An Emeritus Professor Under Siege Once Again

David Randall

Now they’re coming for the emeritus professors.

Longtime NAS member and stalwart Stuart Hurlbert has been a gadfly at San Diego State University (SDSU) because he insists on speaking his mind. A leading opponent of racial preferences and champion of race-blind policies, he also fights in the political arena for population control and immigration restriction—causes inspired not least by his professional concern with ecology and his personal love of the environment. These causes are anathema to the academic herd—and it is precisely because such herds seek to silence heretics that America traditionally took pride in academic freedom, to make sure that every heretic could speak freely and without fear.

Illiberal progressives have tried to silence Hurlbert for a long time. Back in 2006, they tried to prevent him from using his faculty email to write in favor his political causes—although this was an obvious case of selective outrage, as no end of SDSU professors use their emails for political causes, with only a shrug if those emails conform to academic prejudices. As Hurlbert wrote at the time to an academic administrator:

You know perfectly well that it is absolutely routine for virtually all SDSU administrators and faculty to use university email addresses and computers for all sorts of communications that are not "University-related business."... Here is a sampling off the top of my head:

  • faculty members broadcasting requests for contributions to their favorite charity
  • leaders of the faculty union (CFA) discussing and strategizing about how the union can help defeat Schwarzenegger and get particular propositions passed or killed
  • faculty members in business and engineering carrying out consulting work using university email and computers
  • a university-sponsored website featuring El Plan Espiritual de Aztlan, a racist, separatist rant that is the guiding light for MEChA
  • faculty members and students using university email to engage in and help organize political activities of the Green Party, Young Republicans, NAACP, Audubon Society, MALDEF, ACLU, NOW, Sierra Club, League of Women Voters, Planned Parenthood, Union of Concerned Scientists, MoveOn.org, PETA, etc., etc., etc.

The ACLU intervened in 2006 to prevent the SDSU administration from removing his access to faculty email, and that seemed to be the end of the matter.

The censors are back in 2020, emboldened by the Great Purge, and they want to remove Hurlbert at last. They’ve distributed a petition (hosted on an unreliable server; try again if the first click doesn’t work) to exorcise Hurlbert from SDSU:

[Hurlbert’s] pattern of bigotry and harassment is ongoing, with recent mass emails filled with rhetoric that questions the anti-Black motivations behind George Floyd’s murder, trivializes the Me Too movement, and rejects the undeniably pervasive and systemic white supremacy in the United States of America. Dr. Stuart Hurlbert is now actively attempting to distance our biology department, ecology students, and scientific organizations - such as the Ecological Society of America - from the anti-racism movement now sweeping the globe. ... We, the Biology graduate students at San Diego State University, call for the revocation of Dr. Stuart Hurlbert’s honorary emeritus status and the accompanying privileges, including his university affiliated (@sdsu.edu) e-mail address, faculty I.D. card, and access to campus resources.

Higher educational administrators, confronted with such demands, ought civilly to inform the would-be enforcers of the “anti-racism” cult that they neither agree with the cult’s unfalsifiable presuppositions nor will take any action to appease the cult members as they seek to impose conformity and silence on their colleagues. Failing that, they ought at the very least inform them that the university cherishes academic freedom as a first principle, firmly stands behind every professor who speaks his mind, and vindicate the professional and personal character of whichever enemy of the people is scheduled, via the day’s Two-Minute Hate, for the tumbril.

Higher education administrators should also be aware—if they are not already—that to end “access to campus resources” is not only a shameful act on the part of a university but a savage act to silence the victim in his professional capacity. Scholars depend on their easy access to academic libraries and databases; to be cut off from them is to render their research almost impossible. To impose that sanction on Hurlbert will be to stifle his research career—a career that has continued long after he assumed emeritus status. The price of “antiracism” is to let the light of learning gutter out—a price the “antiracism” advocates will gladly pay.

It hardly matters whether a scholar is eminent or not—Hurlbert’s critics are generally scholarly pygmies, and they still have a right to speak their mind. But we should note that Hurlbert’s classic “Pseudoreplication and the Design of Ecological Field Experiments” was in 2013 the most cited ecology paper of the 1980s—indeed, of the entire last three decades of the twentieth century—and in 2017 earned a proud place on the listof “100 articles every ecologist should read.” Among his other extraordinarily influential articles is “The Nonconcept of Species Diversity: A Critique and Alternative Parameters.” On the whole, Hurlbert’s career would lead us to expect that he will make better use of his access to SDSU resources, and add more luster to SDSU, than all his critics combined.

NAS urges SDSU to immediately vindicate Professor Hurlbert and reject his censors’ demand. We urge the AAUP, the ACLU, the Ecological Society of America, and every other national organization that stands for freedom to intervene at once to support Hurlbert—and we will take their silence as a shameful betrayal of the principles for which they purport to stand.


David Randall is Director of Research at the National Association of Scholars.

Image: Allan Ferguson, Public Domain

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