How a Social Justice Mob Fired a Tenured Professor

The fall semester is off to a fiery start. We have Brown University’s decision to distance itself from Professor Lisa Littman’s research paper; the decision by the New York Journal of Mathematics journal to un-publish Professor Theodore Hill’s study; the University of Chicago’s refusal to defend Professor Rachel Fulton Brown from scurrilous attack led by a Brandeis professor; and the rush to give NYU Professor Avital Ronell a free pass for having harassed and sexually assaulted a gay graduate student.

These four cases have received a fair amount of attention—to the degree that I can name them without having to explain the details. For those who need a prompt to keep the cases in mind:

  • Littman showed that some teenagers’ claims to trans-sexuality were likely influenced by the desire to win popularity with their in-groups.
  • Hill offered a mathematical model to explain why males are so much more variable than females.
  • Brown believes medieval studies should focus on medieval Europe, an opinion which her critics say makes her a racist.
  • Ronell is a celebrated leftist literary theorist, which her defenders say absolves her culpability in her sexual exploitation of her former graduate student.

Political correctness continues to explore new frontiers. The common theme in these four cases is the supreme confidence of the academic left. It quashes any views it dislikes without a moment’s hesitation and feels little call to explain or justify its actions. Rather, it relies on the readiness of the academy at large to applaud the effort to keep thinkers-of-dangerous-thoughts in their cages.

  • Littman’s dangerous thought is that some self-identified trans-sexual individuals may not have been “born that way.”
  • Hill’s dangerous thought is that male virtuosity in some intellectual realms might have a biological basis.
  • Brown’s dangerous thought is that Western civilization has a legitimate claim to attention in its own right.
  • Ronell’s accuser, Nimrod Reitman, offered the dangerous thought that a feminist icon could also be a sexual predator.

Things are bad. But they could be worse. At least we aren’t living in Canada.

Freedom, Eh?

The Canadian case of the moment involves a tenured associate professor of psychology at Acadia University in Nova Scotia. Professor Rick Mehta was suddenly fired from his position on August 31. The stated reason, provided to Professor Mehta in a letter from President Peter Ricketts, was: “failure to fulfill [his] academic responsibilities, unprofessional conduct, breach of privacy, and harassment and intimidation of students and other members of the University community.”

One might conclude from such language that Professor Mehta must be a walking nightmare who posed an enormous threat to the 3,500-some undergraduate students and 250-some faculty members. The truth, however, is that Professor Mehta found himself on what he calls the wrong side of a Canadian “culture war.” It’s a war that will sound pretty familiar to those who are watching the Littman, Hill, Brown, and Ronell cases in the U.S. Essentially, Mehta stood up for disinterested academic standards during a period in which Acadia University was rushing pell-mell to the “social justice” agenda.

The Herald News of Halifax covered the story in “Acadia Fires Rick Mehta After Fire Storm over Comments.” To fire a tenured professor over his “comments” suggests that he must have uttered some pretty remarkable syllables. Granted that Canada doesn’t have First Amendment protections. What did Mehta do? Did he denounce hockey as a sport inferior to American baseball? Did he declare personal opposition to Canada’s tariff protections of its dairy industry?

Acadian Auto-da-fé

No, rather, he described multiculturalism as a “scam.” Multiculturalism might be described as the official state religion of Canada, and Canadian universities as its schools of theology. The courage to call it out as a scam testifies that Professor Mehta must be a man of rare character. Let me say at once that I have never met him or even corresponded with him, and it is possible that he holds other opinions from which I would recoil in horror. But his stand on multiculturalism all by itself commands respect.

It is a stand that goes beyond that one word “scam.” He is accused as well of “denying the wage gap between men and women and dismissing the Truth and Reconciliation Commission as a vehicle for ‘endless apologies and compensation.’” The Truth and Reconciliation Commission, for readers below the 49th parallel, was a body created in 2008 by the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement to make things right with the native peoples of the country. It issued its final report in 2015, which includes 95 “calls to action” on many matters, from child welfare to indigenous languages. It is, in essence, a charter for permanent grievance by Canada’s native people against the descendants of all European immigrants. Many Native Americans in the United States look upon the work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission as their fondest dream.

As one might expect given Professor Mehta’s temperament, he has not remained silent during this ordeal. Rather, he has provided a full statement on his dismissal. It has been circulating among some of us who pay close attention to issues of academic freedom, including the blog of Andrew Lawton, a fellow of the True North Initiative.

Mehta’s statement stands on its own and is worth reading, especially for Americans who erroneously suppose that political correctness has gone about as far as is imaginable. No, it can go further. Acadia University is showing the way: the arbitrary firing of tenured faculty members who voice doubts about the sacred doctrines of the left.

Jordan is a Hard Road to Travel

Mehta taught at Acadia for fifteen years; his teaching included large-enrollment introductory courses; he won teaching awards twice; served on numerous committees; remained professionally active in his discipline at the national level, and served local community groups. He was by traditional standards, an exemplary professor.

Mehta’s troubles began, he says, between 2015 and 2017, when he came under the influence of fellow psychologist Jordan Peterson and started to take notice of “protests and cancellations of talks at universities.” In early 2017, his concerns came to a head when he wrote to the search committee that was engaged in looking for Acadia’s next president. He voiced his worry that then-candidate Dr. Ricketts had little to say about “critical thinking or listening to a diverse range of perspectives” and that Ricketts “planned to commit Acadia to social justice.” Mehta went beyond his letter to organize a panel discussion of these matters. He then gave a “comprehensive talk” on free speech, September 29, 2017, in which he called on his university to adopt the University of Chicago’s Principles of Free Expression. He posted a video of the talk.

The talk was well received, but not by everyone at Acadia. A math professor, Eva Curry, declared the event, “in many ways the worst violation of academic integrity that I have seen at Acadia.” The reader can gauge the awfulness of Mehta’s offense by watching the 144-minute video. I’ve watched it. Perhaps Professor Curry is referring to something that was said before or after Professor Mehta spoke, but it is extremely hard to see an offense against “academic integrity” in Mehta’s recorded words.

Whose Freedom?

But one can see the flashes of lightning in the approaching bank of dark clouds. Professor Mehta had offended the feminist establishment at Acadia by arguing for objective academic standards and against privileges for self-proclaimed victim groups. The wrath of those groups was about to descend. It did so in the form of the “MacKay Report,” which performed the familiar magic show in which a grievance is turned into an accusation and an accusation into a verdict in the blink of an eye. Mehta had set himself in opposition to Acadia’s “decolonization initiatives.” He was soon walking the path to dismissal, beginning with the loss of his prized course on research design and analysis, and then his exile from a student group he had worked with.

His path to becoming a non-person was paved with the proper bureaucratic cobbles. Mehta was excoriated, with deep irony, as a threat to academic freedom, for having exercised his own. A vice president informed him:

“The University has a legal responsibility to provide an environment free from discrimination, sexual harassment, and personal harassment. The nature and frequency of these complaints and significance of the allegations is concerning for the University, and we have determined the necessity of proceeding to a formal investigation”.

And the coordinator for the Women and Gender Studies Program expressed that program’s “solidarity” with those who speak out “in an increasingly chilly climate where boundaries of academic freedom are marked at the intersection of so-called ‘freedom of speech.’”

That sentence deserves some prize in triple-speak obfuscation. We can take the point that Mehta’s free speech violates the “academic freedom” of people who disagree with him.

Coming, Coming

At this point, I will desist from summarizing Mehta’s fall into clutches of the social justice mob. His own account spares no detail. What we Americans need to take from it is that Canada is providing us with a glimpse of what is to come next for us.

What we academics must take from Mehta’s fight is that independent thought throughout the Western world is at grave risk. What is actually happening in higher education on either side of the border is coercive multiculturalism: a doctrine that obviates all individual rights that get in the way of the sacred mission of group grievance. Where coercive multiculturalism reigns, scholars such as Littman, Hill, and Brown are cut down. Students such as Ronnell’s accuser, Nimrod Reitman, are brushed aside. And eventually, tenured faculty members such as Rick Mehta are summarily dismissed.

We should take warning from what Acadia University has done. It will, very soon, happen here too.

Peter Wood

Peter Wood

Peter Wood is president of the National Association of Scholars and author of “Diversity: the Invention of a Concept.”

23 thoughts on “How a Social Justice Mob Fired a Tenured Professor

  1. I was enrolled in his class last year and attended every single one of his lectures in both the fall and winter semesters. Although I did not agree with them all, I was not personally offended by his veiws. However, as the school year went on he spent more and more time in his lectures speaking about his own personal veiws on issues that were largely unrelated to the class content.
    I personally was not upset by what he said, but rather the fact that many classes were spent talking about his personal opinions rather than what he was supposed to (and was being paid to) teach. He even went so far as to talk about his Twitter feed where someone had disagreed with an article he posted and to badmouth students in other sections of the class.
    By the end of the term we did not have time to cover all of the content we we supposed to. If he wanted to voice his opinions it should have been done at another time. I feel that my education (which a paid a large tuition for) suffered due to his unprofessional conduct in class.

  2. What I have found intriguing—and at the same time utterly contemptible and reprehensible—is this notion that if I express my opinion, that someone might feel “unsafe”. Huh? How did we get there? I can understand that if my opinion calls for actual harm to someone that that would create an unsafe environment, but how is it unsafe if I say, for example, men on average have a higher aptitude for math than females? Where in that statement is any harm promoted or condoned?

  3. And one more thing:

    “Many members of the department have expressed genuine concern for their safety.”

    He is, after all, White and Male — and hence likely to become “the next Virginia Tech shooter.”

    This increasingly is the standard defamation of White Males who persist in saying unpopular things, and it comes right out of the concept of “Cognitive Aggression” — the belief that anyone who persists in stating views contrary to those shared by the collective will inevitably progress to mass murder if not stopped.

    They seriously believe this, and that’s what is scary. They can’t comprehend the concept of the principled individual, someone like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. — or his namesake, Martin Luther. Because they make no distinction between the personal and the political, they cannot comprehend anyone else making such a distinction — because they will advance their cause “by all means necessary,” they presume that we will as well.

    And hence, look at the basis of their fears for their physical safety:

    “… you have harassed them through your social media posts. You have targeted department members in other forms of public communications such as talks and interactions….includ[ing] your public attacks on WISE. One colleague … feels harassed indirectly by the way you poisoned the workplace and created stress among students.”

    Words on social media, words spoken to colleagues, written words distributed electronically across campus. Not threats, which are clearly defined and criminal — and which I have no doubt would have been prosecuted as such — but words.

    Words.

    And this justifies others having a “genuine concern for their [physical] safety.”

    This is where we are with the Behavioral Intervention Teams and the related concept of Cognitive Aggression. Conservative White Males are increasingly being viewed as imminent threats to public safety and increasingly being dealt with as such.

    It’s Orwellian….

  4. We’ve already seen examples of SJW takeovers in American academic institutions; Evergreen and Missouri are immediate examples. Both are suffering catastrophic enrollment declines as a result. Others like Oberlin are fading fast. So even within academia, there is a certain element of “Get woke, Go broke.” The larger issue is really why the “soft sciences” require brick and mortar sites at all. With today’s technology, any course/major not requiring specialized lab equipment could effortlessly translate itself into an at home internet course of study. Even as they absorb more and more institutions like some Borgesque collective; more and more they’re merely re-arranging the deck chairs on an academic Titanic.

  5. I agree with you about Littman, don’t know anything about Hill, and say fie on all of you about Ronell. But Mehta is a loose cannon who is a publicity hound and self-aggrandizer. Look more carefully at who you choose to champion.

    1. What nonsense. When he knew he was likely to have his position terminated, of course he sought publicity so that other academics and concerned citizens could know about his danger and perhaps support him. He is a genuine advocate for free speech, concerned about the lock-down on debate that social justice doctrine is bringing about. And unlike most academics, he put something real on the line–his livelihood–and lost it for his beliefs. Shame on you.

    2. There are a lot of faculty members who are “loose cannons who [are] publicity hound[s] and self-aggrandizer[s].” There are a lot of folks who drift away from the curriculum, turning their classrooms into their own personal soapboxes — it’s quite inappropriate and highly unprofessional, but there are a lot of people doing this…

      The only difference is that Mehta is on the political & cultural right instead of being on the left. In other words, he’s acting no more inappropriately than countless others, it’s just that his views are politically incorrect.

      And if we were to fire everyone who uses the classroom to advance his, hers, or its political and cultural views, there would be an awful lot of vacant faculty positions….

  6. …. Americans who erroneously suppose that political correctness has gone about as far as is imaginable. No, it can go further.

    Actually, it can go much further. It can to where future Professor Mehtas are lined up, with their families, and machine-gunned into pits, and thus erased into oblivion.

    “OH, pu-leeze, can you BE more of a drama queen” one might say to me.

    Well, name for me a continent, other than North America and Australia (western civilization lands), where this has not happened… more than once. Name one (Antarctica don’t count).

    By human history, it happens all the time.

    Don’t kid yourselves. The people out to destroy this professor (and prove yet again what a monstrous fraud “tenure” is) mean business. They will not stop, until they are stopped. Full stop.

    1. “Actually, it can go much further. It can to where future Professor Mehtas are lined up, with their families, and machine-gunned into pits, and thus erased into oblivion.”

      I’m thinking about what started in Danvers* (not Salem) back in 1691 — and that only got stopped when they wound up accusing the Governor’s wife of being a witch. (Governor Pipps then shut down the court….)

      It’s the same type of hysterical response and the same type of “due process be damned” attitude that ignored the fact that the accused were also human beings. I was at UMass Amherst, I’ve dealt with these thugs on a quite personal basis and the thing that scared me the most was the extent to which I was viewed as a “nonperson”, the extent to which I was perceived as being evil instead of being human.

      The Social Justice Warriors essentially view us as Zombies — a threat to the public which need to be destroyed “by any means necessary.” And I don’t believe that they will stop at the campus gate, some of this stuff is already oozing out into the larger society.

      So I must agree, if this isn’t somehow stopped, our very lives could be in jeopardy.

      * Salem Village wanted to separate from Salem and had petitioned the Crown for it’s own town charter, but the King had refused.

  7. Hi Peter—interesting story but why aren’t you NEH Chair or at least Jefferson Lecturer? This year’s Jefferson Lecturer is a Democratic Party donor, per FEC… Why elect GOP if they promote PC Dems? Who’s in charge of cultural issues in Trump Administration?

  8. I am beginning to wonder if universities are worth funding. Technical training schools, yes. Perhaps limit universities to teaching technical subjects (math, chemistry, physics, engineering). And I teach history!

  9. “Political correctness is a sinister device constructed by the Left to ensure that negative outcomes of Left-wing ideology are never subject to criticism.”

    Peter McGloughlin, author of “Easy Meat: inside Britain’s grooming gang scandal”

  10. I was summarily dismissed. And I’d been the victim of a female rapist & stalker, whom I told to leave me alone — for rape and stalking by a female is considered perfectly ok by feminists. I was driven from my home by a social justice mob, with slanderous fabrications. I was later reinstated. And then, later, purged.

  11. ‘In the letter, Hemming writes that it is “reprehensible” that Mehta posted to a publicly available Dropbox account a recording of one of his classes in which a student disclosed her rape experience.

    “This action further demonstrates your disregard for the privacy rights of students and suggests you are more concerned with public online support than the interests of students,” Hemming wrote.’

    1. ‘In the letter, [Heather] Hemming writes that it is “reprehensible” that Mehta posted to a publicly available Dropbox account a recording of one of his classes in which a student disclosed her rape experience.”

      His defense is that the “student’s right to confidentiality and privacy was lost the moment she loudly proclaimed what had happened to her in her personal life.” I think he is right — if a student loudly proclaims something publicly in a classroom (where other students know who she is), she has given up any rights to confidentiality. It’s the same thing if you go down the street stapling your medical records to telephone poles. She chose to put an aspect of her personal life in the public domain, likely to make a political point.

      It’s this perversion of privacy that I find infuriating — it’s like the “Trigglypuff” video that went viral — the Hampshire College student who disrupted an event at UMass Amherst. And somehow she feels that she has the right to disrupt an event at a university she wasn’t even attending without anyone ever knowing about it.

      Sunlight is the best disinfectant and the public — which actually pays for all this foolishness — would never tolerate it were it publicly known. Reading Heather Hemming’s 8-page letter, it becomes quite clear that Mehta’s greatest offense is letting the public know what is going on at Acadia University.

      Other than the fact that someone might actually read it, what exactly is the difference between posting on social media and writing in an academic journal? What exactly is the difference between teaching a lecture class and posting an audio recording of that same class on Dropbox? And why should a student have a greater expectation of confidentiality in an audio recording of her disruption in a classroom than she did in the classroom itself?

      After all, doesn’t every undergrad have a smartphone today? (Where do you think the above “Trigglypuff” video came from???)

      Hence “[t]his action further demonstrates your disregard for the privacy rights of students and suggests you are more concerned with public online support than the interests of students,” Hemming wrote.’

      AND?????

      I was once told that a professor has a duty to (a) his students, (b) his university, and (c) society as a whole. The public, which is supporting Acadia through its tax dollars*, has a right to know what it is (or isn’t) getting from all the money it is giving Acadia. Furthermore, are not his students entitled to be told that they are “out to lunch” if he believes they are? He’s supposed to profess, not pander — isn’t he?

      Hence while FERPA would preclude the public display of student grades in this country, apparently that’s still legal in Canada. So what’s wrong with him pointing out that the non-majors have better grades and hence those planning to major in his field need to ask themselves some serious questions about their likelihood of success? (Or at least consider partying less and studying more…)

      * 99% of full-time undergraduates at Acadia receive financial aid.

    2. The last time I checked, a classroom is not considered “private”. It is a public gathering. Granted, students must pay tuition in order to get credit but it is not a therapeutic meeting and to believe that it should be considered so is naive. And all classes are open to the public. And frankly, I’m tired of this specious argument of students not “feeling safe” or “hurt”. Colleges and universities as well as all higher learning institutions are not wombs. If you want to feel safe, stay home. The world is not safe. Life is not safe. Life and living it is nothing but stress that increases as you grow older. If you need therapy then get it. Higher education is for learning and stretching and being “exposed” to new different and controversial ideas. If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen. But quit your bellyaching or go home.

  12. My view is far more cynical — I fear that they have already won and these are merely the “mop-up” operations to clean up lingering pockets of resistance.

    Starting in the 1980’s, the self-described “tenured radicals” started doing the grunt work of serving on graduate admissions committees and the rest — using this work as the means to select those who supported their agenda and excluding those who didn’t So too with all the various formal and informal forms of advising and support so essential to the vulnerable graduate student — they nurtured those who supported the agenda, and did everything possible to screw over those who didn’t.

    Circa 1996, then UMass Amherst Provost Pat Crosson explicitly stated “and they shall die” in a graduate seminar in response to my question about the conflicts between her progressive agenda and the concerns then being expressed by tenured faculty affiliated with the National Association of Scholars. “They will die” she bluntly stated, adding that people who will soon be “dead and gone” could be little more than a temporary delay to her progressive agenda.

    She was right. Take Professor Mike Adams — he was “an atheist and a Democrat”* when he was hired, and I highly doubt he’d have been hired as the conservative Christian he subsequently became. And as Professor Rick Mehta is in the field of Psychology, the case of Jennifer Keeton comes to mind. Keeton was the Christian graduate student who was kicked out of a counseling program because she believed that part about Leviticus 18:22 — a view held by Jews, Christians, and Muslims…

    Keeton’s offense was saying that she would refer a gay client to someone whom she felt better able to help him, her, or it. One could only hope that a man-hating feminist would show similar professionalism — and I highly doubt such would happen, but I digress.

    My point is that Professor Mehta likely wouldn’t even make it into grad school today — he’d definitely not graduate, and absolutely not be licensed as a Psychologist (which usually is a prerequisite for Psychology faculty status, at least in the US). There is no younger version of him in grad school to replace him.

    I hate to say this, but I think we already have lost. The stuff we are seeing now is more along the lines of “the committee for the defense of the revolution” — they won and we now live in an era of reconstruction.

  13. I have written to the President of Acadia U and have made a couple of videos about Professor Mehta’s situation, but I feel immensely helpless in this case. If Professor Mehta had been a radical leftist who was fired for expressing his views in the classroom, most of the professoriate at Acadia U would be walking out this week in protest. With Professor Mehta’s dismissal, there is mostly quiet (or not so quiet) rejoicing. I want to do more.

    1. “Careers,” you mean. Surely word would never get out otherwise, and having been fired would never come up in employment interviews.

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