ACADEMICALLY SPEAKING: Boghossian’s departure signals the need for higher ed’s anti-woke remnant to stand up against intimidation
Peter Boghossian's resignation from Portland State University was a devastating blow to the remnant of academics who are still committed to the liberal arts, and who must be vocally anti-woke to restore their plagued institutions.
"Academically Speaking" is a series by Campus Reform Managing Editor Zachary Marschall that, drawing on his firsthand experience working with other scholars across the globe, reveals how radical ideas originating in academia impact Americans’ daily lives. Marschall holds a PhD in Cultural Studies and is an adjunct professor at the University of Kentucky. His research investigates the intersections of democratic political systems, free market economies, and technological innovation in the production of national and cultural identities, as well as the exchange of cultural goods, services, and practices.
Today, with few exceptions, the American professoriate is a confederacy of unserious activists yelling out toxic dogma all while covering their ears, defiant in their entitlement to not be questioned.
Those professors who do not infect their own instruction and work with their woke, progressive politics – who put students’ success over activism – are a shrinking minority.
Peter Boghossian was an exception to this hoard, and his resignation from Portland State University September 8 was a devastating blow to the remnant of academics who are still committed to the liberal arts, and who must be vocally anti-woke to restore their plagued institutions.
Boghossian, the philosophy professor who ingeniously published a string of hoax articles in peer-reviewed journals in the 2010s to expose leftist academics’ unseriousness, made his September 8 resignation letter public on Barri Weiss’ “Common Sense” Substack.
The letter is a tour de force indictment of American universities in which Boghossian rightly claims that his university has abandoned its traditional mission, and with it, the intent to help students think critically for themselves.
“Students at Portland State are not being taught to think. Rather, they are being trained to mimic the moral certainty of ideologues,” he wrote.
What unsound ideologies are students mimicking not just at PSU, but on campuses across the country?
Americans only have to look at 9/11 social media posts this past weekend to witness the vitriol campus leftists have for this country.
For example, Jenn M. Jackson, an assistant professor at Syracuse University’s famed Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs, posted Friday morning a reprehensible Twitter thread that desecrates the memory everyone that died that day.
She tweeted, “We have to be more honest about what 9/11 was and what is wasn’t. It was an attack on the heteropatriarchal capitalistic systems that America relies upon to wrangle other countries into passivity. It was an attack on the systems that many white Americans fight to protect.”
It is that vitriol that informs professors’ curricula and teaching methods, all which compel students to subscribe to one viewpoint and to write papers that conform to one ideology to achieve high scores and curry favor in the system.
Professors should enjoy freedom of expression and thought. Jackson deserves intellectual freedom in her position; she should not be fired and does not deserve the harassment she received after posting the tweets.
But being a professor is about helping others, not pet causes or research projects.
Jackson’s factual inaccuracies and intellectual laziness make her pronouncement so abhorrent because, as an educator, she is responsible for the intellectual development of others.
Take the first buzzword in this tweet, “heteropatriarchal.” The term reinforces the narrative that the US is irreparably oppressive against LGBTQ persons and women, but conceals the reality that the cultures from which those al Qaeda terrorists sprung oppress women and make homosexuality a capital offense.
So, al Qaeda killed nearly 3,000 people because of discrimination against people who are neither straight nor male? Be serious, Jenn!
That argument taken to its logic end says: Al Qaeda attacked the United States because Americans beat gay people and women with less gusto than in Saudi Arabia or Afghanistan. Despite Jackson’s radical abolitionist activism against the American prison system, it is hard to believe she honestly believes this claim.
Jackson’s rant is an example of the ‘unserious’ activism because logical reasoning – the kind that a traditional liberal arts education equips students to process – exposes this tweet for the fallacy it is.
Her fallacy exemplifies what Boghossian resists, namely the trend that “faculty and administrators have abdicated the university’s truth-seeking mission and instead drive intolerance of divergent beliefs and opinions,” as he writes in the letter.
But even more concerning, Jackson is a professor of political science, but appears clueless to the nature of America’s international influence. Specifically, the US has been a hegemonic power that rules the world order based on consent, not one that “wrangles” others into passivity.
Where is the passivity, if not in the paternalistic – racism in an international context – assumption that developing nations cannot stand up for themselves, or take active roles on the world stage via groups such as the African Union, Association of Southeast Asian Nations, European Union, and Organization of American States?
There are consequential implications for when campus authorities impose preferred narratives at the expense of honest intellectual rigor. University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign professor Ilana Redstone, for example, wrote in Tablet this summer that students at her school “are rarely exposed to ways of understanding the world that don’t align with a politically progressive worldview.”
That disservice to students is why Campus Reform holds those leftist campus activists accountable for their misconduct as educators.
“Dismissing” concerns about these incidents, as Redstone writes to Campus Reform’s center-left critics, is an act of “evasion, not engagement.”
Redstone is not a conservative, but American colleges need more professors as committed as she is to open debate and diversity of viewpoint in the classroom.
“[B]rick by brick, the university has made this kind of intellectual exploration impossible,” Boghossian wrote in his letter. “It has transformed a bastion of free inquiry into a Social Justice factory whose only inputs were race, gender, and victimhood and whose only outputs were grievance and division.”
Those in higher education opposed to the woke agenda need to confront what their institutions have become and stand up against the institutionalized bullying that stifles intellectual diversity on campus.
Radical professors use their authority and power to intimidate others, particularly students, into accepting their viewpoints as morally unimpeachable. Narratives of oppression are shields for scrutiny. How could someone with the right ‘lived experiences’ ever be wrong?
Notice that Jackson’s laughable claims serve her concluding contention that 9/11 was “an attack on the systems that many white Americans fight to protect.”
That’s where the danger lays.
What Americans mourn every September 11 transcends race. The World Trade Center was a symbol of American greatness and the center of cosmopolitan global commerce. That is why 21% of victims were born outside of the United States and the American deceased included those of Hispanic, African, Asian, and Pacific Islander background. The 9/11 victims were engaged in activities and relationships larger than the color of their skin.
The hypocritical campus environment that Boghossian describes penalizes those across America who dare call out such un-truths. That systemic regime of viewpoint suppression makes holding academics accountable to the implications and results of their ideologies and actions all the more difficult for open-minded faculty, administrators, and students.
“Questions from faculty at diversity trainings that challenged approved narratives were instantly dismissed,” Boghossian wrote. “Those who asked for evidence to justify new institutional policies were accused of microaggressions.”
Jackson’s Twitter diatribe was only a thread, but it represents how radical professors operate as scholars and how the muck from their published work permeates classroom instruction.
Those who have already read Boghossian’s letter will find this seeping toxicity familiar.
“I eventually became convinced that corrupted bodies of scholarship were responsible for justifying radical departures from the traditional role of liberal arts schools and basic civility on campus,” Boghossian wrote, explaining his motivation to publish hoax articles in respected journals.
Boghossian added, “There was an urgent need to demonstrate that morally fashionable papers — no matter how absurd — could be published. I believed then that if I exposed the theoretical flaws of this body of literature, I could help the university community avoid building edifices on such shaky ground.”
These scholars that endanger academic civility remain indigent when challenged. They sideline any opportunity for an open exchange of ideas.
“There’s no scenario where I will speak with you about anything, ever,” Jackson told Campus Reform’s Ben Zeisloft when he reached out for clarification on the Maxwell professor’s tweets.
Is it any wonder that conservative students must work harder – must make themselves tolerable to the dominant leftist regime – to gain the respect of their professors and peers?
Who with power to help students has the courage to call out such scholarly malpractice when the issue of race, or any other sacred tenant of the woke faith, is mentioned?
Boghossian was one professor with the chutzpah for that job, but he’s gone now. The rest of the anti-woke remnant needs to step forward now.