The Freedom Budget looks like a fine idea to me

I was watching this video in which Chrisiousity takes apart a lecture by Gad Saad. Saad, as you may know, is one of those regressive types, an adherent of the cult of evolutionary psychology, who is the darling of all those conservative gentlemen who want to believe that traditional values are the best values, scientifically. He’s not exactly someone I think is worth listening to, but Chrisiousity does a fine job of questioning his claims, so that was worthwhile.

I was struck by one thing, though: Saad puts up an abbreviated version of Dartmouth’s Freedom Budget, a plan for increasing diversity and representation at the university, and seems to think it’s a bad thing. I guess this is a distinct difference between us, because I read it and thought it was excellent and aspirational, and would like to see it implemented everywhere. Saad seems to think it’s obvious that it is an evil plan.

Here’s the opening of the Freedom Budget, which clearly lays out the purpose and goals of the plan.

We, the Concerned Asian, Black, Latin@, Native, Undocumented, Queer, and Differently-Abled students at Dartmouth College, seek to eradicate systems of oppression as they affect marginalized communities on this campus. These systems–which include racism, classism, sexism, heterosexism, and ableism–are deployed at Dartmouth and beyond as forms of institutional violence. We demand that Dartmouth challenge these systems by redistributing power and resources in a way that is radically equitable. We believe that dialogue and resistance are both legitimate and necessary ways of disturbing the status quo and forcing parties to deal with the roots of the issues.

For our resistance, we have chosen to invoke The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Civil Rights Movement because Dartmouth claims to celebrate both the man and the movement with month-long programming. Prior to his death, Dr. King had been working with the larger movement to produce a “Freedom Budget.” This Freedom Budget focused on redistributing power and restoring justice for communities who suffered economic oppression at the hands of rich, white power structures. This budget was not a proposal for better interpersonal interactions, but a proposal to transform oppressive structures. Dartmouth epitomizes power being isolated to rich, white males. As such, there is no better place than this campus to campaign for a Freedom Budget that will address the consequences of white male patriarchy today.

Yes. We need to stop shrugging our shoulders, retreating to the excuse that this is just the way it is, and make changes to enable better representation. Really, you can’t just appease white guilt and say “we wish we had more black faculty”…you have to take the next step and actually hire them.

But, as I said, Saad just put up a sample of the demands. This one.

It still looks fine to me.

Establish Japanese Language affinity housing, Korean Language affinity housing, and Hindi-Urdu Language affinity housing.

Saad moans about identity politics here, but this is an issue of practical concern. If you are attracting diverse students with different native languages, help them. Dartmouth apparently already has Chinese and Arabic affinity language housing, this is just asking to do likewise with other cultures. Your services should reflect the student body, and provide support for all of them.

Why does Saad find this controversial?

Ensure that 47% of post-doctoral students are people of color.

Unfortunately, they don’t have a mechanism provided for doing this: post-docs are typically hired by research groups, not directly by the university, so the university does not have much influence here. But the logic is sound: the full document points out that “They should match the student of color population at Dartmouth”, and since post-docs are the next generation of the professoriate, making their population match the undergraduate population offers both better representation now, and will improve representation in the future.

It’s a nice idea. We should be wondering why the students we’re training are not being fairly represented in the next stage of professional development. We should be doing something about it.

Create a professor of color lecture series, bring a professor of color once a month in to expose the Dartmouth community to a wide range of ideas.

Only once a month? This is a trivial request. At large research universities, it’s not uncommon for individual departments to bring in speakers once a week.

Departments that do not have womyn or people of color will be considered in crisis and must take urgent and immediate action to right the injustice.

Saad mindlessly echoes the bias that perpetuates this situation: do we really think we should insist that math and engineering programs that don’t have any women faculty are a problem? YES. There are plenty of women mathematicians and engineers. That there are more men in those fields does not imply an absence of qualified women, and you don’t get to use that as an excuse to amplify the bias. If your department cannot find non-white, non-male candidates for a position, that clearly says there is a crisis…most likely a consequence of implicit bias by current faculty.

Ask staff/faculty to use students’ and employees’ preferred gender pronouns.

This one always provokes indignation from assholes like Saad. He tells an anecdote about a women who suggested that he should ask all the students in his class what pronouns they prefer, and he acted like that was an onerous and ridiculous demand.

It’s not. We routinely ask students to tell us their names, and it’s reasonable to expect us to treat them as individuals and respect who they are. Pronouns aren’t significantly harder (but they are slightly harder, because we often have to overcome years of cultural training, and I sometimes screw up). But if you’re willing to see each student as a unique individual — as you should, as a teacher — this is not too much to ask.

Also, you don’t actually have to go around the room and ask. I’ve found that if I just include the phrase “preferred pronouns: he, him” on my syllabus, students are quite happy to offer their preferences in return.

All male-female checkboxes should be replaced with write-in boxes to make forms, surveys, and applications more inclusive for trans*, two-spirit, agender, gender-noncomforming and genderqueer folks. This should be a campus-wide policy.

Saad construes this as a denial of science, which he avers states that there are only two sexes. This is not true. There are reproductive concerns if we’re trying to breed organisms, but that is totally irrelevant to the classroom, which is a complex sociological construct in itself, with students who have complex and diverse identities which cannot be neatly constrained to two check boxes. Universities should have zero interest in grouping students into breeding pairs. They should have a strong interest in recognizing the unique identities within the student body.

This is also an easy no-brainer. Why insist that all students must conform to one of precisely two patterns? What is your purpose in this?

Enact curricular changes that require all students to interrogate issues of social justice, marginalization and exploitation in depth. Each student should have to take classes that will challenge their understanding of institutionalize injustice around issues of race, class, gender, sexuality, etc. This learning objective should be embedded in all first year seminars.

Saad seems to think this is a demand for indoctrination. It’s the opposite. Notice the language: “interrogate”, “challenge”. This is a statement that a university education should wake people out of complacency and question the status quo. It’s not saying what they should think, but that they should think. I approve of this goal.

At my university, we already have requirements for breadth. Students are expected to take a year of a foreign language, for instance, and I can tell you…we get complaints about that. We require students, even biology majors, to take courses in history and social sciences and literature and all kinds of stuff, and we encourage them to study music and art as well. Universities are not vocational schools where you go to get a certificate in some narrow skill.

As for putting it as a learning objective in all first year seminars, this is also not a big deal. Maybe Saad thinks his classroom is a place for him to pontificate and ramble, but we actually have to put some thought into what we specifically want as outcomes of a course, and we lay out lists of objectives to be met. This is also important for accreditation — the accrediting agencies aren’t going to sit through every lecture in every course. They’re going to ask for evidence that we actually have a well-thought-out curriculum and that we assess our work routinely.

All professors will be required to be trained in not only cultural competency but also the importance of social justice in their day-to-day work.

I understand that some people, like Saad, have a knee-jerk negative response to the words “social justice”, but too bad. If you haven’t thought about the social context of your work, you don’t belong in a university where you have to teach a diverse student body, and not only compel them to memorize a bunch of facts, but learn how the material has context and meaning in their lives.

Of course, Gad Saad is outraged that universities are silencing, he thinks, conservative views, and he goes around lecturing people at other universities about how his kind of voice has been censored. It reminds me of that time David Horowitz spoke at St John’s University, and he ranted and railed about how he was oppressed and not allowed to express his views, and how those social justice types would never allow his opinions to be heard, and in the Q&A, one student raised his hand to mention that his entire class was in attendance — his entire class of women’s studies people studying peaceful strategies for the world.

I will just note that Gad Saad is employed as a university professor and gets far more respect and invitations to speak elsewhere than he deserves, given the deplorable quality of his arguments.


  1. F.O. says

    There seems to be some mysterious pattern of people loudly telling the world how they are being silenced. =/

  2. Pierce R. Butler says

    … and Hindi-Urdu Language affinity housing.

    Dunno about their stateside contingents, but those two South Asian populations have historical and (increasingly) current frictions, what with Hindutva on one side and Deobandi madrassas on the other. Do those students all really want to cohabit?

  3. says

    Saad seems to think this is a demand for indoctrination. It’s the opposite. Notice the language: “interrogate”, “challenge”. This is a statement that a university education should wake people out of complacency and question the status quo. It’s not saying what they should think, but that they should think.

    I can imagine a counter to this: Think of the “Wedge Strategy.” Oh, they say it’s about “interrogating” and “challenging,” but those words are there to trick people into thinking this is more or less benign when it is truly a strategy to indoctrinate!
    But, if that were the counter, I’d want to see evidence for such a claim. I’ve been involved with intersex advocacy groups and have generally seen the people in those groups challenge the status quo and not be out to indoctrinate. (The exception is with the people who come from religious-right backgrounds…that’s a whole different can of worms, but one short of it is that they think they, of course, get their religion right while their brethren are hateful and closed-minded.)

  4. unclefrogy says

    The contradiction of knuckle head expressing his view that he is prevented from doing so is so common as to be laughable. They demand openness when what they really want is the total acceptance of their beliefs without question. when their ideas and beliefs are given an equal place in the discussion they fail to win over a majority.
    they only succeed through the use off the censorship, that they always complain of, and the lies and distortions they habitually and reflexively use.
    uncle frogy

  5. emergence says

    In the college courses I’ve taken that are about social issues, you’re mostly expected to do research on the subject to come up with your own answers to the questions raised by the class. This idea that college courses are Clockwork Orange-esque brainwashing is a complete fabrication.

  6. says

    Regarding the language-affinity spaces, I have heard one argument that too much language compartmentalization can be detrimental. The story related to me was that a group of students for whom English was a second language were in a university chemistry lab. The one among them who had the best command of English was relaying instructions from the professor, and they were conversing among themselves in their native language. They were using this method instead of working on their English skills.

    The professor insisted that they needed sufficient command of English to converse in it to be in his lab, because there were materials around that could kill everyone there if misused, and he as an instructor had to both be sure his students understood the instructions, and be able to hear people getting procedures wrong so he could stop them.

  7. says

    I can accept that when someone is responsible for others’ safety, that person wouldn’t want to take on that responsibility for people with whom that person can’t effectively communicate.

    But while I have no specialized knowledge about university housing, Dartmouth has already made the decision – presumably undertaken by people far more knowledgeable than me and considering information specific to the Dartmouth campus – that this is a plan safe enough to implement for two language-affinity groups. So I doubt your argument applies to campus housing for, e.g., Japanese-proficient students.


    When I read the document, I was full of questions like, “How did they decide on the number 47%?” and “Why the fuck would it be only once per month?” But PZ addressed those two, and I found nothing in the document to be outrageous. There are simply certain things (like “what is the minimum size of a department, because a department with 2 faculty that doesn’t happen to have a woman among the two may or may not be a problem, but also maybe shouldn’t be assumed to be a ‘crisis’, eh?”) about which I’d want more information to make final decisions. Ultimately, though, I doubt I’d disagree with a single one if I had access to the fuller information considered by the students who made the document in the first place.

  8. says

    Universities have language proficiency requirements. They often enforce a bare minimum of competency, but we also have english as a second language courses — if I have a student who can’t understand minimal safety instructions, I’d be telling them they can’t take my course until they’ve improved their understanding.

    This is ‘Murica, damnit. Unlike European universities, we don’t teach many courses, other than foreign language, in any language other than English. (Not saying that’s a plus, just the way it is.)

  9. says

    #7: Related, at my small university, about the only departments that would have a faculty that tiny are, ironically enough, the foreign language disciplines. Math and the sciences tend to be large and have no excuse to not include women and minorities in their staff.

    And if it’s not math or science, the regressives want to abolish their programs altogether. Problem solved!

  10. says

    Most of this seems like a bunch of no-brainers to me (and certainly the four different Australian universities I’ve studied at over the years[1] seem to have picked up a lot of them as things to work at).

    For preferred gender pronouns – this is called “politeness”. It’s supposed to be a virtue conservatives revere. If you really don’t fancy using a person’s chosen pronouns, or if you really aren’t sure what their chosen pronouns might be, then you can refer to them by name, because that always makes it very clear who you’re referring to (this tip comes from a long-time reader of slash fanfic – names are always preferable over pronouns as identifiers in any situation where it might be difficult to tell who is doing what with which to whom).

    Quite honestly, I really don’t see the point in every institution out there asking me questions about my assigned gender at birth, or my genital configuration in the first place. I mean, the only place it really makes a difference is when it comes to peeing – am I a setter or a pointer? – and at that point it’s a case of “provide enough stalls and let everyone sort out for themselves how they use them”. There certainly isn’t a specifically masculine way of writing academic paragraphs, or a specifically feminine manner of crafting reference lists. The only need for the information is for equity purposes (and even then… offering more options means you can potentially provide more equity).

    As for the first year courses which interrogate issues of social justice, marginalisation and exploitation – a lot of universities have these as their standard “welcome to university study” courses here in Australia. Heck, it was how I was first exposed to the central concepts and thinkers in cultural studies back when I was first starting out in 1989, so they’ve been around for a while. Using these social justice issues, the questions of marginalisation and exploitation and so on as topics for these courses is actually very helpful: you wind up with something which is pretty subject-neutral to be teaching a mixed batch of students (so you don’t just have academics from one area teaching these – you can get a bunch of good professors and tutors from all the various subject areas to be collaborating on them) and which is often relevant to them either directly (because they’re from marginalised and exploited populations themselves, and are therefore intrinsically concerned with issues of social justice) or indirectly (because they’re going to be studying alongside people who are from marginalised groups, hopefully working with and alongside these groups, and certainly living in a world which contains them). It’s also something where research skills, listening skills, and skills in academic argumentation and disputation can be put to good use. Plus, of course, for the more sheltered students, it can have the other big effect of university study: that of opening the mind to a whole new world out there.

    [1] Long story, let’s just say that being mentally ill makes acquiring a degree a bit problematic at times.

  11. pinocchio says

    Before my retirement I taught Mathematics at a fairly large college and I was on the department hiring committee for quite a while. We (on the department level, not as a college wide policy) made an effort to have the makeup of our department reflect our very diverse stufent population and I believe we did this quite successfully over time. But if there had been some top down quota required it would have been more difficult because the number of qualified applicants would often vary wildly from one hiring to another. I don’t know if this would be a problem with post-docs at Dartmouth.
    Also, is the 47% figure per department or for all departments. If it is for all departments I have seen enough battles between departments to imagine some possible ugly scenarios.
    And what about enforcement. What happens if only 37% of post-docs are people of color?
    Overall the suggestions seem very reasonable.

  12. DanDare says

    Never quite understood why so many forms ask for gender in the first place. A lot of times it seems irrelevant.

  13. methuseus says

    I had one moment of confusion and one concern with the list. Overall it’s very reasonable to me (and I’m a white man saying that). My confusion stems from the language-specific housing. That was cleared up by the fact that they already have it for other specific languages, so that makes sense.

    My actual concern is with the free-form for gender. In order to incorporate that in their databases they would need a month or two of coding and testing to implement it, and maybe add a drive or two to their SAN to support the larger data requirements. That makes it a merely logistical problem. It would also be problematic to validate input on that field, but that’s another logistical problem that the administration would need to figure out. Really, the added space from a free-form field would be negligible, but real, so they would just have to plan for it.