Wenyuan Wu, Minding the Campus, January 28, 2022
If you work for a well-established American institution, be it a Fortune 500 company or a prestigious research foundation, are you constantly worried about being targeted for not endorsing political fads or prevailing cultural symbols?
The often-dichotomous struggle between inconvenient truths and popular beliefs is nothing new. When the Catholic Church and the scientific establishment persecuted Galileo Galilei for his support of Copernican heliocentrism, the majority of Europe’s educated citizenry held to Aristotelian geocentrism. While the Copernican model, which positions the earth around the sun as the center of our universe, is now an established scientific fact, the Italian polymath was investigated by the Roman Inquisition in 1615, which labeled his writings in support of heliocentrism as foolish, absurd and heretical. Europe’s political and religious leaders reprimanded and imprisoned Galileo because his views were not aligned with popular beliefs of the time.
The pattern of scientific inquiry colliding with accepted norms has repeated again and again throughout history. Today, the related battle between conventional wisdom and popular culture has befallen an unassuming computer programmer who was employed and then fired by a world-famous biomedical research flagship—the Salk Institute for Biological Studies. This is a story about Bob Kuczewski, a 64-year-old aviation specialist and computer scientist whom I interviewed extensively before and after the 2021 holiday season. You may not agree with Bob’s opinions, but you may come to respect his journey to defend his rights to free speech and equal treatment.
On June 2, 2020, Bob made the fateful decision to speak out against Salk’s anti-racism stance championing the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement, which came in the immediate aftermath of George Floyd’s tragic death. On that day, after having received a barrage of messages on his work email server condemning systemic racism, Mr. Kuczewski broke his silence at 10:46 pm to offer a differing perspective on the tragedy:
At the risk of losing a job that I love very much… Black lives matter? White lives matter? All lives matter? How about… Good lives matter… most. The notions of good and bad are being undermined by the superficial colors of black and white. Rodney King was not a particularly good man. From what I have read, George Floyd was also not a particularly good man. Certainly, Derek Chauvin is not a very good man either. Their skin color doesn’t matter.
It’s not about black and white. It’s about good and bad. That’s what matters and that’s what we should hold up as our ideals. The deification of people based on the color of their skin is extremely flawed and does not lead us to a better society. Holding people accountable for being better human beings… does.
All hell broke loose. Many of Bob’s colleagues rebuked his comments, and some took to social media to demand that Salk take disciplinary actions against this “old white man keeping academia unsafe.” Bob was immediately suspended by Salk and put through a 6-month-long investigation probing his “racially insensitive conduct,” turned down Salk’s offer to work from home for a partner institution, and even agreed to take mandatory sensitivity training in an attempt to keep his job. But he adamantly denied wrong-doing and refused to sign a “confession” of such. His employment was terminated on February 10th, 2021. Bob is now representing himself in a lawsuit against Salk for wrongful termination.
To say that our STEM fields, both academically and professionally, have gone woke is an understatement. A recent survey by Nature, one of the world’s leading science journals, identifies systemic discrimination in science as a determining factor for more diversity work. The American Medical Association has a strategic plan to embed racial justice in medicine, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention calls racism a public health crisis. The Biotechnology Innovation Organization (BIO), the world’s largest biotech advocacy association, has an “Equality Agenda,” which purports to promote health equity, talent investments, and enhanced opportunities in underrepresented minority communities. According to BIO, equity is justice.
STEM industry leaders and intellectual powerhouses unconditionally embrace the politically correct dogma of racial and social justice. Conducting scientific research and development through the prism of race is now the new cult of geocentrism. And Salk is no exception. Facing pressure to racially diversify its Board of Trustees and its workforce from donors and the public, Salk’s leadership is eager to jump on the “equity and inclusion” bandwagon. Bob stood in the way and became a scapegoat so that the institute could advertise itself as an equitable organization for its 850 employees.