Updating to add: I had it in mind all along that Hunt was pushed out of a non-tenured position, but the post doesn’t reflect that. He wouldn’t be pushed out of a tenured position because of his remarks, and I wouldn’t advocate that he should be.
Many of the usual suspects – Dawkins, yes, but not only Dawkins – are raging about the illiberal attacks on Tim Hunt. But they’re doing it by ignoring the time and place at which he made his oh so funny “joke.” They’re ignoring the fact that he said it in a work environment. Picture an admiral trash-talking about women in the Navy, at an official Navy event. Would that be generally considered a mere joke? Picture a CEO making racist comments at a company banquet – would that be seen as just some yuks among buddies?
I don’t think so.
Dawkins in his tweet cited this awful article in Reason by the always-awful Brendan O’Neill. (Yes really, Our Brendan yet again.) The whole piece is deeply dishonest, because it does that pretending it was just a joke on a social occasion thing.
Hunt is a British biochemist. A really good one. In 2001 he won the Nobel Prize for his breakthrough work on cells. He’s a fellow of the Royal Society in London, founded in 1660 and thought to be the oldest scientific research institution in the world. And this week he was unceremoniously ditched by University College London for telling a joke.
No. Not just “for telling a joke” – for telling it when and where and to whom he did.
But Our Brendan takes that line throughout.
In a normal world, a world which valued the freedom to make a doofus of oneself, that should have been the end of it. Seventy-two-year-old man of science makes outdated joke, tumbleweed rolls by, The End.
No. That’s staggeringly disingenuous. He wasn’t being a “doofus” and it wasn’t just an “outdated joke.” It was a top man expressing (“jokey”) contempt for women in his field, at a work conference in that field. It was, in short, a hostile work environment. Saying it was “just a joke” hasn’t cut it in about thirty years.
But we don’t live in a normal world. Certainly we don’t live in a world where people are allowed to make off-color comments. And so with tedious, life-zapping predicability, Hunt fell victim to the offence-policers, to the machine of outrage being constantly cranked up by self-styled guardians of what we may think, say, and even joke about.
Nope, and nope, and nope. All wrong. All ignoring the salient points.
His comments were branded “shocking and bewildering.” (You find a silly joke bewildering? You really should get out more.) And then came the denouement to this latest outburst of confected fury: Hunt “resigned” from UCL, where he was honorary professor.
“Resign” is in quote marks because it’s pretty clear he was elbowed out. Consider UCL’s statement about his leaving. “UCL was the first university in England to admit women students on equal terms to men, and the university believes that this outcome [Hunt’s resignation] is compatible with our commitment to gender equality.”
Quite. That’s part of their job, do you see? To make sure there isn’t a hostile work environment for women and other despised groups at UCL. They have every right to say what they did, and in fact a duty to.
That’s another way of saying that Hunt’s penchant for making un-PC jokes was incompatible with life at UCL. So he had to be excommunicated. Professors of Britain, be warned: tell a funny that irritates the right-on, and you shall be cast out.
No. Again, it’s not about mere irritation, it’s about a hostile work environment. I don’t believe O’Neill is too stupid to grasp that.
What is truly alarming, what should really send a shiver down every liberal’s spine, is not the words that came out of Hunt’s mouth but the haranguing of him that followed, the shunning of him by the academy and possibly by the scientific elite itself.
Nonsense. The academy needs to ensure that casual sexism and racism aren’t just business as usual. That’s part of their job.
The response to Hunt is way more archaic than what Hunt said. Sure, his views might be a bit pre-women’s lib, pre-1960s. But the tormenting and sacking of people for what they think and say is pre-modern. It’s positively Inquisitorial.
“Women’s lib”??? It’s sheer affectation – he’s nowhere near old enough for that absurd label to be a natural part of his vocabulary – it’s been dead as a dodo since 1971 at the latest. And again, it’s not about what Hunt thinks and says in general, it’s about what he thinks and says on the job.
The Hunt incident is quite terrifying. For what we have here is a university, under pressure from an intolerant mob, judging a professor’s fitness for office by his personal thoughts, his idea of humour. Profs should be judged by one thing alone: their depth of knowledge. It shouldn’t matter one iota if they are sexist, stupid, unfunny, religious, uncouth, ugly, or whatever. All that should matter is whether they have the brainpower to do the job at hand.
Nope. They have other duties as part of the job. Their “depth of knowledge” is not a free pass to be dismissive and scornful (however jestingly) toward subordinates. Professors don’t have a golden permit to say anything they feel like saying merely because they’re professors. Professing is a job, and it has requirements.
UCL and the mob’s hounding of Hunt echoes the university of the pre-Enlightenment era, when only those who were 100 percent Good Catholics had a hope in hell of getting a job. Only now, academics must be unflinchingly in accordance with the commandments of PC rather than with Biblical thinking. A Nobel Laureate has been broken on the wheel of PC. This is bad. Really bad. For if even a Nobel winner can be treated like this, what hope is there for lesser professors? The chilling effect of the Hunt debacle on the Western academy is likely to be pretty intense.
No, it’s not “PC.” It’s the rules of the workplace. Deal with it.