This blog post contains the text of an email sent out on June 1 by Mike Paros, a professor of biology and veterinary medicine at Evergreen State College. So far, Paros is the only faculty member at Evergreen who has spoken out publicly in support of Bret Weinstein. (If you don’t know the background on the case, read this first.) In contrast to Paros, more than 50 professors at Evergreen have signed a letter calling for a “disciplinary investigation” of Weinstein. Paros and Weinstein are both members of Heterodox Academy.
Paros sent the text of this email to the Evergreen staff and faculty email list on June 1. Since then he has tried to get it published in local newspapers, as his statement of support for Weinstein, but with no success. So we are publishing it here at Heterodox Academy as a show of support for Weinstein, Paros, and the right of faculty everywhere to question administrative policies in a reasoned and respectful way, as Weinstein did.
I have been teaching Evergreen students about biology, agriculture, and animals for the last ten years. Before becoming a faculty member, I had a full time large animal veterinary practice where I would spend my days traveling to farms in rural “red counties” of Western Washington. The Evergreen State College has had a local reputation as a “hippie college” ever since it was founded in the mid-1960s as an alternative to traditional universities. Interdisciplinary sixteen credit programs are often taught by multiple professors, and students receive written narrative assessments instead of grades. With a low student to faculty ratio of twenty five to one, Evergreen professors have the opportunity to learn collaboratively with students through critical inquiry around interesting questions.
My most rewarding teaching experiences have been when my mostly left leaning students have prompted me to examine my own views on controversial issues. I would like to think that students have also benefited from being exposed to the occasional “redneck” perspective in the classroom and on field trips. Many of the farms we visited were my clients, who always looked forward to the annual visits by Evergreen’s “strangely dressed students with piercings and tattoos” that seemed to be much more inquisitive and insightful than their land-grant university counterparts. There were definitely awkward moments, but the results of these cross-cultural exchanges were always the same; discussion and an appreciation for multiple perspectives that were previously unheard or misunderstood within their prospective community. I believed that I had found the antidote to the ever increasing disease of polarization and identity politics that has been dividing our rural and urban populations.
Now Evergreen has taken from me the medicine needed to cure the illness. Even worse, the college is now contributing to the vilification, paranoia and irrational rhetoric that fuels hatred and violence. The antidote has now become toxic.
This is a story of how a Democrat voting veterinarian working with mostly Republican livestock owners became a “bigoted” professor at a left wing progressive liberal arts college. It is about a collection of professors that are so blinded by their advocacy, that they cannot fathom different viewpoints. It involves a newly appointed President who believes in ideological safe spaces who endorsed a strategic equity plan that will hurt the very students it is trying to help.
I recently met with a student who was angry that she was told to shut up at a student rally, based solely on the amount of pigment in her skin. She did not comply, and was called a racist. I asked her if this bothered her. She said: “No, because I am not racist.”
To the faculty, too afraid to speak out: I urge you to walk toward the fire. After all, if this brave student is a bigot, then I guess I am too. They are just words. You will not lose your job, but you might lose your dignity.
The tale is about two men trying to save Evergreen. One is an absolute coward (Bridges) and the other is an ultimate hero (Weinstein). Who should be forced to resign? Weinstein reluctantly went on Fox News, because no other news source would pick up his story. His excellent op-ed piece in the Wall Street Journal followed. Videos don’t lie, Weinstein’s logic prevailed, and cognitive dissonance set in amongst Evergreen faculty. This was the first time that I found out that those who watch Tucker Carlson are the “alt-right”. I should probably tell my family. Objections were made about whether Weinstein had mischaracterized Day of Absence/Day of Presence as “forcing” white students off campus. He didn’t, but why would this detail negate everything else that Weinstein wrote? When one is confronted with truths that contradict closely held beliefs, the mind begins to make outlandish rationalizations. The faculty email response will someday be used in psychology textbooks as a case study in group thinking.
Then our college President saw his opportunity. Evergreen administrators sent out ominous notices, labeling “free speech” advocates and persons who simply do not agree with “official” campus opinion as potentially violent. It was a desperate move, using fear tactics to rally the masses and prevent students from thinking clearly. This morning was the first time that I was actually nervous coming to campus. Not because of threats of white supremacists, but because I was worried that someone on campus would think that I might be one of them. And then we got the alert on campus. I could see the fear in some of our students faces, as I helped escort a student of color to her dormitory. Then I decided to stay on campus for a while. An administrator approached, and asked: “How did we get to this point?”
I guess safe spaces can be dangerous places.
Mike Paros DVM
Professor of Biology
The Evergreen State College