Last month FIRE reported that Professor Leland van den Daele was under investigation at the California Institute of Integral Studies (CIIS) for assigning an article he wrote in 1970 to his doctoral psychology students, some of whom found the article to exhibit signs of institutional racism. As I previously explained, the article contained language that was en vogue in 1970, and part of the lesson, as van den Daele himself explained, was to examine “historical change since the publication of the document.”
This justification was lost on CIIS, which reacted by placing the Developmental Psychology doctoral program, van den Daele’s course, and van den Daele himself under “review.”
FIRE wrote to object to CIIS’ actions in May, and this week sent a letter to CIIS’ president and Board of Trustees, stating that we continue to
protest CIIS’ conclusion that van den Daele’s assignment was inappropriate. Instead of seeking a balanced account of the situation and considering van den Daele’s explanation of his assignment, CIIS responded to student upheaval by hastily deciding that van den Daele’s assignment warranted official action. As a result, CIIS has not only cast van den Daele as guilty of promoting racism in the classroom, but has sent a clear message that professors do not deserve the freedom to assign materials or teach their subject matter as they see fit. Your overreaction to this situation has proven that appeasing unreasonable student outrage outweighs fundamental fairness at CIIS.
CIIS must understand that the denial of academic freedom to van den Daele erodes the rights of its existing students and faculty, degrades the institute’s “spirit of healthy inquiry,” and sends a chilling message to faculty and students across the disciplines that consulting or assigning certain academic articles is unacceptable at CIIS. CIIS has charted a dangerous course in choosing to censor controversial works and publicly castigate their authors rather than promote an atmosphere where different points of view can be addressed and openly, responsibly discussed.
FIRE will indeed keep up the fight until CIIS recognizes and rectifies its unfair treatment of Professor van den Daele.