An Open Letter in Support of a Besieged Academic

Aug 16, 2018 |  NAS

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An Open Letter in Support of a Besieged Academic

Aug 16, 2018 | 

NAS

Rachel Fulton Brown is a tenured associate professor of history at the University of Chicago, who specializes in the religious history of the Medieval West. She won the Medieval Academy of America’s John Nicholas Brown Prize for her 2002 book From Judgment to Passion: Devotion to Christ and the Virgin Mary, 800–1200, and her latest book, Mary and the Art of Prayer: The Hours of the Virgin in Medieval Christian Life and Thought (2017) is a formidable tome that has already begun to receive favorable reviews.

Recently, however, Professor Brown has been attacked as a racist and a white supremacist. Some of her critics claim she is complicit in inciting violence against her fellow professors. These accusations are calumnies. Professor Brown has argued fiercely against the invasion of social justice warriors into the field of medieval studies, where they make specious claims about the medieval past. She is also on record as writing positively about Milo Yiannopoulos. Her beliefs have provoked a host of false accusations against her character.

Professor Daniel Franke of Richard Bland College has cogently explained the accusations of racism and white supremacy: “Fulton Brown’s conservative beliefs in the value of ‘Western civilization’ have been publicly attacked since 2016 as ‘white supremacist’ by Dorothy Kim of Vassar.” Professor Brown’s “incitement to violence”? She published screenshots of Kim’s defamatory comments about her on her own blog. As Professor Franke properly concluded, “Fulton Brown’s response to Kim hardly qualifies as ‘persecution.’”

Professor Brown is in an enviable position: she has tenure, and she teaches at the University of Chicago, which is one of the stronger remaining defenders of academic freedom in American higher education. Yet although she has not lost her job, she seems unusually friendless. No institutional body has defended her scholarly reputation.

Reputational attacks might sometimes be shrugged off, but labeling an innocent person a racist or white supremacist today is the kind of reputational attack that cannot be ignored. It is a tactic used to avoid an opponent’s actual arguments and thus suppress academic and intellectual freedom. It debases the currency of scholarship and must be answered with strong affirmations of principle and attention to the facts.

The National Association of Scholars has a long history of supporting academic freedom. We also support character-based education. We also support the honor of calumnied scholars, and we want other academic institutions to defend the reputation of professors and students who have been subjected to false, shaming accusations.

NAS President Peter Wood has written public letters to four individuals who are responsible for institutions that should feel responsible for defending Professor Brown’s honor—Robert J. Zimmer (President, University of Chicago), Amanda Woodward (Dean, Division of the Social Sciences, University of Chicago), Adrian Johns (Interim Chair, Department of History, University of Chicago), and David Wallace (President, Medieval Academy of America). He calls on them to declare publicly that Professor Brown’s professional character meets the standards catalogued by the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) in its Statement on Professional Ethics. He specifically calls on them to affirm that Professor Brown has fulfilled all obligations that derive from common membership in the community of scholars, and that she has never discriminate[d] against or harass[ed] colleagues.

We ask other scholars, and members of the broader public, to join us in our support of Professor Brown, and to join us in urging, civilly and respectfully, that these four academic institutions affirm their confidence in Professor Brown’s good scholarly character. We hope that the appearance of a long list of public supporters will encourage these institutions to vindicate her.

We’ve appended the text of the Letter in Support of Rachel Fulton Brown below, and we’re also providing a link to it as a PDF.

We urge everyone who wants to be listed as a signatory of this letter to provide his or her name and institutional affiliation in this Google Docs form. We will list all signatories on a dedicated webpage, and convey that information to the University of Chicago and the Medieval Academy of America.

Please sign. Professor Brown deserves to have her reputation back.


Letter in Support of Rachel Fulton Brown

 

Rachel Fulton Brown, an associate professor of history at the University of Chicago’s Department of History, during the last several years has been the subject of a series of defamatory attacks.

Vigorous polemics by Professor Brown, notably her blog-posts “Talking Points: Three Cheers for White Men” (June 5, 2015) and “How to Signal You Are Not a White Supremacist” (September 14, 2017), led a large number of scholars to calumny Professor Brown as a racist, a white supremacist, and someone who has been complicit in inciting violence against her fellow professionals.

We do not think such calumnies should stand unanswered. We affirm our belief that Rachel Fulton Brown’s professional character meets the standards catalogued by the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) in its Statement on Professional Ethics (https://www.aaup.org/report/statement-professional-ethics). We specifically affirm our belief that Professor Brown has fulfilled all obligations that derive from common membership in the community of scholars, and that she has never discriminate[d] against or harass[ed] colleagues. We affirm that any university, scholarly association, or other academic body should be proud to have Professor Brown as a member.

We respect and cherish the principle of institutional neutrality in scholarly disputes. Yet we do not think that principle conflicts with the duty of academic-corporate bodies to vindicate the reputation of their members when they have been falsely accused of disgraceful and unprofessional conduct. We, therefore, call on all institutions of whom Professor Brown is a member—and all institutions who object to the defamation of scholarly good character—to join us in these affirmations.

We specifically urge that public vindications of Professor Brown’s scholarly good character be made by President Robert Zimmer of the University of Chicago, Dean Amanda Woodward of the University of Chicago’s Division of the Social Sciences, Acting Chair Adrian Johns of the University of Chicago’s Department of History, and President David Wallace of the Medieval Academy of America.

We urge these institutions to consider the damage their own reputations have suffered by failing to repudiate the calumnies inflicted upon Rachel Fulton Brown. We counsel them that they can best restore their own reputations by a wholehearted vindication of her character.


Signatories:

Richard A. Landes, Boston University
Michael Bennett, Curry College 
Charles Lipson, University of Chicago
Florin Curta, University of Florida
Anthony Michael Esolen, Thomas More College
Jane Chance, Rice University
Bruce Gilley, Portland State University
David Randall, National Association of Scholars
Andrew Holt, Florida State College at Jacksonville
Stephen Basedo, Richmond University
Janice Fiamengo, University of Ottawa
Philip Carl Salzman, McGill University
Leor Jacobi, Bar-Ilan University
Patanjali Kambhampati, McGill University
Michael Rectenwald, New York University
Jeffrey R. Woolf, Bar Ilan University
Bruce Heiden, Ohio State University
Annemarie Weyl Carr, Southern Methodist University
Malynne Sternstein, University of Chicago
Jonathan Good, Reinhardt University
Prior Peter Funk, Monastery of the Holy Cross, Chicago
Barry Jacobs, Georgetown University Law Center
Greg Wilson, Keller Graduate School of Management
Richard L. Harris, University of Saskatchewan
Anthony G. Cirilla, College of the Ozarks
Robert Smith, University of Southampton
Michael S. Kochin, Tel Aviv University
Stephen Presser, Northwestern University
Shelly Kennedy, University of Oklahoma
Kenneth Popp II, Saint Louis College of Pharmacy
John Tangney, University of Tyumen
David Wayne Layman, York College of Pennsylvania
Micah Sample, Indiana Wesleyan University
Robert Rich, University of Rochester
Benjamin Baird, Virginia Commonwealth University
Victor G. Caron, Bridgewater State University
Kirstin L. Wallace, John F. Kennedy School of Law; Indiana University
Ryan Winters, Harvard University; University of Chicago
Jonas Lundbeck Hansen, University of Copenhagen
Micheal D. McFeggan, Roosevelt University
Jessica Bowen, University of Miami
Jay Bergman, Central Connecticut State University
Douglas W. Texter, Eastern New Mexico University - Roswell
Thomas Mirus, George Mason University 
William Cook, University of Denver
Kevin Krahenbuhl, Middle Tennessee State University 
Gema Guevara, Sothern Connecticut State University
Christina Goyette, University of Nebraska - Omaha
James Peterson, University of Alberta
Nicole Perry, The Evergreen State College 
Faye, Ohio University
Kendra Mallock, New English Review
Paul Halsall, Fordham University
Warren Moore, Newberry College
Karen C. Bryson, University of South Carolina
Martha Lorraine Thompson, University of Victoria
Laura Finsten, McMaster University
James Moran, Charité, Berlin
Julia López, Universidad de Alcalá de Henares
Thomas J. MacMaster, Morehouse College
Alyssa P. Maria, Lawrence University
Christopher Flavin, Northeastern State University
Sean P. Doyle, University of Washington
Scott Hahn, Franciscan University of Steubenville
Mike Jones, Millwright (George Brown College)
Joseph Manson, University of California - Los Angeles
Bob Cross, Royal Military College
Christopher Lee, St. Jon XXIII College Preparatory
Katheryn Merriam, Norwich University
Grant H. Horne, Texas Christian University
Stephen Perrott, Mount St. Vincent University, Halifax, Nova Scotia
John C. Swanson, University of Florida
Steve Weidenkoph, Christendom College Graduate School of Theology
Jon Mensing, University of North Texas
Paul Crawford, California University of Pennsylvania
Shiru Wang, Syracuse University
Nils de Mol van Otterloo, University of Southern California
Keegan Hite, Suffolk University
Peter Suedfeld, University of Columbia
Jon Bornholdt, University of Wüzburg, Germany
Shamik Chakravarty, Lingnan University 
Matthew Neufeld, University of Saskatchewan
Alison Kaufman, University of Oregon
Clive Seligman, Western University
Daniel White, University College London​
Rick Mehta, Acadia University
Steve Lupker, University of Western Ontario

(New signatures will be added at the close of business each day, EST. Only signatures with academic credentials will be posted for now; those without are free to sign and will be added to the running tally. You may sign the letter here.)


Photo: By Chance Layton // All rights reserved