What’s your view on diversity, inclusion etc etc in unis? It seems to me, and here I guess I’m lumping myself in with the ignorant masses, that universities have pretty much abandoned freedom of intellectual enquiry, at least in the humanities, for righteous moral grandstanding. I do wonder if it’s necessary to address this through legislation but I think that protection of free speech for staff and students on campus needs to be strengthened. Am I wrong?


    • Here’s my short answer. In general, I think diversity and inclusion are good things, in higher education and elsewhere, for all the reasons JS Mill gives in On Liberty. But diversity is not an end in itself. Its value has for decades been overstated and overplayed by the Left, and is now perversely being appropriated and weaponized by the Right. It’s also unfortunate that the diversity that has mattered the most to the Left has been racial or ethnic identity. That fixation has now helped fuel ethno-nationalism on the Right.

      That said, I don’t think that universities have abandoned freedom of intellectual inquiry. I know that that’s the standard journalistic narrative nowadays, but in 30+ years in higher education, I’ve encountered many, many journalistic narratives (both left- and right-wing) that didn’t correspond to anything I ever experienced in real life, and this is one of them. There is some undeniable truth to the “intellectual inquiry is over” narrative: the Left has, in many cases, gone overboard in its zeal for “diversity, equity, and inclusion” to the detriment of honest inquiry. But the journalistic narrative is also based on some huge over-generalizations, some tendentious rhetoric, and a great deal of evidential cherry-picking. Far too much of that has escaped scrutiny.

      There is also a fair bit of plain old exaggeration and lying about what’s going on in the universities. Many people and institutions have, over the decades, developed careers around saving the world from wokeness/diversity/the Left. Such people have a very strong incentive to BS the world about the nature of wokeness, simply in the interests of fund raising to defeat it.

      The group quoted in this post, the National Association of Scholars, is precisely such an organization. I worked for them at their founding, in 1987-1991. Their existence depends on cultivating an air of hysteria and a sense of crisis about what’s going on in higher education, because that’s how they make money. Deprived of that hysteria/crisis narrative, they would have to dismantle their organization, give up on a lot of funding, and go and find themselves honest employment. It’s understandable that people dedicated for decades to dishonesty and double think would be averse to change. But that doesn’t give anyone a reason to believe what they have to say.

      One concrete example from many I might give: I attended Princeton University as an undergrad, have lived in Princeton for more than a decade, taught here for three semesters, and have been engaged with campus life here for more than thirty years. On average, even when I didn’t live here, I managed to spend one full day on campus, every week, for the last several decades. So I have more experience with campus life than the vast majority of Princeton’s critics, including critics who attended Princeton, but are now observing it from afar.

      To hear conservatives tell the story, campus life at Princeton is a reign of left-wing terror on par with the Jacobin phase of the French Revolution:

      They’re lying. There’s no other way to put it. No one can, in good faith, paint the picture these people are painting of life at Princeton. The Right is not persecuted here. There is no general imposition of conformity on dissenting scholars. There are no genuine constraints on inquiry of the kind people are alleging. And plenty of scholars here–dozens, maybe hundreds–are engaged in very high quality teaching and research in the humanities.

      In some cases, the criticism being made here is simply that left-wing ideas are being so openly expressed on campus. Recently, a Palestinian activist, Mohammed El-Kurd, was invited to speak at Princeton, and it was the Right that was upset that he was here at all. How dare such a person be invited to speak at Princeton? Is he not an anti-Semite? Does he not hurt the feelings of committed Zionists? Is he not by definition a murderer and a terrorist?

      Is it reasonable to demand that the department inviting a speaker to condemn the speaker they’re inviting? The people making this demand are the very people complaining about the atmosphere of terror and political pressure they claim to experience. Are they experiencing terror and intimidation, or are they the source of it?

      Princeton is not an exception in this respect. I organized conferences for a decade as an academic, and attended conferences as well. I dealt with hundreds of academics at dozens of institutions in the US, Canada, Europe, occasionally Asia (Israel, South Korea), occasionally Australia or New Zealand. Some people agreed with the journalistic narrative, but many, many rejected it. To say the least: the journalistic narrative about academia can’t be accepted as uncontroversial.

      I think that the real story is that American higher education has, out of greed, tried to re-fashion itself on the model of a profit-making business. Profit-making businesses have no counterpart to academic freedom or tenure. They’re hostile to unionization. They’re hostile to contracts that require a demonstration of cause (and adherence to procedure) for dismissal. They’re hierarchical. Their administrations are allergic to accountability. They believe that the imperatives of PR trump those of truth.

      If you run a university along these lines, you will slowly destroy it. University administrators either lack the business acumen genuinely to run universities as businesses, or lack the commitment to academic values to know when those values are being sacrificed. Such people are, on the whole, unscrupulous, mendacious hacks who reap enormous benefits without doing much to earn them. They’re only too happy to gut academic freedom and get rid of tenure. In an environment like that, it’s no surprise that bullies–often administrators, or administrators conniving with disgruntled students–are empowered.

      The solution to a problem of that nature is not to pass more legislation by way of politicians who know nothing about higher education, and who have open contempt for academic values. The solution is to start confronting university administrators and the bureacracies they run–questioning them, criticizing them, even shaming them, vilifying them, pressuring them, and in general doing what it takes to wrest concessions out of them, and break the monopolistic hold they have on higher education. But that takes more solidarity, courage, determination, ruthlessness, and sheer rudeness than most academics tend to have. Unfortunately, those traits are what’s needed to win the war, which is why I’m pessimistic about the future of higher education. One side is fighting all the wrong battles. The other side is hoping not to have to fight at all.

      As for academic suicide-bombers like me, well–you see where they end up. (A colleague once called me an “academic suicide bomber,” one of the highest compliments I ever got from anyone.)


      • So I am wrong. Glad to hear it. Universities in Australia also seem to be corporatised, in particular by their reliance on huge numbers of foreign students who pay through the nose for their degrees and so have to be passed. I think the Adelaide writer’s festival invited the Palestinian writer you mentioned…there was a similar furore.


        • “So I am wrong.” I think so, but others disagree, even among the bloggers right here at PoT. Partly it’s a matter of different experiences. I have had a few mild run-ins with left-wing zealots, but my real problems have been with corrupt, non-ideological administrators.

          I spent the last thirteen years of my career (half of it) at a small, mediocre, non-tenure-granting Catholic university in New Jersey. The university was (justifiably) blacklisted in 2015 by the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) for its violations of academic freedom. But these violations were fundamentally non-ideological, driven mostly by business decisions.

          When I resigned my position in 2020, I was forced out because I discovered that a faculty member who was a major donor to the university was engaged in a form of academic fraud that the university wanted to cover up. He had taken advantage of the chaos generated by the pandemic, had stopped teaching his classes altogether, and was handing out grades on a completely ad hoc basis that flouted his contractual obligations, and that he was keeping a secret from his supervisors. He missed 14 consecutive classes, had stopped responding to student queries, and was failing students without having engaged in actual instruction. I got involved because I was the director of the Pre-Law Program, the class he was teaching was within the PLR curriculum, and a student he was failing was one of my advisees. She complained directly to me, which was the correct protocol; I reported the matter to the Office of the Dean of Arts and Sciences. They did an investigation, got an admission from the faculty member, and then demanded that I help them cover the matter up. That became the party line of the university as such, from the Dean’s Office to the President’s Office.

          This faculty member was a very flamboyant Trump supporter, and also a regional media personality. I had screen shots of him curating his social media accounts when he was due to be in class. I at first had trouble believing the student’s allegations against him, but on investigation, they not only turned out to be correct, but he admitted them. The university sided with him not because he was right-wing, but because he had money, and he was giving it to them. They would have done the same thing had he been left-wing. He initiated a “hostile workplace” grievance against me; the university indicated that they intended to side with him (for the obvious reason that both parties were engaged in the same cover-up). I resigned on the spot. You know the rest of the story.

          My case was just one instance of major corruption at my university, but since it had no particular ideological valence, it was not considered newsworthy. I happen to know that a high-ranking member of the Athletics staff was fucking half of the women in the university’s Athletics program (who were then favored on the playing field for doing so); that the Director of one of the university’s programs had a falsified vaccination record; that many of the university’s faculty terminations were based on blatantly false findings. And more. But no one cares about things like this. “Ordinary” corruption has been normalized. The press only cares if a case can be used to score ideological points against the Left or the Right, or if it involves coercive sexual abuse. They can’t get online hits with “ordinary” corruption stories. So they’re not written.

          I followed the Adelaide controversy when it happened, and all I could think was: the Australians are learning from us.


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