An Open Letter to Lynn Wells, Provost at Brock University

In Support of Professor Hudlický

Peter Wood

Editor's Note: Since the beginning of the "cancel" craze that has swept through higher education (we are tracking attempted professor cancelations here), the National Association of Scholars has been examining individual cases and writing private letters to college and university administrators to urge them either to defend unjustly accused faculty members or to reverse decisions that have violated the principles of academic freedom. In several cases, (Professors Porter, Lowrey, and Jacobson) our letters have gone unanswered and the injustices we sought to correct have been left to fester. We are now taking the additional step of writing again to administrators at these institutions, but in this round, we are making copies of the letters public.

We are posting these letters individually rather than as a bundle because each case deserves to be weighed on its own merits and because the individual postings will lend themselves more easily to those who want to call out the malfeasance of the college authorities.

We do not urge readers who are unacquainted with the cases to rush forward with emails, letters, or posts. Rather, we ask readers to weigh the facts and check our accounts against other sources. If you then agree that a college or university has acted in bad faith or counter to the core principles of liberal inquiry, then we do indeed urge you to speak up.

Colleges and universities these days sometimes give short shrift to academic freedom because their administrators fear they too will be attacked if they do not heed the commands of the censorious activists. They fear for their reputations with this particular group of "stakeholders." We would like to remind them that a greater reputation is at stake: the reputation of their colleges and universities as bodies that protect and nurture free intellectual inquiry and responsible debate.


July 23, 2020

Dr. Lynn Wells
Provost and Vice-President, Academic
Brock University
1812 Sir Isaac Brock Way
St. Catharines, ON L2S 3A1

Dear Provost Wells,

I write to express my concern about Brock University’s treatment of Tomáš Hudlický, Professor & Tier 1 Canada Research Chair, Department of Chemistry. Brock University has wrongly cast doubts on the professional and personal character of Professor Hudlický, and in so doing chilled academic freedom at Brock University. I urge you to clear the cloud Brock University has put on Professor Hudlický’s character and thereby to restore academic freedom as a governing principle of your university.

I write as President of the National Association of Scholars (NAS). NAS is a network of mostly U.S. scholars and citizens united by our commitment to academic freedom, disinterested scholarship, and excellence in higher education. As part of our mission, we support intellectual freedom throughout North America. We have more than thirty years of experience in advocating for the principles of intellectual freedom. (For further information, please see www.nas.org.)

I wrote to your office privately on the same matter on June 16, 2020.1 I believe it is better for a university to have the option of resolving a situation without the pressure of publicity. As your office has not seen fit to respond to my letter private, I now repeat my counsel in this public letter.

Brock University’s treatment of Professor Hudlický, as exemplified by your predecessor Dr. Gregory C. Finn’s open letter of June 7, is astonishing.2 Dr. Finn’s letter condemns as “objectionable” what he characterizes as a statement that contrasts “the promotion of equity and diversity with the promotion of academic merit.” He further states that “They do not reflect the principles of inclusivity, diversity and equity included in the University’s mission, vision and values as approved by our Senate and Board of Trustees.”

This is no more than saying that he disagrees with a professor’s restatement of a foundational Enlightenment ideal and the basis of much of higher education for the last millennium.

Brock University is, of course, free to chart such a path for itself, but to pretend that those who uphold the long-held and widely respected basis of all academic inquiry have committed an offense against Brock University is, to use no stronger word, brazen. Finn’s statement, moreover, must alarm all members of the Brock community who have the reasonable expectation of institutional support for academic freedom, expressed by charitable goodwill in facilitating frank, full-ranging discussion.

Yes, we all know that diversity, equity, and inclusion are the watchwords of the new regime in higher education across the Western world. Professor Hudlický has violated the pretense that these are self-evidently virtues that subordinate all other considerations. I am sure you realize that this conceit is something historically recent, both in Canada and the United States. Even if you believe it to be a revelation of transcendent truth, you must be aware that many others disagree. In fact, a large number of faculty members at Brock University as elsewhere in higher education continue to believe that “academic merit” is a preeminent concern in the academy, and diversity, equity, and inclusion are at best secondary concerns.

Your predecessor’s attempt to disgrace Professor Hudlický thus seems like an attempt to make an example of an individual who unwisely said what many think but are afraid to express. By shaming him perhaps Brock can maintain this intimidation over others, by sending a clear signal that the university will not hire, defend, or provide any institutional support to any faculty member, staff, or student who speaks their mind when it controverts the ideology of diversity, equity, and inclusion.

If that is Brock’s calculation, I can’t say that it is wrong. But I can say that those of us at a distance see Brock’s actions for what they plainly are. Brock is misusing its authority to enforce a regime that it knows has doubtful legitimacy.

Higher education institutions should evaluate individuals on the basis of their academic merit, with no regard for race, ethnicity, sex, or membership in any other identity group. Diversity, equity, and inclusion are euphemisms to which colleges and universities resort when they wish to favor people by race, ethnicity, sex, or so on. Such discrimination is antithetical to the life of the mind, which higher education must foster. The life of the mind focuses on ideas, not on race, sex, or other physical traits.

I realize that Brock has publicly committed yourself to a position from which it would find it difficult to withdraw. You personally are a newcomer to this position, and you have more freedom to repudiate a decision by your predecessor that is both unwise and immoral. I do not know whether you personally believe in diversity, equity, and inclusion. But what your predecessor has done in this case is profoundly wrong—both for Brock University as a custodian of academic freedom and for its reputation to posterity. If you and Brock University publicly vindicate Professor Hudlický, and reaffirm that your bedrock values are academic freedom and charitable tolerance rather than enforced conformity to diversity, equity, and inclusion, you will be honored for making the right choice—and for restoring Brock University to its better self.

Yours sincerely,

Peter Wood
President
National Association of Scholars

 

1 Peter Wood, President of the National Association of Scholars, to Gregory C. Finn, Provost and Vice President of Brock University, June 16, 2020: https://www.nas.org/storage/app/media/New%20Documents/Brock%20June%20Letter.pdf.

2 Brock University Case, Society for Academic Freedom and Scholarship, https://www.safs.ca/issuescases/case.php?case=brock-chemistry; Gregory C. Finn, “An open letter to the Brock community,” June 7, 2020, https://www.safs.ca/issuescases/brock-chemistry/3%29%20Provost-G-Finn-Letter-to-the-Community-June-7-2020.pdf.


Photo by Natty10000 - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0

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