Tag: on campus

Evergrowing Evergreen

My desire to learn more about Evergreen State College continues – for this post, I looked at two news sources: The Chronicle of Higher Education and The Washington Post. The Chronicle article was written on June 2nd by Chris Quintana, and the Post article was written the same day by Susan Svrlunga and Joe Heim. The Chronicle is a well-regarded newspaper pertaining specifically to postsecondary education, and the Post is a left-leaning news site that covers a myriad of topics. My previous comments on the situation at Evergreen State College can be found here and here. Before going in and reading these topics, I have some hypotheses about what I will find. Because the Chronicle is read by professors, deans, administrators, and the like, it will focus more on the college administration. Because the Post is somewhat “trendy” and left-leaning, it will give some focus to students.

My goal here is to compare how the situation is handled in the Chronicle and Post as compared to the Times and Wall Street Journal. The Times and the Wall Street Journal were both supportive of biology professor Bret Weinstein, who protested when organizers for the yearly Day of Absence at Evergreen asked that white students and faculty leave campus for a day. According to Weinstein, “On a college campus, one’s right to speak — or to be — must never be based on skin color.” Weinstein’s protest led to students of color rising in outrage and calling for his dismissal from the institution, calling him a white supremacist and racist.

The Chronicle article uses the word ‘brouhaha’ in the first sentence, which made me like it right off the bat (I like silly words). The author states that someone threatened to come to campus while armed, and it was unclear whether the caller had any connection to recent student protests. According to the article, different media outlets have called the situation an extreme case of political correctness. The article uses Evergreen professor of economics Peter Dorman as a source for the story, but neglects to hear from students. According to Dorman, the reality on campus is more complicated than just being an extreme case of political correctness: “It’s fair to say there’s a lot of polarization on campus…. No one was required to do anything; it was all about invitation…A lot of the behavior on all sides has been unhelpful.” Quintana focuses on the college president’s response; he was willing to listen to student complaints and was being responsive. The Chronicle seems to be somewhat supportive of the college administration at this point. The Chronicle includes a bit of information that other news sources I read neglected to mention – organizers asked white people to voluntarily leave rather than telling them. This article cited a student representative, and they said that “a professor chose to misrepresent the nature of the events” and then called on the president of the college to publicly condemn Professor Weinstein. The main source of this article is Dorman, who says that the faculty is divided in their opinion of the situation. A good quote from this article is:

“Bret Weinstein’s decision to take his case to Fox News was regarded as quite negative, probably by most people on campus. We have a sense that the people Bret talked to and who took advantage of his comments are people who don’t wish us well and don’t want to see us succeed in any event. There’s a bad feeling from that.”

As I suspected, the Chronicle focuses more on the administration and faculty of Evergreen, which is not surprising given the nature of the publication. I didn’t learn much from this that I didn’t already know, except that faculty are divided.

The Post article started with the same set of information about the threat to campus. They summarized the situation well:

“Last week, students of color confronted a professor who had objected to a request by school officials that white people consider avoiding campus on a day of discussions about race. They called him racist and angrily demanded that he be fired.”

The Post includes a YouTube video of students protesting. This has not appeared on the other news sources I’ve looked at, which makes it a nice and welcome change. In the video, students kept talking over one another and who I assume to be some kind of Dean. When the college faculty person asks students to give him some privacy due to his claustrophobia, they refuse and one student adds that “students of color have to work in grinding environments every day.” The video is hard to watch because much of it sounds like whining – though this could be my white privilege talking.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yo-BGLoCDZU&w=560&h=315]

The authors then discuss backlash against both the students and the school; either the school supports racism or the students protesting should be expelled. One student involved with the protests wrote that “our movement against police brutality & campus racism got co-opted by an angry white man.” Students demanded that the school fire several people, including Weinstein, who – according to the article – earlier in the year had criticized the school’s equity action plan for not being beneficial enough to students of color and is now being deemed a racist.

The Post did something none of the other news organizations did – it used a student as a source. This particular student said that she didn’t think Weinstein’s email had racist intent and that media coverage saying students took over the school are conflated.

We finally see some facet of the perspective of the students! It’s still not quite enough, as I think that the video shown may have been edited to make the students look bad. I would be interested to see what exactly the student leaders of the protest are saying about this situation, and what will happen at Evergreen in the future.

The Left Keeps Turning – Revisiting Evergreen Through FAIR

In this post, I am going to go back to the Evergreen State College controversy, described in detail in my post “When The Left Turns On Its Own.” FAIR, a left-wing media criticism site, recently covered this situation and I am interested in their take on the story.

The article begins with a discussion of issues of on campus free speech. According to the article, the news media is quick to anger about censorship of right-wing speakers but is silent or near silent about censorship of left-wing activists. He points out the preponderance of media coverage of Ann Coulter being prevented from speaking and the lack of coverage surrounding the perspective of the Evergreen State College student protesters. According to the author, campus free speech is treated differently “when you’re on the left.”

After this, the author gives some background to the Evergreen State College controversy. This account is different from that of the New York Times in that it clearly supports the student protesters over professor Weinstein. The author says that “marginalized communities suggested white students and faculty leave campus” for the annual Day of Absence, and then goes on to talk about how much “fun” the Day of Absence is for participants. The author places all blame for the heated atmosphere at Evergreen on those who didn’t agree with being told to leave:

Some in the Evergreen community, however, heard the call for the altered event as a demand – and their reaction made things worse.

The author clearly does not like Bret Weinstein, the biology professor who refused to leave on the Day of Absence. Weinstein did not appreciate being told to leave, and let the Evergreen community know his position. The article goes on to talk about how Fox News, the Wall Street Journal, and the New York Times all covered Weinstein’s side of events but never the student protesters. Personally, I can see why it would be hard to ask students for their position; usually a protest like this won’t have a central voice and will have many internally conflicting opinions. However, that does not mean that student protesters should not be given the chance to speak their mind.

Overall, I was not as impressed with this article as the one in the New York Times; for one thing, it is hypocritical. It talks about how no media outlet has talked to the student protesters, then still only focuses on Weinstein and not the students of Evergreen. The middle of FAIR’s article was somewhat suspect in that it draws a link between a white supremacist attack and the events on Evergreen’s campus (also suspect is the author’s insistence on repeatedly mentioning unrelated Palestinian activism while clearly pejorative of a Jewish man, but I won’t get into that). After my last post, I was intrigued to find out more about the students’ perspective, and I am still left in the dark. I am still only seeing mudslinging from one side of the argument to another with no input from students at Evergreen. This particular article seems to be highly critical of a singular figure, with criticism of the news media taking a backseat.

I am not impressed with this particular piece from FAIR. Hopefully, the next piece will be more illuminating.

When the Left Turns On its Own

On June 1st, the New York Times published an article titled “When the Left Turns on Its Own,” written by guest columnist Bari Weiss. This is part of a series of opinion articles called “On Campus.” The article starts out with a description of a newly controversial person: professor Bret Weinstein of Evergreen State College. Weinstein supported Bernie Sanders, supported Occupy Wall Street, and identifies as “deeply progressive.” The article does not state, however, that he is also a critic of how the left handles itself.

 

 

The article is clearly defending Weinstein, as evidenced by the title and some quotes throughout the piece. These quotes from the article showcase this bias:

  • “He had the gall to challenge a day of racial segregation”
  • “It was an act of moral bullying – to stay on campus as a white person would mean to be tarred as a racist.”
  • “Yet reasonable debate has made itself absent at Evergreen.”

Weinstein was challenging a “Day of Absence” that has been a campus tradition since the 1970s. Traditionally, students and faculty of color would organize a day that they would all take off. This year, white students were to leave. Apparently, this decision was made “after student of color ‘voiced concern over feeling as if they are unwelcome on campus, following the 2016 election.'” Weinstein did not agree with the decision.

“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.”

I am inclined to agree with Weinstein in this case. By participating in this tradition, by the context shown in the article, white students would be showing that they would rather students of color go away.

However, the article fails to make it clear that the decision to have white students leave was not made by white students, but by students of color. This high highlighted in Weinstein’s quote above, and makes the quote clearer.

The article takes time to point out that a social experiment like a Day of Absence could be enlightening by showing the lack of diversity on campus. However, the author only gives a sentence to this thought, and it could have been left out without much change to the story itself.

After protesting the Day of Absence, Weinstein has been called a white supremacist, has been told he would not be sage on campus, and had to hold classes in a public park. (The author uses this as an opportunity to make an unnecessary comment on safe spaces).

The final paragraph of the article likens the experience of Weinstein to the experiences of conservative speakers. By doing this, the author is equating the “deeply progressive” Weinstein with conservative speaker Heather MacDonald, who defends police violence and frequently criticizes Black Lives Matter.

I was not fully satisfied with the information given in the article, so I found information elsewhere so I could see the story from a larger scope. This included buying a 2-month subscription to the Wall Street Journal, reading the LA Times, and going through Bret Weinstein’s very confusing Twitter feed. The LA Times article is linked above, in reference to Heather MacDonald, and Weinstein’s tweets are embedded above.

What I found interesting is that Weinstein himself published an opinion article on the situation in the Wall Street Journal. The WSJ leans conservative, which makes it an odd choice for a progressive to speak. Weinstein’s opinion article was published by the Wall Street Journal on May 30th. 

Weinstein starts off by describing his environment. He talks about holding class in a public park and how protesters were searching cars for him. Weinstein points out that he has been teaching at the institution since 2003. He describes the history of the Day of Absence, and points out that this year, white students and faculty were asked to leave.

“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 . . . and a group or coalition encouraging another group to go away,” I wrote. “On a college campus, one’s right to speak—or to be—must never be based on skin color.”

The quote from Weinstein above is again in this article, and makes more sense in this context. He is saying that there’s a difference between people voluntarily removing themselves for a day and asking another group to leave.

Weinstein then talks about the way Evergreen teaches – with full academic years rather than semesters – and then decides to talk about George Bridges. George Bridges is the president of Evergreen State College.

His vision as an administrator involved reducing professorial autonomy, increasing the size of his administration, and breaking apart Evergreen’s full-time programs. But the faculty, which plays a central role in the college’s governance, would never have agreed to these changes. So Mr. Bridges tampered with the delicate balance between the sciences and humanities…

Weinstein paints the administration of the college as an organization aiming to divide and conquer the faculty.

After reading both articles and going through Weinstein’s Twitter feed, I lean towards siding with Weinstein. However, I have not seen videos from protesters, so my view of the situation is biased. From what I have read, Weinstein is objecting to the demand from one group that another leave campus. This should not be a controversial statement. It is common for people (liberals included) to take things at face value or misinterpret them, so Weinstein’s comments on “A Day of Absence” may have fallen prey to misinterpretation. In any case, it will be interesting to see how this plays out.