“Do the positives outweigh the negatives?”

That question seems like a legitimate one to be posed in the course of a college class.

Not at St. John’s University, a private Roman Catholic university in New York City. Adjunct professor Richard Taylor found this out the hard way, when he posed this question to students about the “Columbian Exchange,” a globalization originating in the 15th century. 

According to TheFire.org, this is what happened:

As it has in earlier years, Taylor’s instruction focused on early global trade, including trade in silver and potatoes. As part of the class, he also covered the more pernicious aspects of early trade, such as slavery, the abuse of indigenous populations, and the spreading of disease. On his final slide was a discussion prompt: “Do the positives outweigh the negatives?” A lively discussion ensued. One student said slavery could never be justified. According to Taylor, he clarified that no one is justifying slavery and asked students to consider global trade as a whole, including lives lost to disease and lives saved from famine.

Believe it or not, that was enough for Taylor to be “accused of racism, removed from his classroom, investigated, and found guilty of ‘Bias, Discrimination, and Harassment.’ All without seeing the evidence against him, and without any opportunity to appeal.”

Thankfully, The Fire has fought back:

Today, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education wrote to St. John’s, demanding it immediately rescind the investigation of Taylor, drop the bogus charges, and cease any further action in violation of his academic freedom rights.

“Academic freedom presupposes the freedom to ask the uncomfortable questions,” said Adam Goldstein, the author of FIRE’s letter. “History, as a discipline, is particularly concerned with complicating facile narratives and uncovering uncomfortable truths. Humans and their institutions are twisted and complicated, and academics have a duty to complicate our understanding of both. But at St. John’s, it appears some inquiries are forbidden.”

Taylor issued a statement too:

“St. John’s University is wrong for removing me from teaching,” said Taylor. “By asking students to think about history on both a macro level and a micro level, the idea is that they will look at history from a long-term perspective. The exercise was one in which there is no correct answer, only what the student feels. What I would like to happen is that I am allowed to continue to teach at St. John’s University and given my classes back immediately. How are young adults expected to become critical thinkers if we do not push them to think critically at the college level?”

The fact that this professor could be effectively canceled from academic life for being intellectually curious and for catalyzing conversation in his classroom is ridiculous… but unfortunately par for the course for modern intellectual life.

“Under any basic conception of academic freedom, the choice of whether and how to confront controversial material in a pedagogically-relevant context is left to faculty members, not administrators,” wrote Adam Goldstein, the author of FIRE’s letter. “St. John’s promises this right to its faculty and must not violate those promises. Doing so casts an unacceptable chill over faculty rights and exposes the university to considerable legal liability.”

Good.  May freedom prevail.

Hat Tip: The Fire

Image Credit: Google Maps

 

 

About The Author

Mark Meckler

Mark was a co-founder of the Tea Party Patriots, and served as the national coordinator. He left the organization to work more broadly on expanding the self-governance movement beyond the partisan divide. Mark appears regularly on television in outlets as diverse as MSNBC, ABC, NBC, Fox News, CNN, Bloomberg, Fox Business and the BBC. He’s highly sought after for the tea party perspective from print and electronic media outlets, from the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, L.A. Times, Washington Examiner, Politico and the The Hill. Mark blogs at MarkMeckler.com, and his opinion editorials regularly run in many of the leading political newspapers both on and offline. Mark has a BA in English from San Diego State University and graduated with honors from University of the Pacific, McGeorge School of Law in 1988. He practiced real estate and business law for almost a decade. For the last eleven years of his legal career he specialized in Internet advertising law. When not fighting for the future of our nation, Mark is an avid horseman, and lives in rural northern California with his wife Patty and two children.