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George F. Will: A college teacher vs. the woke mob
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George F. Will: A college teacher vs. the woke mob

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WASHINGTON — Enforced conformity in the name of “diversity.” Exclusion of intellectual heterodoxy to make campuses “inclusive.” Orwellian language is spoken in academia. At the UCLA Anderson School of Management, a debacle began with a Kafkaesque touch, an antecedentless pronoun: “we.”

The first words of a June 2, 2020, email, signed by one student, were: “We are writing to express our tremendous concern. ...” The writer, who is not Black, was tremendously concerned that the upcoming final exam in lecturer Gordon Klein’s class would injure “the mental and physical health of our Black classmates.” The writer said that “traumatic circumstances” — e.g., the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis — placed Black students at an “academic disadvantage.” So, for Black students, Klein’s final exam should count only if it elevated a student’s grade.

Klein, who has taught at Anderson for 40 years, consistently receiving fine reviews by students, as well as earning merit-based raises, considered the proposal patronizing toward Blacks, and illegal. (He is a lawyer.) Klein responded, however, by mildly posing Socratic questions for the writer of the email: How do I identify Black students taking my entirely online class? What about students with racially mixed parentage? How can there be a “no harm” final exam when this exam completely determines a student’s grade?

For the offense of corrupting Athenian youth, Socrates was sentenced to death by drinking hemlock. For the offense of offending some American youths (Klein’s emailed questions were quickly online) by not truckling to the virtual mob that instantly formed, Klein faced the mob’s demand that he be fired.

The mob cited his “insensitive, dismissive and woefully racist response,” his “blatant lack of empathy,” “apathetic stance,” etc. These accusations were amplified by an online petition signed by more than 20,000 people. One UCLA professor, a pillar of timidity, announced that he would give A grades to everyone because of the nation’s “current climate.”

When UCLA warned the Anderson School against immediately punishing Klein, the school did so anyway. On June 3, the next day, it placed Klein on involuntary administrative leave, accusing him of violating unspecified provisions of the university’s Faculty Code of Conduct.

Antonio Bernardo, dean of the Anderson School, took center stage to preen about his sensitivity. He epitomizes the invertebrate academic bureaucrats who, oozing wokeness from every pore, pander to mobs clamoring for the unethical and hoping for the illegal.

In a June 4 email to the “Anderson School Community,” Bernardo said Klein’s email was “an abuse of power” and that Klein demonstrated “disregard for our core principles.” Bernardo did not say which ones.

Bernardo characterized Klein’s conduct as “outrageous” and “inexcusable,” and the Anderson School suspended Klein from teaching and banned him from campus. Before he was reinstated, the Anderson School’s Faculty Executive Committee tried to propitiate the mob by announcing itself “saddened” by Klein’s “troubling conduct.” Most of Klein’s income comes from consulting to law firms and corporations, some of which severed their contacts with him when Bernardo and others smeared him.

In Klein’s suit — the suit is the good news from this disgrace — against Bernardo and others, Klein says that on June 3, the Anderson School, which Bernardo leads, tweeted that Klein’s email was “deeply disturbing”: “We apologize to the students who received it and to all those who have been as upset and offended by it as we are ourselves.” In a slew of emails to those who had complained about Klein, Bernardo apologized “on behalf of Anderson” for Klein’s “very hurtful sentiments.”

Although the internet is not capacious enough for even a catalogue of academics’ craven capitulations to mobs, the UCLA case merits special attention because some individuals, starting with Bernardo, might be held accountable for their malicious violations of rights.

Bernardo and academic conformity enforcers like him are fluent in woke-speak and relish the applause that comes to those who speak it. They engage in cost-free virtue-signaling at others’ expense. Now, however, such disagreeable people on campuses everywhere are on notice: They might be liable for the denials of constitutional rights, and for financial and reputation injuries, such as those about which Klein is suing.

The behavior of Bernardo and others at the Anderson School was clearly intended to have a chilling effect on speech.

By his sturdy refusal to be chilled, and by his suit, Klein can help to deter such behavior.

George Will’s email address is georgewill@washpost.com.

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