I remember watching the 1981 film Skokie on television with my parents. I was 14, and they let me stay up late that night to see the entire film.The movie was about the American Nazi Party selecting the suburb Skokie, just north of Chicago, as the site of its next rally. Close to 40 per cent of the suburb’s population was Jewish, and many were Holocaust survivors. For the survivors, the prospect of the Nazi march was a terrifying evocation of the rise of the Nazi party in Germany.They opposed it with all their might. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), represented by a Jewish attorney named David Goldberger, took up the cause of defending the Nazis’ right to march on free speech grounds.

My mother, a Jew from Iraq, sided with the survivors. My father, a Jew of European descent and a civil libertarian, sided with those defending the Nazis’ right to march. I was squarely with my dad and the First Amendment. If you didn’t think Nazis—the very incarnation of evil—had the right to freedom of expression just like everyone else, then you didn’t really support the First Amendment.The movie had such a profound impact on me that I thought I might eventually take up public interest law.

Seven years later, when President George H.W. Bush lambasted his Democratic challenger Michael Dukakis as a “card-carrying member of the ACLU,” I wanted to know where I could get one of those cards. Today, if I had an ACLU card, I’d be tempted to turn it in.

Today, the ACLU bears little resemblance to the organisation that defended the Nazis’ right to march in Skokie. While I have no doubt there still are civil liberties stalwarts in its ranks, the organization has embraced a critical social justice ethos which flies in the face of civil liberties. Numerous other organizations seem to be abandoning their principles as well. I’m sounding the alarm because it could be happening to your organization, bit by bit, and you may not even be aware of it.

A leaked 2018 ACLU memo that set guidelines on case selection made it clear that the organization would no longer defend the speech of those it disagreed with. It would reject cases based on “the extent to which the speech may assist in advancing the goals of white supremacists or others whose views are contrary to our values”. When you only defend the free speech of those you agree with, you are not defending free speech. You are defending policies that you agree with.

The ACLU also abandoned its longstanding support for due process when the previous Secretary of Education, Betsy Devos, announced in 2017 that she was overturning an Obama-era rule that encouraged universities to adjudicate sexual assault allegations on campus in a manner circumventing due process. The ACLU said the rules protecting due process would “make schools less safe for survivors” and “inappropriately favor the accused”. The old ACLU would have taken the opposite stance because that was central to its mission–to protect due process and constitutional rights.

How did it come to this? Perhaps it started with the hiring of a bevvy of staffers who never really shared the organization’s core commitments to civil liberties.Then the organization acceded to demands from those same staffers to take positions at odds with its core commitments. It happened, no doubt, because critical social justice discourse that insisted on its own inviolable truth insinuated itself into the organization’s policies and culture and overwhelmed its liberal principles.

Slowly but surely the ideal of freedom yielded to the fad of harm prevention. Before you knew it, the organization no longer stood firm on civil liberties.

ACLU is not an anomaly. Other nonprofits and for-profits alike have experienced the same generational dynamics and pressures, made the same concessions, allowed the same concept creep, and produced the same shameful results, often without a shot ever being fired.

This could happen to your organization and perhaps already is. Put on the breaks before it’s too late and clearly articulate your values. We at Counterweight are here to help.

David Bernstein is an Affiliate at Counterweight and Principal of Viewpoint consulting. Follow him on Twitter @Blogunwoke.

To find out more about Viewpoint diversity consultancy services please email David Bernstein at DavidLBernstein66@gmail.com.

 


During my lunch hour, when I worked in downtown Boston a decade ago, I would see herds of white dudes walking the streets in formation, all wearing the same Brooks Brothers suit and power tie. I would ask my lunch companion: guess which one is the alpha male? We would always point to the same person. It was that obvious. Imagine, for a second, working at their company in the Financial District. What do you think the culture would be like? Yeah, that’s right. You’ve got it.

Now imagine working for a human services nonprofit staffed almost entirely by women. I bet you can conjure up its likely cultural idiosyncrasies as well.

Both the male and female monocultures are subject to rampant groupthink, which occurs when similar people with similar perspectives work together. In an age when innovation is key to growth in most industries, however, we need a diverse array of people at the table with different life experiences, viewpoints, thinking styles, cultural backgrounds, genders, etc. so that we hear varied perspectives and can understand different markets. Indeed, a central aim of diversity is to create cultures of innovation, creativity and dynamism.

Another aim of diversity is to open the doors to historically marginalized people.Those white guys in the Boston financial institutions may intentionally or unintentionally exclude women and people of color. It is beneficial for both the company and society to diversify their workforces.

The problem comes when this second form of diversity – diversity of representation – becomes so dominant and so politicized that it kills off the first form of diversity – diversity of thought.

While early forms of representational diversity may have simply sought out more black people in predominantly white institutions, or more women in predominantly male institutions, today’s diversity, equity and inclusion programs tend to come packaged with an ideology that creates its own monocultures.These programs often demand that everyone accept a monolithic view of race and racism, lest they be accused of being fragile or complicit in perpetuating “white supremacy”.

Such environments stifle the ability of people to speak openly and honestly with each other and thus generate less diversity of thought and ideas.They necessarily suffocate innovation.

Let’s take the example of a newsroom that has decided all news coverage will be determined through “a racial equity lens”. Reporters who want to cover stories that have nothing to do with racial equity or somehow contradict the underlying perspective on racism, will never see their stories given the light of day. Important stories will never get covered. After a while, the news will all sound the same.

In the present atmosphere, you can find parallels in literally every industry.

We desperately need diversity of thought as well as diversity of representation in the workplace. Right now the latter is devouring the former.

You may want to start doing something about it. We at Counterweight are here to help.

To find out more about Viewpoint diversity consultancy services please email David Bernstein at DavidLBernstein66@gmail.com.

David Bernstein is an Affiliate at Counterweight and Principal of Viewpoint consulting. Follow him on Twitter @Blogunwoke.

 


The imposition of Critical Social Justice (CSJ) is often an unrecognized liability to company culture.

When I started my post as the CEO of a nonprofit, I almost immediately heard a familiar refrain from managers that they were overworked and that the staff members who reported to them weren’t pulling their weight. I also heard from their direct reports that the managers were micromanaging and weren’t giving them the leeway necessary to do their jobs.

There are certain patterns of organizational behavior that we see over and over again. I’m a big fan of the book Seeing Systems: Unlocking the Mysteries of Organizational Life by Barry Oshry, which exposes many common organizational dynamics.

Here’s what Oshry observes about this manager-report dynamic:

In the Dance of Blind Reflex, Top (leader-manager) becomes increasingly responsible for the organization, classroom, department, meeting, team, family, nation—while Bottom becomes decreasingly responsible […] And these shifts happen without awareness or choice by either Top or Bottom. Top falls into burden—carrying the load of the problem, feeling like he or she is letting the system down, worrying—while Bottom falls into oppression—holding Top responsible for the failure, feeling like a blameless sufferer because of Top’s inadequacy.

I decided to address the problem of the “dance of the blind reflex” at an offsite retreat. I had team members read an extended version of the above excerpt, replete with dialogue. Mind you the primary purpose of this exercise was to get managers to relinquish some of their control so that their reports had more freedom in their jobs. It did not go as planned.

Three young staffers, whom this exercise was meant to benefit, vociferously objected. They thought it was wrong to hold “victims” responsible for their plight.

It immediately became clear to me that these staffers were looking at an organizational problem through a binary CSJ lens. In this worldview, the person in power is always wrong.The person out of power is always right.The blind reflex exercise, in their view, was not a call for their bosses to share power, but rather an assault on their worldview that the oppressor class—the bosses of society—cause all social ills.

The discussion got so heated that eventually we abandoned the whole exercise and, with it, a framework that was meant to give direct reports more agency and control over their work. In the end, these staffers didn’t want more agency, just continued victim status.

It hit me that having too many employees with fixed notions about who the good guys and bad guys are would not promote a free exchange of ideas and a healthy work environment.

I doubt many manager-leaders realize the toll CSJ takes on their organizations.You may want to start doing something about it.

To find out more about Viewpoint diversity consultancy services please email David Bernstein at DavidLBernstein66@gmail.com.

David Bernstein is an Affiliate at Counterweight and Principal of Viewpoint consulting. Follow him on Twitter @Blogunwoke.


You may have heard that each year the Dean of Students at the University of Chicago sends a letter to incoming college freshmen that lays out the school’s commitment to the free expression of ideas:

Once here you will discover that one of the University of Chicago’s defining characteristics is our commitment to freedom of inquiry and expression […] Our commitment to academic freedom means that we do not support so-called “trigger warnings”, we do not cancel invited speakers because their topic might prove controversial, and we do not condone so-called intellectual “safe spaces”.

This stand is a sharp contrast to many other universities that routinely cave to student demands to restrict free expressions, impose safe spaces and give trigger warnings, and then end up facing endless controversies.While I’m quite sure that sending this letter to incoming students doesn’t spare the University of Chicago from every possible student or faculty challenge to free expression, it does allow the school to stand firm on a core set of values.The school can remind students of the letter and let them know that if they don’t like liberal discourse, they can always go elsewhere. It also spares the university the recurring internal fights that end up at the doorstep of some committee of the university’s Board of Trustees. It sets up a culture of free expression.

In recent years, companies and organizations have begun to face many of the same problems as universities.Young staffers, particularly those who didn’t attend the University of Chicago, increasingly demand that their employer implements highly ideological Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) programs. While some employees readily embrace such diversity approaches, others resent what they perceive as indoctrination. In newsrooms, reporters and editors refuse to cover or include varied perspectives on racial justice and equity. In publishing houses, staffers insist that their company boycott popular authors.

At Counterweight, we frequently talk with the heads of organizations who don’t want this environment in their workplaces and would instead like to champion values of openness and freedom of expression.They don’t want to accede to demands from staff that they fire anyone who doesn’t toe a certain ideological line. But unlike the University of Chicago, these leaders have not clearly enunciated their values of free expression. They haven’t sent a letter to new employees articulating their culture of free expression and otherwise inculcated the value of viewpoint diversity throughout their organization.

It’s easier, of course, to establish the value of ‘viewpoint diversity’ when you are clear about what this means and what it looks like in practice. That’s where Counterweight can help.

To find out more about Viewpoint diversity consultancy services please email David Bernstein at DavidLBernstein66@gmail.com.

David Bernstein is an Affiliate at Counterweight and Principal of Viewpoint consulting. Follow him on Twitter @Blogunwoke.


I recently co-hosted a podcast with my friend Jennifer Richmond, in which we interviewed Professor Amna Khalid, an Associate Professor of History at Carleton College. Amna has written extensively about the failure of implicit bias training in organizational settings. I asked if she could design a diversity program that was different from the standard-fare Critical Race Theory Diversity, Equity and Inclusion training, what would it look like?

Amna said she wouldn’t do training, she’d do education. Training suggests a defined skill set, an assortment of knowable ideas and information like Microsoft Excel, HR law, or workplace safety programmes, that can be imparted by a professional trainer.

Diversity, on the other hand, isn’t a defined set of skills even though it is often treated as one in today’s corporate environment. When you classify diversity as a skill to be trained for, you dumb it down into a single perspective. It becomes packaged into an ideology that claims to know exactly who is the oppressed and who is the oppressor, and how people should talk to each other and how they shouldn’t. Robin DiAngelo, the renowned diversity trainer and author, instructs white people not to cry in front of black people at her sessions, putting the workplace, the sponsor of such workshops, into the business of tear management. Please don’t forget to mark your calendars for next Tuesday’s advanced level training on “How not to cry in front of your coworkers”.

In all seriousness, diversity is a complex set of interlocking issues. It includes representation of traditionally marginalized communities; cognitive diversity—the various ways people think; and viewpoint diversity—the various political and ideological perspectives people hold. What does it mean to effectively “manage diversity” in a pluralistic society or a pluralistic company? There are significant differences of opinion, approaches, emphases, and theories. There is not one “skill” that you can possibly inculcate. Is it any wonder that “training” on a single perspective on diversity produces resentment?

A much better approach to addressing diversity in an organization, Amna argues, is education. Done right, education raises challenging questions and exposes people to different thinkers, theories and possibilities. It allows for genuine disagreement and engagement with a diverse range of ideas. In educational settings, organizations would discuss various and competing understandings of diversity. They would explore, for example, how people with varied cognitive styles can help—or hurt—a workplace. They would give people a wide latitude to think out loud without repercussion.

Diversity is crucial but complicated and should be treated as such by the workplace. Let’s stop dumbing it down into training and start providing the thoughtful education that the subject deserves.

To find out more about Viewpoint diversity consultancy services please email David Bernstein at DavidLBernstein66@gmail.com.

David Bernstein is an Affiliate at Counterweight and Principal of Viewpoint consulting. Follow him on Twitter @Blogunwoke.

We at Counterweight work with individuals and organizations facing cancellation and coercion. Here are a few lessons we’ve learned:

    1. Don’t give in to the mob

If you, an employee or your company are unjustly accused of an “ism,” don’t automatically give in to the mob. Take a page out of the playbook of the niche grocery store chain Trader Joe’s and stand firm. Attacked for racist labeling of food products, the company said it does not view labels such as “Trader Ming’s” or “Arabian Joe’s” as racist. Here’s what management had to say: “A few weeks ago, an online petition was launched calling on us to ‘remove racist packaging from [our] products… we want to be clear: we disagree that any of these labels are racist.”

That’s how it’s done. The outcry immediately subsided. Had they folded, the mob would have continued to go after them and every other supposedly culturally-appropriated product on the shelf.

    1. Make your commitment to free expression clear in your value statement

Most organizations have nothing in their value statements articulating their commitment to free expression and noncoercion. It probably never occurred to them that they would ever have a problem. Well, they do now. A skilled consultant can help you to articulate the value you place on “viewpoint diversity” and develop an action plan to integrate this value into your culture with maximum internal support.

    1. Develop a set of policies that reflect these values

Very often, companies articulate values and then adopt or leave in place a set of policies that contradict those very values.They say they give their employees latitude on social media to express their ideas but then the employee handbook has lawyer-written admonitions against free expression and a litany of fireable offenses for posting on Twitter. Such contradictions are not lost on employees and render your values meaningless. Revise your employee handbook with an eye toward viewpoint diversity and freedom of expression- and be consistent.

    1. Let new employees know where you stand

Each year the Dean of Students at the University of Chicago informs incoming freshmen that the school values free expression and not to come to campus expecting safe spaces from ideological tension. Likewise, you can inform your incoming employees of these values and screen them during the interview process. It’s much easier to onboard a new employee in liberal values than to bring along one already in the system.

    1. Be very clear with employees who refuse to live up to your values

Now, this is the hard part. Changing an organizational culture is never easy. There are always holdouts who refuse to go along. As long as they are spreading ill-will and cynicism, the culture won’t change. You need to be willing to say that “while you are entitled to believe anything you want, you are not entitled to impose those beliefs on the rest of the organization. And if you can’t live with that perhaps you need to find another place to work.” No one ever said change was easy.

    1. Assess how you’re doing over time

How do you know if you are succeeding in creating a more ideologically diverse and tolerant atmosphere in your company? You can ask your employees at various stages of the process! With Counterweight’s survey on viewpoint diversity, you can see where you are and where you need to go. Please don’t hesitate to call on us.

To find out more about Viewpoint diversity consultancy services please email David Bernstein at DavidLBernstein66@gmail.com.

David Bernstein is an Affiliate at Counterweight and Principal of Viewpoint consulting. Follow him on Twitter @Blogunwoke.


If you’ve been following the culture wars in the US, you’ve no doubt heard about the resignation of Don McNeil, the highly respected science reporter from the New York Times. One of McNeil’s supposed sins was quoting someone using the N-word on an official New York Times trip with high school students in Peru in 2019.

After an internal investigation, McNeil was subject to undisclosed disciplinary action but ultimately allowed to keep his job since the executive editor determined that it did not appear like “his intentions were hateful or malicious”.

After McNeil’s partial exoneration, 150 staffers of the New York Times wrote to the publisher, urging that the newspaper take further action. In that letter, they made the following point:

Our harassment training makes clear that what matters is how an act makes a victim feel; Mr McNeil’s victims weren’t shy about decrying his conduct on the trip. We, his colleagues, feel disrespected by his actions. The company has a responsibility to take those feelings seriously.

The letter refers to company-sponsored harassment training, which is mandated under New York state law. Citing the harassment training sounds to me like a thinly veiled legal threat against the newspaper. If the New York Times didn’t take the allegations from the staff members seriously, the paper would be violating the precepts of its own mandated harassment training. So, it appears, they gave McNeil the axe.

These training programmes mitigate risk for companies against lawsuits. But rarely do the higher-ups pay attention to the underlying ideological agenda. The programmes don’t just prohibit a set of destructive and illegal behaviors, they adopt a particular ethical framework that insists the only thing that matters is how the alleged perpetrator made the alleged victim feel.

Moral judgments based on emotional harm alone are highly subjective and ultimately unworkable. Under such a framework, anyone can be held responsible for how anyone else feels. For example, a New York Times reporter who believes in free expression might have felt emotionally hurt by the letter from her colleagues condemning Don McNeil and thus claim to have been harmed. Obviously, the newspaper wouldn’t take such a claim seriously, as free speech advocates do not constitute a protected class, proving how very arbitrary and precarious the emotional harm standard is.

The New York Times now feels bound by the decrees of the “great moral philosophers” who conducted their harassment workshops. It must henceforth apply this framework anytime someone from a protected class claims to be offended.

So what should companies like the New York Times do about it? They should seek out alternative harassment and diversity training programs that don’t indoctrinate their employees in a particular ideological model. They should grow a spine and stand up for their historic values of free expression.

If you are uncomfortable with CRT based diversity training, you are not alone. Join us at Counterweight as we explore alternative ways to enable diversity, including viewpoint diversity, in the workplace.

To find out more about Viewpoint diversity consultancy services please email David Bernstein at DavidLBernstein66@gmail.com.

David Bernstein is an Affiliate at Counterweight and Principal of Viewpoint consulting. Follow him on Twitter @Blogunwoke.


My first encounter with Critical Race Theory (CRT) diversity training was in 1999. Yes, it’s been around that long. I doubt it was known as CRT training then but the underlying ideology was the same. I was a young non-profit executive participating in a leadership program that included an intensive three-day workshop on diversity.

I didn’t plan on resenting diversity training. I worked for a Jewish organization that combats racism and bigotry and builds relations across religious and ethnic lines. I was an organizer of regular Black-Jewish dialogues and helped build a program to recruit African Americans into the commercial real estate business. I believed then, as I do now, that black people have gotten a raw deal in America, and that we have an obligation to provide every opportunity for underrepresented minorities to achieve the American dream. I saw modern America then as I do now: deeply flawed yet not oppressive.

The session opened with a viewing of the 1994 film The Color of Fear made by “master diversity trainer” and filmmaker Lee Mun Wah. The film portrayed four men at a weekend retreat talking about racism: one African American, one Latino, one caucasian, and the filmmaker himself, who was Asian.This was a real, unscripted interaction, as far as I could tell. But from the very beginning, it was obvious it was a setup.The three men of color were all well versed in the language of multiculturalism.The white guy, however, was a total nitwit. I doubt he’d had a serious conversation in his life, let alone one on issues of race and racism.

The three trained diversity hands took turns browbeating the simpleton on how very clueless he was on race.They insisted that his “colorblindness” was a sham and that it was high time he recognized that his whiteness was a bonafide ethnicity essential to his place in the world. By the time they were done with him, he broke down in tears, finally recognizing his own racism and the role he’d played in perpetuating an unjust society. I was revolted by the display of performative cruelty masquerading as enlightened diversity.

When the film was over, we broke into groups of eight to discuss what we had just seen.The facilitator of my break-out session, who also happened to be the main organizer of the program, was Howard Ross. You may have heard of Ross. He was organising the federal training when Donald Trump issued an executive order to end all CRT diversity programs in the federal Government. He was the diversity trainer of the stars, having been assigned to, among others, John Rocker, the professional baseball player who scandalized the sport with his unfiltered bigotry.

Ross began our group session with a question: “How did the film make you feel?” After three others shared their deep-seated feelings about our fallen society, some angry and some sad, it was my turn. “I don’t know how I feel, but I do know what I think,” I stated. “I think it was a terrible film that says nothing about racism.” This did not ingratiate me with the group. I soon found myself in a sequel to the movie itself, and I, the swarthy son of an Iraqi Jewish immigrant who never saw himself as white, was the white guy.

An African American pastor of one of the largest congregations in the metropolitan area began to cross-examine me. He asked me if I thought I was a racist. “I try hard not to be,” I stated, continuing: “In my teen years, I told tasteless ethnic jokes, but made a very conscious decision not to do it anymore.” I said that while I fully recognize the ongoing reality of racism, I didn’t think it explained all the problems facing black people in the inner cities.The pastor, who clearly did not appreciate being challenged, bellowed: “What else explains these problems?” I blurted out: “How about young black school kids who make fun of other black kids for being too studious? Isn’t that a problem too?” There had been a few recent high-profile stories about this phenomenon.The pastor glared at me with a mixture of disgust and resignation, but he didn’t argue back. A black female participant sitting next to me quietly nodded in apparent agreement.

It hit me that this diversity training was actually a group therapy session for the mental illness known as white racism, and I was a patient.The therapist—one Howard Ross—was there to get us to recognize our own racism, the first step in overcoming any psychological ailment. My non-doctrinaire view on race was a cognitive distortion that could only be remedied through an intense course of diversity therapy. I was not an easy patient.

I didn’t know a lot about diversity training at that time but I did know this was no way to create a just society or a more collaborative workplace. I vowed to stay away from what I considered coercive diversity training programs.

Since that time, I have had several interactions, including a very pleasant lunch, with Howard Ross and consider him a decent human being. I have no doubt he believes that his work advances equality. He cheers for the underdog, as do I. Ross now acknowledges that the old style of diversity training was alienating and that more updated forms, focusing on implicit bias, accord greater respect to people’s varied life stories. But I see nothing in today’s training, based on the new canon such as White Fragility and How to Be an Antiracist, which bears this out. Moreover, extensive research shows that these newer forms are no more effective and every bit as alienating as the earlier versions.

Regrettably, I could not keep my commitment to never again participate in this type of diversity training. I found myself in other such settings on multiple occasions, as work demanded, though chastened and more reticent than before. On one occasion the diversity trainer sent us into small group discussions after a typically dogmatic presentation telling us exactly how racism shows up in our workplaces.

When our breakout group sat down together, one man, my senior, stated: “That was unbearable, and that’s not how I fight racism!” “Me neither,” I exclaimed, feeling validated. The others in the group nodded. Finally, I wasn’t alone.

If you are uncomfortable with CRT based diversity training, you are not alone. Join us at Counterweight as we explore alternative ways to enable diversity, including viewpoint diversity, in the workplace.

To find out more about Viewpoint diversity consultancy services please email David Bernstein at DavidLBernstein66@gmail.com.

David Bernstein is an Affiliate at Counterweight and Principal of Viewpoint consulting. Follow him on Twitter @Blogunwoke.

 

Image from Academic Freedom in Crisis: Punishment, Political Discrimination, and Self-Censorship, Eric Kaufmann, 2021.

 

A new report—the first of its kind—confirms that in the US, the UK and Canada, there is growing authoritarianism and political discrimination within academia. The report, Academic Freedom in Crisis: Punishment, Political Discrimination, and Self-Censorship, is based on research conducted by Eric Kaufmann, one of Counterweight’s affiliates, Professor of Politics at Birkbeck College, University of London and a Research Fellow at the Center for the Study of Partisanship and Ideology.

The report shows that even among those who do not actively favor the outright cancellation and discrimination of more conservative or heterodox scholars, not so many oppose it, even silently, as we might expect (and hope). This contradicts the “silent majority” thesis which hypothesizes that the majority of people oppose and dislike cancel culture even if they are unwilling to share these views publically. Whilst a significant proportion of those surveyed did oppose the dismissal of politically dissenting scholars, ranging from 31-76% across four hypothetical scenarios, the proportion of those unsure tended to be around 40-50%.

The report also shows that younger academics across the ideological spectrum are more likely to support authoritarian approaches and oppose the free expression of ideas compared to their elders. Whether this is a tendency that will stay with those academics as they mature is something that cannot be determined by the current research. However, given the steep generational divide on Critical Social Justice ideology, this finding suggests that the long term challenge of reinfusing the academy with the spirit of liberalism and free expression will be a difficult one, indeed. With a generation of ideological gatekeepers in place, diversifying the academy with young scholars who do not share the “party line” will be extremely difficult.

The report shows that a high percentage of academics favor discriminating against conservatives in hiring, promotion, grants, and publications. More than 4 in 10 would not hire a Trump supporter, and 1 in 3 British academics would not hire a Brexit supporter. Gender-critical feminist scholars, who accept the biological definition of sex, experience even more discrimination than conservatives. Only 28% of American and Canadian academics would feel comfortable having lunch with someone who opposes the idea of trans women accessing a women’s shelter.

The research undergirding the study was unique in that it surveyed both “mainstream” campus views and those of conservative academics. In the US, over a third of conservative academics and PhD students have been threatened with disciplinary action for their views, while 70% of conservative academics report a hostile climate for their beliefs. In the social sciences and humanities, over 9 in 10 Trump-supporting academics and 8 in 10 Brexit-supporting academics say they would not feel comfortable expressing their views to a colleague. More than half of North American and British conservative academics admit self-censoring in research and teaching.

A hostile climate plays a part in deterring conservative graduate students from pursuing careers in academia. Conservative and liberal graduate students differ far more in their perceptions of whether they fit into the current academic monoculture than they do on other issues of academic life.

The question going forward is: what can we do about this deep-seated academic bias? What cannot be disputed is the long-term toll that this ideological imbalance has taken on our social fabric, corporate culture, and intellectual life. The university is an engine of knowledge production in society. If it cannot be freed from the grip of an ideological monopoly, we will likely see a continued decline in commitment to the free expression of ideas, a corruption of both social and hard sciences, and an even more stifling intellectual culture. Will having such data give free speech advocates the backing they need to tilt the scales? Let us hope so.

David Bernstein is a freelance writer and nonprofit executive. Follow him on Twitter @Blogunwoke.

 

Update: Dr Kaufman’s response to queries about sample size:

1) Sample size is the total sample (in this case, 484) and *not* the minority in the sample who vary from the majority. For instance, in a sample of 100 US voters, with 15 black voters, if the 15 are 95% Democrat and the sample is only 45% Democrat, the coefficient for black will be statistically significant if their difference from other voters is large enough – even with a small sample.

Surveys can credibly use a sample to stand in for the whole. Most election polls are around 1,000 to represent 60m or 350m. And small samples have low margins of error in relation to the total population in question (our survey we estimate a 3% margin of error with a sample of 500 out of a total maximum population of 50k SSH academics:

https://goodcalculators.com/margin-of-error-calculator/). Note: most psychology papers work with sample sizes in the hundreds to test effects.

We run statistical models throughout the report to test statistical significance – so even if you want to query the 82% you cannot query that the effect is statistically significant. The predicted probability of under .2 (ie 20% chance of saying ‘comfortable’ if you are a Brexit voting SSH academic) appears below, even with controls.

2) When you have multiple surveys from different sources saying the same thing, and this being confirmed in statistical models, critiques of single surveys lose force.

Notice that self-censorship was high also in previous studies summarized in tables 4 and 5 below. At this point those who deny the results are just science denialists, pure and simple:

I interviewed Jennifer Friend, a clinical social worker who opposed a coercive and demeaning government-sponsored diversity initiative. Jennifer’s opposition provides a roadmap for how others might counter such policies in the future.

Jennifer Friend’s saga did not begin with an enmity-filled diversity policy in Fairfax County, Virginia. It began with her reading about the growing scourge of coercive diversity training:

I had been seeing accounts of people being fired or pushed to express beliefs that weren’t their own and felt concerned. I hoped that it wouldn’t happen at the Fairfax County Community Services Board.

Nevertheless, when it did intrude into her professional life, she was ready. For the past 15 years, Jennifer had been a clinical social worker for the county’s Community Services Board. She provided therapy and case management for county residents with severe mental illnesses and/or substance use disorders. About a year ago, her manager informed the team at a staff meeting of the One Fairfax Equity policy, a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) program, and discussed the impact of systemic racism in the county. Uncharacteristically, Jennfier raised objections: “I challenged him to identify any laws or policies that were discriminatory in nature so that I could oppose them,” she said.

Several days after Jennifer raised objections in the staff meeting, her manager asked to speak to her privately in his office. In the meeting, he asked her directly if she had a problem with One Fairfax. Jennifer was prepared:

I explained that while I support improving outcomes for everyone in the county, I do not agree with laying the blame on institutional racism. I told him that I liked working with him but was going to continue to challenge his narrative. We parted the meeting on good terms.

This past September, Jennifer and her colleagues received an email from the manager with links to the One Fairfax Equity webpage asking them to view the material to prepare “to learn about equity.” What Jennifer saw shocked her. She decided to share her concerns with her colleagues on her immediate team. She explained that the One Fairfax website contained blatant negative stereotypes about white people and accused white people of perpetuating racism and oppressing minorities.

A couple of days later, she received an email from her manager with a date and time for a Zoom meeting with him and a human resources staff member to discuss her “communication around a very sensitive matter of race and equity.” It was a meeting that would never take place.

Jennifer then spent the weekend delving into the One Fairfax Equity website and further uncovered highly inflammatory material:

I felt a profound sense of betrayal. I had been a committed professional in the county serving a diverse population and now was being portrayed by my employer as a perpetrator of racism […] I was very committed to my clients and felt that these materials ultimately harmed them […] how would community services treat clients if they held some of them in contempt and others without agency?

Jennifer then sent an email to the entire Community Services Board stating her concerns, highlighting some of the most troubling material on the website:

Many of the articles on this list contained racist statements about persons with white skin, misogynistic insults and anti-police sentiments.There was an article entitled “Save the Tears: White Woman’s Guide.” The author Tatiana Mac refered to white women as “Karen” and went on to say “White women’s weapons are microaggressions and a direct line to the police murder hotline.” Ms. Mac accused white women of manipulating police into killing for them. “You have a nation state that will murder for your tears and your fear, real or not.”

The following day, the head of the Community Services Board sent a message to the whole agency asserting that Jennifer’s email:

contained multiple inaccuracies…One Fairfax focuses on recognizing the presence of institutional and structural racism in our organizations and how systems and structures interact in ways that preserve and reproduce disparate impacts and racialized outcomes.

Upon seeing this email, Jennifer publicly resigned to the entire Community Services Board, indicating that the agency no longer reflected her values. She had long planned to open her own clinical therapy practice. After the resignation, she was promptly cut off from further internal agency communication.

Undaunted, Jennifer created two videos revealing the content of the One Fairfax Equity website and posted them to YouTube and Twitter. She proceeded to send copies to the County Chief of Police, County Board of Supervisors, the County Executive, and “Bolster the Blue,” a police support network.

“This whole time,” she stated, “I expected someone to immediately apologize and retract the offensive material. I couldn’t believe that they doubled down on it.”

Seeking support, Jennifer reached out to Carrie Clark of Counterweight to talk through what she was going through. Carrie followed the incident closely, offering guidance and solidarity.

Jennifer also informed county elected officials of the following:

Fairfax One has earned an honorable mention in the Bolster the Blue newsletter for its racist, misogynistic anti-police approach to equity and diversity. I exposed this due to my concern that the approach of One Fairfax is sowing racial strife and endangering police safety. I have been transparent with CSB leadership about my efforts to bring awareness to their misguided and non-productive approach.

Jennifer received a reply back from the County Executive, stating “I will review what is posted on YouTube and speak with the appropriate staff. I am hopeful the posting of internal documents does not violate our use policy signed by all employees.

Jennifer replied:

I am likewise hopeful that Fairfax County Government posting racist, misogynistic and anti-police materials and encouraging government employees to view these materials is also not violating any rules.

It was clear that Jennifer’s videos detailing the offensive material were making the rounds. One garnered 4,000 views on Youtube. While she did not know what was going on behind the scenes, it was hard to imagine that the Fairfax police were happy with county materials openly disparaging them.

The head of the Community Services Board sent another email to the entire agency, contradicting his previous full-on defense:

I want to acknowledge that a link on CSB’s internal One Fairfax page, one among many important and useful resources on equity, referenced information that is not reflective of my views or the One Fairfax vision. Out of an abundance of caution, I instructed the CSB communication team to temporarily take down the agency’s One Fairfax page.

Jennifer’s former colleagues informed her that the offensive material never re-appeared on the One Fairfax site again.

Lessons learned from Jennifer’s experience

While no two situations are identical, Jennifer’s defiant and assertive course of action provides a roadmap for how to respond to other such situations. As an advocacy professional most of my career, I can attest that Jennifer’s was a textbook response on how to challenge a system. Here are a few key lessons:

  • Educate and provide tools to the public. Jennifer was ready and understood what was happening when the controversy hit. The more people understand these issues before they are confronted with them, the more prepared and effective they will be when they are.
  • Do not back down or apologize for doing the right thing. Jennifer never wavered and her steely resolve must have sent shock waves in the system. Her clever and forceful response to the County Executive for his thinly veiled threat that she might have violated personal use policy must have been sobering.
  • Escalate up the hierarchy. Jennifer did not immediately send out a letter to the entire Community Services Board or otherwise go public. She gave management a chance to rectify the situation, appearing controlled and thoughtful, giving the complainant credibility in the eyes of the public. Only later did she ratchet up the interventions.
  • Consider Using digital tools such as Youtube, Twitter and Facebook. This is a tactic of last resort and may not be warranted in every circumstance. In Jennifer’s case, it’s hard to know who saw the YouTube video and how it influenced the various decision-makers. The video existed beyond the control of county leadership, who must have known that growing exposure could do more damage if they failed to respond appropriately.
  • Intervene at multiple points. Jennifer understood how the system worked. She immediately saw that the One Fairfax initiative’s comments on law enforcement would be deeply offensive to the police force, which was, after all, part of the same county government. She also brought it to the attention of elected officials and, while she never received a satisfactory reply from any of them, it’s possible that one or more had intervened.
  • Get emotional and practical support. During the entire episode, Jennifer’s family and friends, both inside and outside of her workplace, supported her. The Counterweight team offered her tactical advice and emotional support. You do not have to do this alone!

Jennifer now volunteers on the Counterweight team, offering support for others going through similar situations. Despite being understated and compassionate, she is regarded by the rest of the Counterweight team as “a total badass.”

David Bernstein is a freelance writer and nonprofit executive. Follow him on Twitter at https://www.twitter.com/Blogunwoke.