Inside Higher Ed and The Chronicle of Higher Education both reported last month that an independent scholar told a black professor at an academic conference for classicists that he only got his job because he is black. (The professor later said publicly “I should have been hired because I was black.”)
That scholar is now telling her side of the story (aided by video), and it directly contradicts media reports.
Mary Frances Williams writes in Quillette that she told Dan-El Padilla Peralta, a classics professor at Princeton, that she assumed he got his job based on his merit, not his race.
The classics Ph.D. and former professor provides the context that media reports left out about the strange “discussion” panel she attended at last month’s Society for Classical Studies meeting:
A typical session at the SCS Annual Meeting involves six speakers giving papers, with a few minutes for one or two questions after each one, and usually lasts two-and-three-quarter hours. … However, this particular panel/workshop was atypical: the invited speakers, who only spoke for four or five minutes apiece, did not give true papers or have paper titles listed in the program, and therefore did not go through the Program Committee. Nor were they sponsored by any affiliated group as far as I know. … In short, it was an odd affair that seemed not to follow the (admittedly Byzantine) rules for SCS Meetings.
Frances Williams became concerned by the direction the speakers were going – prioritizing diversity and inclusion and popularity over “the heart and soul” of the discipline, Greek and Latin.
She finally spoke up after Peralta complained that the organizers microaggressed people of color by holding the conference in San Diego and “apparently” called for classics journals to stop publishing white men:
Padilla said nothing about merit, the content of the article in question, or how it was reasoned. He said that articles by white men should be excluded from consideration, regardless of their merit, if members of other ethnic or racial groups submitted work for publication at the same time.
Surely, this is just straightforward racism? Yet in response to these remarks, the entire audience of classicists applauded.
Frances Williams went up to a microphone during Q&A to defend classics as the foundation of Western civilization among other points, but speakers and audience members tried to cut her off. That’s when she said what has been twisted and misrepresented by both detractors and media, and led Peralta to say she affirms “white supremacy.” (She takes the mic at 45 minutes, but embedded video isn’t queuing correctly.)
In the hope of making my position clearer—that race should not be a determining factor when it comes to assessing the value of scholarship—I said to Padilla, “You may have got your job because you’re black, but I’d prefer to think you got your job because of merit.” Admittedly, I was under stress and did not express myself as clearly as I might have done, but what I was trying to convey is that the principle he was advocating clearly didn’t apply to hiring decisions—and nor should it—because he had got his job on merit, not because he’s black. Indeed, if I thought the opposite, and I imagined there was a chance of him saying, “You’re right, I was only hired because I’m black,” that would have contradicted the point I was trying to make, which is that it would have been wrong to hire him based only on his race, just as it would be wrong for an academic journal to publish an article based on the race of its author.
What happened next was predictable: The director of the society banned her from the final day of the conference for “hostility or abuse” toward Peralta. Frances Williams was defamed again by the president in a society-wide email, falsely claiming she told Peralta he got his job because he was black.
The Association of Ancient Historians also fired her as assistant editor of its newsletter because of her purported opposition to “diversity.” When Frances Williams demanded an apology and revocation of sanctions by the society, it responded that she had “disrespected” Peralta and caused him “emotional distress”:
In sum, “academic freedom” is selective, free speech does not exist at the SCS, and I am not protected under the SCS harassment policy even though I was harassed, bullied and intimidated.
The College Fix has separately asked Inside Higher Ed and the Chronicle if they will issue corrections or at least update their articles with Frances Williams’ explanation of her comments.