Note: This is an unedited rush transcript. Please check any quotations against the audio recording.
Nico Perrino: Welcome back to “So, To Speak,” the free speech podcast where every other week we take an uncensored look at the world of free expression through personal stories and candid conversations. I am your host, Nico Perino. As protests against racial injustice continue across America, colleges and universities are increasingly speaking out in support of the protests. What’s more, some are also taking action to investigate or punish faculty, critical of the protesters perceived aims.
One professor at the University of Central Florida is being investigated for tweets he posted in which he stated, “Black privilege is real.” In support he cited affirmative action scholarships and other perceived privileges. There was intense pressure to fire the professor, leading to UCS Provost to beg the professors current and former students to report bias, even anonymously, so that they may, “Investigate and deal with it.” At UCLA, an investigation was launched into a lecturer who read aloud Martin Luther King’s famous letter from a Birmingham Jail. The letter uses the N word twice, which the lecturer did not censor in his reading. There are also objections to the professor showing a documentary in his class in which a lynching is described, graphic images are shown. And the narrator used the N word in describing the history of lynching.
Recently, at Catholic University, a professor was suspended and then fired, allegedly without a hearing, following student complaints about his Twitter activity, including tweets critical of the Obamas and Hillary Clinton. And all of this happened just in June. What does all this mean for academic freedom and freedom of speech? And as college administrations increasingly opine and take sides in contemporary political and social controversies? Does this represent a shift in values and purpose? And if so, is it for the better? Joining us today to talk about what’s been happening in academia in recent weeks is Glenn Loury. He’s the Burton P. Stoltz Professor of Social Sciences at Brown University. He recently wrote a response to a letter from Brown president Christina Paxson about the protests, to which he objected asking, “Why must this university senior administration declare on behalf of the institution as a whole, and with one voice, that they unanimously without any subtle differences of emphasis or nuance interpret contentious current events through a single lens?” Professor Loury, welcome onto the show.
Prof. Gleen Loury: Thank you, Nico. Very good to be with you.
Nico: So, let’s just jump right in. In your response to Brown president Christina Paxson. You say evidently, “We’re now all charged to promote the policy agenda of the progressive wing of American politics”, you then ask, “Is this what a university is supposed to be doing?” Begging this question begs another question, what do you believe a university should be doing?
Prof. Loury: Well, we should be educating our students in the service of their becoming familiar with what it is, that has come to be known and thought about, the great questions of human existence. And also fostering inquiry, fostering research, along those lines. We’re teachers and we are researchers; we are custodians of a great tradition. We’re supposed to be liberating our charges, our students, by empowering them. And we’re supposed to be laying bare the unknown, pushing the frontiers of knowledge and reflection and such. If that sounds like a speech. I just made it up. But it sounds right to me.
Nico: And you think Christina Paxson’s letter didn’t stick to that purpose in a way that it should have? And why is that?
Prof. Loury: You know, if she had just said, as president of the university, she’s a leader, she is a spokesperson, she represents the university, these events are powerful, they’re dramatic, they’re compelling. There are demonstrations all over. There’s remonstration, there’s mobilization. If she had said, “This is a moment, and here’s what I think.” I would have been fine with her sending that around to all, 10,000 Brown students and to the several 1000 people who are on the staff here. She was letting us know what she thought. But that’s not what happened. What happened was, as I said in my response, all of the senior administrative leadership of the university signed on to a political letter. It was political. It was the Black Lives Matter line, if you will; talking about anti-black racism, systemic racism, 400 years, this kind of construction was being used in the letter.
Now, here’s what I think. I think a university can’t have a political position like that because it forecloses the possibility of deliberating over the open questions. Which the political conflict raises, for instance, was George Floyd killed by that police officer because of his race? Did the fact that the police officer was white and that George Floyd was black the matter? I don’t know the answer to that question. And I don’t think Christina Paxson does either. I know what the social justice workers want the answer to be. So, now here we have the university and its total administrative leadership uniformly and unanimously endorsing an arguable interpretation of contentious contemporary events. How would I ever in my class teach my students to think about both sides of those events when the leadership of the university has already foreclosed such thinking? How dare I express myself as I am doing to you right now? Without knowing that in doing so at this university, I take my professional life in my hands. I don’t mean that my tenure will be canceled, but I mean, that my life will be canceled. Because it has been pronounced, that Brown values, “Required the Black Lives Matter narrative, about contentious events”.
This is horrible. It’s the debasing of the currency in the university, in my opinion, and I felt violated by it. Now, I know that people will have a hysterical reaction to me saying so because the violation wasn’t equivalent to a sexual assault. But if you tell me as a professor at this university that I can’t stand in good company amongst my students, and my colleagues. And I dare not in my classroom, argue the case. Because it’s supposed to be self-evident. That one faction in the political debate is correct. Like I say, you’re debasing the currency.
Nico: There’s a professor at the University of Colorado Boulder, who recently gotten hot water for something he said on Facebook. And I’m going to turn now to an article, I think, from the Denver Post, about what got this professor in trouble. And I’d love to hear your thoughts on it. Professor Phil Graves commented on a Facebook post in which the original poster referenced Boulder Valley School District data. Boulder Valley, I believe, is a school district, around Boulder. And the data from that school district shows that students of color get referred to law enforcement at double or triple the rate of their white peers. The post was in a private Facebook group, Boulder collective, that had more than 12,000 members. And this professor responded to this original Facebook post saying, “That is only a problem, if they do not commit crimes at two to three times the rate of other students, any evidence of that?” That’s when the original poster asked, “If you needed evidence to show that Black and Latin American people are less criminal than white people?” To which the professor responded, “Yes”.
And then, the poster said, the original poster said, “How much more time should we spend arguing about this, calling it out, especially knowing he’s someone with authority, and knowing he’s responsible for students?” This led to the predictable response that we’ve been seeing here at Fire for little over a little over a month. In which people are calling for him to be fired. And the Chancellor of the University, in response, issued strong statements in support of freedom of speech, but also said, “We strongly encourage anyone who doesn’t want to or believes they cannot live our values of respecting the rights of others. And consider differences. We want to ask them to reconsider their ability to be productive members of our community”. Now, do you believe that the professor in this case was wrong to ask that question? What do you think a university committed to the search for truth should do in responding to – What seems like are genuine student concerns, that they’re not going to be treated similarly to other students based on the color of their skin? Based on this professors question?
Prof. Loury: Wow, is what I have to say to that, Nico. I’m taking your representation as accurate not only in that what you say is true, but that you haven’t left out any relevant facts. I’m not accusing you of doing so. I’m simply stating for the record that I don’t know anything about this case, other than what you’ve told me.
Nico: He was accused of being racist for that comment. They then subsequently went through the rest of his Facebook account and found one other comment in which he called New York representative Alexandria Ocasio Cortez hot. He says, “I actually think she is pretty hot. If she was just a normal bartender, I would probably be interested but if she is not as bright as most bartenders and far too convinced that her opinions actually matter.” So, those are the two accusations against him. In which he is been accused of being racist and misogynist.
Prof. Loury: Well, let me let me answer my own account, because as I say, I don’t know any facts beyond what you’ve told me. But I don’t dispute the facts as you’ve laid them out. What I want to say is, the observation that a higher rate of encounters with the police is not necessarily representative of the maltreatment of African Americans. Unless one could demonstrate that, that higher rate was not due to a higher rate of disruptive or criminal behavior by the black students in question, it’s just a statement of logic. It’s not even an opinion. Because what you have are two things, you have the incidence of the event. Namely, the student being apprehended or dealt with by law enforcement. And you have the hypothesis of discrimination. Namely, the student being unfairly treated. So, engagement with the police is conditional on the circumstances.
If the circumstances of the behavior of students by race, were equivalent to the engagement with police– was higher for the black students, they would have evidence of their being treated differently. This is all pathology. This is just logic. So, to be asked, “Oh, you mean, I have to produce evidence in order to show that blacks are less criminal or are no more criminal.” To be asked that sarcastically, is in effect to say, “I am not interested in whether or not as a matter of fact, blacks are more criminal. I hypothesize and insist that you agree with me as a matter of assumption that they are not.” Well, we can decide to do that. And we could decide to do that about a lot of different things. We could do it about climate change. “Don’t look at the facts, let’s just agree as a matter of assumption, that it’s not a problem.” We can do it by COVID-19. “Don’t look at the facts. Let’s just agree that it’s not a problem.” So, that’s no, nothingism is what that is. So, that just the first observation that I want to make. The idea that the president of the university would then say –
Nico: Chancellor of the university,
Prof. Loury: – Chancellor, “You can leave if you want to, if you’re not going to support our students.” And the idea that students might be made to feel bad by this, because that’s certainly true. They could be made to feel bad by it. It might make them feel very uncomfortable. They might not feel welcome in a place that deals with facts that they find very difficult to deal with, assuming they are facts. But when was the university declared to be the place for making students comfortable. That’s nowhere on my list of what it is that I think these precious institutions are instantiated, in order to accomplish. That’s the tail wagging the dog. Comfort of the student determines whether or not we will enquire about facts relevant to drawing important ethical conclusions, which could have profound implications for how we organize society. That’s the tail wagging the dog.
Nico: A pedagogical question? Because I’ve seen this in a lot of the reporting here. And in my conversations with students across the country, over the past couple of years. I’ve been seeing an increasing number of students, when confronted with challenging ideas or ideas, that they fundamentally reject. Argue that it’s emotionally exhausting to engage in some of those arguments or in some cases, you hear the phrase said that, “The arguments, belittle or deny their humanity”. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen these or heard these arguments.
But for me, it’s really tough to engage with a student when they make that argument, because it’s not really falsifiable. It’s not really my place to say, that their humanity’s not being denied or that they feel their humanity is being denied. It’s not my place to say that it isn’t emotionally exhausting to have to respond to arguments that they perceive as denying their humanity repeatedly. So, my question is, especially if you’re a professor, and you hear this sort of retort to a claim or a hypothesis. How do you get the student engaged without escalating the situation into either a shouting match or one where they don’t trust you as a teacher anymore? If that makes sense?
Prof. Loury: I don’t know a patent answer to that question. The question made perfect sense to me. It’s one that I’ve often confronted. I have the advantage myself with being black. And what I do to try to win the window of opportunity with the student, that they would suspend disbelief and not be driven into a panic by the discomfort, that I might engender in them. What I do is in effect, confess. Which is to say, I talk about my own life. I lay cards on the table. I used to be a drug addict, back in the 80s. And I had to go through recovery, for example. I grew up on the south side of Chicago. And I know dozens of people who got into trouble with the law, whom I knew reasonably well as a kid, and so on and so forth. So, I have, if you will, a little bit of street cred, and I can deploy it.
I’m also given the benefit of the doubt. This is me, personally, since you’ve asked me. That my motives are not nefarious. I’m not obviously an anti-black race, I might, at the end of the day be one but I’m not obviously and self-consciously one. So, there’s a little bit of a window of opportunity in there. I try to give voice to both sides, and all sides of the arguments that I consider. Even the ones, for example, about affirmative actions, about reparations, for slavery, or about so-called “Black on Black crime.” Just to name a few – about the “Status of the black family.” These are things that I have views about and the views are not necessarily popular. But I try to give voice as well as I can, to what the other side is. I show an awareness of it. I put Ta-nehisi Coates on my reading list in my undergraduate course on race and inequality, for example, just to give one indication of this strategy. This pedagogic strategy of an openness to the other argument. But at the end of the day, an insistence that if you tell me you disagree with whatever the conclusion is, please, what are your facts? And what is your argument? Not this high-handed move, which is both a bluff and a bullying tactic. A high-hand move is, “You making me feel bad, you’re a bad person don’t say that.” It’s a bluff because we can all at the end of the day see what the facts actually are. Whether we agree to acknowledge them or not, they are staring us in the face. And it’s a bullying tactic, because they’re basically telling you to shut up. I’ll just say something that the Fire audience is probably going to all agree with, but they don’t get to tell me to shut up in the university when I’m making an argument.
Nico: I want to ask; you’ve been in the academy for a long time, at this point decades. How has your experience in the academy changed over that time as it relates to this issue? Both, to the issue of; what a university’s values should be, and how those values are either encouraged or discouraged by senior administrators? And then, also the separate question as to, how those values are reflected by professors and students in the academy? Do you feel as though there has been a change in the approach on behalf of students, to answering some of these critical questions? Or to exploring knowledge, as you see it should be explored? Have you seen a change?
Prof. Loury: Yes, is my answer to that. Though this is of course, very controversial. I graduated from Northwestern University with a BA in Mathematics in 1972. So, that’s the frame of time that we’re talking over. Some of the things that have happened; the advent of ethnic studies; great inflation what I’m going to call the blob. Which is a massive bureaucracy of the administrative over the structure that has come into existence in the US that is post modernism. I know that’s a slogan, but I think you might begin to get the drift of what I’m saying when you tell me that I can’t teach a course of political theory. I don’t know Hobbes and Locke and Hume and Smith and Mill and Rawls and whatever. I can’t because they’re dead men. This didn’t exist in 1972. In my recollection, I studied the German language, unselfconsciously as a black kid from the Southside of Chicago from the ghetto. I was reading the Goethe. I’m sorry, I was trying to think about man. I was reading Goethe. I was reading a Kafka. I was reading my Thomas Man. I mean, I was actually reading it. Anyway, enough about me.
Nico: But this was a question about you and your defense.
Prof. Loury: Grade inflation. You can’t give a kid a C, you can. I occasionally do. I spend 20% of my time interacting with the students. They interact within an undergraduate class of ‘80, negotiating about grades. Everybody wants an accommodation. I have a policy. I don’t accept late papers. I don’t accept late pay. De facto, and I got to flunk you out because your paper came in late or you told me some excuse or whatever. I mean, at the end of the day, I’m flailing here trying to try to hold the line. But I don’t want to sound like an old fogy. I know that’s what it’s going sound like. The good old days when things were better and what not. The lowering of our expectations, the lowering of our standards. Anyway, I’m not prepared to answer the question. So, I apologize.
Nico: No, it’s okay. I want to bring up, in the context of this question. A report issued by the University of Chicago in 1967. It’s famous in academic freedom of free speech circles; it’s called the Calvin report. It is a report on the university’s role in political and social action. They decided to issue this report, because there was a lot of stuff going on in the middle part of the century and they were increasingly being called in to weigh in on the social or political action. And so, this report, chaired by Harry Calvin, but consisting of a committee of a number of faculty members to answer the question, “What is the university’s role in political and social action?”
And they decided that the mission of the university is the discovery, improvement and dissemination of knowledge. More or less in line with what you were stating at the top of the show. And that they go on to say, “A university that is faithful to its mission will provide enduring challenges to social values, policies, practices, and institutions, by design and by effect, it is the institution which creates discontent within the existing social arrangements, and proposes new ones.” Now, it then goes on to say the instrument of dissent and criticism is the individual faculty member, or the individual student, the university is the home and sponsor of critics. It is not itself, the critic. The university must maintain an independence from political factions, passions, and pressures.
And that’s kind of what I was asking in the last question is, “Are we getting away from that idea of a university as an incubator for thinkers?” Namely, for faculty members, and then to a lesser degree, probably the students. And more getting towards the role of a university as kind of not just doing that. Because I think most universities still do that, but also advocating for social justice causes. And this not just in universities as well, you see other institutions across the country in the wake of the George Floyd protests. I go to the Amazon homepage, and there’s a big Black Lives Matter banner at the top of it. You’re hearing now that the NBA will put Black Lives Matter on the side of its basketball courts. I go to submit my expense report, my expense report company has a Black Lives Matter banner on its homepage, you’re seeing many of these institutions that were devoted to one thing, now expressing themselves on other matters.
Prof. Loury: I just want to stop you from it. Now, I hear you on the University of Chicago. The statement in hand, and it conforms very much with my own view of things. I want to stop you because what I think is going on at Amazon and like places, is a little bit of covering their butts. They’re trying to preempt the possibility that they could have profit damaging consequences to becoming the site of some kind of conflict. I think that’s one of the things they’re doing. I think there’s branding.
I think when you see the NBA, the NFL, what else do would they do? Think about who their players are, their whole business plan depends upon the maintenance of a certain kind of reputation. So, of course, they’re going to avail themselves. These are not universities. It’s a qualitatively different thing. When a university caters to the popular whim of the fad or fashion. It’s a little bit like investing in what the cafeteria is going to be serving the students for dinner as opposed to investing in the faculty or investing in the latest of the, “I’ve got a 12 Lane swimming pool that’s in this modern building or whatever it is.”
I’m selling the university based upon the consumerism demands of the clients, the paying customers. Then we’ve become a business enterprise and not a university. So, I expect business enterprises to be business enterprises. I expect Nike to worry about it, I expect the NFL to find a way of employing Colin Kaepernick, or whatever. They’ve got a difficult balancing act, but they’re corporate entities, and they’re driven by popular demand in the marketplace. The universities, it’s a different thing. And I think this is happening, and I think it’s really quite tragic. And I can’t remember. you asked me how things have changed over time. I remember the debate over sanctions against South Africa before the fall of apartheid. And I can remember that there were university presidents who basically said, “No,” and in fact, I used to work for one of them. His name was John Silber at Boston University said, “No, I’m not going kowtow to your populism. I don’t have to boycott. I’ll have Helen Suzman or got your Buthelezi one of these controversial, anti-sanctioned South Africans, liberals come and speak at my university.” That’s absolutely inconceivable now that the Commissioner of Police for the City of New York, the sitting Commissioner Police, Ray Kelly, of the city in New York, in 2013, I think it was.
Nico: Yes, right.
Prof. Loury: Wasn’t permitted to speak in Brown University. Students said they felt violated by his presence on campus. I thought that was a low moment in the history of our enterprise here. It was, as if policing a city like New York is a self-evident thing. You don’t think he has anything useful to say about that? Don’t you want to engage the problem? You think, you know, the answer. “Racial profiling is wrong, it’s racism. I stick my head in the sand and throw a fit.” I understand that sophomores act like that in the dorm room after they have smoked the blunt. I don’t understand why a university would act like that.
Nico: What do you think that these universities could be facing? Some of the same challenges and considerations that the corporations are? In so far, as you know, you mentioned the branding, you mentioned the profit motive. There is potentially a concern on behalf of the administration that they lose future students as a result. And then there’s also the challenge that I think is underappreciated, but anyone who works for a company or an institution knows is the internal consequences and the internal discord. If there’s a prevailing opinion about something and you go the opposite direction, the loss of staff and faculty, the constant complaints and HR filings that you receive. Do you think that that has contributed this? Or do you think that this is actually held as a value by a lot of the presidents who are making these statements, including Christina Paxson. And that they actually think the university should be piling on more questions?
Prof. Loury: I think they believe in what they’re doing, it maybe not to a man and woman. But I think largely, this is the culture of higher education administration. I think it’s complicated. And you’d need a culture critic, which I’m not, I’m an economist. To parse it, you need someone who had a deep reading in, many different veins and terms of recent American history to try to understand how we’ve come to where we are, but I think they really believe it. Look at this title Nine Stuff. That’s obviously a digression from what we’re talking about. But it’s kind of people are righteous; they’re on the right side of history. And likewise, we respected diversity and inclusion; you can’t even question affirmative action. That debate is over. I lament, I say this as an African American. I know that it’s controversial. But I think my God; we have now arrived at the end state. And the end state is the permanent institutionalization of different standards of academic achievement applied to the selection of African American versus others. And that’s how we’re going to live.
And it’s as if people are daring you to say, “But you just lowered the standards. Oh, no.” They’re daring you to say, “Well, if you admit them with lower scores, they’re probably not as good as students. They don’t –” “What did you do? You just said they weren’t as good as students”. And in fact, all I did was say that, “The reason we have the test scores in the first place is because we think it helps us to predict who’s going to be a good student.” You can’t even debate it. I know that they believe it. I know these people. Some of them are my friends. At high rank and provost at major institutions and stuff like that. They believe it, they think you can have a larger number of African Americans appointed in the STEM fields, at their institution without lowering standards. Every one of them thinks so when I pointed It can’t be true for every one of you because of musical chairs, there’s not a seat for everybody. They look at me with a blank stare. They don’t know what I’m talking about, of course, we would never lower standards here. You know? So, if you’re asking me, I think they drunk the Kool Aid.
Nico: Are there questions in the academy, that are no longer open questions. And that a university can feel very confident in speaking to, without concern that they might violate those values, that we had talked about as being essential to a university before. So, for example, the Earth is not flat, right? You know, the Earth is not the center of the universe. Those are closed questions in the academy. But you’re seeing a lot of people saying that there are certain questions related to race, and sex, and other protected classes that are also not open questions. And that to allow debate and discussion of them, is to reopen a wound. Essentially, for some of these protected classes that would make their experience in the university hostile and compromise their ability to receive an education. Or do you see though some of these questions as being fundamentally different. Even though they’re argued to be one in the same, at least I see them to be argued as one of the same by some students on campus.
Prof. Loury: I think there’s an interesting point here, which is what matters, do we, in the sense that we acknowledge this as cumulative, and we build on the shoulders or stand on the shoulders of those who’ve gone before; do we regard as settled, and essentially, don’t spend resources? Adjudicating because those resources are better spent elsewhere because this is a settled matter. And claims like is the earth the center of the universe? Or is the sun the center of the solar system sitting in the Milky Way? Our claims like that. But those are claims amenable to resolution through, systematic and factual inquiry. I think those kinds of questions are not the questions in the main that people in the university environment are saying must not be raised. They’re normative questions. So, for example, slavery was wrong. Okay, so that’s a settled question. I can imagine a treatise that tries to defend slavery, even if it’s contextualized in a certain time in place.
Nico: Well, you see, some people, you know, and kind of a parallel. Some people argue that colonialism was good, or had some good features to it, who are saying, No, that’s a settled question colonialism was bad.
Prof. Loury: You see how different those questions are. And I’m not trying to opine on either one of them. But I take the point, that there’s a slippery slope. If I admit that I can’t inquire about this, then I’m also kind of not knowing where it is that I can draw a line about what I can and can’t inquire about, like the status of women. The status of homosexuality. I remember within the last 25 years, I remember sitting at Boston University, to find philosophers Roger Scruton and Anthony Apia, were in a debate about the moral status of homosexuality. Apia who happens to be a gay man was taking the position that there was no problem with the moral status of homosexuality. And Scruton was a conservative. He just died, was taking the position that homosexuality, social prohibitions against it, were morally justified.
Now, that’s not a question that you can even debate today. I don’t know, epistemologically, if our kind of deep knowledge of ethics, or of biochemistry and neurology and all of that sexuality, have so advanced that whereas in 1998. This was an arguable question, but in 2020, it’s not .I rather doubt that. Rather, I think that we have a consensus commitment to certain moral values, which precludes being challenged. But the stance that you can’t challenge this is not really a claim about facts or about the world at all. It’s a claim about our normative commitments. And I don’t want to conclude here. Whether there aren’t certain normative commitments that I would not want to have debated because I think that’s a very subtle question.
And I’m not a philosopher, either. But I think that’s a very subtle and difficult question. But I want to distinguish all of that from other kinds of questions that you’re supposed to not ask. Like the question, that Charles Murray asked about intelligence and about its genetic foundation. If any? To my mind that effect too is, of course, a question that’s out of bounds. And you can’t ask. But I think that’s a mistake. Because, I think that is a kind of no nothingism. And that’s a kind of, “I can’t bear to know this about the world, because if it were true, it would be so horrible.” You can’t preclude that question, apriori. I would say, and I’m not advocating anything here. I’m not saying I want to do IQ research, or I don’t or whatever.
I’m just saying, you can’t free from evidence preclude an examination of a question of that sort. And I regard that is a different kind of issue than the issue of “I’m not prepared to debate whether or not women are entitled to equal status in the political economy.” I am not I preclude that question. I’m not interested in it. The debate about whether or not the subjugation of women is justifiable. I’m not interested in that question. I’m also not as a matter of fact, interested in the IQ question very much. But I would, I would dare say a university could not preclude the inquiry into that question on scientific grounds.
Nico: It’s interesting that you say all this, I’m reflecting now on a conversation I had, what was it two years ago with Randall Kennedy over at Harvard?
Prof Lowery: Yeah.
Nico: And he said something that reminded me of something that John Stuart Mill said, he told me a story about a debate that he had at Harvard on affirmative action. And I believe he was on the pro affirmative action side. And he said, he just got his clock cleaned, in the debate. And then, he came back, he took that as a chance to learn more about the issue, research more about the issue. And then, he was asked subsequently, I don’t know how much longer later to participate in another debate on affirmative action. And he said, he did much better, and he thinks, he got the better of it. And that got me thinking about John Stuart Mill and on Liberty when he says that, “When we for close questions, or we refuse to debate questions, we hold our truths as dead dogmas and not living beliefs.” Now, it might be that there are closed questions, like, “Is the earth round, or, is the sun the center of our universe?” But what John Stuart Mill is arguing, that is, “To not debate it means to not really understand why you believe it.” That if a flat earther confronted me today, what evidence would I marshal to argue the earth is round? I don’t know that I would bring logic to it because I never have to argue that. And I think that’s kind of what Randall was talking about.
Prof. Loury: I get what you’re saying Nico. And I know, this argument about Randall Kinney, I know it very well. And of course, what you do is you pull out your phone, and you go to Wikipedia, and in about 90 seconds, you would be able to explain what the experiment was that etc. but I get it. I know that passage in on liberty. And I always thought that this idea that even if I’m right, if I don’t work out my muscles, my cognitive muscles by defending the correct position, I’ll forget why I’m right. And my rectitude will now be a kind of dead stale, habitual recitation; I won’t really know why I’m right about the things that I’m saying. And I always thought that, that was a profound observation.
In Kennedy’s case, I think I know exactly where he lost the first argument in one second. In fact, I think I might have been present at the second debate with Stuart Taylor, here at Brown University, where I think Randy, in fact, did get the better of end, and the point was, Randall wrote a book called For Discrimination, in which he defends affirmative action by acknowledging at the outset, it’s racial discrimination. But I just think it’s permissible racial discrimination. And I think in that first encounter, Randy had tried to deny the fact that you were discriminating against white people when you were practicing affirmative action. And he realized that was an untenable position.
Nico: It’s funny you say that now because I must have just read an article yesterday, where the State of California which prohibits affirmative action, is looking to remove the clause in its state constitution. I believe that prohibits discrimination based on race because they can’t implement affirmative action in the State of California. Unless that clause is – I don’t know if you’re familiar with that development.
Prof. Loury: I am what I’m very familiar with is in 1996. Ballot proposition 209, was enacted in California, which amended the state’s constitution as their ballot proposition process allows, so as to forbid affirmative action. So, I gather in effect that they are talking about rescinding or repealing proposition 209 and clear the way to be able to restore affirmative action in California.
Nico: Yeah, that just got me thinking about what you’re saying with Randy. About how he changed his position because he realized that his positioned that affirmative action wasn’t a form of discrimination, valuable. Though some might see it is, in function as a form of discrimination. But I want to close out this conversation by asking you about something that you kind of referenced earlier; I think you called it the blob; which is the growth of the administrative class and the university. What do you see as the role of faculty within the university and as that administrative class has grown? And I think now administrators out-number faculty how have you perceived? Have you perceived any decline in the role that faculty take in questions, such as the one that Christina Paxson opined on in her letter?
I should note that the Calvin Report at the University of Chicago 1967 was a report that was commissioned by the President. But was written by the faculty because it seemed as though the president thought that it was a faculty matter to discuss. So, I wanted to get your sense on that.
Prof. Loury: What I think I mean, I’m old fashioned, we are the university. The rest of the people are the help. That’s what I think, I put that in a very crude and intentionally provocative way. But here’s what I mean. I mean, there’s supposed to be expertise, right? You have these departments; you have these chairs, these professors tenured and whatnot. The physicists; do not try to tell the chemists who, don’t try to tell the sociologists, don’t try to tell the historians what to do. Because the people who are the professors of history, chemistry, sociology, and biology, are in the position of being masters of those particular domains.
They are the experts, if the university is a font of knowledge; the knowledge resides in the faculty, not in the buildings, not in the grounds, and certainly not in the administrative staff. So, when the university pronounces on matters of substance, of intellectual substance; when the university engages in ethical reflection, when University makes a claim about a matter of public policy that rests upon knowledge of social process, and so on. It is only the faculty who are in a position, in my opinion, but I think this is almost definitional, to deploy the university’s authority and that way. Again, I go back to my concern about the letter that our president sent around. I think that there were matters of substance there on which the faculty ourselves ought to have been consulted before ‘The University’ took the position.
So, there’s the idea, in my mind, that this the source of intellectual authority in the university. Which is an intellectual institution, resides in the distinguished faculty who have been peer reviewed and published who are accountable one to another into their disciplines, which are now largely global enterprises. And people shouldn’t say study from Harvard. The fact that it’s Harvard that you should study is not the issue. The question is who, on the faculty of Harvard actually oversaw the study? Harvard’s reputation is nothing but for the accumulated consequence of the outstanding intellectual work undertaken by those who are affiliated with it.
Nico: That’s a very Socratic position, as in a position that I believe Socrates took. Which was that, “I am the teacher, and you are the students. And this space that I’ve created is there to serve me and what I believe my pedagogical approach should be and not really necessarily to serve you the students, I let you come here.” Is my understanding of his position, “– to learn from me.” Do you feel like if you wanted to, you could host a debate at Brown right now about President Paxson letter and about some of the claims that are baked into that letter? Or do you feel like given the current environment, and all the things that we’ve discussed in this conversation. That would be something like the Ray Kennedy incident in 2013, there would be open to potentially being shut down by protesters.
Prof. Loury: I don’t know. That’s a difficult question. President Paxson this letter was meant to show solidarity with a movement for combating anti-black racism. I now practically, quote, “It’s very important to say the anti-black before the racism in the current lexicon”, so it’s anti-black racism. That’s just how specifically partisan the nature of the discussion has become. But in any case she was trying to show solidarity as are the endless number of letters, every department has issued one. The anthropologists have a letter. The Graduate Student Council has a letter that everybody has to show solidarity.
Nico: It’s funny you say that because my fiance’s step-father is a Gastroenterologist and the Association for Gastroenterologist issued a letter showing solidarity.
Prof. Loury: Okay. So, it is gone that far. And therefore, an open debate about the letter is a way of kind of showing contempt for the desire to be in solidarity with our brothers or massing in the streets to try to bring change. Finally, after 400 years, and I’m not sure it would wash, I think it would engender a lot of conflict. I’m not sure it’s worth the trouble. You have to pick your battles. I will say this, of the alumni magazine of Brown went out with a reprint of the President’s letter. My letter was published in the city journal in which I objected to the President’s letter and one of our alumni saw it. He wrote to the publisher of the Brown Alumni magazine, and demanded that they print my letter as well. So, that the alumni who number in the tens of thousands, or hundreds of thousands, throughout the country would know that their Brown had more than one thing to say about this matter. The issue is pending.
Nico: I remember reading in the fallout of the Ray Kelly incident, a letter from an alumnus, and you’re mentioning alumni. So, this reminded me of it. Who while he was an undergraduate student, I believe in the 60s at Brown, he saw the then leader of the American Neo-Nazi party, come and speak at Brown. There was, of course, protests at the time, but he was allowed to speak and this alumnus went to the speech because he wanted to see what it was all about. And he said that was one of the most educative experiences that he had at Brown, because it showed him how fascism can be enticing. He said that this the speaker was affable, used humor and was charismatic. And he said, I didn’t realize how Germans could be so deceived into supporting Adolf Hitler until I went and saw this speech.
Now, maybe Brown shouldn’t have allowed him to speak because if he can connive people, and maybe not this student, but others into potentially agreeing with his ideology. Maybe that’s a bad thing. But there is some sort and I know there’s Samuel Abrams over at Sarah Lawrence University, took people took his classes to see Trump rallies so that they could understand the allure of Donald Trump’s message. I think that’s going to be much more difficult in this current political environment. Last question. Well, I’ll let you respond to that.
Prof. Loury: Well, no. And you mentioned Trump. And I just want to say, I think one characteristic feature of our contemporary environment is the advent of Trump and the necessity to calibrate what one does and what one says in light of his presence, his own pronouncements and his political fortune. And so, they’re things that can be true that if Trump says they then become unspeakable, kind of thing like that. And I think that’s part of what’s going on. I think it goes back to Obama, on the university campuses, the politicization. So, to have come to be publicly questioning about Obama, back when he was first running for president and a lot of places create a lot of consternation; You can probably find chapter and verse on that. I don’t know. I can’t remember all the instances, but I can remember there was a lot of talk about being racist; if you criticize Obama.
Nico: You have to end an interview with a forward looking question. So, I’ve learned, so I want to ask you, what are you expecting? Are students returning to campus in the fall at Brown? Are they doing a remote deal?
Prof. Loury: I think it’s going to be a hybrid. The President is going to announce the actual plan on the 15th of July, which is less than two weeks from now exactly two weeks from now. They floated a number of different scenarios. And some of them, they’ve announced that if you’re a student and you don’t want to come back for campus, you don’t have to. If you’re a faculty member, and you don’t want to come and teach in person on campus, you don’t have to. Students still have to take their courses, faculty members still have to teach their courses.
All courses are going to be offered in such a manner that they can be accessed virtually, if necessary. Courses have a certain size, which would require a room, which with adequate social distancing, would be able to accommodate the crowd. Once they’re over a certain size, I think it might be 40, but I’m not sure about the number. They are our mandatory distance learning courses because there’s no space to be able to assemble the students and present for those courses. Some courses will be hybrid, they will meet for lecture, but the lectures may be less frequent than they would have been in ordinary circumstances. That will be supplemented by online lecturing. That’s where we are.
Nico: Do you think given all of the protests this summer, those protests will come to Brown? And how do you anticipate Brown will respond to them? And also, how do you anticipate your faculty colleagues will respond? Do you feel as though they, like the administration, will need to show solidarity to this cause? And will they be afraid to ask certain questions in their classrooms as a result?
Prof. Loury: I think I don’t want to disparage my colleagues. I think there are some who will be afraid, I think there are more, to them it would never even occur, to ask certain questions. I think on the whole, on these issues, on the diversity and inclusion issues, on the right side of history about climate change, right side of history about the Trump movement, right side of history about affirmative action, right side history about reparations. I think the faculty are largely in support of the left of center position that you would expect the administration to take. And that would be popular with the students. So, there was a faculty committee that assessed the Ray Kelly incident and their report concludes that you have to balance the open discourse imperative against the need for students to feel safe in the environment. And that there were ideas such as racial profiling advocated by the Commissioner of Police in New York, which rose to the above the threshold and warranted that they might legitimately – I’m not quoting from this report, but the report actually.
The report actually talks about the harm done by having the Commissioner of Police come in, and advocate his position on policing in the city. I thought that was a concession by the faculty of a very important principle, with which the concession I did not agree. But I think that was largely the position of the faculty. So, I expect the faculty would be in support. I think, you know, demonstrations will come to Brown. In the 2014 /15. When we had the [inaudible] [00:53:19] thing and the post Ferguson brouhaha on campuses. They were occupying the Provost offices, they were massed on the green, they were organizing, they were complaining about having to go to class.
And demonstrating at the same time how much work is a student expected to do, it was their obligation to show solidarity with – To raise their voices, blah, blah. And I expect that it would take the least little provocation to get such a thing going. And frankly, I’ll say this. It’s uncharitable to my administrative colleagues. But I think one of the reasons why people are trying to get out front and showing their solidarity as they anticipate that there’s going to be trouble. And they’re trying to preempt – get on the right side of history, carry favor with their charges. Signal of their virtue.
Nico: Well, Professor Lowery, I think we have to leave it there. Thanks for coming on the show and I hope to have you on again sometime soon.
Prof. Loury: Thanks very much, Nico. It was my pleasure.
Nico: That was Brown University Professor Glenn Loury. You can follow Professor Loury on Twitter. His handle is @glennloury, that is G-L-E-N-N L-O-U-R-Y. He is also the host of the Glenn show on blogging heads.tv. This podcast is hosted produced and recorded by me Nico Perino, and edited by Aaron Reese to learn more about, So to Speak. You can follow us on Twitter @twitter.com/freespeechtalk or like us on Facebook @facebook.com/sotospeak podcast. You can email us feedback at So, to speak @ the fire.org and if you did enjoy this episode, please consider leaving us a review on Apple podcasts, Google Play or wherever else you get your podcasts. They do help us attract new listeners to the show. And until next time, thanks again for listening.