More Social Justice At Work

Another day, another example of social justice advocates on the attack:

A Duke University theology professor resigned this week following disciplinary action taken against him by the school. This, after the professor had excoriated diversity training sessions suggested by the university as “intellectually flaccid.”

A series of emails published by The American Conservative reveals that 61-year-old professor Paul Griffiths, who teaches Catholic theology at Duke, took umbrage by an invitation urging all divinity school faculty to partake in two full days of “racial equity” training this past March.

There are more details of this episode here.

Let’s focus on the most interesting angle. Here is what Professor Griffiths wrote:

I exhort you not to attend this training. Don’t lay waste your time by doing so. It’ll be, I predict with confidence, intellectually flaccid: there’ll be bromides, clichés, and amen-corner rah-rahs in plenty. When (if) it gets beyond that, its illiberal roots and totalitarian tendencies will show. Events of this sort are definitively anti-intellectual. (Re)trainings of intellectuals by bureaucrats and apparatchiks have a long and ignoble history; I hope you’ll keep that history in mind as you think about this instance.

And here is how Dean Elaine Heath spun his words:

It is certainly appropriate to use mass emails to share announcements or information that is helpful to the larger community, such as information about the REI training opportunity. It is inappropriate and unprofessional to use mass emails to make disparaging statements–including arguments ad hominem–in order to humiliate or undermine individual colleagues or groups of colleagues with whom we disagree. The use of mass emails to express racism, sexism, and other forms of bigotry is offensive and unacceptable, especially in a Christian institution.

It’s always interesting to see postmodernists insist that their interpretation of a text is the One True Way to interpret things (given that postmodernists deny this is even possible).

For I see no ad hominem argument designed to humiliate and undermine Anathea Portier-Young (the professor who sent out the message on the training sessions).  I see Griffith as speaking out against the general notion of such “training” sessions without specifically targeting Portier-Young.  What’s even worse is that Griffith’s email contains no sexism or racism, yet the Dean felt free to characterize it as such.  I find such labeling to be intellectually dishonest.  For where is the evidence of such racism and sexism in Griffiths’ email?

I think this example highlights one of the most disturbing elements of social justice ideology.  Clearly, Griffiths’ email angered Dean Heath.  And this anger was sufficient cause for someone who claims to be a Christian while also having a PhD to literally import “sexism and racism” into the mouth of another colleague.  In other words, such accusations are nothing more than weapons being used to carry out retribution all because of disagreement.  Such primitive behavior betrays the core values of academia and further illustrates its decline.

Of course, there could be more happening behind the scenes and there could be some history behind these interactions.  But for those of us who value critical thinking and intellectually honesty, none of that excuses the willingness to misrepresent another’s words/argument as “sexism and racism.”

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4 Responses to More Social Justice At Work

  1. mechanar says:

    why are we even using words anymore if it dosent matter what or how someone says things?

  2. pennywit says:

    I can see where Professor Portier-Young would consider this a personal attack. If you’ve spent hours and hours putting together a program and somebody calls it “intellectually flaccid,” complains of “bromides, clichés, and amen-corner rah-rahs,” and calls it “totalitarian,” it’s pretty damn insulting. It feels like the person is heaping scorn both on you and your work.

    In turn, I think Dean Heath was entirely within bounds to call it out as a personal attack and tell him to tone down the hyperbole. But unless Professor Griffiths has a history of racism or sexism outside of this email thread, I don’t think it was appropriate to characterize his emails as such. He was certainly condescending, dismissive, aggressive, and grouchy, but I don’t see racism or sexism.

    Now, all of that said, this spun way, way out of control. I could see Portier-Young turning to the dean for support if she were a recently minted professor, and not used to dealing with more established members of the academy. But Portier-Young’s CV implies that she’s been in academia since the mid 1990s. If that’s so, then she ought to have the thicker skin that most professionals develop with experience. Rather than run to the dean and file a harassment complaint, she should have challenged him pubicly. Admit he’s right. Agree to disagree. Tell him he was insulting and demand an apology. Tell him he’s wrong. Challenge him to attend the workshop. Hell, she could even have responded with something to the effect of “outdated opinions.”

    Debate him. Engage him. And maybe even make him eat his words. Not pull this crap.

    Incidentally, Griffith’s has resigned in the wake of disciplinary action.

  3. It’s one thing for someone not to believe in God or the Christian conception of God. It seems a whole other thing for Christianity, particularly Roman Catholicism, to be interpreted in the light of the modern world. I hear this a lot with the Catholic Church being told it needs to “evolve” on all manner of things; sexuality, marriage, divorce, gender, abortion and euthanasia. When the call to evolve comes from within the Church, it makes you wonder what the point is of believing. If otherwise immutable teachings – particularly those with the backing of scripture and tradition – are no longer needed, what was their value to begin with? Can a single thing be taken as true? There would then exist, for lack of better term, a Gnostic or hidden truth in Christianity, which seems contradictory because the New Testament is written with a pretty definitive mindset. St. Paul’s admonitions against homosexual behavior are no more or less binding than they are against adultery or fornication or drunkeness. I wonder about this as more Catholics would like to bend the Church to the way of the 21st Century West. It’s bizarre. Church then becomes a social club, not a way of living. I think one has to do some serious mental gymnastics to try to justify licentious behaviour with the New Testament.

  4. Ilíon says:

    For I see no ad hominem argument designed to humiliate and undermine …

    And that isn’t even what ad hominem means, in any event.

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