Williams College is one of the most exclusive and expensive liberal arts colleges in the country. It also has a reputation as a heavily left-leaning school and it has been living up to that reputation lately. Three weeks ago the student government refused to approve the creation of a pro-Israel student group on campus, a decision which even the college’s president felt was improperly decided on partisan grounds.
The Atlantic published a piece Tuesday by a biology professor at Williams College who offers her perspective on how students at the school have changed in the past couple of years, coinciding with Trump’s election. Luana Maroja said she never had any trouble teaching students about basic biological concepts like heritability before, but now some of her students are putting their social justice ideology ahead of science:
The trouble began when we discussed the notion of heritability as it applies to human intelligence. (Heritability is the degree to which offspring genetically resemble their parents; the concept can apply not only to physical traits, but also to behavioral ones.) In a classroom discussion, I noted that researchers have measured a large average difference in IQ between the inhabitants of the United States and those of my home country, Brazil. I challenged the supposed intelligence differential between Americans and Brazilians. I asked students to think about the limitations of the data, which do not control for environmental differences, and explained that the raw numbers say nothing about whether observed differences are indeed “inborn”—that is, genetic…
In class, though, some students argued instead that it is impossible to measure IQ in the first place, that IQ tests were invented to ostracize minority groups, or that IQ is not heritable at all. None of these arguments is true. In fact, IQ can certainly be measured, and it has some predictive value. While the score may not reflect satisfaction in life, it does correlate with academic success. And while IQ is very highly influenced by environmental differences, it also has a substantial heritable component; about 50 percent of the variation in measured intelligence among individuals in a population is based on variation in their genes. Even so, some students, without any evidence, started to deny the existence of heritability as a biological phenomenon.
Similar biological denialism exists about nearly any observed difference between human groups, including those between males and females. Unfortunately, students push back against these phenomena not by using scientific arguments, but by employing an a priori moral commitment to equality, anti-racism, and anti-sexism. They resort to denialism to protect themselves from having to confront a worldview they reject—that certain differences between groups may be based partly on biology. This denialism manifests itself at times in classroom discussions and in emails in which students explain at length why I should not be teaching the topic.
It’s difficult to imagine the arrogance of an 18 or 19-year-old student telling their professor she ought not to be teaching. But that sort of arrogance seems par for the course when it comes to campus Social Justice Warriors.
This is something that Bret Weinstein, a former biology teacher at a similarly progressive school, has warned about. The students are getting these verities from the humanities departments and trying to apply them to everything, including the sciences. It sets up an inevitable showdown where what can be discussed about what is becomes limited by student conceptions of what should be. Ultimately, one side or the other will have to give. At Evergreen State College, the same dynamic was operating during the student riots and resulted in graffiti about white supremacy on the science building:
During the @EvergreenStCol riots, students of color were chastised as traitors for studying science, science faculty were hunted, and you ordered campus police to stay out of it. Don't pretend this graffiti is surprising. These are your chickens, home to roost.
— Bret Weinstein (@BretWeinstein) March 9, 2018
Eventually, Weinstein and his wife (also a biology teacher) were encouraged to leave and accepted a settlement. I would not be surprised to see Professor Maroja come under attack from far left students now that she has written this piece.
Update: It looks like Professor Maroja has already done some sparring with campus radicals.