Bad Mess at Evergreen

The Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington has earned its renown as an experimental – indeed avant-garde – institution; its ‘progressive’ bona-fides have been warranted as well. Back in the day, I explored the possibility of taking a faculty position in entrepreneurship there. Although it didn’t come through, this institution has remained close to my heart.

A recent controversy at Evergreen has made national news and has placed at least one professor as well as students and staff in potential peril. From the New York Times:

[Professor Bret] Weinstein, who identifies himself as “deeply progressive,” is just the kind of teacher that students at one of the most left-wing colleges in the country would admire. Instead, he has become a victim of an increasingly widespread campaign by leftist students against anyone who dares challenge ideological orthodoxy on campus.

This professor’s crime? He had the gall to challenge a day of racial segregation.

A bit of background: The “Day of Absence” is an Evergreen tradition that stretches back to the 1970s. As Mr. Weinstein explained on Wednesday in The Wall Street Journal, “in previous years students and faculty of color organized a day on which they met off campus — a symbolic act based on the Douglas Turner Ward play in which all the black residents of a Southern town fail to show up one morning.” This year, the script was flipped: “White students, staff and faculty will be invited to leave campus for the day’s activities,” reported the student newspaper on the change. The decision was made after students of color “voiced concern over feeling as if they are unwelcome on campus, following the 2016 election.”

Mr. Weinstein thought this was wrong. The biology professor said as much in a letter to Rashida Love, the school’s Director of First Peoples Multicultural Advising Services. “There is a huge difference between a group or coalition deciding to voluntarily absent themselves from a shared space in order to highlight their vital and under-appreciated roles,” he wrote, “and a group or coalition encouraging another group to go away.” The first instance, he argued, “is a forceful call to consciousness.” The second “is a show of force, and an act of oppression in and of itself.”

Seattle’s The Stranger reports on the “campus lockdown” ordered at Evergreen late this week “after local law enforcement officials received a call with a “direct threat to campus safety'”:

Student activists say they’ve been unfairly maligned. “While it is probably true that some of our strategies were very passionate, they were also peaceful,” an Evergreen student, who wished to remain anonymous, wrote in an e-mail. “And while it might be true there was some ‘harassment’ (a subjective term), it was on the lines of condemnation and scorn, rather than threats and stalking.”

One student, who asked to remain anonymous out of safety concerns, said death threats to campus activists followed Weinstein’s media appearances. “A swastika appeared on campus. Student personal information was published on 4chan channels and other neo-Nazi and violent racist internet communities,” the student told The Stranger.

Said another student: “Calling these people ‘Weinstein supporters’ would be irresponsible of me. These people are mostly organized racists from off campus that use internet presence, anonymity, and misinformation to disrupt a narrative, and the threat of violence to suppress those who would fight back.”

Professor Weinstein fears that his and other students have been placed at risk:

On Twitter, [he] claimed that his student supporters were being threatened online by his critics. He subsequently tweeted: “I’m told people are doxing those that protested against me. I don’t know if it’s true. If it is, *please stop.* No good can come from that.” The biology instructor also said that Evergreen campus police warned him that he was “not safe on campus. They can not protect me.”

Student demonstrators refuted Weinstein’s claims that their supporters had attempted to dox the teacher’s supporters. They believe the media’s focus on Weinstein is a distraction from their chief concern: ongoing issues revolving around racism, sexism, and transphobia at Evergreen.

Many of Weinstein’s faculty colleagues want him punished.

Look at Bret Weinstein’s “Rate My Professors” page.

Here are some of the demands from students who objected to Weinstein’s published statements .

A member of the State Legislature has introduced a bill to de-fund and privatize Evergreen.

As a professor and as a person with many fond memories of the energetic intellectual and moral debates I shared or witnessed as a young student at SUNY/Buffalo and Stanford University, I find this Evergreen mess dismaying to the point of heartbreak.

h/t LH

5 Comments»

  Sunday Link Encyclopedia  | Clarissa's Blog wrote @

[…] I agree with Bob Basil that what’s happening in Evergreen is an absolute disgrace. This is what happens when you begin to treat students like customers and promote a consumerist vision of higher ed. I especially recommend the video of the head manager, aka the school’s president, allowing angry consumers, aka students, to throw tantrums in his face as he licks their consumerist shoes.  […]

  sanjose61 wrote @

I don’t see where Basil has said anything is “an absolute disgrace.” What he does say is that what’s happening at Evergreen is “dismaying to the point of heartbreak” by which I believe he means that well-intentioned Evergreeners occupy both sides of this issue… that it’s sad that people who otherwise are like-minded and share many of the same values have taken positions against each other. As I see it the secondary issue is that outside agitators have entered the fray. But it seems that the root cause of this conflict is confusion as to what it means to be liberal.

I’d like Mr. Basil to give more of his thoughts on this issue.

  Robert Basil wrote @

sanjose61, I’m grateful for your nuanced comment – thank you.

I concur with Professor Weinstein that it was inappropriate to “encourage” white students, faculty, and staff to leave the Evergreen Campus so that students of colour could have it to themselves for the “Day of Absence.” (I note that the students organizing the Day of Absence used the word “invite” rather than “encourage”; there is some daylight separating the two words.)

The letter by faculty denouncing Weinstein was indeed “disgraceful,” to share Clarissa’s word. Indeed, such a response by them was unfathomable to me – a rhetorically violent violation of academic freedom.

I teach conflict resolution to my advanced communications classes at Kwantlen, and a key theme is de-escalation. Nobody involved in this mess seems to have been focusing on that. Professor Weinstein’s suggestion that the campus community “put phenotype aside and reject this new formulation” and his offer to host “a discussion of race on campus through a scientific/evolutionary lens” were tin-eared proposals at best. The group organizing the “Day of Absence” had specifically noted how students of colour at Evergreen have felt unsafe on campus since the election of Donald Trump. Gazing at this predicament through a scientific or evolutionary lens would not have been edifying.

  Z wrote @

On Evergreen as left wing / alternative: I can remember when it was founded. It was marketed as alternative, yes, but it has always had serious governance issues with structural causes, and everyone I knew who went there found it flaky (and they weren’t conservatives). I have some friends on the faculty now and there are other people I respect, but I would really think twice about working there if left / alternative is what you want (and if you want to avoid the perils of small community cliiquishness).

  sanjose61 wrote @

Robert Basil, thanks for adding some editorial comments to your original blog post.

It is a sad state of affairs… that a professor who has a track record of advocating for people of color (and their allies) is being excoriated by those people for not complying wholeheartedly with their misguided wishes.

The emotionally and intellectually callow have been given free reign for too long. Don’t student groups have faculty advisors anymore?

To Clarissa, I agree that the college administration’s forsaking of Weinstein is disgraceful but I don’t understand your consumer analogy. Aren’t the “white students” also consumers? Isn’t it possible if not likely that by siding with Rashida Love’s group that the administration will alienate and offend those students/consumers (very possibly a majority of the student body) that don’t agree with the position and actions of Love’s group?

Unfortunately I don’t have a better explanation for the administration’s actions beyond saying that minimally they’re the result of spinelessness and the lack of a calibrated moral compass.


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