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Portland State University put ‘gag order’ on professor’s video exposing academic censorship

University ‘put a gag order on our video of a public meeting at a public university on a public YouTube channel’

Portland State University officials recently filed a copyright strike against a professor’s video that attempted to expose what he calls an effort to shut down academic freedom.

The video, produced by PSU Professor Bruce Gilley, was made to accompany his new report titled “The New Censorship in American Higher Education: Insights from Portland State University,” and included snippets from a publicly available video of a recent faculty senate meeting.

But Gilley said university brass lodged a copyright strike against his video this week, forcing him to post an edited version that removed his peers’ comments.

At that March 1 meeting, the faculty senate unanimously approved a resolution that argues that publicly criticizing critical race theory curriculums prompts bullying and intimidation against progressive scholars.

In practice, the resolution functions as an all encompassing gag order against critics of anti-racism training and functions as a means to erode free speech on campus, Gilley argues in his “new censorship” report that serves as a response to the resolution.

His March 8 report outlines recent events at PSU involving hostility between professors and critics of critical race theory.

“In the wake of the January 6 Capitol Riot, a new wave of activism has risen up on campus that goes beyond the informal censorship of unpopular viewpoints. It seeks to explicitly deny freedoms of speech and publication to voices deemed ‘racist’ or ‘nativist’ or ‘unWoke,” Gilley argued in his report.

Asked for comment on Gilley’s assertions, PSU campus spokesperson Christina Dyrness Williams told The College Fix that “the resolution doesn’t ‘ban’ anything, so there’s no plans to ‘enact’ anything.”

And on March 11, the Portland State University Association of the American Association of University Professors published a statement specifically calling out Gilley.

They cite their December 2020 vote to endorse “a condemnation of PSU Political Science Professor Bruce Gilley’s ‘procolonialism’ platform.”

Their statement then cites the newly passed faculty resolution and states “the escalation of irresponsible speech by Professor Gilley and others who wish to mislead the general public by declaring that faculty who work on racial or social justice are the ‘new racists,’ we believe our statement to be more necessary now than ever.”

But Gilley, in his report, argues the faculty resolution “imposes a gag order on criticisms of a university’s professors, programs, teaching, and research — criticism which is itself the heart of academic freedom — as an abuse of academic freedom.”

“The resolution then affirms the new description of normal criticism as ‘bullying’ and ‘cynical abuse’ stating: ‘As Faculty, we must be thoughtful in our exercise of academic freedom and guard against its cynical abuse that can take the form of bullying and intimidation.’”

Gilley has long been a target of concern among his peers. In 2017 his scholarly article “The Case for Colonialism” led to petitions denouncing him and demands he be fired. The article was pulled after the journal’s editor received credible death threats. In 2019, his peers disallowed him to continue to teach a class called “Conservative Political Thought.”

One of the major points Gilley makes in his report centers on an Instagram post that made the rounds in February that exposed the curriculum for a mandatory class for future teachers.

“The 173-page course pack was a catalogue of Woke Studies indoctrination and agit-prop. It included a film entitled ‘Color Film was Built for White People’, an article entitled ‘Math is Racist,’ and a list of ‘Covert White Supremacy’ actions including advocating a color-blind society. Students were instructed how to submit ‘autoethnographies’ with strict guidelines about the need for soul-searching self-criticisms about their privilege,” Gilley wrote in his report.

As this information was shared on social media, a “narrative rapidly took shape among PSU faculty that a ‘violent insurrection’ involving ‘mob violence’ had taken place at Portland State akin to the Capitol Riot of January 6,” Gilley wrote.

“This caused a moral panic among the Woke faculty at PSU who, as in their post-George Floyd hunt for phantom racists on campus, seemed compelled by the need to feel they had experienced a Capitol Riot.”

Sharing the curriculum information was described by some as a form of “harassment,” “intimidation,” “mob violence” and “bullying,” Gilley added. Administrators forced students and professors who reposted it to take their posts down, citing copyright and privacy concerns, Gilley notes in his report.

Now the university has taken a similar stance with Gilley video.

The original video contained video clips of the two-hour faculty meeting during which the resolution was voted on. A full video of that two-hour meeting is still available online.

“The university has claimed we violated copyright and I had to remove the parts showing the faculty senate meeting,” Gilley told The College Fix in an interview this week.

He said he disagrees with their copyright claim but honored it anyway and reposted a shorter version without the faculty speaking.

“The entire situation is an attack on the very idea of academic freedom, and they don’t even want us to use excerpts from the faculty meeting to show what they said,” Gilley said, adding that he thinks his peers are ashamed of what they said, which is the real reason they wanted his video taken down.

“[They] put a gag order on our video of a public meeting at a public university on a public YouTube channel,” Gilley said.

Gilley transcribed some of the meeting in his report:

It is notable that no one in the meeting speaks out in disagreement of Chorpenning’s assault on academic freedom as an ideal. Indeed, the room is wholly animated in support, as if he has at last spoken the implicit message. Anthropology professor Michele Gamburd agrees that the faculty should be “engaged in some deep changes of the ground rules of our social hierarchy.” Women’s studies professor Vicki Reitenaur, who introduced the resolution, chimes in that she “agrees 100%” with the need for “bolder statement about what we won’t tolerate” and “would very much like to do that.” In the final speech, President Percy applauds Chorpenning’s speech and aligns himself with its message: “It’s not all about going back to some status quo, it needs to be a new status quo, one that is not so rooted in white dominance as so many of our policies and practices are.”

The senators then vote 47 in favor with none against and three abstentions. Thus what was initially presented as a clarification and reaffirmation of existing rules protecting academic freedom while upholding professional rules of conduct against physical or online threats has transformed through group dynamics animated by an overarching group delusion into “a deep change in the ground rules of our social hierarchy” and “a new status quo.”

But the faculty who voted in favor of the resolution argue in it that “While we all have the right to express our opinions in accordance with The First Amendment of the United States Constitution, there are limitations to free speech when it violates our laws and when it results in a true threat for an individual or a group of individuals or incites actions that will harm others.”

“…When faculty become active in, or even endorse or tacitly support, public campaigns calling for the intimidation of individual colleagues they disagree with, or with an entire faculty they disagree with, they are undermining academic freedom. Intimidation and explicit or implied threats to physical integrity are not accepted as academic methods.”

But Gilley, in his interview with The College Fix, said his peers are implicitly de facto silencing criticism.

“The resolution in failing to define those terms leaves it up to the senators to define those terms and they define the sharing of slides on social media as acts of intimidation and violence,” he said.

“By equating what common sense would suggest is normal discussion debate and criticism with mob violence, the resolution de facto silences criticism of scholars engaged in critical race theory.”

MORE: Portland State University president destroys emails sought in public records requests

IMAGE: Motortion Films / Shutterstock

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About the Author
Tyler Hummel -- Flashpoint College Chicago