I’ve Been Fired. If You Value Academic Freedom, That Should Worry You

I’ve Been Fired. If You Value Academic Freedom, That Should Worry You. By Bo Winegrad.

Until a week ago, I was a tenure-track assistant professor at a small college. Then I was fired. …

The truthful heresy:

My troubles began in October 2019 when I was invited to address an evolutionary group at the University of Alabama. I had decided that I would discuss human population variation, the hypothesis that human biological differences are at least partially produced by different environments selecting for different physical and psychological traits in their populations over time. I planned to defend this view as most consistent with a Darwinian understanding of the world. …

Not all large groups of people have identical statistics. (Some, for instance, have more melanin, but that’s too obvious for the left to deny.) There, said it.

The Q and A that followed was quite rowdy, however — one of the students yelled that I was a racist and someone else accused me of promoting the long-discredited pseudoscience of phrenology. And so on. It was not an especially cordial or constructive exchange of ideas.

Shortly after my talk, the student newspaper published a clearly slanted article about the event that casually quoted anonymous criticism that my work “resembles the pseudoscience employed by eugenicists.” This criticism was completely irrelevant to my talk, in which I never discussed anything resembling “eugenics,” and was likely included to poison the study of human biological variation by associating it with other unsavory intellectual traditions.

The group that invited me to speak also issued an unconditional apology to attendees of my talk and vowed to do better. My lecture, they explained, was “non-scientific” (it formed the basis for an article that passed three reviewers at a professional psychology journal) and they had been unaware of what I planned to say (I had provided them with an outline of my talk at least two months in advance, which they had approved). And as soon as controversy arose, they denounced me and my expressed views (most of which are undisputed in the relevant literature), and explained that the invitation they had extended had been a mistake. …

The collective controls the means of production (sounds like Karl Marx so far)… of ideas!

My situation might strike you as trivial and insignificant. And, indeed, I am insignificant. But my firing is not. I did not enjoy the protection of tenure (I was, however, tenure-track), but we should not rely upon tenure to uphold free inquiry. Academic health is not served by a message that tenure can only be secured by those prepared to embrace political orthodoxies. After all, if tenure is intended to protect people who challenge dogmas and orthodoxies, why would we support a system that punishes non-conformists and that sieves them out before they are capable of safely challenging prevailing views? …

unless we can agree on the foundational value of academic freedom, all scholars will become vulnerable to ideologically motivated punishment. Science, the great intellectual achievement of civilization, will become the servant of politics.

Too late, modern bureaucratic “science” is already the servant of politics.

I followed all of the protocols of academia. I published articles in peer-reviewed journals. I shared my ideas, always politely, on Twitter, and I encouraged people to debate me and to criticize my ideas. And I was fired. If it can happen to me, then it can happen to any academic who challenges the prevailing views of their discipline.