Below is my column in The Hill Newspaper on the long-standing debate over self-identification of race — an issue brought again to the forefront by the Elizabeth Warren controversy. There is a broader issue here that impacts universities and businesses on how race should be confirmed when used professionally or academically or financially. There is an ongoing debate over self-identification of race and whether such questions are simply cultural rather than genetic.
For Warren, the desire to focus on her race announced this weekend may be overshadowed by the other race issue.
According to The Cavalier Daily, the University of Virginia is proceeding against a fraternity and sorority for “engag[ing] in alleged cultural appropriation” during chapter-sponsored activities. The violations involved students at the Kappa Sigma fraternity dressed as American Indians and members of the Zeta Tau Alpha “wearing sombreros and holding maracas.”
We previously discussed the move by some students to drop the long-standing name “Colonials” for George Washington University. The moniker has been associated with GWU for roughly a 100 years. However, this week a panel at GW will discuss the concerns over the use of the name and the possible need to adopt an alternative nickname, including one based on the hippo mascot. Before we embrace GW “hippocrites” or some other nickname, I would like to again voice my support for The Colonials.
The American Bar Association has been trying to crack down on schools that allow students to rack up huge debt but show low bar passage or employment rates. At the same time, the ABA has fought for greater diversity in the bar. Those two policies collided this week over a proposal to require at least 75 percent of law students at accredited schools to pass the bar exam no later than two years after their graduations. That would seem a modest and reasonable condition. However, the proposal was rejected because it was viewed as ‘unfair to institutions that serve minority students,” according to Inside Higher Education.
For 50 years, Stanford Professor Kenneth Fields has taught the course “American Indian Mythology, Legend and Lore,” Professor Fields has agreed to stop teaching the course. A nationally recognized academic and poet, Fields dropped the course after some students accused him of being “insensitive and inappropriate” and circulated a petition requesting to “improve” the course. The bases for the protest raise serious issues of academic freedom and the lack of of support for faculty in such disputes.
Today, the global bar groups rallied in support of the rule of law on the “International Day of the Endangered Lawyer.” The international effort is designed to draw attention to the thousands of lawyers and judges killed or imprisoned each year as they fight for basic legal rights in countries from China to Iran to Venezuela. However, no bar is more devastated than the one in Turkey where thousands of lawyers have been imprisoned and tortured for fighting the authoritarian regime of Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Despite the praise from our president, Erdogan has continued a comprehensive campaign against the free press and political dissidents. This campaign however first required the elimination of thousands of lawyers to eradicate the rule of law to make way for his brutal religious-based authoritarian rule.
I have been writing and speaking about the movement to remove statues that range from confederate leaders to Columbus to Supreme Court justices to Founders (here and here and here and here). This includes the calls for the removal of monuments to George Washington and Columbus. Now, the University of Notre Dame President John Jenkins has announced that a historic mural by Luigi Gregori will be covered up due to objections to the harm caused to Native Americans by Columbus and those who followed him. The famous mural depicting Columbus’ life and exploration was completed in around 1882. As should not come as a surprise to many on this blog, I view the decision as a mistake and a missed opportunity.
I have been previously critical of “cultural appropriation” campaigns against students and faculty and others accused of incorporating or adopting clothes, food (here and here and here), or exercise (and here) or even art (and here) associated with other cultures. These controversies have also involved hair and jewelry styles, including dreadlocks. The latest controversy arose over a comedian, Zach Poitras, who happened to have dreadlocks who was scheduled to have a show in Montreal at a bar associated with the University of Quebec. It was cancelled after people objected that he was white and thus his hair style was cultural appropriation. It is the same misguided position that we have seen on college campuses in sanctioning those who explore different styles or art forms or foods.
As readers know, I totally geek out with NASA missions and this week is no exception. This is the long awaited image of Ultima Thule (“beyond the known world”) and it is provided by the most distant ever exploration of a Solar System object. The previous record was the New Horizons image of Pluto in 2015. Ultima Thule is 1.5 billion km further out. Thought to be the shape of a bowling pin, it turns out to be a 4.5 billion-year old, brick-colored cosmic snowman in the cold of deep space. Closer to home: this week saw China land the first probe on the dark side of the Moon.
I have previously written about the increasing state and federal efforts to impose bans on contractors and employees who refuse to sign agreements not to boycott Israeli products. The agreements raise serious free speech concerns under the First Amendment and contravene a host of constitutional rights from speech to religion to association. Now a speech pathologist in Texas is suing after she was barred from employment with the school district after nine years of work with developmentally disabled, autistic, and speech-impaired elementary school students in Austin, Texas. The lawsuit on her behalf was filed in the Western District of Texas is the latest federal challenge to these laws.
We have yet another court ruling that a university denied the most basic due process protections to a student accused of sexual assault. For example, the University of Southern California appeared entirely unmotivated and uninterested in determining if stains on clothing of the victim was blood or red paint from a party where “students splattered paint on each other.” What is astonishing is that, while spending little time to guarantee a fair process, the university has continued to litigate this case to try to protect its right to summarily convict accused students. Claremont McKenna College and the University of California-Santa Barbara were previously cited for such due process violations.