From Resolution to Radicalism
In the spring of 2020, Madera Community College was granted full accreditation and became the newest California community college in the nation’s largest higher education system. It was a time of hope and optimism amongst the faculty, in particular. This could be a fresh start as we separated from our parent institution, with hopes that our new college could be somewhat sheltered from the growing divisiveness of critical social justice under the guise of diversity, equity, and inclusion.
The newly independent Academic Senate grounded the college in the foundational and time-honored principles of academic freedom, diversity of thought, and the pursuit of knowledge by unanimously passing a 2020 resolution on academic freedom. The resolution’s title was, “A Call to Action and Recommitment to the Principles of Academic Freedom and Freedom of Expression.”
However, the dream quickly faded as the eerily religious equity and antiracist dogma was systematically imposed from above and embraced by a few eager-to-please faculty members, while it was unwittingly accepted by the vast majority of their colleagues, who adopted an indifferentist attitude. This ideology, held by power brokers on campus, at our four-college District Office (click on the articles under “Anti-Racism Resources”), and in every organizational layer within the statewide system (e.g., here and here) imposes an agenda meant to disrupt and dismantle any procedure or practice if it can be tied to an outcome where students of color are not represented equally and proportionally alongside white students. So-called structural inequities and 400 years of systemic racism are said to be baked into the very structure of society, and thus endemic at our newly accredited college.
The Importance of Academic Freedom and Freedom of Expression
A university must be a community, or offer the chance of a community–friendship between teacher and teacher, teacher and taught, and taught and taught … Knowledge of other persons, and the minds of others, and the way in which others think, and the light by which others see, is the essence of a university. A university is an Alma Mater, knowing her children one by one, not a foundry, or a mint, or a treadmill. – Owen Chadwick, Newman, Oxford University Press, p.53
If the above well describes the essence of a college, then freedom of conscience, freedom of inquiry, freedom of thought, and freedom of speech are necessary for such a community of friendship and learning. If these necessary conditions for a community of learning and friendship are denied, then there can be no higher education at all. The sudden denial of these essential freedoms in a college is to unmake that college as a place of education. It is the death of a college. All that is left is an institutional focus on “the count” and “the amount,” i.e., the student “headcount” and the “amount” of funding, which are indeed the current, almost exclusive, obsessions of many (not all) administrators. Students and teachers alike are left to wander through the bureaucratic remains of their former Alma Mater, which has degenerated into an “efficient” engine to provide students with degrees and certificates, the content of which is being reduced every year in the name of “student success.”
The best evidence that this has already happened is the obvious misology that has suddenly dominated the culture of colleges, as shown in virtually every college committee or council meeting: when someone asks for the reasons that would justify a new regulation, policy, or plan, the answer does not come in the form of reasoning at all, but in blunt statements that deny the necessity of rational justification. Some actual examples: “But we have a mandate from the State,” “But we have a grant,” “But this is what we’re doing,” “We’re getting paid all this money to do this, so let’s do it,” and so on, ad infinitum, ad nauseum. We half-expect someone to say, “If it’s new, it’s true!” It would be to-the-point, even refreshing, to hear an administrator say, “The fact is that we are all just whores, so let’s get on with it.” One colleague did say, “Look, to me, this job is just a paycheck.”
The importance of academic freedom is difficult to overstate and is at the very core of the mission of any college or university. We believe that academic freedom is a sine qua non of any true and well-functioning institution. It is often described as both the freedom to teach and the freedom to learn—but it is much more, and what it is not is just as important as what it is.
Academic freedom is, at the very least, a commitment to open and free intellectual engagement wherein students and faculty can express and debate ideas without fear of censorship or retaliation—in the classroom or from outside the classroom. Without the freedom to engage in real debate in pursuit of truth, or provide honest critique in pursuit of impartiality, colleges and universities become one-party regimes with powerful administrative bureaucracies lording rules and policies over faculty. Likewise, without academic freedom students may either come to demand that their own personal ‘truth’ be taught or bow to the institution’s ‘truth’ out of pressure. Both extremes veer from the purpose and mission of higher education.
[Related: “How to Harpoon the DEI Leviathan”]
What academic freedom is not, in the simplest terms, is carte blanche to impose one’s views upon others. Neither is academic freedom a way for faculty to act unprofessionally or teach or express ideas in an unscholarly manner. Faculty do not have license to teach whatever, whenever, and however.
In short, academic freedom, in higher education and at Madera Community College, is the freedom to teach and learn even controversial topics while allowing open and fair critique and expecting respectful dialogue without censorship. And, of course, behind academic freedom is free speech, so we might even say, Sermo Liber Vita Ipsa (“Free speech is life itself”).
Resources for Academic Freedom and Freedom of Expression
Below are a few statements and declarations which informed the Madera Community College Academic Senate’s resolution:
1915 Declaration of Principles on Academic Freedom and Academic Tenure [AAUP]
1940 Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure [AAUP]
Report of the Committee on Freedom of Expression [University of Chicago]
American Federation of Teachers Position on Academic Freedom [AFT]
American Association of University Professors’ Statement on Professional Ethics [AAUP]
The Fading Dream Becomes a Nightmare
It was a promising start from a faculty that seemed united in its desire to provide a quality education to a traditionally underserved community. As stated above, the resolution passed the Academic Senate unanimously. Unfortunately, this unity did not last. As the college bureaucracy exploded in the aftermath of accreditation, new committees were created to push the institution toward DEI, which was both subtle in some ways and explicit in other ways, infused with critical social justice ideology.
Our newly developed 2021-2026 Strategic Plan was subtitled, “Building an Antiracist, Equity-Minded College.” The college’s mission, vision, and values were rewritten, with terms like “antiracist” replacing excellence in teaching and learning. For the past two academic years, the college’s four yearly goals—eight in total—have all been focused on antiracism and equity. The first “One Book One College” project for faculty was Ibram X. Kendi’s, How to Be an Antiracist. In the online meetings that ensued, faculty self-censored and open discussion was quashed. Meanwhile, the college has done nothing of significance to address the unbelievably disproportionate 40-percentage-point enrollment gap between females and males—which was present even prior to COVID. Apparently male students do not need to be equally represented.
[Related: “An Anti-Antiracism Manifesto”]
Two anecdotes illustrate the new culture on campus. A thirty-plus-year member of the faculty was accused of “misgendering” a colleague after an online meeting on the topic of pronoun use. An eight-month investigation by human resources followed. Although no evidence of wrongdoing was presented, the faculty member was disciplined with a formal letter of reprimand and forced to undergo several hours of DEI training and to write an essay detailing what was learned. Another faculty member was admonished for asking questions of a colleague over email about a new club that was being started on campus. These questions, it was stated, could easily be seen as confrontational, and the concerned faculty member should no longer engage in unwanted debate. Here is the relevant email and questions that drew such indignation:
As a group that respects individual sexuality, does the [club] a) advocate for “Minor Attracted Persons” as a legitimate sexual expression and b) in light of the passage of SB 107, does [the club] support and advocate for minors to receive gender-affirming care like puberty blockers or undergoing major surgical changes? Or, are these not topics addressed by [the club] at all? [sic]
The faculty member who asked these questions now has “confrontational” and “engages in unwanted debate” in the personnel file, while the colleague leading the club never once responded to any communication nor had to meet with the accused to explain why these questions were confrontational and unwelcome.
The Nightmare Enters Perpetual REM Sleep
Even more problematic, new state requirements have added DEI to all curriculum and program-review processes, and DEI competencies (here and here) will soon be part of the faculty-evaluation process statewide. Faculty will be required to affirm their own personal and professional commitment to DEI (in terms of specific skills, knowledge, and behaviors) by substantiating how they implement its principles in the classroom. In just two years at Madera Community College, suspicion replaced trust, insecurity replaced confidence, and a once-united faculty was divided into factions based on perceived intersectional grievances.
A low point came in January 2023, when a group of faculty members were denied permission to begin an institute for liberty modeled on a similar organization at Bakersfield College, a nearby sister institution. The institute proposal, which was submitted in August 2022, was a nonpartisan model based on the mission of the Foundation Against Intolerance and Racism and the language of Heterodox Academy. It was denied college and district support because—and this was stated specifically—it did not align with the college’s mission, vision, and values. For a college that started off with such promise, it didn’t take long to degenerate into just another failure of California higher education. After each incident, there is always at least one person who says that we have finally hit bottom. But as we are currently learning, there is no bottom. To mix our metaphors, as each shovelful of dirt piles onto the remains, we remember less and less of the dream and mourn the lost opportunity to have a stellar, modern community college devoted to the learning and success of all students.
John Hasnas, a professor of business at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business who wrote on this exact topic, stated that it is not sufficient to adopt “an abstract commitment to preserving freedom of speech on campus.” Rather, he states, “you must change the institutional incentive structure of the college as well.” If only those faculty members who unanimously voted for Madera Community College’s first Academic Senate resolution on academic freedom would have known this and done more than preen over a piece of paper. We are now well past changing the incentive structure, however, since the partisan dollars are flowing in one direction at tsunami speed. What must come next for employees in higher education is a public, objective stand against DEI, Inc. and DEI funding, and a public, objective stand for academic freedom and freedom of expression.
… and, having done all, to stand firm.
Image: Adobe Stock
3 thoughts on “Eulogy for a Dream”
“the faculty member was disciplined with a formal letter of reprimand and forced to undergo several hours of DEI training and to write an essay detailing what was learned”
One could have a great deal of fun writing such an essay — stating how it convinced him that the entire LBGTA community were mentally ill and needed psychiatric treatment. Throw in various Biblical quotes from Leviticus and something from your Minister/Priest/Rabbi on what those quotes mean and how (a) religion is protected and (b) political views are also protected by California nondiscrimination laws and I’m not sure what the admin could do.
Follow with a FIOA request of how much all the DIE stuff is costing and then send that out as a press release to both the media and key members of the state legislature, and spin all of this to being a waste of money.
See DIE die….
This is depressing. Why aren’t organizations like FIRE highlighting these kinds of actions? Where are the free speech lawyers? Why has there been next to no coverage of this nationally? Do they just think it’s not worth their time to defend faculty at community colleges? The anecdotes here are shocking, but no longer surprising.
The ongoing gender gap is also something that one might think the fearless journalists of California would be willing to highlight since they’re all obsessed with “equity,” but apparently they can’t be bothered to care.
The thing about the gender gap is that only 10% of women will be lesbians — it’s actually far less than that, most women will want to have men in their lives.
So I ask the feminists to think about their daughters — to think about the boys that they (inevitably) will be sleeping with, having children with, and maybe marrying. What kind of boys do they want to have in their daughter’s lives?
I can then point to all kinds of research — from academic to research on domestic violence — and point out that it is statistically unhealthy for a woman to be in a relationship with a man less educated than she. It isn’t about the earning power (although that also is an issue) but the stability of the relationship itself.
So they really should think of these evil White males as potential sons in laws — and be thinking about their DAUGHTERS….