Wednesday, December 13, 2023

It’s Wednesday, December 13, 2023.

I’m Albert Mohler, and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

Part I

Where is the Moral Outrage on Anti-Semitism at Harvard? President Claudine Gay Retains Her Position in the Midst of Anti-Semitic Comments and Plagiarism Allegations

Well, it’s another day, and Claudine Gay is still President of Harvard University. That announcement came yesterday as the Harvard Corporation met over the course of two days, and they were deciding the fate of their president. And of course, all this controversy goes back to the appearance not only of President Gay, but also two other women serving as Presidents of major elite American institutions who sat together in a congressional hearing and basically let the cat out of the bag a matter of days ago. Every single one of them refusing to say that calls by students or others on their campus for the genocide of the Jewish people would be an actionable offense. Every single one of them failed one of the most basic moral tests a human being might imagine.

Elise Stefanik, Republican of New York, the member of Congress who was pressing the question and seemed honestly to be surprised at the failure of all three Presidents to answer with any kind of moral sense at all. After President Elizabeth Magill at the University of Pennsylvania announced that she was resigning in the wake of the controversy, representative Stefanik said, “One down two to go.” Well, the Harvard Corporation said that Claudine Gay is not going to go, that she’s going to continue in her job. But by the time the corporation met, they were actually having to deal with a multitude of issues. And what’s really interesting is not just the decision they made, frankly in the political context that was pretty predictable, but what they said and didn’t say in their public messaging. And if no one else in the world’s going to point to this, I want to make sure we see it today.

After their extensive meetings, the very few members of the Harvard Corporation came out to say that President Gay was going to continue. But here is what they said in their written statement. “As members of the Harvard Corporation, we today reaffirm our support for President Gay’s continued leadership of Harvard University. Our extensive deliberations affirm our confidence that President Gay is the right leader to help our community heal and to address the very serious societal issues we are facing.” Well, that’s pretty much what we expected, but listen to how the Harvard Corporation continues.

Now, keep in mind, let me just remind you in advance, they think they’re cleaning up a problem here. The corporation statement said, “So many people have suffered tremendous damage in pain because of Hamas’ brutal terrorist attack. And the university’s initial statement should have been an immediate direct and unequivocal condemnation. Calls for genocide are despicable and contrary to fundamental human values. President Gay has apologized for how she handled her congressional testimony and has committed to redoubling the university’s fight against antisemitism.”

So in other words, the university’s corporation–and of course we’re talking about Harvard University, the Harvard Corporation–so they came out and said President Gay was wrong because she did not say this would be against policy on the campus. No, that’s not what they said. And what’s amazing is how many people in the mainstream media seem to avoid understanding that what the corporation did was to avoid answering the question that President Gay was in trouble for avoiding, the Harvard Corporation continues the avoidance. They didn’t avoid it entirely when it comes to moral terms. They came out and said that calls for genocide are, “Despicable and contrary to fundamental human values.” What’s most important is to recognize what they didn’t say. And after the Harvard Corporation, there’s no one else to speak for Harvard.

What the corporation did not say is that calls her genocide against the Jewish people would be actionable in terms of student discipline on the campus. Claudine Gay didn’t say it, and that made headlines. The Harvard Corporation did not say it. And thus, at least at this point, we can assume this is the final word from Harvard. Now, as I said last week on the briefing, the moral rot starts at the top. But when it comes to America’s elite universities, the rot is basically almost everywhere you look. So in this case, the rot is not just with the President of Harvard, the rot is at the Harvard Corporation. They think they can save themselves by saying, “Look, we think calls for the genocide of the Jewish people,” now again, their words were, “Despicable and contrary to fundamental human values.” Well, they still haven’t said that such language is unacceptable at Harvard.

They just didn’t say it. But the background to the controversy about President Gay in this case… And in just a moment we’re going to look at the controversy about one of the other Presidents, but right now looking at Harvard, looking at Claudine Gay, and remember she’s been president at Harvard less than a year. And there is no doubt she was chosen as part of a highly politicized context. You can’t talk about a university like Harvard without a highly politicized context. And when it comes to the fact that she’s the first black president of Harvard and she’s a black woman, well, it’s not just people outside that community who are saying that’s a part of it. You had black faculty within Harvard making very clear they were taking this as a matter of identity politics. And they were pressing their case, demanding that President Gay be continued in office.

Frankly, in the political context, it’s very unlikely that there would’ve been any other disposition of the situation. Now, the Harvard Corporation also had to deal with public allegations of academic misconduct by Harvard’s president, including the word plagiarism, which means that someone has stolen intellectual property from someone else. And by the way, that can mean a failure to attribute or to document. And one of the persons, by the way, whose material was involved in these accusations was Carol Swain, who had been a professor at Vanderbilt University and President Gay had used her material without adequate attribution.

That wasn’t the only case, but the Harvard Corporation came out and in the statement saying that President Gay would continue, they said that they conducted a review of her published work: “On December 9, the Fellows reviewed the results, which revealed a few instances of inadequate citation. While the analysis found no violation of Harvard Standards for research misconduct, president Gay is proactively requesting four corrections in two articles to insert citations and quotation marks that were omitted from the original publications.”

Now, if this does turn out to be a pattern of plagiarism, it will turn out to be just that because that’s pretty much the way it works. There’ll be a pattern that is evident, and I can guarantee you that President Gay has enemies and those enemies are going to be pouring over every single word she’s ever said, written, or recorded.

The Harvard Corporation’s statement concluded, “Harvard’s mission is advancing knowledge, research, and discovery that will help address deep societal issues and promote constructive discourse, and we are confident that President Gay will lead Harvard forward toward accomplishing this vital work.”

Well, that’s pretty much where that stands, but there are some other aspects of this that are absolutely fascinating, deeply revealing. Consider for example, that there were officials, Deans and Professors, any number of them after the disastrous Congressional appearance by Harvard’s president who were very vocal in criticizing her for what she had said, and most importantly, for what she didn’t say. And remember what the stakes are here, we’re not just talking about a disagreement over art, we’re not talking about a disagreement over a policy. We’re talking about a disagreement over genocide, calls for the genocide of the Jewish people.

Lawrence Tribe for so many years, a very influential member of the law faculty at Harvard had referred to President Gay’s statement as well, something like bizarrely evasive.

But here’s the big issue in terms of worldview significance. The American elite University closes itself off from any kind of external criticism. And even in a situation like this, when the President failed morally, so spectacularly and publicly, by the time there were calls for her removal from office, even her critics within the university structure there at Harvard began to circle the wagons. Because the one thing that unites that worldview at Harvard is preserve Harvard’s autonomy and freedom from any kind of external influence at any cost.

And we can simply say that also clearly means even at the cost of your soul. Over the weekend, a petition had come together, signed by members of Harvard’s faculty. By the end of the weekend, at least 700 professors at Harvard had signed the statement. So recall the numbers there, something like 700 signed this particular statement. Included in the statement where these words, “The critical work of defending a culture of free inquiry in our diverse community cannot proceed if we let its shape be dictated by outside forces.” So there you have it, there’s the worldview. Notice it, notice it with alarm. Here you have the faculty at Harvard University saying, “Hey, look, the only way we can stay Harvard and keep our intellectual autonomy is to make sure no one outside Harvard gets to say what we do or we don’t do. No one outside Harvard gets to say what’s right or what’s wrong.”

By the way, there’s an enormous lie embedded in this statement. Speaking of, “Our diverse community.” When it comes to the faculty at Harvard, there is basically no diversity. Now when it comes to identity politics, there may be different ethnic and racial diversity, gender diversity issues, or LGBTQ diversity. Frankly, the imagination staggers. But nonetheless, you do not have ideological or political diversity at Harvard, not honestly, not in actuality, and that is verified by study after study. And of course you’re talking about some publicly verifiable issues here. It’s not just going to Harvard’s faculty saying, “What do you believe?” It’s looking at voter registration records. It is looking at campaign contributions, and you are talking about an imbalance that is way past nine to one. There are entire departments and divisions in schools like Harvard where frankly there is not one bonafide conservative at all.

And even if you just look at it in partisan terms, there are basically no Republicans, they’re all Democrats. And frankly, most of them are far to the left wing of the Democratic Party, and if they’re not Democrats, they’re to the left of whatever the Democratic Party’s left now is. Hold on. The New York Times decided that it had to explain to its own liberal readers what academic freedom means in this context. Alan Blinders, the reporter on the story, he tells this, “The notion of academic freedom can be traced to European universities. But in 1915 with American academia reeling from episodes like the firing of a Stanford professor whose views ran afoul with the university founder’s widow, the newly formed American Association of University Professors detailed three tenets of the concept: They were freedom of inquiry and research, freedom of teaching within the university or college, and freedom of extramural utterance and action.”

Now, that’s a statement of institutional autonomy. If you’re a faculty member in this school, only we, according to this worldview, can determine if you belong or don’t belong, if what you’re doing is acceptable or unacceptable, or if your ideas are within the pale or outside the pale. And this is why the context of higher education always marches left. It marches left because when you have this kind of policy and it’s driven by this kind of agenda, then you have the overthrowing of every established truth and tradition and principle as what is declared to be intellectual liberation.

But now I want to get to two other related issues when you’re looking at Harvard University. First of all, they say academic freedom is the big deal here. Freedom of speech is the big deal here, but this is the very same university emblematic of other elite universities.

It has elaborate speech codes about what you must say in the classroom or can’t say, and quite frankly, what kind of preferred pronouns or other things you have to use if you’re going to be an acceptable member of the community. And it has taken action against those who violate those rules. But when it comes to anti-Semitic speech, all of a sudden, well, that’s something very different. And there’s something extremely ominous behind that.

Part II

Notice what STILL is Not Said: Evaluating the Harvard Corporation’s Support for President Claudine Gay

But secondly, what’s also revealed here, but is getting very little attention in the mainstream media is that evidently at a place like Harvard, there’s a list of groups that can’t be spoken against and other groups that can be spoken against. And this falls into the entire battle, and what I think is rightly referred to as cultural Marxism. The idea that everything has to be forced into an oppressed, oppressor construct. And here’s the thing, if you look at what groups are and are not designated as protected classes, that tells you a whole lot.

And here’s something that quite frankly really hasn’t been uttered much about American higher academia or American elite culture, but it is that there is a racial angle to this. And it becomes very apparent that when it comes to, say the Jewish people, they’re often simply designated as another form of white people, which means they are in the oppressor class. And so when it comes to anti-Semitic speech, even calls for the genocide of the Jewish people, since on these campuses, Jewish students and Jewish faculty, Jewish personnel are not considered members of a protected class.

Well, you can get away with that, but you couldn’t say anything like that of a group that the university declares to be a protected class. So this is the way that the critical theory, intersectionality, identity politics game is being played. It’s being played out right before our eyes in such a way that if you called for the genocide of almost any other people, you would be immediately brought up on charges and President Gay would actually be able to find her voice and make very clear to Congress that was actionable misbehavior, misconduct.

But when it comes to the same statement against Jewish people, well, the Jewish people aren’t on the list of a protected class because after all, they are just lumped in with white identity. And if you think I’m making this up, just look at the actual policies and look at how these issues have been adjudicated on America’s elite campuses. This is exactly explicitly the argument that is being used.

Part III

Why is President McGill at the University of Pennsylvania Out While President Gay of Harvard is Not? As Expected, There is a Backstory

But next I want to go back to the University of Pennsylvania where its President Elizabeth Magill has resigned in the face of this controversy. And so there are a couple of questions that come immediately to mind. Why is the president of the University of Pennsylvania out, and the presidents of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Harvard still in their jobs? They basically all said about the same thing or failed to say about the same thing.

But the situations are different in terms of the politics of the local campus. And the Wall Street Journal has done a very good job. Yesterday on the front page, they did a very good job of detailing the history of the controversy that was already in play at Penn before the congressional hearing. But it also kind of accidentally clears up something else. And that is the question, how did Representative Stefanik know to ask that question of those three witnesses in that way? Why does she ask the question in such a clean, focused way? Where was that question coming from?

Well, it turns out it’s coming from the already unfolding controversy on all of these campuses, but particularly what’s taken place over the last several months at the University of Pennsylvania. Controversy had arisen there at the University of Pennsylvania even earlier this year and even last year, but in particular in the earlier months of this year because of some of the events that were being held officially they’re on the campus of the University of Pennsylvania. One of them was a controversial film festival. And yet there were other events. There were other happenings that had taken place at the University of Pennsylvania that had already alarmed and indeed outraged many major donors and in particular very wealthy, very generous Jewish donors who were quite accurate in detecting a growing antisemitism on the university’s campus and in the University of Pennsylvania community.

And they were also outraged that President Magill, also fairly new in her job, was quite frankly not doing her job when it came to addressing these issues. And this became a matter of great controversy that it actually boiled over weeks before the congressional testimony that was the immediate catalyst for President Magill’s resignation. There were already mega donors who were pulling their money. There were already major figures at the University of Pennsylvania, including some of the boards who were ready to call for the President’s ouster. The disastrous appearance before the Congressional Committee last week became the catalyst for her ultimate removal. Officially, she resigned, but she resigned against the almost certain threat of the fact that she was about to be removed by the university.

But as the story unfolds, and remember that it wasn’t just the President the University of Pennsylvania who announced resignation last week, it was also the chairman of the university’s board. Well, it turns out, given the controversy that had arisen, charges of festering antisemitism on the campus and the President’s failure to act on this, the then university’s chairman of the board of trustees had supported the President. In other words, for her to go down by the time she had to resign, he had to resign too. And he did. Now remember that the date October 7 has to be in our minds. That was the date of the terrorist attack upon Israel undertaken by Hamas that killed more than 1,200 people, led to the taking of so many hostages, many of whom by the way we must remember are still being held hostage.

It was one of the most deadly terrorist attacks in recent history. And for Israel it was the worst attack since the creation of the nation in 1948. And indeed, there are those who are saying that in the historical scale, you have to go back to the Holocaust of the Second World War, the Holocaust in Nazi Germany in order to find a single more deadly attack upon the Jewish people. So this controversy is already boiling at the University of Pennsylvania, now it’s boiling over. The Wharton School of Business there at the University of Pennsylvania is a very famous and established school of business. The board there had suggested the university change leadership, but the board there in November, so that’s just last month, as the journal tells us, “Encouraged the university board to update Penn’s code of conduct to explicitly state that it would discipline students, faculty, and employees who ‘Celebrate or advocate for the murder, killing, genocide, or assimilation of any individual classmate or any group of individuals in our community.'”

So there it is. That’s back in November. That’s well before the congressional hearing. That’s where this language can be traced. But this is what’s so important for us to recognize, president Magill and the administration at the University of Pennsylvania, the board of trustees at the University of Pennsylvania did not say, “Oh, that’s a good point. This is a horrifying situation. We need to fix it.” They did know such thing. It turns out that on a frequently asked questions page at the University of Pennsylvania under free speech, the official university website says that public statements are, say actionable. They can be the subject of student discipline, “Only subject to discipline if the inflammatory speech intentionally and effectively provokes a crowd to immediately carry out violent and unlawful action.” Whoa. That’s why you had people immediately asking after the President’s failed to answer the question, are you saying that it would only be actionable if someone actually carried out genocide? Or caused someone else immediately to carry out genocide?

Remember that this statement says that the only actionable speech would be speech that “Intentionally and effectively provokes a crowd to immediately carry out violent and unlawful action.” Now, let me just state the obvious, this is not the policy by which the University of Pennsylvania operates. It is not the policy by which the University of Pennsylvania has operated for a long time. Again, I dare you to say something that the university would consider out of line on LGBTQ issues and find out just how they would define immediate action. But when it comes to calls for the genocide of the Jewish people, well, you understand, this particular issue has a history. The University of Pennsylvania has catastrophically failed that test. So did the Harvard Corporation following in line with the Harvard President. They made a moral statement. But the Harvard Corporation, as I said earlier, still has not said that would be actionable speech on Harvard’s campus. Shame on them.

The day earlier, the Wall Street Journal had reported on the controversy over free speech and the article cited Tom Ginsburg, a law professor and Faculty Director at the University of Chicago’s forum for free inquiry and expression. He said, “Schools, they seem to have different standards for different groups and different crises.” Well, exactly. That is exactly the case, but we need to state out loud, that is exactly the problem and that should not be allowable. Going back to Harvard, it is important to note that the Harvard Corporation statement included this, “At Harvard we champion open discourse and academic freedom, and we are united in our strong belief that calls for violence against our students, and disruptions of the classroom experience will not be tolerated.” Well again, what exactly does that mean? And you notice, even as it says, “It will not be tolerated,” it does not say, persons who do such will be immediately submitted to student discipline. It doesn’t say that.

And instead the statement doesn’t begin with moral outrage, but rather with the assurance, so common in this context, “We champion open discourse and academic freedom.” So that’s what comes first.

Part IV

Keep Your Pet Goldfish in the Bowl: The Invasion of Goldfish Terrorizing the Great Lakes

We’ll continue to track these issues, but now after dealing with such weighty issues, we need to notice that there is another nature problem out there. It should have our attention at this point. You should cue the theme to the movie Jaws. But we’re not talking about a deadly invasion of sharks. We’re talking about a deadly problem of out of control goldfish.

This got the attention to the New York Times, Livia Albeck-Ripka reporting about these goldfish that are now out of control in the Great Lakes and in particular menacing. That’s the headline, the Great Lakes. And we’re not just talking about little goldfish that you may have seen in a goldfish bowl.

We’re talking about what happens when thousands and thousands of people release thousands and thousands of goldfish into an aquatic system that is not prepared for them. Guess what? Those cute little goldfish turn into a menacing terror. I don’t mean they’re going after bathers. I mean they’re going after everything in sight and they are eating, and they’re eating things all out of control within the Great Lakes. They are pressing out native species. Some of them are growing to about 16 inches of length. Yes, we’re not talking about your goldfish bowl. We are talking about one big goldfish. Only we’re actually talking about tens of millions of them. And yes, it’s turning out to be a big ecological problem. Because when it comes to other fish, even though they might’ve eaten the goldfish, once the goldfish get that big, they’re too big to eat, which means they are spawning, they are breeding, they are out of control. They’re going to turn the Great Lakes gold.

Similar things have happened with these non-native species being released where people think they’re just cute, what damage could they do? Well, in this case, they are breeding and they are growing. Again, remember that theme to Jaws. You’re in the lake, what else is in there with you? When it comes to the goldfish, they’re not only changing the ecosystem. If you are in the water and they bump into you, you might not know it’s a goldfish. The same thing has happened in many other parts of the United States with the invasive species of carp. They are not dangerous, but when they go bump in the water, that’s hard to remember.

Now, when it comes to the Science Times section of the New York Times, they used restrained speech, they’re not pushing here in order to hit the alarm. But consider this paragraph, “Released into the wild the seemingly humble goldfish freed from glass boundaries and no longer limited to meager meals of flakes can grow to monstrous proportions that can even kill off native marine wildlife and help destroy fragile and economically valuable ecosystems. Christine Boston, an aquatic research biologists, with Fisheries And Oceans of Canada said, ‘They can eat anything and everything.'”

Well, we simply have to correct to this expert by saying that a 16-inch fish can eat only so much, not exactly anything and everything, but nonetheless, we do get the point.

It turns out that feral goldfish are not a problem only in the Great Lakes and thus shared by the United States and Canada as a challenge, turns out that Australians have had to deal with the same thing, and indeed goldfish took over a river in Australia’s southwest. We’re also told that these unwanted goldfish growing to outlandish proportions have “Flooded waterways in the United Kingdom. And in Burnsville, Minnesota the discovery of football size creatures in a lake in 2021 led officials to beg their constituents ‘Please don’t release your pet goldfish into ponds and lakes.'”

Anthony Ricky Artie identifies Professor of Invasion Ecology, McGill University in Montreal, perhaps you did not know that was an academic specialty, he’s professor of Invasion Ecology. And we are talking about an invasion here. He underlined what he sees as the scale of the problem, “Under human influence, beasts are moving faster, farther in greater numbers, reaching parts of the planet they could never reach before. We’re talking about the redistribution of life on earth.” Yeah, well, I don’t know what to say, but Merry Christmas to you too. And hey, folks out there, let’s keep those goldfish in the bowls.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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