FAIR Weekly Roundup

October 24th, 2021


Around the Web

For The New York Times, Michael Powell wrote about academic freedom and freedom of expression, following the recent cancellation of a lecture at M.I.T.

Dr. Dorian Abbot, Professor of Geology at the University of Chicago, was scheduled to give a prestigious science guest lecture at M.I.T. However, last year Dr. Abbot came under fire from students and colleagues for criticizing his department’s discriminatory hiring practices. Abbot favored hiring candidates based on merit, instead of using immutable characteristics like skin color, sex, or sexual orientation.   

Those in favor of the discriminatory hiring practices claimed that Dr. Abbot’s opinions “created harm,” and petitioned M.I.T. to cancel his upcoming guest lecture. M.I.T. quickly caved to these demands by cancelling the lecture, stating that “words matter and have consequences.”

Fortunately, Dr. Robert P. George, director of Princeton University’s James Madison Program and founder of the Academic Freedom Alliance, invited Dr. Abbott to give his cancelled talk at Princeton instead, which he did last week. 


Read the full article here.


For Counterweight, Helen Pluckrose wrote an article educating readers about “the difference between the free expression of ideas and harassment and intimidation.”

Pluckrose says that while people will always have strong feelings about all sorts of arguments and ideas they come across, the proper way to deal with disagreement is through argument and dialogue. Harassment and intimidation, on the other hand, impose one view over another by “circumvent[ing] the need for argument or dialogue.”

She further claims that, while criticism is something “we all sign up for when putting our ideas out into the public sphere,” punishment is not. When criticism of ideas is replaced with punishment for expressing them, this is nothing more than an exercise of power enabling one to “ban ideas and intimidate anyone else who might be thinking of expressing them.” According to Pluckrose:

If we have a society where that is the case, we have a society in which totalitarianism is being allowed to win out over liberalism and that must be fought by everybody who wishes to be able to speak freely whether they agree with the current ideas or not.

Read the full article here.


For The New York Times, Henry Louis Gates wrote an essay about “literary freedom as an essential human right.” 

Gates believes that the freedom to interact with, and write about, a complex range of human experiences and perspectives is an essential part of American society. Indeed, for many oppressed minorities throughout history, the ability to put their experiences into words and “bear witness to the full range of our common humanity,” was their only chance at enacting meaningful change.

Gates is highly critical of the movement to ban certain topics in school, such as so-called “critical race theory” and The 1619 Project, which he views as attempts to exempt their own ideas from scrutiny. 

Any teacher, any student, any reader, any writer, sufficiently attentive and motivated, must be able to engage freely with subjects of their choice. That is not only the essence of learning; it’s the essence of being human.

Read the full essay here.


FAIR Board of Advisors

In The New York Times, FAIR Advisor John McWhorter wrote about a recent dust-up at the University of Michigan after a music professor, Bright Sheng, showed his class a 1965 film based on the Royal National Theatre’s stage production of “Othello.” This is because the film’s lead role was played by a white actor in blackface makeup. In retaliation for showing the film, undergraduates, graduate students, and even faculty members called for Sheng's removal as the course instructor. 

McWhorter recalls showing his own students films depicting blackface, for historical reasons, only a decade ago, and he claimed nobody batted an eye. So, what has changed since then? McWhorter believes that, in many ways, aspects of “progressivism” have morphed into a type of performative “radicalism.” 

 Yet the view that blackface makeup is so uniquely revolting that a professor should be hounded from his class for showing, in a scholarly setting, decades-old scenes of an actor wearing it is a point that many find extreme. It is a position that requires some serious lifting and a vast transformation in common modes of thought… A position like that is not simply antiracist but radical. 


Read the full article here.


On his Substack, The Weekly Dish, FAIR Advisor Andrew Sullivan wrote about the troubling erosion of the distinction between public life and private life, which has played out in protests across the country by activists seeking out the private homes of public figures in order to harass and intimidate them. Sullivan also notes that this behavior is not restricted to one side of the political spectrum. 

While showing up at people’s homes to intimidate them is perhaps the most glaring example of how the public-private distinction is being blurred, Sullivan points out that the Internet has helped eliminate the notion of “private correspondence,” since “everything you have ever put into pixels, however intimate or personal, exists somewhere; and it can be easily searched exhaustively—forever.”

Sullivan believes that the way forward is to focus on our shared humanity. 

But who hasn’t said or written something in their private lives they regret? We are all human, and all hypocrites to one degree or other. Ripping away every veil that conceals us at our worst is not just cruel; it’s inhuman.


Read the full article here.


For Commentary, FAIR Advisor Bari Weiss wrote about cancel-culture, censorship, cowardice, courage, and common sense. To start, Weiss outlined the tenets of a new radical and intolerant ideology that has somehow managed to take hold of our institutions, which amount to a near-complete rejection of Enlightenment values. 

Ideas are replaced with identity. Forgiveness is replaced with punishment. Debate is replaced with de-platforming. Diversity is replaced with homogeneity of thought. Inclusion, with exclusion.

But how did an extreme ideology that most Americans probably reject manage to spread so quickly and seemingly without resistance? Weiss believes there are many contributing factors, but that “every moment of radical victory” relied primarily on cowardice.

All that had to change for the entire story to turn out differently was for the person in charge, the person tasked with being a steward for the newspaper or the magazine or the college or the school district or the private high school or the kindergarten, to say: No.

According to Weiss, if cowardice got us here, then it is courage that must get us out. 


Read her article here.


In a new report from The American Enterprise Institute, FAIR Advisor Robert Pondiscio discussed the rise of “social and emotional learning,” or “SEL,” in K-12 education. 

His report illustrates how SEL has recently become a primary focus for many educators, even though neither a “full and proper examination of its role” nor a “sufficient discussion about its practices or expectations for its effectiveness” has yet been conducted. 

Pondiscio argues that the term is “vague,” “bland,” and “pseudoscientific.” When deploying SEL, teachers become more than mere educators, but also take on the role of a “therapist, social worker, or member of the clergy—no less concerned with a child’s beliefs, attitudes, and values.” These are roles that teachers may be unwilling and unqualified to fill, and many parents believe this constitutes an overstep by the schools into their children's lives. 

Pondiscio asks, “At what point does a school’s concern for its students’ emotional health and well-being, however well intentioned, become too personal, too intrusive, and too sensitive to be a legitimate function of public school and thus the state?”

Read his report here.


Join the FAIR Community

Click here to become a FAIR volunteer or to join a FAIR chapter:

Join a Welcome to FAIR Zoom information session to learn more about our mission by clicking here. Or, to watch a previously recorded session click here to visit the Member section of www.fairforall.org.


Foundation Against Intolerance & Racism
485 Madison Avenue, 16th Floor  | New York, New York 10022

Follow Us