The Columbia administration is totally out of touch with academic principles

If I lived a good bit further east, I’d be here this afternoon:

There have been several days of peaceful pro-Palestinian protests at Columbia University and Barnard College, which is not surprising. That’s what students should do; if other students want to rally for Israel, that’s fine, too. Unfortunately, the administration does not understand free speech at all, adopting the right-wing definition that says you are only allowed to freely agree with them.

They turned the police loose on the students. Protest leaders were summarily dismissed from the university, and evicted from housing, given minutes to clear out and get out.

They attempted to shut down the campus radio station. They prohibited students from putting posters on their dorm room doors. They colluded with conservatives to silence any protests.

The students sat on the ground and sang as police in riot gear approached them. Eventually, more than 100 of them would be arrested; their tents, protest signs and Palestinian flags were gathered into trash bags by the police and thrown away. One video showed officers and university maintenance workers destroying food that had been donated to the encampment, making sure it would be inedible. According to student journalists reporting from WKCR, Columbia University’s student radio station, one arrested student protester asked the police to be allowed to go to their dorm to collect medication and was denied; as a result, they went into shock. The arrested students were charged with “trespassing” on the campus that they are charged more than $60,000 a year to attend.

The day before her administration asked the New York police department to storm their campus and arrest their students, Minouche Shafik, the Columbia University president, testified before Congress, saying that she wanted her university to be a safe and welcoming environment for everyone. But Shafik, who was called to testify after missing a hearing last year where the presidents of Penn and Harvard were each grilled on their insufficient hostility to pro-Palestinian students, appeared eager to please the Republican-controlled committee. The Penn and Harvard presidents who had testified each lost their jobs soon thereafter; Shafik clearly entered the hearing room determined to keep her own.

A “safe and welcoming environment,” hah. Shafik and others made a knee-jerk over-reaction to the existence of opinions that their moneyed conservative interests disliked, and suddenly they’re the Gestapo. Students have since occupied one of the lawns at the university with tents and banners flying, and you can guess how the administration is reacting.

In yet another sign of the ongoing division between students and faculty on one side, and administrators on the other, the Barnard and Columbia faculty members of the American Association of University Professors have loudly deplored the actions of the administration.

Joint Statement by the American Association of University Professors,

Barnard and Columbia Chapters

April 19, 2024

The American Association of University Professors has defined two central pillars of higher education in America: academic freedom and shared governance: the freedom to teach and do research without interference from entities external to the profession; and the “inescapable interdependence among governing board, administration, faculty, students.” In the last three days, Columbia University President Shafik and her administration have seriously violated both. We are shocked at her failure to mount any defense of the free inquiry central to the educational mission of a university in a democratic society and at her willingness to appease legislators seeking to interfere in university affairs. She has demonstrated flagrant disregard of shared governance in her acceptance of partisan charges that anti-war demonstrators are violent and antisemitic and in her unilateral and wildly disproportionate punishment of peacefully protesting students.

President Shafik’s testimony before the House Education and Workforce Committee on April 17 has profoundly disturbed us. In the face of slanderous assaults on Columbia faculty and students and of gross interference in academic practices by Congressional inquisitors, President Shafik not only did not object—she capitulated to their demands. Academic freedom was formulated from its very beginning to safeguard faculty from political or other non-academic sources of intrusion. President Shafik, the co-chairs of the Board of Trustees, and the former Dean of the Law School allowed this freedom for Columbia faculty to be publicly shredded. They effectively pledged, on the Congressional record, to end academic freedom at Columbia.

President Shafik’s decision on April 18 to call upon the New York Police Department to arrest over one hundred students for engaging in a peaceful protest is a grotesque violation of norms of shared governance. Section 444 of University Statutes, put in place after the police attacks of 1968, requires “consultation” with the University Senate executive committee before anything so drastic as yesterday’s attack would be permitted. President Shafik’s administration did not consult; they informed the committee of its decision. “The Executive Committee did not approve the presence of NYPD on campus,” said the Executive Committee Chair, adding that the Committee came to their decision “unequivocally.” President Shafik’s decision to invite the NYPD to campus was thus undertaken unilaterally, disregarding the very idea of shared governance.

In Wednesday’s hearing, President Shafik repeatedly claimed that she was inaugurating a new era at Columbia. Her actions thus far suggest that this era will be one of repressed speech, political restrictions on academic inquiry, and punitive discipline against the University’s own students and faculty. As the protesters’ chant rightly states, “Protest is democracy; this is a travesty!” AAUP Barnard and Columbia pledge continued support for our students’ right to protest and to speak freely, and for our colleagues’ right to teach and to write freely within their domains of expertise. We have lost confidence in our president and administration, and we pledge to fight to reclaim our university.

The administration is selling out the university and betraying faculty and students.

“It’s the most appalling thing I’ve ever seen,” said Nadia Abu El-Haj, an anthropology professor who was on the school’s lawn when the police entered. “The students were extraordinary. Chanting. Crying. It felt like a total violation of everything an academic institution is supposed to be.” She said the arrests were political theater aimed at appeasing Congress without concern that students were collateral damage.

“Palestine was always going to be the issue that broke this university,” said Ry Spada, 24, a history major who is Jewish and was part of the pro-Palestinian protest Thursday night, identifying as non-Zionist. “This year and this topic.”

James Applegate, an astronomy professor who is part of the executive committee of the Columbia University Senate, said he is more concerned about what happened on Capitol Hill on Wednesday, the ongoing loss of academic freedom and the culture on campus than he is about police making peaceful arrests of student protesters.

I don’t even understand that last comment. Students are being arrested, dismissed, and evicted — it’s important to stand on principle, but these are young people who are being actively harmed. I stand with the students and a liberated Palestine. This isn’t stopping, and shame on any college professor who supports the tyranny of Columbia University and Barnard College.

Two weeks to go

I made a brilliant planning decision way back at the beginning of the semester. Bless you, Fall Term PZ!

My big course this term is EcoDevo — big ol’ textbook, lots of papers from the scientific literature, all new lectures, etc. One part of the course is that the students have to do presentations on aspects of eco devo that interest them, and I scheduled that for the last two weeks of the class, which is coming up. That means I have no new lecture prep coming up! My weekends have been frantic this year: Saturday is dedicated to reading and studying, and Sunday is spent assembling those one hour lectures and putting together lists of concept questions. But not this weekend!

My second biggest class is called BioComm, and it’s a course in which I shepherd students through the exercise of writing a formal research paper, and this term by a terrible miscalculation I have 8 students. It’s too many. Never again. The problem is that I have to personally read these long papers in multiple steps of their development, and it’s a hell of a lot of grading and criticizing and revising. And here it is, the end of the semester, and there’s a pile of 20+ page papers sitting in my in-box.

So this is where I planned brilliantly: the weekends where I don’t have to work to make content for my eco devo course, are these final weekends where I instead have to read and mark up a monstrous mountain of student writing assignments! Perfect dovetailing! Two courses meshing smoothly together to bring me to the brink of insanity, but not quite over the edge into a gibbering breakdown!

My biocomm students get another chance to address my criticisms next week, so next weekend will be similarly consumed with a returning pile of papers, but then, in two weeks…FREEDOM! Spider time! Also I get to spend the summer preparing for yet another new class in the fall, so even my relatively free months have wicked shackles holding me back.

Daniel Dennett has died

The last time I met Dennett was at a Darwin Day event where we were a double bill. We had a good time, he told me stories about his heart surgery, mentioned that all he really wanted to do was get away to his farm and make apple cider, we got to talking about evolution, and I told him I didn’t care much at all for his book, Darwin’s Dangerous Idea — it was naively adaptationist. He asked my opinion of free will, and I told him I never argue about it, because it was all an illusion and it didn’t matter whether minds had it or not. We got along famously, and corresponded for a while afterwards, until the fact that I was disenchanted with Dawkins, despised Harris, thought the whole idea of the “four horsemen” was disappointing jingo, and that sexism was poisoning everything, made me persona non grata among prominent atheists. Oh, well, we were friends for a while.

Now Dennett has died. That’s a sadness, because he was a good guy and brought a thoughtful, humanist perspective to atheism. I hope someone is taking care of his apples.

With Hitchens and Dennett dead, and Dawkins doddering on the edge of irrelevant crankiness, I guess that leaves young Mr Harris, the least of the quartet, holding the legacy of the Four Horsemen, and that propaganda concept can now fade away, unlamented. Dennett’s legacy will continue and his books are worth thinking about, even when I disagree with them.

Wokehammer?

I’ve never played Warmhammer, never owned any of the books or models, and I only just today learned something surprising.

Numerous Warhammer players are cancelling their subscriptions and announcing a boycott of Games Workshop after the company retconned their Adeptus Custodes faction to add females.

The surprise is that they never had feeeeemale characters in their game before? What?

Following this retcon and the subsequent gaslighting from Games Workshop, numerous hobbyists, enthusiasts, and former customers have cancelled their subscriptions to Games Workshop’s subscription service Warhammer+ and have pledged to boycott the company going forward.

On April 14th, X user GrimmDark1 shared a screenshot of him canceling his subscription. He wrote, “Kiss my a** GW. Not another penny.”

He explained why he canceled and why he’s boycotting in a subsequent post, ‘For those asking “wut happen?’ GW disrespected their lore by changing decades old lore of the Custodies only taking males from the highborn families of Terra to become Custodies to ‘Nah women can be Custodies now too, and they’ve totally always been a thing since the beginning! Even though they’ve never been mentioned in any codex or BL book before. We totally aren’t doing this for ESG money from Blackrock and Vanguard!’.”

Uh, OK. They need to realize that it’s a game, and it’s already got a complicated and twisty lore, so adding one more twist is nothing that radical. But great, sure, stop playing, no one is forcing you to play, and in particular, no one says you have to play the one faction tainted with the imaginary scent of pretend womankind. Gamers are weird, man.

Is this part of the article a joke? Or are these people this delusional?

This boycott of Games Workshop and Warhammer due to its obvious embrace of feminist ideology can only be seen as a good thing because it means less people will be subjected to future propaganda that Games Workshop will inject into its games, books, and TV shows. It also means the demoralization that comes along with this propaganda will be blunted.

This demoralization was noted by former KGB agent Yuri Bezmenov who warned about it back in the 1980s. He shared that this demoralization campaign employed psychological warfare techniques to “change the perception of reality of every American to such an extent that despite an abundance of information no one is able to come to sensible conclusions in the interests of defending themselves, their family, their community, and their country.”

He elaborated, “It’s a great brainwashing process which goes very slow and it’s divided in four basic stages. The first one being demoralization. It takes from 15 to 20 years to demoralize a nation. Why that many years? Because this is the minimum number of years which requires to educate one generation of students in the country of your enemy- exposed to the ideology of the enemy in other words Marxism, Leninism ideology is pumped into the soft heads of at least three generations of American students without being challenged or counterbalanced by the basic values of Americanism. American patriotism.”

The proof is in the damnable pudding

There are many ways to assess the utility of a policy. One way is to simply ask who favors the policy. There are many known bad actors who wear their bigotry on their sleeve, so if you find them favoring something, there may be something wrong with it.

The anti-trans frenzy is peaking in England this week following the release of a much-anticipated review by Dr. Hillary Cass on transgender care. Many anticipated that the report would serve as a pretext to ban transgender care in England, and it appears to have been crafted to provide just such a rationale. Nations already enacting restrictive laws against transgender individuals will likely use it as justification for further discrimination. In the United States, far-right Christian nationalist groups, including Heritage Foundation (retweeted), Association of Christian Schools International, and the Alliance Defending Freedom, have cited it to support anti-trans legislation they are involved in drafting or lobbying. The Cass Review is an exercise in politics with predetermined conclusions, not science and medicine, and health authorities worldwide should reject its findings.

Uh-oh. Far-right conservative Christian groups in America are cheerleading for the Cass Report? But I thought England had embraced a “defanged” version of Christianity that would never harm gentle, diverse souls, and there they go, welcoming the rabid version of Protestantism that was supposed to only exist in the Colonies!

We can also ask whose opinions Dr Cass found worthy and interesting.

After a series of political attacks on transgender people and rising anti-trans sentiment in the country, the NHS commissioned a review and tapped Dr. Hillary Cass, a pediatrician whose list of follows on social media include extremist anti-trans sources such as Transgender Trend (which argues, as is obvious, that being transgender is a “trend”), the LGB Alliance (a LGB group that believes in “dropping the T,” or transgender people), and Graham Linehan (an anti-trans activist and comedian), along with many other noted anti-trans voices.

While collecting anecdotes about the harms that transgender care does, Dr Cass was unable to find any significant evidence of such care damaging patients. I would offer an anecdote of my own, about how anti-trans ideology does great harm, needing only to list Graham Linehan, a fanatic whose anti-trans fervor has destroyed his own family, wrecked his career, and demolished his reputation. Case closed.

To demonstrate the great damage that the report does to human beings, though, we only have to look at its immediate consequences. The Scotland health service is now taking away puberty blockers from their patients!

Scotland’s only clinic to offer treatment to gender-questioning young people has paused prescribing puberty blockers and cross-sex hormones in light of last week’s publication of the Cass review.

The Sandyford clinic, based in Glasgow, which offers a range of services including emergency contraception, abortion and support for sexual assault victims as well as transgender healthcare, posted a service update online on Thursday morning.

It stated: “Referrals from the Sandyford sexual health services to paediatric endocrinology for the prescription of puberty suppressing hormones have been paused for any new patients assessed by our young person’s gender service.

“Patients aged 16 to 17 years old who have not been treated by paediatric endocrinology, but who are still seeking treatment for their gender incongruence, will no longer be prescribed gender-affirming hormone treatment until they are 18 years old.”

And puberty and sexual development are allowed to march onwards, compounding their effects and worsening the psychological conflicts these people already have, and requiring greater medical effort to roll them back years later. A cruel move.

America is watching, and eagerly anticipating making young people similarly miserable on this side of the Atlantic.

How desperate are you for a job as a teacher?

There’s an opportunity for you to teach physics, chemistry, and algebra, and all you need is a bachelor’s degree and student teaching experience. Easy! These are minimal qualifications that lot of newly graduating students could meet. Some of the other expectations, though…

The qualified individual must be an evangelical Christian committed to living a biblical lifestyle in all areas and in full agreement with the school’s statement of faith. The teacher is expected to be in alignment with the science and biblical positions held at Answers in Genesis and able to teach physical sciences (physical science, chemistry, and physics) and possibly math (Algebra 2/Pre-Calc.) from a biblical worldview in the classroom. The teacher must also be able to distinguish operational vs historical science as well as be able to articulate the evolutionary beliefs correctly while being able to refute them biblically and scientifically. The teacher must also have a good understanding of AiG’s presuppositional apologetic approach and know how to incorporate it in the classroom.

The teacher shall be one who feels called of God to the teaching profession. The teacher must maintain a teachable spirit while demonstrating patience, humility, integrity, and kindness while performing his/her day-to-day duties. He/she must be devoted to prayerfully work with administration, faculty, students, and parents to develop and maintain a school which is thoroughly Christian and academically exceptional. The teacher shall prayerfully help students learn attitudes, skills, and subject matter that will contribute to their development as mature, able, and responsible Christians to the glory of God.

Boy howdy, that’s a lot, especially given that AiG’s “operational/historical” categorization of science isn’t shared by any legitimate educational organization. I think their idea that their institution must be academically exceptional is going to be butting heads with their demand that it be thoroughly Christian.

But that’s not all! Their list of expectations go on and on and on, like they were lingering over the exercise, masturbating with their Bible while gleefully adding more and more Jebus to the job.

  • Adhere to the statement of faith
  • Be deeply committed to a consistent daily walk with Jesus Christ
  • Spend time daily in personal devotions and prayer
  • Faithfully attend a local, Bible-believing church
  • Be a Christian role model in attitude, speech, and actions towards others. This includes being committed to God’s biblical standards for sexual conduct (Luke 6:40)
  • Show by example the importance of Scripture study and memorization, prayer, witnessing, and unity in the Body of Christ
  • Follow the Matthew 18 principle in dealing with students, faculty, parents, and administration
  • Motivate students to accept God's gift of salvation and to grow in their faith
  • Possess the ability to work gracefully with parents, students, and other school staff to develop a unified and successful educational program
  • Demonstrate the ability to accept and carry out responsibilities and make competent, professional decisions
  • Be willing to eagerly participate in professional development
  • Recognize the role of parents as primarily responsible before God for their children's education and be prepared to assist them in that task
  • Maintain a personal appearance that is a Christian role model of cleanliness, modesty, good taste, and in agreement with school policy
  • Respectfully submit and be loyal to constituted authority. Teachers should notify the administration of any policy he/she is unable to support. Teachers should also be willing to provide input and constructive recommendations for administrative and managerial functions in the school

There’s much much more, most of it basic stuff about being able to work with students and parents, compose lesson plans, refuting false religions, etc. It’s all a big long warning that you are going to be completely micromanaged by a gang of authoritarians who will demand total dogmatic obedience.

Are you sold? Then all that’s left is a few final steps:

  • Completion of on-line application
  • Salary Requirements
  • Salvation Testimony
  • Creation Belief Statement
  • Confirmation of your agreement with the AiG Statement of Faith
  • Completion of a Background Check and Pre-Employment Drug Screen

They don’t say what they’re paying, though. I’d demand a few million dollars a year to debase myself that much.

Is astrology low-hanging fruit? How about creationism?

It’s odd that I haven’t seen much skeptical criticism of astrology lately — it’s one pseudoscience that has been laughed into the shadows. On the other hand, I see a lot of flat earth and creationist nonsense, and they’re just as or even more ridiculous as astrology, so I’m curious how nonsense gets promoted or dismissed in popular culture.

It may simply be a matter of what bits of popular culture we choose to read. John Gruber finds an example in the magazine Women’s Health.

So, what makes the Great American Eclipse of April 8, 2024 so special? Ancient astronomers — who, by the way, were also astrologers — believed that the geographical area where any eclipse was visible would energetically feel its effects the most.

Gruber has a nice simple rebuttal.

So here’s my “by the way” retort to Montúfar’s aside: how many astronomers today — not in “ancient” times — are also astrologers? Spoiler: the answer is fucking zero.

How many astronomers believe the Earth is flat? 0. How many physicists believe the Earth is 6,000 years old? Not quite 0, but pretty close. Similarly, how many biologists reject evolution? Again, practically 0, and the exceptions are all driven by weird religious ideologies and make no contribution to science.

Meanwhile, astronomers have discovered a black hole of 33 solar masses a mere 2000 light years away. Isn’t that more interesting than imaginary astrological forces following along in the wake of an eclipse’s shadow?

In yet another discursion, Angela Collier’s latest video (I know, some of my readers don’t care for her, but bear with me) is about the obvious grift of ‘spectacle debates’ in contrast to real scientific debates. She uses as an example the Nye-Ham creationist debate, and I 100% agree with her that that was a terrible debate. You know Ken Ham still brings it up in his talks quite frequently as a triumphant moment for creationism, right?

I laughed when she talked about how Nye just helped Ham pocket $400,000, and did publicity for Ham to get tax-free donations to build an ark and “definitely not private jets or whatever that guy does” because…Ken Ham does have a private jet, one that makes regular, mysterious trips to the Cayman Islands.

It’s a Cessna Citation V, ID N190JK, if you want to keep an eye on it. I wonder what a religious organization is doing making all those flights to well-known tax haven? Perhaps they’re busy converting the natives. Or just socking away all the profits from their spectacle debates and pseudoscience and stupid fake ark tourist trap.