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My University Sacrificed Ideas for Ideology. So Today I Quit.

daftandbarmy

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Damn, I wish I had him as a prof....


My University Sacrificed Ideas for Ideology. So Today I Quit.​

The more I spoke out against the illiberalism that has swallowed Portland State University, the more retaliation I faced.​

Peter Boghossian has taught philosophy at Portland State University for the past decade. In the letter below, sent this morning to the university’s provost, he explains why he is resigning.

Dear Provost Susan Jeffords,

I’m writing to you today to resign as assistant professor of philosophy at Portland State University.

Over the last decade, it has been my privilege to teach at the university. My specialties are critical thinking, ethics and the Socratic method, and I teach classes like Science and Pseudoscience and The Philosophy of Education. But in addition to exploring classic philosophers and traditional texts, I’ve invited a wide range of guest lecturers to address my classes, from Flat-Earthers to Christian apologists to global climate skeptics to Occupy Wall Street advocates. I’m proud of my work.

I invited those speakers not because I agreed with their worldviews, but primarily because I didn’t. From those messy and difficult conversations, I’ve seen the best of what our students can achieve: questioning beliefs while respecting believers; staying even-tempered in challenging circumstances; and even changing their minds.

I never once believed nor do I now that the purpose of instruction was to lead my students to a particular conclusion. Rather, I sought to create the conditions for rigorous thought; to help them gain the tools to hunt and furrow for their own conclusions. This is why I became a teacher and why I love teaching.

But brick by brick, the university has made this kind of intellectual exploration impossible. 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.

Students at Portland State are not being taught to think. Rather, they are being trained to mimic the moral certainty of ideologues. Faculty and administrators have abdicated the university’s truth-seeking mission and instead drive intolerance of divergent beliefs and opinions. This has created a culture of offense where students are now afraid to speak openly and honestly.

I noticed signs of the illiberalism that has now fully swallowed the academy quite early during my time at Portland State. I witnessed students refusing to engage with different points of view. Questions from faculty at diversity trainings that challenged approved narratives were instantly dismissed. Those who asked for evidence to justify new institutional policies were accused of microaggressions. And professors were accused of bigotry for assigning canonical texts written by philosophers who happened to have been European and male.

At first, I didn’t realize how systemic this was and I believed I could question this new culture. So I began asking questions. What is the evidence that trigger warnings and safe spaces contribute to student learning? Why should racial consciousness be the lens through which we view our role as educators? How did we decide that “cultural appropriation” is immoral?

Unlike my colleagues, I asked these questions out loud and in public.

I decided to study the new values that were engulfing Portland State and so many other educational institutions — values that sound wonderful, like diversity, equity, and inclusion, but might actually be just the opposite. The more I read the primary source material produced by critical theorists, the more I suspected that their conclusions reflected the postulates of an ideology, not insights based on evidence.

I began networking with student groups who had similar concerns and brought in speakers to explore these subjects from a critical perspective. And it became increasingly clear to me that the incidents of illiberalism I had witnessed over the years were not just isolated events, but part of an institution-wide problem.

The more I spoke out about these issues, the more retaliation I faced.

Early in the 2016-17 academic year, a former student complained about me and the university initiated a Title IX investigation. (Title IX investigations are a part of federal law designed to protect “people from discrimination based on sex in education programs or activities that receive federal financial assistance.”) My accuser, a white male, made a slew of baseless accusations against me, which university confidentiality rules unfortunately prohibit me from discussing further. What I can share is that students of mine who were interviewed during the process told me the Title IX investigator asked them if they knew anything about me beating my wife and children. This horrifying accusation soon became a widespread rumor.

With Title IX investigations there is no due process, so I didn’t have access to the particular accusations, the ability to confront my accuser, and I had no opportunity to defend myself. Finally, the results of the investigation were revealed in December 2017. Here are the last two sentences of the report: “Global Diversity & Inclusion finds there is insufficient evidence that Boghossian violated PSU’s Prohibited Discrimination & Harassment policy. GDI recommends Boghossian receive coaching.”

Not only was there no apology for the false accusations, but the investigator also told me that in the future I was not allowed to render my opinion about “protected classes” or teach in such a way that my opinion about protected classes could be known — a bizarre conclusion to absurd charges. Universities can enforce ideological conformity just through the threat of these investigations.

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. 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.

So, in 2017, I co-published an intentionally garbled peer-reviewed paper that took aim at the new orthodoxy. Its title: “The Conceptual Penis as a Social Construct.” This example of pseudo-scholarship, which was published in Cogent Social Sciences, argued that penises were products of the human mind and responsible for climate change. Immediately thereafter, I revealed the article as a hoax designed to shed light on the flaws of the peer-review and academic publishing systems.

Shortly thereafter, swastikas in the bathroom with my name under them began appearing in two bathrooms near the philosophy department. They also occasionally showed up on my office door, in one instance accompanied by bags of feces. Our university remained silent. When it acted, it was against me, not the perpetrators.

I continued to believe, perhaps naively, that if I exposed the flawed thinking on which Portland State’s new values were based, I could shake the university from its madness. In 2018 I co-published a series of absurd or morally repugnant peer-reviewed articles in journals that focused on issues of race and gender. In one of them we argued that there was an epidemic of dog rape at dog parks and proposed that we leash men the way we leash dogs. Our purpose was to show that certain kinds of “scholarship” are based not on finding truth but on advancing social grievances. This worldview is not scientific, and it is not rigorous.

Administrators and faculty were so angered by the papers that they published an anonymous piece in the student paper and Portland State filed formal charges against me. Their accusation? “Research misconduct” based on the absurd premise that the journal editors who accepted our intentionally deranged articles were “human subjects.” I was found guilty of not receiving approval to experiment on human subjects.

Meanwhile, ideological intolerance continued to grow at Portland State. In March 2018, a tenured professor disrupted a public discussion I was holding with author Christina Hoff Sommers and evolutionary biologists Bret Weinstein and Heather Heying. In June 2018, someone triggered the fire alarm during my conversation with popular cultural critic Carl Benjamin. In October 2018, an activist pulled out the speaker wires to interrupt a panel with former Google engineer James Damore. The university did nothing to stop or address this behavior. No one was punished or disciplined.

For me, the years that followed were marked by continued harassment. I’d find flyers around campus of me with a Pinocchio nose. I was spit on and threatened by passersby while walking to class. I was informed by students that my colleagues were telling them to avoid my classes. And, of course, I was subjected to more investigation.

I wish I could say that what I am describing hasn’t taken a personal toll. But it has taken exactly the toll it was intended to: an increasingly intolerable working life and without the protection of tenure.

This isn’t about me. This is about the kind of institutions we want and the values we choose. Every idea that has advanced human freedom has always, and without fail, been initially condemned. As individuals, we often seem incapable of remembering this lesson, but that is exactly what our institutions are for: to remind us that the freedom to question is our fundamental right. Educational institutions should remind us that that right is also our duty.

Portland State University has failed in fulfilling this duty. In doing so it has failed not only its students but the public that supports it. While I am grateful for the opportunity to have taught at Portland State for over a decade, it has become clear to me that this institution is no place for people who intend to think freely and explore ideas.

This is not the outcome I wanted. But I feel morally obligated to make this choice. For ten years, I have taught my students the importance of living by your principles. One of mine is to defend our system of liberal education from those who seek to destroy it. Who would I be if I didn’t?

Sincerely,

Peter Boghossian

 

Colin Parkinson

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Eventually sane people are going to forgo brick and mortar universities. We have our daughter at almost 17 is doing Thompson River University classes online, she is just getting ready to write her 3rd exam in Oct.
 

Colin Parkinson

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True, but Brick and mortar requires a great deal of funds to keep up and online learning means the student bodies and prof have less influence on the students. Hopefully when the universities see the money running away, they smarten up, but it won't be pretty.
 

HiTechComms

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I took Executive education at a large Uni couple years ago while working.. Its a Joke. If you are a driven person Uni is easy, universities are now over run with Admin and support workers, they are a money pit. I might do my Masters but at 17k a year I am having a hard time justifying it, I rather buy another couple motorcycles. Internet is full of educational resources.
 

CBH99

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I took Executive education at a large Uni couple years ago while working.. Its a Joke. If you are a driven person Uni is easy, universities are now over run with Admin and support workers, they are a money pit. I might do my Masters but at 17k a year I am having a hard time justifying it, I rather buy another couple motorcycles. Internet is full of educational resources.
I have a friend living in Germany who is doing her PhD, for free.

She’s Canadian. She’s never lived in Germany before, has no connection to Germany prior to this.

Yet she was able to get a visa quite easily. Her PhD is free (paid for by Germany) - and they even pay her 800eu a month while in school.

To upgrade her studies to a PhD level in Canada was going to cost her about $20,000 for one year of schooling.


Unless attending class is a physical requirement as it very much would be in some professions, I agree. Smaller schools and online courses will continue to gain popularity.
 

QV

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I have a friend living in Germany who is doing her PhD, for free.

She’s Canadian. She’s never lived in Germany before, has no connection to Germany prior to this.

Yet she was able to get a visa quite easily. Her PhD is free (paid for by Germany) - and they even pay her 800eu a month while in school.

To upgrade her studies to a PhD level in Canada was going to cost her about $20,000 for one year of schooling.


Unless attending class is a physical requirement as it very much would be in some professions, I agree. Smaller schools and online courses will continue to gain popularity.
Free to her, but nothing is "free". That PhD education and her monthly stipend is paid by someone, probably the German tax payers.
 

Eaglelord17

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'Education' is quickly becoming anything but useful. Many courses being taught are indoctrination with a pre-determined outcome desired rather than the intent to educate you so you can come to your own conclusions.

We are over-'educating' our society yet decreasing our effectiveness. Right now there is a serious shortage in the trades which is only getting worse and worse. Why? Our apprenticeship programs are trash and aren't designed to be the starting point anymore. Now most places want you to have years of experience/schooling in the field to get the entry level starter position (I needed a two year college program to start a apprenticeship as a simple example).

In some cases the educational requirements work against the employer as well as I know people who can pass two years of schooling without issue but cannot swing a hammer to save their life. I also know people who struggle with tests but can fix any machine with no issues whatsoever, yet they are unable to get a job.

We are short Nurses nationwide, yet we cut out the classic apprenticeships (i.e. hired and started to be trained without any previous training or schooling), and are moaning about how we are short staffed. Here's a idea, get rid of the mandatory schooling, bring back the classic apprenticeships and I guarantee within a decade the staffing crisis we are facing will be gone (unfortunately it will take about a decade to fix the issue at the moment).

Most of our workforce problems are self-inflicted in terms of not being able to find people. The people are there, the standards we requiring for opening positions are the problem. Our education system isn't doing anyone favours anymore, and is becoming what is holding back our society.
 

dimsum

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Right now there is a serious shortage in the trades which is only getting worse and worse. Why? Our apprenticeship programs are trash and aren't designed to be the starting point anymore. Now most places want you to have years of experience/schooling in the field to get the entry level starter position (I needed a two year college program to start a apprenticeship as a simple example).
That's part of it, yes.

The other part is that "blue collar" is seen as not as prestigious as "white collar" - e.g. a carpenter is seen as lesser than an accountant.

There's also a big cultural aspect to it - good luck telling an Indian or Chinese parent that their child should be an electrician rather than an office-worker, despite electricians making up to double (triple?) most office-bound folks.
 

Eaglelord17

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That's part of it, yes.

The other part is that "blue collar" is seen as not as prestigious as "white collar" - e.g. a carpenter is seen as lesser than an accountant.

There's also a big cultural aspect to it - good luck telling an Indian or Chinese parent that their child should be an electrician rather than an office-worker, despite electricians making up to double (triple?) most office-bound folks.
100% but that can be countered by education as well. It is also a flaw in the education system as it is taught pretty much exclusively by people who have only been in the educational system and to them a degree is the means to get a high paying job (its what worked for them). I think it is a large part of why the educational system is getting so out of touch with reality is most don't have any real world experience. The military had the same issue before Afghanistan, it took some hard lessons to shake out the garbage.

Personally I never intended to end up in the trades or doing what I am doing now, but I am very happy I managed to stumble into it. But it isn't a easy path to get into and with the shortages we are currently having (and facing, 400k retiring in the next year and pretty much no replacements available) Canada is in for a rough go.

Its interesting how we have a generation dissatisfied with their jobs who feel like they are accomplishing nothing (i.e. job doesn't have meaning, or your just a little cog in a big machine), when the trades provide immediate satisfaction in that something was broken, and you fixed it. Yet that is the main jobs they have been dissuaded from doing.
 

Brad Sallows

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Too many people bright enough for post-secondary academics want a humanities education (not one of the hard subjects like history, philosophy, literature) leading to a well-paid big-ideas non-profit office job "making a difference".
 

dimsum

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100% but that can be countered by education as well. It is also a flaw in the education system as it is taught pretty much exclusively by people who have only been in the educational system and to them a degree is the means to get a high paying job (its what worked for them). I think it is a large part of why the educational system is getting so out of touch with reality is most don't have any real world experience. The military had the same issue before Afghanistan, it took some hard lessons to shake out the garbage.
Fair, but I'm not sure how that could be prevented. Uni lecturers for even first-year courses probably have at least a Masters, if not PhD in their fields. That would imply that they've spent a significant part of their life in that educational field.

One option would be to require they go on sabbatical to a "work term", for lack of a better phrase, in something that's related. That wouldn't be realistic for some fields.
 

Brad Sallows

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Undergrad plus one year (masters) is enough to teach first and second year. Subjective personal bias is a greater shortcoming than expertise.
 

daftandbarmy

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'Education' is quickly becoming anything but useful. Many courses being taught are indoctrination with a pre-determined outcome desired rather than the intent to educate you so you can come to your own conclusions.

We are over-'educating' our society yet decreasing our effectiveness. Right now there is a serious shortage in the trades which is only getting worse and worse. Why? Our apprenticeship programs are trash and aren't designed to be the starting point anymore. Now most places want you to have years of experience/schooling in the field to get the entry level starter position (I needed a two year college program to start a apprenticeship as a simple example).

In some cases the educational requirements work against the employer as well as I know people who can pass two years of schooling without issue but cannot swing a hammer to save their life. I also know people who struggle with tests but can fix any machine with no issues whatsoever, yet they are unable to get a job.

We are short Nurses nationwide, yet we cut out the classic apprenticeships (i.e. hired and started to be trained without any previous training or schooling), and are moaning about how we are short staffed. Here's a idea, get rid of the mandatory schooling, bring back the classic apprenticeships and I guarantee within a decade the staffing crisis we are facing will be gone (unfortunately it will take about a decade to fix the issue at the moment).

Most of our workforce problems are self-inflicted in terms of not being able to find people. The people are there, the standards we requiring for opening positions are the problem. Our education system isn't doing anyone favours anymore, and is becoming what is holding back our society.

In the past couple of years we've hired three people, all under 30 years old and all with Master's Degrees, who have turned out to be first class. Two of them came right from university.

Something's going right, in some quarters, I would say.
 

Colin Parkinson

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That's part of it, yes.

The other part is that "blue collar" is seen as not as prestigious as "white collar" - e.g. a carpenter is seen as lesser than an accountant.

There's also a big cultural aspect to it - good luck telling an Indian or Chinese parent that their child should be an electrician rather than an office-worker, despite electricians making up to double (triple?) most office-bound folks.
or Persians joining the Civil Service, there was none that i personally knew of in Vancouver which is crawling with them. For them it's all about business. For Indians the "Big three' are lawyer, Doctor or Engineer.
 

Bluebulldog

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100% but that can be countered by education as well. It is also a flaw in the education system as it is taught pretty much exclusively by people who have only been in the educational system and to them a degree is the means to get a high paying job (its what worked for them). I think it is a large part of why the educational system is getting so out of touch with reality is most don't have any real world experience. The military had the same issue before Afghanistan, it took some hard lessons to shake out the garbage.

This.

Unfortunately for the last 30+ years the pathways laid out for young adults have been built by those who often have no "real world" experience. Going from high school, to Uni, to Teachers College and entering the workforce as a teacher, with no degree of mastery in life skills.

Gone are the days of a professional deciding to pivot their career, and do the year in teachers college before entering academics to finish out their career....I saw a scarce few of these before I left high school.

High schools that taught trades were dubbed "half knowledge college" and eventually many of their trades programs were deleted, as they were too costly, or had a higher degree of risk, which school boards were unwilling to bear.

The average age of a brick / stone mason in Ontario is over 50, no one wants to get into those trades, yet anyone who does can now command a kings ransom for their work. Or better yet, try finding an individual or business skilled at doing terazzo floors.....
 

mariomike

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We are over-'educating' our society yet decreasing our effectiveness.
You may have a point.

My department required a high school ( science ) diploma when I hired on.
Then a one-year college certificate. Then a two-year diploma.
Now, recruits have a four-year Honours Bachelor of Science degree.

What effect that has had on effectiveness is debateable.
 
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