I recently, and freely, resigned my chair in Catholic Theology at Duke University in response to disciplinary actions initiated by my dean and colleagues. Those disciplinary actions, in turn, were provoked by my words: critical and confrontational words spoken to colleagues in meetings; and hot words written in critique of university policies and practices, in support of particular freedoms of expression and thought, and against legal and disciplinary constraints of those freedoms. My university superiors, the dean and the provost, have been at best lukewarm in their support of these freedoms, preferring to them conciliation and accommodation of their opponents. And so, I reluctantly concluded, the word-struggle, the agony of distinction and argument, the search for clarity by dramatizing and exploring difference—these no longer have the place they once had in the university.He might have had his F. U. money together in any event. But note, it was not one clueless electronic mail too many from an overindulged student that pushed him out. It was not one information technology transition too many that pushed him out. It was not even a request to reschedule classes so students could observe a weeknight soccer game that pushed him out.
Harsh and direct disagreement places thought under pressure. That’s its point. Pressure can be intellectually productive: being forced to look closely at arguments against a beloved position helps those who hold it to burnish and buttress it as often as it moves them to abandon it. 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.
It was the contemporary version of compulsory chapel.
Uh-oh, a "training" session. Anyone who's ever worked for an entity with a human resources department knows what that's going to be like: two very, very long days of "workshops" in which overpaid "training" hucksters—sorry, I meant consultants—haul out the PowerPoint slides and waste your time with yada-yada about multiculturalism, structural racism, microagressions, and whatever else is in the social-justice-warrior weapons cache these days.In this case, it's compulsory chapel that gets in the way of Mass. With the assent of the Diversity Steering Committee and the Mandate of the Provost. Be there or be excommunicated!
So this is what you're being strongly urged to attend. And we all know what "strongly urged" means: Show up or you will pay the price. But at most jobs, the hapless "trainees" at least get to take time off from work to endure this soul-crushing tedium, because the "training" sessions take place on regular working days.Yes, particularly because between rising administrivia and shrinking tenure-line faculties, there are more meetings on school days, and weekends, being between meetings, are opportunities to get work done. Don't you dare question that!
Not so at the Duke Divinity School. March 4 and 5 were a Saturday and Sunday. And then there was that ominous phrase "Phase I." How many more weekends were the Duke Divinity professors supposed to have ruined in order to "proactively understand and address racism"?
It's "racism" and "sexism" to point out that you're likely to expire of boredom while some PowerPointing indoctrinator accuses you of participating in "institutional racism" since the day you drew your first breath?You could object to the enterprise, as Professor Griffith did, or you could bring a copy of Atlas Shrugged or The Bell Curve or Capitalism and Freedom and conspicuously look up counter-arguments to what the indoctrinator is slowly reading aloud whilst you have already comprehended what is on the screen and are flipping to the proper response.
But headquarters, and the faculty sheeple, won't hear of it.
It's hard to figure out what's more appalling about this episode: the ease with which powerful faculty members can strip their colleagues of their ability to do their jobs just because those colleagues exercise free speech and don't sign on to their ideological priorities—or the increasing power of bloated university bureaucracies, especially "diversity" bureaucracies over every facet of existence at a university that is supposed to be devoted to the life of the mind.If, in retirement, Professor Griffith would like to build a railroad in his house, I'll consult on it, pro bono.