Letters

Seth Forman

To the Editor:

I am writing to say that I find Jon K. Chang’s article “On Ethnic Cleansing and Revisionist Russian History” (Summer, 2019) very strongly argued, and boldly polemical (justifiably so). His research on Korean victims and perpetrators of ethnic cleansing is unparalleled in its depth and use of primary informants. His argument is that the older generation of Soviet scholars, claiming to deal with social history, has for various reasons (in my view, reluctance to compare Stalinism to Hitlerism) downplayed the role of racial discrimination and prejudice in Stalin's relocations, deportations, and genocidal actions. Chang's courage is an integral part of his research, since he is challenging the “Stockholm syndrome” that has affected some senior American scholars in their often too complacent examination of the processes behind Soviet ethnic cleansing. This article, like others by Chang, will provoke strong reactions, but, after due thought, I reckon the previous generation(s) of Sovietologists will have to concede that Chang is right.

Donald Rayfield

Emeritus Professor of Russian and Georgian

Queen Mary University of London

To the Editor:

In response to Jon Chang's article “On Ethnic Cleansing and Revisionist Russian History” (Summer, 2019) I wish to amplify some points. I obtained a Ph.D. in Russian history in 1997 from Stanford.

Historians of the school that Chang criticizes have a trademark reluctance to admit the power of ethnic or national biases in the attitudes of Soviet leaders and their henchmen. Practitioners of "class analysis," the term they used after calling oneself Marxist became too embarrassing even in academia, could not envision a world where class was—is—the last thing driving politicians or the general public. Other motives were at work too, including apologetics for the Soviet regime.

The late Prof. Alex Dallin often said that one of the pre-1991 field's great failings was the lack of coverage of the "nationalities"—the non-Russian ethnic groups. I doubt enough has changed in this regard. The minorities, who never had someone on the Politburo, or a titular Soviet republic of their own, are terribly under-researched. Elderly ex-Soviets are a source of oral history and of family records, but the revisionists refused to conduct interviews and instead stayed in archives.

Finally, the field remains quite monochromatic even today, inevitably losing perspectives that scholars coming from non-typical backgrounds could bring.

George Lin

Silver Spring, Maryland

To the Editor:

Joseph Epstein’s “University Presidents” (Spring, 2019) is well-reasoned and informative. Nevertheless, this is not a limerick:

My name is Benjamin Jowett.

There's no knowledge but I know it.

I am Master of this College,

What I don't know isn't knowledge.

This is a limerick:

There was a young fellow named Brett,

An excellent student I’ll bet.

He worked hard at college

And hoped to gain knowledge,

But got just a mountain of debt.

David C. Stolinsky, Member NAS

M.D. University of California, San Francisco

To the Editor:

In March of this year (2019), I was made aware of a new National Science Foundation grant program called “ADVANCE: Organizational Change for Gender Equity in STEM Academic Professions.” With an eye toward increasing the presence of women in STEM fields, the program seeks to develop “intersectional approaches in the design of systemic change strategies for STEM faculty in recognition that gender, race and ethnicity do not exist in isolation from each other and from other categories of social identity.”1

I have only second hand expertise in the area of cognitive gender differences, but enough to recognize that this grant program, with its nod to intersectionality, and its coat-tailing of concern with minority representation in STEM sciences, is a waste of time and money. To the extent that it succeeds in promoting quota-oriented, as distinct from qualification-oriented, hiring in fields essential to our national interest and national defense, it rises to the functional equivalent of sabotage.

To provide some perspective with a recent personal event: I ran into an old colleague from my university the other day, also long retired. He keeps in touch with campus activities, I do not. He was in the biological sciences, I was in sociology. Although he has long known of my involvement in research on race and IQ (not a secret on campus) and does not want to accept findings on group differences in intelligence because of his gut feelings related to his escape from Nazi Germany in childhood with his parents, he has always been friendly and courteous to me. So, we conversed. The following paragraph reconstructs part of our conversation.

His old department has many committees involved in hiring faculty, and they must check off many boxes at each step. About one-hundred applications are received for an advertised opening. About ten candidates are invited to visit and make presentations. In the years since he retired or thereabouts, the department has found only one black candidate that it has hired. And that person did not make Associate Professor. His old department, however, now has many more women than the sole female faculty member it had when he first arrived over a half century ago. Women comprise about one-third of the current total. But, he pointed out, most of them are Asian. (As an aside, biology has always contained more women than the other STEM fields.)

I should not need to point out the implications of these relayed items of information. To be succinct, the department makes a labor-intensive, if not heroic, effort, but the black yield is scant to nonexistent, and the female yield consists mostly of minority Asians.

Does this picture suggest the need for the aforementioned ADVANCE program advertised by NSF? What it does suggest is that the advertised program is a politically correct boondoggle, which, if it has any impact at all, is conducive to encouraging unrealistic expectations among many candidates and more than likely unrealistic hiring by university departments desperate to stave off social justice-based criticism. Meanwhile, China, which many authoritative sources identify as posing our stiffest competition in both science and world politics, contains more Asians than the entire mixed U.S. population, by a factor of about 4.25. Asians, last time I looked, tend to exhibit the cognitive profile tilt that is recognized by experts as favoring careers in STEM fields rather than in humanities and verbal professions. Do the math. Our national talent pool is dwarfed by China’s. National survival is at stake, not just the integrity of higher education, although the two are clearly linked. Our first priority in the STEM fields must be excellence, not equity.

Robert A. Gordon

Professor of Sociology (ret.)

Johns Hopkins University

Baltimore, Maryland

To the Editor:

I am relatively new to NAS, not knowing about the organization until informed by my older brother, W. Lee Hansen, who has long waged a campaign against the diversity programs at the University of Wisconsin for their vagueness, lack of accountability, irrelevance, and other failings of the sort described by so many contributors to Academic Questions. Although self-described as a liberal, I am one in the old fashioned sense: the sort for whom “liberal” in “liberal arts” has a proud—and now threatened—history.

Allow me to share just a bit more of my past. After undergraduate majoring in English, followed by an M.A. in English and a university instructorship for two years, I switched to graduate study and a Ph.D. in philosophy. My aim throughout was to be a teacher in a liberal arts program, preferably at a liberal arts college. Lake Forest College offered a perfect position: half-time philosophy courses and half-time Western Civ, the typical (in those days) required freshman course, at LFC taught by faculty from history, classics (Greek and Latin), English, philosophy, religion, and French departments. I chaired that course until its demise, along with the demise of the physical education, language, and math requirements (and the Classics positions), as faculty and administrators succumbed to student protests in the tumultuous days of 1968 and 1969. A common enough story.

Although Western Civ got lost in this turmoil, a colleague in the religion department and I salvaged the Greek Civilization course as an expression of our ongoing commitment to the liberal arts. We made this study of selections from Homer, Aeschylus, Herodotus, Sophocles, Thucydides, Aristophanes, Plato, and Aristotle a prerequisite for a program abroad we devised, studying Minoan and Mycenaean through Byzantine civilizations in situ, traveling throughout Greece and Western Turkey. This remained a popular program, drawing students as well from other colleges, every spring well into the 2000s, then less often in recent years.

In the meantime I had become chair of a thriving philosophy department and was in the forefront, as it were, in hiring qualified women and minorities. This was before such searches became a rather desperate part of hiring. But by the time I took early retirement, I had grown disillusioned with undergraduate students wanting to play a larger role in determining curricula and in expecting higher grades for inferior work. The nadir for me was when a student who I had failed for obvious and proven plagiarism on her final exam was allowed, by a student-faculty grievance committee, to retake the test and have it graded by someone else.

With that background, you can imagine how and why I found so refreshing the NAS mission with its dedication to the liberal arts and to true scholarship, and why I vibrate to much of what appears in AQ issues. But not everything. I take special issue with two items in the latest AQ.

David Randall (“Politicized Science,” Summer, 2019) justly castigates “social justice education” for its impact on curricula, hiring practices, scholarship funding, journal selectivity, and other untoward policies in the natural and (especially) social sciences. But I think the issues there differ greatly from what he decries in the early part of his essay. From what he says there, one might think he allies himself with climate change deniers, since he cites only challengeable research, not studies that support the concerns of those who fear for the impact of human action on our biosphere. He also speaks of “dubious policy advocacy,” “far too much policy advocacy from scientists,” “gatekeeping professionals [who] advocate unprofessionally for climate alarmism,” “climate alarmists,” and so on. If those scientists are even half-right in their analyses and predictions, shouldn’t they speak out? If not they, who?

I am reminded of the advocacy of Rachel Carson, fighting against the powers of the chemical industry by amassing data to show the harmful effects of DDT. As she wrote in a letter to a friend, “Knowing what I do, there would be no future peace for me if I kept silent.” In a review of Carson’s 2018 book Silent Spring and Other Writings on the Environment published in the London Review of Books, Meehan Crist writes that this was before settled or established science concerning such toxicological matters. Thanks in large part to the persuasiveness of Carson’s writing and advocacy, Congress passed the Clean Air Act, the Wilderness Act, the National Environmental Policy Act, the Clean Water Act, and the Endangered Species Act, and established the Environmental Protection Agency. As Crist writes, “No wonder, then, that writers, activists, and scientists concerned about the ongoing destruction of biodiversity and the catastrophic effects of climate change look to Carson with urgent nostalgia.” Apprehensions about the reported extinction of insects and animal and plant species, the melting of glaciers, the pollution of river, sea, and ocean waters seem to me not issues of “social justice” but rather ones about our very existence. It is hard for me to believe that all those scientists from around the world behind the Paris Climate Agreement are simply guilty, as Randall claims, of groupthink.

The other entry is on a topic less dire: Robert Maranto’s review of Darel E. Paul’s From Tolerance to Equality: How Elites Brought America to Same Sex Marriage (2018). While Maranto says he “supported gay and lesbian marriage since the 1970s,” he mocks the “elitists” who, he claims (supporting Paul), were instrumental in bringing about the change in position by the general public and thereby wide acceptance of the Supreme Court’s legalization. Members of the elite “class” “disdain traditional Christians,” are engaged in a “cultural war” and “identity politics,” seek “not equality but mastery,” and “reject objective research.” They “are insulated and shallow, excellent sheep seeking status rather than service or meaning.” As a qualified member of the elite (Harvard A.B. and Johns Hopkins Ph.D.), I find these characterizations demeaning, nor can I identify myself with any of them. Perhaps they legitimately apply to some of Maranto’s targets, but the use of such disparagements here and elsewhere in AQ lead me to wonder whether I can proudly belong to the NAS in spite of my allegiance to what I take to be the core mission.

My liberal arts education taught me that one of its core values was learning to analyze and assess dispassionately, taking into account all available evidence and expressing one’s own insights or argued conclusions with civility (see my “In Dialogue: The Principle of Civility in Academic Discourse,” Philosophy of Music Education Review, Fall, 2011). I would have thought that to be a fair expression of NAS values that would be honored by those whose writings appear in its publications. Perhaps the editor should remind submitters of the Society Membership Information appearing inside the cover of AQ referring to members “committed to rational discourse.”

In closing, I hope that being conservative does not mean “not being open to change,” as some AQ entries suggest, that it does not mean a failure to recognize social injustices which, unfortunately, are part of our American history (while not its main narrative), and that Jefferson’s “that all men are created equal” does not require us to take it in the sense of what it meant in his day (or even to him). After all, the concept of human equality is one we inherit from our Western intellectual tradition, going back to the ancient Greek philosophers and dramatists (think the Oresteia and Lysistrata, for example), despite its often excluding women and people with dark skins. And in spite of the inanities of currently voguish diversity schemes in American higher education, surely there has been some valuable scholarship emanating from the attention paid to those once neglected fields, uncovering real and often unsettling aspects of our past and thereby providing enlightenment of the sort promised by the liberal arts. I wonder: isn’t there a way that conservatism can acknowledge and incorporate these findings even while fighting against their abuse?

Forest Hansen, Ph.D.

Easton, MD

Emeritus Professor of Philosophy

Lake Forest College, Illinois

David Randall responds to Forest Hansen:

I suppose I am what’s called a “climate change denier”—because I favor subjecting climate science to the same strict reproducibility checks that apply to every science, because I doubt the certainty of alarmist policy built on science that hasn’t been submitted to that scrutiny, and because I dislike the way too many climate scientists short circuit the normal processes of scientific scrutiny to jimmy support for their policy goals. Nor am I sure Rachel Carson is an infallible authority; read a revisionist, and they’ll tell you that DDT wasn’t so harmful after all, but that Carson’s anti-DDT campaign has condemned millions to death from insect-borne diseases. But I do agree with Carson’s faith in the public and its ability to judge scientific matters: “The public,” she wrote in Silent Spring, “must decide whether it wishes to continue on the present road, and it can do so only when in full possession of the facts.” I do think that full possession of the facts will reveal that a terribly large portion of climate scientists have succumbed to groupthink—but I am always willing to change my mind.

Robert Maranto responds to Forest Hansen:

Professor Hansen correctly points out that I should have softened my language a bit. I hope to read his work on civil discourse.

That said, I believe we have two basic disagreements regarding the nature of America’s elites. Regarding bias against social conservatives (typically traditional Christians) in academia, particularly at elite institutions, there is substantial empirical documentation. My co-edited The Politically Correct University (AEI, 2009) cites some of that work. Likewise, see George Yancey’s “Recalibrating Academic Bias” published in these pages in 2012 (25, no. 2, 267–278) as well as his book, Compromising Scholarship: Religious and Political Bias in American Higher Education (Baylor University Press, 2011). We would have far more empirical work demonstrating biases against social conservatives if professors decided to study them; perhaps fearing the results, most do not. To be clear, this does not mean there is no discrimination against gay and lesbian persons; sadly, there is. In academia and elite corporations, however, social conservatives face far greater danger of sanctions. I cannot think of a Brenden Eich-type case [the founder of Mozilla forced to step down for supporting traditional marriage] involving a gay or lesbian individual, at least not in recent years.

I am certainly no social conservative, but I believe that if we disrespect social conservatives, it becomes far more difficult to reach reasoned and reasonable political compromises that we all can live with on matters like same sex marriage. One cannot negotiate with those one finds contemptible. That disdain also makes it difficult to do objective research, leading to attacks on researchers like Mark Regnerus when they find inconvenient truths. I see these as key lessons from Paul’s From Tolerance to Equality.

Secondly, regarding elites generally, I applaud Professor Hansen’s work in keeping the traditional liberal arts alive at Lake Forest College, at least for a time. Alas, from any number of works on today’s elite (and non-elite) colleges, perhaps most notably William Deresiewicz’s Excellent Sheep: The miseducation of the American elite and the way to a meaningful life (New York: Free Press, 2014), it has been shown that our current elites in training lack the sort of depth Professor Hansen probably developed in his own students. This leaves them prey to bullying rather than reasoning with others, a tendency enhanced by higher education’s current tendencies to focus on networking, and thus conformity, rather than intellectual development.

To the Editor:

I read a marvelous article in the summer (2019) issue of Academic Questions, "Harvard Hoist on Its Own Petard," early this morning. I had not fully understood what Harvard was doing. It seems clear now that Harvard was practicing reverse discrimination and perhaps deceiving itself as well as the world.

Jackson Toby

Emeritus Professor of Sociology

Rutgers University

New Brunswick, New Jersey

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