Academic freedom at Hamline University, part 2

In this second part of the series, we review a Sept. 12 panel discussion held at the university in St. Paul.

Some background is in order. Last year, Hamline University was at the center of an international controversy when an adjunct art history professor showed a photograph of an old painting depicting a certain religious figure. A student objected, the professor was fired. The professor later sued the university.

The American Association of University Professors (AAUP) looked into the incident and sided with the fired professor.

Hamline University’s president announced that she would retire next year. The Sept. 12 academic freedom event was followed by a three-day event held on a similar theme, also hosted by Hamline from Sept. 18-20.

As MPR reported,

A fierce free speech debate last year gained national attention at Hamline University when a professor’s contract was not renewed after she showed artwork of the prophet Muhammad in her World Art class, in spite of issuing trigger warnings.

The Chronicle of Higher Education reported on the earlier Sept. 12 event (sign up required). The Chronicle writes,

It has been almost one year since the classroom incident, and despite the damage to the university’s image, there has been no internal inquiry. Not a single administrator has issued an apology or taken responsibility. Instead, Hamline’s administration—after having had a long period to reflect on the media response, the AAUP report, and the statements of outraged faculty — organized “Academic Freedom and Cultural Perspectives: Challenges for Higher Ed Today and Tomorrow.” 

The Chronicle adds that the event,

was essentially a full-throated defense of the administration’s actions against [Prof. Erika] López Prater. 

The Sept. 12 event, in its entirety, can be viewed here. (Click on the “On Demand” tab, and then scroll down to September 12.)

In Part 1 of this series, we discuss the presentation by event keynoter Michael Eric Dyson, a Vanderbilt University-based academic and activist. His 36-minute address begins at the 51:20 mark. Dyson’s profanity-packed speech sets the tone for the event, as he portrays “academic freedom” and “free speech” as irredeemably racist concepts.

The event’s panel discussion gets underway at the 2:11:48 mark of the video. The panel is opened by the school’s Vice President for Inclusive Excellence. Here are the panelists, as they were billed,

The biggest name on the panel is author and academic Robin DiAngelo, whose book White Fragility, features a Dyson-penned forward. She appeared via Zoom.

The other panelists were in-person on the St. Paul campus. The Chronicle notes that the only panelist who is a Hamline faculty member is Dr. Schultz.

The other panelists include Tim Wise, an “anti-racist” writer, and Stacy Hawkins, a Rutgers University law professor and administrator. Hamline board member Denise Holloman served as the panel’s moderator.

If you were hoping for an evenly-matched pro/con event airing the arguments on both sides of the academic freedom/free speech divide, you will leave disappointed. The deck was stacked.

The panel starts with songs of praise for the event’s keynoter.

Schultz, alone among the panelists, made several attempts to redirect the discussion back toward the nominal debate at hand. His remarks were met with silence.

More crowd-pleasing bashing of Jefferson and unnamed (but allegedly ubiquitous) “white supremacists,” meaningless profanity, and pointless shouting followed by Wise.

The beginning of DiAngelo’s presentation via Zoom (2:27:20) was unintelligible, due to technical difficulties. The audio clears up in the midst of her dismissal of the concepts of objectivity and truth.

Hawkins cautions the audience (2:35:40) that no rights are “absolute.” She goes further to assert that “rights” don’t actually exist (thinking that they do represents “a false idea”). She goes one step further to suggesting imprisonment for her ideological opponents (2:36:40). At 2:38:45 she asserts that America’s founding was illegitimate because the Founders were white men. She continues on, but you get the point.

A later discussion of “cancel culture” and “wokeness” (3:05:20) could have offered some promise, if the topic hadn’t been dismissed as unimportant in less than a few minutes.

The panel’s Q&A start at 3:34:30.

In writing about the panel discussion, the Chronicle notes,

Not only was the actual classroom event [involving Lopez Prater] never mentioned, but nothing remotely analogous to it ever came up. While speakers alluded to some of the complexities of navigating the tensions that can arise when controversial material is taught, no relevant example was ever given. Faculty received no guidance or insight regarding the kind of situation that put Hamline in the national spotlight.

The Chronicle concludes its review of the event with a quote,

David Schultz, during the panel conversation, perhaps said it best: “Our discussion here about diversity and academic freedom … is probably at the most superficial level that we can have. … At the end of the day, let’s have a real discussion.” Amen.