The email below written by Professor Klainerman on June 28, during the turbulent weeks that followed the death of George Floyd, addresses the fear that many faculty members had at that time that the President would give in to calls for mandatory training courses on diversity and so called ``unconscious bias.’’ Such calls were already in the air before the infamous July 4 faculty letter.
Subject: Re: academic freedom
This has been a difficult time for us all, and I want to start by saying that I hope you and your family are well and by thanking you for your leadership role in support of academic freedom at Princeton and nationwide. You were an unwavering supporter when my colleagues and I asked that Princeton adopt the principles of academic freedom and freedom of expression that the faculty at the University of Chicago had already decided were essential to the educational mission of a university. We are stronger for having the “Chicago principles.”
Now, a little over five years later, illiberal passions—justified, as they always seem to be, in the name of a higher common good—are once more threatening freedom of thought and speech in academic institutions both in the United States and abroad. As an example of these passions, I cite the strident demands all of us are hearing that students, faculty, and staff participate in mandatory “training courses” on diversity and unconscious bias. This pernicious idea is reminiscent of mind-control techniques used by Stalinists and Maoists in the past as well as of present-day indoctrination campaigns against the Uighurs and Tibetans in China. For me personally, it brings back my direct experience of life in Romania.
I was born in Romania to a Jewish family whose members, at a time of great peril for the Jewish community, embraced Communism as a form of salvation both before and during the Second World War. At the heart of Communism lay a doctrine of radical equality and social justice that was in complete contradiction to the idea of individual freedoms. My parents, along with many other well-intended Eastern European victims, believed that only Communism had the power to save the word from war, exploitation, racism, and economic injustice. Unfortunately, as most people now understand, what Communism produced was not only an unfree society but one in which poverty, exploitation, and a new and more insidious kind of inequity ran rampant. Justice was regularly corrupted to serve the interests of the regime, or rather its new elite at the top; constant fear of war and of subversion from within was used as a justification for never-ending repression.
It was a terrible time. All forms of resistance to the goals of the Communist state were deemed to be either reactionary or the consequence of “false consciousness,” i.e. unconscious bias in favor of false ideas, as deemed by the Party. The first type of resistance was repressed by prisons, forced-labor camps, and death, while the second was thought to be controllable by means of a vast, indeed unprecedented, array of education and re-education tools that were deployed in schools, universities, working places and just about everywhere in the society. But—as again most people now understand—none of this produced the “New Man” the Communists envisaged but instead led to widespread apathy, resentment, dissimulation, cynicism, and hypocrisy. The total failure of these policies became painfully obvious when, after the fall of Communism in Eastern Europe, the region experienced an ugly spasm of ethnic and racial violence. Under pressure to conform, people chose instead to pretend to conform while allowing themselves the freedom to think whatever they pleased, which was often in opposition to the monolithic viewpoint they publicly professed. Nothing is more at odds with what we consider to be a liberal education.
I have learned from the sad history of my parents, who ended up feeling utterly betrayed by the system, that societies that sacrifice freedom in the name of other principles are doomed to get neither. I have also learned how easy it is to pervert seemingly good intentions into a repressive system in which neither freedom nor justice nor equality is to be found. I understand all too well and feel viscerally the wisdom of the aphorism “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.”
It is because I know that you, too, care about academic freedom that I am taking the liberty of writing to you now. I hope and believe that you will share my deeply felt revulsion over any kind of awareness training, e.g. for unconscious bias, whether at the institutional or departmental level. But this is emphatically not to say that we should ignore the many pressing issues that face our nation and the world. On the contrary. In a period when “diversity” often seems to mean the opposite—uniformity rather than heterodoxy—I suggest that Princeton lead by example by promoting a University-wide celebration of freedom of speech in which people representing different points of view engage in reasoned and respectful discussion and debate the most pressing issues facing the nation. Such a celebration would remind everyone that the academic mission is to search for and promote the truth, not to trumpet views based in ideology rather than facts. Nor should we gloss over the matter that the very efficacy of training, never mind the ethics, is in doubt since this strategy may lead people to double down on their beliefs rather than exhibit the open-mindedness that characterizes the good and just society all Princetonians desire.
P.S. I cc this letter to the Provost and Dean of the faculty. I am also sharing the letter with some of my colleagues whom I know are committed to preserving the freedoms we need to conduct our scholarship and research as well as teach our classes with integrity and open mindedness. I would be grateful to hear any comments from you, the Provost Dean of the Faculty and my colleagues .
P.S. There are apparently regultaions preventing me to send the e-mail to more than 30 recipients so I am sending two e-mails with the same content with different groups of people