Also Homework is racist
Students demand firing of Evergreen State professor. Police chief urges him to stay off campus for his safety. Supporters say he’s the one upholding principles of equity.
May 30, 2017
n the heated debates of campus politics these days, it is not unusual for some groups (on or off campus) to demand the firing of a faculty member. But the rancor at Evergreen State College over the last week stands out. There, a professor whom some students want fired was told by the campus police chief that, out of concern for his safety, he should stay off campus for a few days. He did, teaching a class nearby in Olympia, Wash., and is not sure when he can return to campus.
The professor’s critics say he’s racist, and groups of students have been holding demonstrations – sometimes turning into marches across campus and impromptu searches for the professor. They have been chanting that racist professors must be fired. Bret Weinstein (right), a biology professor, is the main target and is the faculty member who moved his class off campus. “Fire Bret” graffiti is visible on campus. But students are also demanding the dismissals of one or more police officers, that the campus police sell off all of its weapons and various other policy changes.
The debate over Weinstein has become particularly intense. He and his supporters say that he’s not a racist and is standing up for principles of equity. The president of Evergreen State, George Bridges, says Weinstein’s job is not in danger. But Weinstein says Bridges has not taken the kind of public stand that is required when a professor’s right to speak out is under attack. Weinstein’s student critics, meanwhile, say his public defense is shifting attention away from their grievances.
Why is Weinstein so controversial?
He has spoken out on two campus issues, in both cases taking positions he maintains were opposing racism.
‘Day of Absence’
One involved a campus tradition called Day of Absence, which is based on a 1965 play by that name by Douglas Turner Ward. The play is about an imaginary Southern town in which all the black people disappear one day. The idea behind the play is that societies with deeply racist ideas in fact depend on the very people they subjugate. The play is in some sense the inspiration for events like this year’s national Day Without Immigrants.
For many years at Evergreen, minority students and faculty members have observed a Day of Absence in which they meet off campus to discuss campus issues and how to make the college more supportive of all students. Later a Day of Presence reunites various campus groups. Weinstein said he’s been aware of the tradition for some time, and never objected to it. But this year, organizers said that on the Day of Absence, they wanted white people to stay off campus. Weinstein opposed this shift, and he posted a message on a campus email list in which he objected to the proposal to ask white people to stay off campus.
“There is a huge difference between a group or coalition deciding to voluntarily absent themselves from a shared space in order to highlight their vital and underappreciated roles (the theme of the Douglas Turner Ward play Day of Absence, as well as the recent Women’s Day walkout), and a group encouraging another group to go away,” Weinstein wrote. “The first is a forceful call to consciousness, which is, of course, crippling to the logic of oppression. The second is a show of force, and an act of oppression in and of itself.”
Weinstein went on to say he would be on campus on the Day of Absence and would encourage a similar stance by white people being asked to stay away. People should “put phenotype aside,” he said. “On a college campus, one’s right to speak – or to be – must never be based on skin color.”