Last Friday I wrote about Professor Bret Weinstein, who teaches biology at Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington. Weinstein became the subject of a student protest when he rejected the idea of a Day of Absence in which all white people would be asked to leave campus. In response, a group of angry students marched to his classroom, called him a racist and demanded he be fired. Tuesday Professor Weinstein wrote a piece for the Wall Street Journal in which he describes what happened next:
I was not expecting to hold my biology class in a public park last week. But then the chief of our college police department told me she could not protect me on campus. Protestors were searching cars for an unspecified individual—likely me—and her officers had been told to stand down, against her judgment, by the college president.
It wasn’t just Weinstein’s rejection of the plan for the Day of Absence that made student protesters angry. He also had been critical of a plan initiated by the new college president to make “equity” the most important factor in new faculty hiring. As Weinstein sees it, this changed the balance of power between two factions that exist within academia:
The button-down empirical and deductive fields, including all the hard sciences, have lived side by side with “critical theory,” postmodernism and its perception-based relatives. Since the creation in 1960s and ’70s of novel, justice-oriented fields, these incompatible worldviews have repelled one another. The faculty from these opposing perspectives, like blue and red voters, rarely mix in any context where reality might have to be discussed. For decades, the uneasy separation held, with the factions enduring an unhappy marriage for the good of the (college) kids.
Weinstein objected to the shift to equity-based hiring because he felt it prioritized the concerns of critical theory over the empirical fields (like his own). In an interview with Inside Higher Ed, Weinstein spelled out what the shift to a system based on “equity” could mean in practical terms when hiring someone to teach science:
In an interview, Weinstein said he believes that there are many things colleges can and should do to attract diverse candidates for faculty jobs. But he said the proposal at Evergreen State “subordinates all other characteristics of applicants to one thing.” He said that in the sciences, for example, the rationale for faculty positions is to teach science, not to promote equity or diversity. “The most important thing is that the person in front of the room knows something about the subject and has insight in teaching,” he said.
Jumping back to the Wall Street Journal, Weinstein writes that faculty at Evergreen were presented with an unenviable choice:
This presented traditional independent academic minds with a choice: Accept the plan and let the intellectual descendants of Critical Race Theory dictate the bounds of permissible thought to the sciences and the rest of the college, or insist on discussing the plan’s shortcomings and be branded as racists. Most of my colleagues chose the former, and the protesters are in the process of articulating the terms. I dissented and ended up teaching in the park.
The student protesters demanding dissidents like Weinstein fall in line or be fired don’t want a discussion, they want acquiescence. As Weinstein himself puts it, “These students are engaged in a show of force. In order for this show of force to look to the outside world as reasonable, there cannot be a diversity of opinion about the issues.”