Peter Boghossian resigns from Portland State University (Update)

I think the first time I wrote about Portland State University professor Peter Boghossian was back in March 2018 when he hosted a discussion at his school on intersectionality as a religion. “I hope the irony is not being lost on anyone that three liberal atheists are being sponsored, their event is being sponsored, by the most conservative groups on campus,” he said.

Not long after that I wrote about another event at the University in which Boghossian hosted James Damore, Bret Weinstein and his wife Heather Heying. During that discussion, Heying pointed out that men were, on average, taller than women prompting some students to walk out of the discussion. But true to form, they weren’t content to leave and let others listen. One of the students, a woman with purple hair, yanked some cables out of the PA system on the way out. “You should not listen to fascism. It should not be tolerated in civil society. Nazis are not welcome in civil society,” she explained.

Boghossian’s ability to get under the skin of his illiberal opponents was already becoming clear but it really reached its zenith later in 2018 when he along with James Lindsay and Helen Pluckrose revealed that they had written a series of hoax papers which had fooled a number of “grievance study” journals. In case you’ve forgotten about this here’s a 6-minute video narrated by James Lindsay that really sums it up. You’ll notice that the three authors, including Boghossian are really having a good laugh at the people who fell for these papers.

Not surprisingly, there was a big backlash to this effort. Lindsay and Pluckrose were somewhat insulated from it because they didn’t have jobs working in academia at the time. Boghossian on the other hand was teaching at PSU. A few weeks after the hoax was revealed, Boghossian received a letter from a PSU vice president saying he’d been found guilty of “a clear violation of the policies of your employer.” The school decided that the hoax papers, designed to show the ways in which journals were not rigorous and unable to tell fact from politically correct fiction, were in fact experiments on human subjects and therefore subject to rules about informed consent. They also claimed that by making up the fake papers amounted to fabricating data. Boghossian was warned he could be fired.

A few months later, Boghossian was found guilty of violating protections for human subjects of experiments. He was told he could not carry out any further research without additional training. That was in July of 2019. Today, Boghossian submitted his resignation. He gave a copy of his letter to Bari Weiss who published it on her Substack. Here’s a sample, though the whole thing is worth reading:

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

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…

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…

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.

This is something that Bret Weinstein, formerly of Evergreen State University, has warned about. Speaking of efforts to criticize the new social justice religion he said, “to succeed is to invite something dire coming back.” That’s what happened to Weinstein and his wife and it’s what happened to Boghossian as well.

Update: Not at all surprising.