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Professors alarmed by blacklist of pro-colonialism author: ‘academic thuggery’

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Bruce Gilley may not want to stand behind his article in defense of colonialism, which sparked an international backlash and demands for his firing.

But other scholars around North America whose research or opinions have drawn rebuke or threats from left-wing activists are encouraging the Portland State University professor to stay strong.

We should be very wary of punishing academics for causing ‘offence and hurt,’” Gad Saad, evolutionary behavioral scientist at Concordia University in Canada, told The College Fix in an email.

He was quoting 15 members of the editorial board of Third World Quarterly who resigned in response to the publication of Gilley’s “viewpoint” essay “The case for colonialism.”

Saad was scheduled to speak at an event last month titled “The Stifling of Free Speech on University Campuses” before Ryerson University, also in Canada, canceled the event in the name of protecting the community from likely violent protests. He runs a popular YouTube channel critical of fundamentalist Islam and political correctness.

Best punishment? ‘Having the paper remain part of the official record’

The professor prefaced his views to The Fix by saying he has not yet read Gilley’s article and could not comment on its content or whether TWQ followed proper procedures for peer review. The resigning editors also accused the journal of not completing the standard peer-review process for the paper.

But Saad said the “offence and hurt” standard is “solely relevant to enemies of reason,” and that hurt feelings “do not constitute an integral component of the epistemology of the scientific method.”

The Jewish scholar from Lebanon said he supports “the right of Holocaust deniers to come on university campuses to spew their grotesque nonsense,” a standard and principle that should be applied to Gilley at a minimum:

If Gilley’s work is academically false, he will best be “punished” by having the paper remain part of the official record. I am “offended and hurt” every day by a broad range of enemies of truth including postmodernists, radical feminists, and social constructivists. Yet I don’t seek to have them fired or have their nonsensical articles retracted. Defeat bad ideas with better ones. Do not fall prey to the reflex of censorship.

Saad later published his full response to The Fix in a Facebook post.

MORE: Bruce Gilley asks for withdrawal of his colonialism article

A former tenured anthropology professor at Boston University who is familiar with the scholarly literature on colonialism told The Fix that Gilley’s article made a “well-reasoned and well-informed argument.”

Peter Wood, now president of the National Association of Scholars, criticized Portland State for making “less than a robust defense” of academic freedom, referring to the university’s statement last week distancing itself from Gilley.

“Groupthink backed by academic thuggery has succeeded in getting a vulnerable academic to suppress his own work,” said Wood, whose organization advocates for conservative representation in academia. Gilley leads its state affiliate, the Oregon Association of Scholars.

“The public, however, can see the larger picture,” Wood wrote in an email. “A substantial portion of the academy is now determined to prevent discussion of ideas it dislikes rather than argue against those ideas.”

Same reaction to paper comparing transracial to transgender

Back at PSU, which started classes on Monday, Gilley’s colleague Peter Boghossian told The Fix that incidents like this will “push academia into irrelevance.”

The philosophy professor compared Gilley’s situation to that of Rebecca Tuvel, the Rhodes College philosopher who drew outrage for writing a peer-reviewed article comparing transgenderism to transracialism in the feminist philosophy journal Hypatia.

The journal’s board of directors ultimately rejected calls to retract Tuvel’s paper, including from its own board of associate editors, though the online shaming campaign led Hypatia’s editors to quit. Glenn Greenwald, the Pulitzer prize-winning journalist, called the whole affair a “hideous smear campaign” against Tuvel, who is an untenured professor.

Boghossian previously told The Fix that scholars are now being “held hostage to mob mentality,” which threatens their careers and will lead them to “stop publishing in controversial areas” or else adopt “morally fashionable” ideas in those areas.

MOREPublic university won’t punish professor for defending colonialism

While Boghossian was the first PSU professor to speak publicly in support of Gilley (left), another is now voicing his opinion, calling the incident an example of “ongoing politicization” in universities resulting in the suppression of dissenting views.

“Colonialism is a complex subject, but those calling for Gilley’s head seem to be uninterested in history, which only serves them as fodder for a simplistic morality play,” Michael Weingrad, PSU professor of Judaic studies, told The Fix. “It seems ‘colonialism,’ as Orwell said of the word ‘fascism,’ has now no meaning except in so far as it signifies ‘something not desirable.'”

Gilley’s highest profile defender remains colonialism critic Noam Chomsky, who told The Fix in an interview that retracting “The case for colonialism” could open “dangerous doors.” Chomsky, MIT emeritus professor of linguistics, remains on TWQ’s editorial board.

Jordan Peterson, University of Toronto psychology professor and organizer of the canceled Ryerson University event featuring Saad, is another high-profile defender. Peterson urged Gilley in a tweet to “never apologize to postmodern neomarxists” because they “see it as indicating guilt and weakness.”

‘The academic equivalent of a Trump tweet’

While Peterson became controversial for his refusal to use gender-neutral pronouns, Gilley’s reputation was tied to less specific allegations before his colonialism paper was published.

Farhana Sultana, an associate professor of geography at Syracuse University, drafted a petition against Gilley that garnered more than 10,000 signatures. An email credited to Sultana said a previous but unidentified Gilley article was guilty of “justifying ethnic cleansing,” and she called him a “white supremacist” who published “racist clickbait” with his colonialism defense.

She has yet to respond to a Fix request for comment, though Sultana marked her Twitter account private shortly after The Fix noted her leading role against Gilley and purported musings about getting Princeton University to revoke Gilley’s doctorate degree.

MOREFaculty forced to pledge allegiance to diversity or lose their jobs

Gilley has not responded to repeated requests for comment, and a Portland State representative declined to provide any background information that might have informed Gilley’s statement expressing regret for his article.

As of Wednesday night, “The case for colonialism” remains accessible in its original form on Taylor and Francis, which publishes TWQ. A spokeswoman for the publisher told Inside Higher Ed it will consult with the international Committee on Publication Ethics on how to move forward.

TWQ Editor-in-Chief Shahid Qadir previously defended the journal’s publication of the “viewpoint” article, saying it had promoted debate as intended and completed the peer-review process. Qadir did not respond to a request for comment.

The growing conventional wisdom is that TWQ doesn’t want to forgo the massive web traffic “The case for colonialism” has drawn. Petition organizers directed their visitors to copies of the article that weren’t hosted by Taylor and Francis, hoping to blunt the journal’s page views.

Inside Higher Ed reported that two Gilley critics at the London School of Economics and Political Science have said Gilley’s paper has already achieved the highest “Altmetric Attention Score” in TWQ’s history, but they called it clickbait and “the academic equivalent of a [Donald] Trump tweet” with footnotes.

CORRECTION: The original article misstated Michael Weingrad’s title. He is a full professor at Portland State University.

MORE: Noam Chomsky warns against retracting Bruce Gilley’s article

IMAGES: ostill/Shutterstock, Portland State University

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About the Author
Andy Ngo -- Portland State University