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May 21, 2024

PI Newsletter #9

1. A Heretic at Duke Divinity School

The dean brings charges of ‘unprofessional conduct’ for a vigorous defense of free inquiry.


Peter Berkowitz
May 21, 2017 5:47 p.m. ET
530 COMMENTS <https://www.wsj.com/articles/a-heretic-at-duke-divinity-school-1495403228?mod=fbads#livefyre-toggle-SB11500229806877783535604583148951003232248>

The campaign against free speech on American campuses rolls on, steadily decreasing the domain of permissible ideas. But the case of Paul Griffiths, a professor at Duke Divinity School, is something new. The defense of liberty of thought and discussion itself has been transformed into a career-ending transgression.

The case was brought to light in late April when Rod Dreher of the American Conservative published a series of email exchanges<http://www.theamericanconservative.com/dreher/duke-divinity-crisis-griffiths-documents/>. It started Feb. 6, when Anathea Portier-Young, another Divinity School professor, distributed a facultywide email. “On behalf of the Faculty Diversity and Inclusion Standing Committee,” she wrote, “I strongly urge you to participate in the Racial Equity Institute Phase I Training planned for March 4 and 5.” Ms. Portier-Young promised colleagues that the weekend program would be “transformative, powerful, and life-changing.”

Ms. Portier-Young, an Old Testament scholar with expertise in “constructions of identity, gender, and ethnicity, and traditions of violence and nonviolence,” approvingly quoted the Racial Equity Institute’s guiding ideas: “‘Racism is a fierce, ever-present, challenging force, one which has structured the thinking, behavior, and actions of individuals and institutions since the beginning of U.S. history.’ ” She also included the institute’s call to political action: “ ‘To understand racism and effectively begin dismantling it requires an equally fierce, consistent, and committed effort.’ ”

Late in the afternoon of the same day, Mr. Griffiths replied in a facultywide email. Noting that Ms. Portier-Young had “made her ideological commitments clear,” he stated that he would “do the same, in the interests of free exchange.”

Mr. Griffiths, a professor of Catholic theology, was good to his word. “I exhort you not to attend this training,” he wrote. “There’ll be bromides, clichés, and amen-corner rah-rahs in plenty,” he continued, and it would reflect “illiberal roots and totalitarian tendencies” and be “definitively anti-intellectual.” He noted that “(re)trainings of intellectuals by bureaucrats and apparatchiks have a long and ignoble history.”

He then entreated the faculty to rededicate themselves to their scholarly and pedagogical mission: “Each of us should be tense with the effort of it, thrumming like a tautly triple-woven steel thread with the work of it, consumed by the fire of it, ever eager for more of it.”

That evening, Dean Elaine Heath entered the fray. Announcing in her own facultywide email that she was “looking forward to participating in the REI training” and that she was “proud that we are hosting it at Duke Divinity School,” Ms. Heath—also a professor of missional and pastoral theology—expressed confidence that the sessions would improve the school’s “intellectual strength, spiritual vitality, and moral authority.”

Having sided firmly with Ms. Portier-Young, the dean proceeded to outline rules of acceptable discourse in facultywide email exchanges. “It is inappropriate and unprofessional to use mass emails to make disparaging statements—including arguments ad hominem—in order to humiliate or undermine individual colleagues or groups of colleagues with whom we disagree. The use of mass emails to express racism, sexism, and other forms of bigotry is offensive and unacceptable, especially in a Christian institution.”

Yet Mr. Griffiths’s three-paragraph, 228-word email made no disparaging statement about any individual, much less expressed bigotry of any sort. Unless—in accordance with the illiberal spirit that has taken root on our campuses—one equates unsparing criticism of ideas with attacks on a person and redefines “bigotry” to mean deviation from the progressive party line.

Ms. Heath instigated a disciplinary procedure against Mr. Griffiths for “unprofessional conduct,” and Ms. Portier-Young filed a complaint for “harassment” with the University’s Office for Institutional Equity. Last week Mr. Griffiths announced he was quitting effective at the end of next academic year.

“Harsh and direct disagreement places thought under pressure,” Mr. Griffith wrote last week in an love letter<https://www.commonwealmagazine.org/university-love> to the university and the life of the mind in Commonweal. “Pressure can be intellectually productive. . . . But pressure also causes pain and fear; and when those under pressure find these things difficult to bear, they’ll sometimes use any means possible to make the pressure and the pain go away. They feel unsafe, threatened, put upon, and so they react by deploying the soft violence of the law or the harder violence of the aggressive and speech-denying protest. Both moves are common enough in our élite universities now, as is their support by the powers that be. Tolerance for intellectual pain is less than it was. So is tolerance for argument.”

At Duke Divinity School, the defense of liberal learning and teaching itself is now beyond toleration.

Mr. Berkowitz is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University.

2.  Poland has a problem — with Frans Timmermans

Commission’s No. 2 official has called Warsaw’s actions a ‘threat’ to the EU’s foundations.

BRATISLAVA — Polish Foreign Minister Witold Waszczykowski shot back at Warsaw’s critics in Brussels, insisting Poland wasn’t in conflict with the European Union or the Commission, but rather with a single commissioner — First Vice President Frans Timmermans.<http://www.politico.eu/article/timmermans-takes-poland-complaints-to-the-people/>


3. The Left’s Unilateral Suicide Pact

“Liberal ideology conceives of “safe spaces” in the context of alleged white patriarchy, but there was a real need for a “safe space” in Britain’s Manchester Arena on May 22, when 22-year-old terrorist Salman Abedi detonated his nail- and screw-filled suicide bomb after a concert by teen idol Ariana Grande. What was the “progressive” answer to yet another instance of Islamic terrorism in the West? Feckless calls for resisting hate, pledges of renewed diversity, and little else.

Washington Post columnist Anne Applebaum, for example, invokes the usual weak remedies: she calls for “community solidarity, things like the mass vigil that took place in Manchester on Tuesday night, or the offers of tea, blankets and bedrooms extended to people stranded by the attack

A rethinking of immigration policies is off the table.”


4. Why Do Half-Measures Work For Markets, But Not For Socialism?

In each case [where socialism has been applied], the result has been economic impoverishment and political authoritarianism.

But the die-hard socialists refuse to give up. “Don’t judge communism based on these results, ” we’re told. “Socialism has simply never really been tried.”

What a blessing for the socialists, then, that every time some socialist reforms are tried – and fail – the ideology has a built-in excuse: socialism never works unless it’s fully implemented.


5. Merkel Makes an Enemy

The systems of liberal democracy that prevailed a generation ago have come unraveled. Liberalism and democracy are no longer zippered together like strands of DNA. Now they are alternatives. Trump came to power at the head of a democracy movement. This does not make him a champion of the liberal order, though, and the privileged classes in his own country, with that as grounds, are sparing no effort to overturn their country’s democratic verdict. Merkel does stand for liberal values. She also stands for the de-democratization of Germany’s sphere of influence. She wants a post-national kind of sovereignty. She wants to strengthen the (undemocratic) European Union at the expense of the (still democratic) European nation-states.


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