Exclusive: Occidental Professors Voting to Give Students Power to Report Them for Microaggressions

November 23, 2015

By Robert Soave at Reason Online

In recognition of their complicity in “structural racism and oppression” at Occidental College, the faculty will vote on a resolution that mandates diversity training, requires all academic departments to make racial sensitivity a component of in-class instruction, and allows students to “report microaggressions” between students and professors.

The proposal, dubbed the “Plan of Action,” was created by Occidental’s Faculty Council, which governs academic affairs on campus. Reason obtained a draft of the proposal, which will be presented to the entire Occidental faculty at a meeting on Tuesday. From its introduction:

We recognize and are inspired by the leadership of Oxy United for Black Liberation and their call for widespread institutional changes in the culture of the College. We affirm that Black lives matter and also affirm the broader ideals of social justice to which their call speaks. We recognize that the structural racism and other forms of oppression of the College violate our commitment to ensuring equity and excellence in our educational programs for all of our students. We also acknowledge that our collective inaction as a faculty body makes us complicit in the failures of the College to make our Mission a lived reality. For this we apologize for failing you, our students.

The Plan of Action seems to be a response to recent protests on campus; students occupied the administrative center and vowed not to leave unless Occidental President Jonathan Veitch agreed to resign. They also want Occidental to hire more professors of color and fund new diversity initiatives.

The students will get many of the things they want, if the full faculty body approves the Plan of Action. The resolution would mandate diversity and ally training for all faculty, beginning in January 2016. “We empower the Dean of the College to ensure compliance,” the plan reads.

The plan also obligates professors to place a much greater emphasis on topics relating to race and ethnicity—even if they don’t teach subjects that call for much examination of social or cultural issues. “All departments must incorporate issues of cultural and racial identity and diversity in their curricula,” the plan reads. Does all departments include mathematics? Physical sciences? I imagine that it does.

Perhaps most worrying, the plan calls for a microaggression monitoring system that would allow students to report faculty members for offending them. The plan explains that this is necessary to correct “power imbalances between faculty and students.” But students will have too much power if they are granted the right to be safe from microaggressions—which are, by their very nature, subjective and relatively inconsequential. How are professors supposed to teach if they have to worry about being reported and investigated for unknowingly saying the wrong thing to a student?

In an email to Reason, Foundation for Individual Rights in Education President Greg Lukianoff expressed numerous free speech concerns about the resolution. Here is FIRE’s statement, lightly edited:

We are troubled by the new proposed faculty resolution at Occidental College as it requires speech policing, substitutes academic freedom and judgment with top-down ideological commitments, and stifles diversity of opinion in the favor of imposed orthodoxy.

Given that microaggressions can be unconscious and often exist in the eye of the beholder, the call to “address and report” professors’ microaggressions creates a bottomless pit of speech policing.

Mandatory diversity training of all faculty puts even seasoned professors in the position of being told what ideological assumptions they should or even must have. Academic freedom requires professors to follow their own research where it takes them regardless of the opinions of paid consultants.

Finally the requirement that all professors, even hard science professors, incorporate “issues of cultural and racial identity and diversity in their curricula,” violates basic tenets of academic freedom and scholarly independence.

FIRE vowed to challenge the proposal if it is adopted by the faculty.

Neither Occidental College, nor Faculty Council Chair Anthony Chase, immediately responded to a request for comment.

Schools: Occidental College