I was disappointed to see six Wesleyan professors (doctors Springer, Gruen, Karera, Bui, Boggs, and Weiss) among the 800-odd voices endorsing the silencing of a colleague at Rhodes University, Dr. Rebecca Tuvel, who published a paper on transracialism that displeased them. There was no malice in Dr. Tuvel’s paper, but apparently she had inadvertently used forbidden words and phrasing, and in any event, as a white woman, lacked standing to speak or reason on the subject — so goes the complaint. These scholars are certainly entitled, and welcome, to disagree with Dr. Tuvel’s paper on its merits. But they object to its very publication: indeed, they demand that Hypatia, the journal that published Dr. Tuvel’s paper, “retract the article”, “take responsibility for … failures of judgment”, “open its … editorial norms to scrutiny”, and develop “a plan for improvement” of its practices. The very language is unnerving for anyone even passingly acquainted with the history of totalitarianism. Doctors Springer, Gruen, and Karera are members of Wesleyan’s philosophy faculty. Surely they know that policing the borders of a closed epistemic system is not a philosophical activity. It is, in fact, the opposite of the practice of philosophy. And though we live in an age of the policing of borders and the building of walls the excluded will pay for, I see no need for academia to play along. Better to swim against that current than with it. One encouraging note is that the blowback from this disgraceful piling on appears to be intense. I hope the experience motivates these professors to regain their intellectual footing, and that they can find it in themselves to contribute to an environment that gives them full opportunity to articulate and defend their work and ideas, while according the same opportunity to others. An institution that fosters that kind of environment is called a university.
James Shankland is a member of the Class of 1978