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2017 End of Year Letter from Jon Haidt

Dear Members and Friends of HxA:

2017 was another astonishing year for those who care about universities, and another extraordinary year for Heterodox Academy. First, the universities. This year we saw an increase in intimidation tactics, uncivil behavior, and actual violence on campus. Most alarmingly, students joined with local activists to use violence as a tool to stop unwanted speakers, first at UC Berkeley and then at Middlebury College…. but the left had no monopoly on intimidation tactics…
2017 was a year of extraordinary growth and success for us. Here are a few stats and achievements for the year… Here are just a few of the initiatives we will roll out in 2018 to support these priorities…

Essential Reading: Richard Shweder on the End of the Modern Academy

This post is the first in our “Essential Reading” series. These posts make it possible for readers to get the basic idea of a major work quickly. Here is the first such essay: Richard A. Shweder (2017). The End of the Modern Academy: At the University of Chicago, for Example.
Shweder describes the “modern” (as opposed to pre- or post-modern) conception of a university that was widespread in the 1960s and 1970s when he began teaching at the University of Chicago—an “ivory tower” conception in which the purpose of the university is “improving the stock of ordered knowledge and rational judgment.” He structures his essay around three ideals of the modernist university, and three threats that are now undermining those ideals. The three threats are: 1) the increasing pursuit of profit from research after 1980; 2) the rise of bureaucratic constraints on research, such as the creation of Internal Review Boards (IRBs) to govern all research; and 3) the rise of a post-modern form of expressive identity politics. This third point is the most important for our mission at Heterodox Academy, for this form of activism, when done by scholars, is sometimes in conflict with the cultivation of viewpoint diversity and the search for truth. When Shweder speaks of the “end” of the academy, it is a double-entendre. He refers to “end” as purpose or goal, but as he describes the three threats, it becomes clear that these threats may bring about the end (termination) of the modernist truth-oriented conception of a university.

In Defense of Amy Wax’s Defense of Bourgeois Values

  • Jon Haidt
  • September 2, 2017

Since 2015 we’ve seen an increase in petitions and movements to denounce professors. Typically a professor says or writes something, then a group of students protests. The students demand that the professor be censured or renounced by the university administration, or by his or her colleagues. The event is amplified by social media and by secondary, agenda-driven news outlets, pressuring other professors to take sides and declare themselves publicly. (There is a different script for pressure from right-wing sources off-campus).

The two highest profile cases so far involved Erika and Nicholas Christakis, at Yale, and Bret Weinstein, at Evergreen. We also had the case of Rebecca Tuvel, a philosopher at Rhodes College, in which the pressure campaign did not come from students but rather from other professors.  In all of these cases the professor in question was on the left politically, and had said something that most professors did not find offensive. As far as I can tell, most professors outside of the immediate conflict zone supported the accused professors, thought it was inappropriate to subject them to punishment of any kind for what they said or wrote, and thought that these denunciation campaigns ultimately reflected badly on the academy.

Now, in late August, we have a case that may play out differently because the professor in question is a conservative who has made a conservative argument about poverty and culture. She made the argument a few days before the events in Charlottesville. Students at Penn have demanded that the university denounce her, and many of her colleagues did so.

The Implications of Charlottesville

Like everyone else, I’ve been thinking a lot about the events in Charlottesville last week, and President Trump’s comments about those events. I taught at UVA for 16 years and I lived a few blocks East of Emancipation Park (back when it was called “Lee Park”). I share in the horror felt by my friends and former neighbors that neo-Nazis, the KKK, terrorism, and death came to our lovely town…. To explain why I thought “very fine people” could be a turning point, I wrote an essay for The Atlantic in which I analyzed the whole affair through the lens of my research on moral psychology—specifically the psychology of sacredness, taboo, and contamination. I showed how the psychology of sacredness could explain why the alt-right would march to defend a statue, why UVA students would risk their lives to defend another statue, and why the President’s delays and equivocations in condemning white supremacists are likely to have longer-lasting effects than his previous taboo violations. … What are the implications of Charlottesville for universities, and for those of us who believe that viewpoint diversity is a good thing, and who believe that we need more of it on many campuses? There are many, and its going to take us a while to work them all out. I have no time to write this week, but I just wanted to raise a few points briefly, as markers for future posts.

The Google Memo: What Does the Research Say About Gender Differences?

The recent Google Memo on diversity, and the immediate firing of its author, James Damore, have raised a number of questions relevant to the mission of Heterodox Academy. Large corporations deal with many of the same issues that we wrestle with at universities, such as how to seek truth and achieve the kinds of diversity we want, being cognizant that we are tribal creatures often engaged in motivated reasoning, operating within organizations that are at risk of ideological polarization.

In this post, we address the central empirical claim of Damore’s memo, which is contained in its second sentence.

Professors Must Now Fear Intimidation From Both Sides

The string of recent cases in which professors have been fired, sanctioned, or placed on leave by their universities in response to public outrage generated by right-wing media sites is an alarming turn of events for the academy and for the country….
I’d like to close with a simple request to university leaders: Please stop giving in to mobs and their demands. It may seem like the easy way out of your predicament in the moment, but it encourages more mobs to form in the future – student mobs on campus, and right-wing internet mobs off campus.

The blasphemy case against Bret Weinstein, and its four lessons for professors

In the wake of the violence at Middlebury and Berkeley, and in the aftermath of the faculty mob that coalesced to condemn gender studies professor Rebecca Tuvel, many commentators have begun analyzing the new campus culture of intersectionality as a form of fundamentalist religion including public rituals with more than a passing resemblance to witch-hunts. The second-clearest case of these dynamics that I have ever seen is currently underway at Evergreen State College, in Olympia, Washington. (The clearest case was the protests, hunger strike, and struggle session in response to one word in a well-intentioned email from Dean Mary Spellman, at Claremont McKenna College in 2015.)

The accused witch is Heterodox Academy member Bret Weinstein, a professor of biology. On Tuesday, a group of Evergreen students disrupted a class he was teaching, surrounded him, cursed at him, screamed at him, and called for him to resign or be fired. Campus police have told Weinstein that for his own physical safety, he should stay off campus for a few days. He held his Thursday class in an off-campus park.

What did Weinstein do to cause this reaction? He violated blasphemy laws. Here’s how.

On Rebecca Tuvel: Consequences of Orthodoxies in Academia

As polarization has increased in recent years, political clashes within the academy have tended to play out along predictable lines, with progressive students and professors challenging the views of their conservative and moderate peers. However, the current controversy surrounding an article on “transracialism” shows that as academic orthodoxy becomes more rigid and particular, even those..