Brown University Professor Denounces ‘McCarthy’ Witch Hunts

Emily Shire, Daily Beast, December 6, 2015

It would be difficult to accuse Brown University of ignoring or dismissing the value of diversity on campus.

Brown’s president, Christina H. Paxson, recently oversaw the publication of a nearly 20-page draft proposal, titled Pathways to Diversity and Inclusion Plan: An Action Plan for Brown University, allocating more than $100 million to implement a “concrete set of actions to . . . confront the issues of racism, power, privilege, inequity and injustice.”

The specific recommendations of the plan, which was published on Nov. 19, include doubling the number of faculty and graduate students from “historically underrepresented groups” (which effectively means ethnic, racial, and sexual minorities) by the 2024-2025 academic year and establishing “professional development workshops on race, sexual orientation and gender identity.”

However, despite allocating an impressive amount of financial and academic resources to promoting identity diversity, this plan has failed to quell the tide of student anger at Brown.

A group of protesting students declared Dec. 3 “Day of Reclamation.”

The Facebook group for the Day of Reclamation reveals a strong hostility to white voices and a desire to restrict their ability to share opinions.

“This is NOT a space for white students to be offering their opinions or the ‘issues’ they take with the consolidated, working list of demands,” one Brown University student posted. “People have been building on them for months and have very specific reasons for their asks, but it will never be your place to criticize them.”

The Facebook group also includes a video of students interrupting and shouting at Paxson during the Day of Reclamation.

“We have obligations like being in class, but we can’t focus on those things because we have to focus on being alive,” one female student says in the video.

“The university is saying they’re interested in hearing our trauma and forcing us to relive and tell you over and over again,” says another student.

One student in the video calls for the disarming of Brown University police in the Department of Public Safety (known as DPS). “If you say you value black students, when black students say ‘Disarm DPS,’ you would say ‘Okay, I’ll disarm DPS.’”

Paxson calmly counters, “Valuing people and agreeing with everything they demand are not the same thing,” a message that seems to be lost on the students.

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Even though he has critiques of the university’s plan, a Brown professor, speaking on condition of anonymity to The Daily Beast, noted that “it’s very clear the draft was developed in good faith.” That’s why he finds the interactions in the video “disturbing.”

“If you’re dealing with someone acting in good faith, and students are responding with rudeness, ultimatums, yelling, and screaming, it’s very discouraging,” he said.

In response to Pathways to Diversity and Inclusion Plan, students released their own 14-page set of demands on the Day of Reclamation.

Their plan includes “increasing the black student population to 15.2 percent and the population of low-income students to 20 percent,” as the campus newspaper, Brown Daily Herald, reported.

The same article also noted that this demand to use quotas in college admission had already been ruled unconstitutional in 1978 with Regents of the University of California v. Bakke.

The seeming increase in outrage is the opposite of what the professor expected, having read the plan as incredibly generous to student demands.

“I badly misread the situation,” he said. “The lack of respect for the president, the provost, and the people trying to do what they can here, I’m sort of stunned by it. I thought the draft plan would quell the anger, and it’s sort of like they doubled-down.”

The Brown University professor I spoke to asked to remain anonymous not only for his sake, but for the sake of his faculty who are junior to him and depend on him maintaining a good relationship with the administration.

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He recounted interacting with a student this past semester who argued that there was tremendous inequality for minorities at Brown.

She, herself, was not a minority, but told him that “you can’t understand because you haven’t walked in the shoes of the people who have experienced those [inequalities].”

When he countered with what he called “gentle pushback,” he said the student promptly “burst into tears.”

I asked him if he had ever such a tearful interaction with students before then. He said he had not.

“There’s a kind of paternalism that they [protesting students] do want. In that way, that bursting into tears felt like something a parent experiences when their exuberant kid wants something and you go, ‘I’m sorry. There are some reasons you can’t have that,’” he said.

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In November, days after protests over campus racism rocked the University of Missouri, Geovanni Cuevas, a Latino Dartmouth student visiting Brown for the Latinx Ivy League Conference, alleged a DPS officer assaulted him when he entered a building he was told he could not access.

This sparked an uprising against Paxson and the administration with students demanding she disarm the DPS while cursing and interrupting her.

A few days later, nearly 70 faculty members signed a letter, denouncing the “savage inequalities of race, class, gender and sex” that plagued student life.

They also criticized those who brought free-speech concerns over the removal of the Brown Daily Herald Columbus Day op-ed. They stated the removal was not a violation of freedom of speech, but “an act of self defense.”

To the anonymous professor, Brown has transformed into a hostile academic culture hyper-ready to attack anyone as racists if they do not support protesting students.

The mood, he said, is akin to that during Sen. Joseph McCarthy’s “Red Scare” hunt for communists.

“I think there’s a looking around to find injustices whether or not they exist,” he said. “That’s what feels like McCarthyism. You’re looking for communists, whether or not they’re there. You’re determined to find some. That’s what McCarthy was doing. It does feel like people are looking for things whether or not they’re there.”

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