Commentary on Political Economy

Sunday, 13 February 2022


 Even by today’s standard of campus cowardice and conformity, this repulsive episode is noteworthy

Opinion by George F. Will
February 11 at 9:00 pm Taiwan Time
A sludge of ignorance and cowardice oozes so constantly through today’s campuses that institutions acquire immunity through recidivism: Progressivism’s totalitarian temptation is too commonplace to be newsworthy. Academia’s vindictive intolerance has become humdrum.
The University of Illinois at Chicago, however, is so repulsive that attention must be paid to Jason Kilborn’s ordeal. He is enduring, as the price of continuing as a tenured law professor, progressivism’s version of an ancient torment: the pillory. He has been sentenced to multiple debasements devised by UIC, which is wielding progressivism’s array of tools for mind-scrubbing and conformity-enforcing.
Kilborn’s troubles began in December 2020, when he used, in an exam concerning civil procedure, a hypothetical case about a Black female manager suing a former employer, charging that she had been fired because of her race and gender. She alleged that other managers had called her — this is how the slurs appeared in Kilborn’s hypothetical — a “n_____” and a “b_____.”
In his lawsuit seeking damages for violations of his constitutional rights, Kilborn says he had used this identical hypothetical for 10 years without occasioning comment, let alone campus convulsions. But it takes just a few pebbles to start an avalanche, and just a few flamboyantly brittle students to start an infection of indignation. So, Kilborn was summoned to an electronic meeting with the law school’s dean, who had been told he had “used a racial slur” on the exam. He sent a note to his class expressing regret if his hypothetical had distressed anyone.
Nevertheless, three weeks later Kilborn was summarily placed on “indefinite administrative leave,” his classes were canceled for the entire semester, and he was banned from campus. All this, because the head of UIC’s Office for Access and Equity had a conversation with a student, according to the lawsuit.
On Jan. 6, the Black Law Students Association invited people to report if they had ever been “affected by” Kilborn. The next day, about an hour into a four-hour remote electronic conversation with a member of the association, Kilborn was asked why the law dean had not shown him a student petition complaining about the expurgated racial and gendered slurs in the exam question. Kilborn said perhaps the dean thought the abusive things said about Kilborn in the petition might make him “become homicidal.” Within four days, the student was reporting that Kilborn had exclaimed that he “was feeling homicidal.”
So, the dean triggered UIC’s Violence Prevention Plan, which triggered a Behavioral Threat Assessment Team that, without communicating with Kilborn, authorized the dean — who teaches law, mind you — to impose severe punishments without a shred of due process. Soon the Office for Access and Equity notified Kilborn that it was investigating allegations that he had “created a racially hostile environment,” particularly in his civil procedure course.
To the surprise of no one conversant with the operations of academia’s “equity” bureaucracies, the Office for Access and Equity notified Kilborn that he was guilty of “harassing conduct” because his exam question, and his response to criticisms of it, “interfered” with Black students’ “participation” in UIC. This was just another example of kangaroo court proceedings not uncommon at institutions of higher education that are administered by progressive apparatchiks too uneducated to understand the adjective “Kafkaesque.”
What makes UIC worth noticing, however, are the punishments it imposed. At first, it said that Kilborn’s sensitivity training would be mandated only if four semesters of his recorded classes indicated a harassing classroom environment. Despite exemplary performance reviews, he was declared “ineligible” for an announced, across-the-board 2 percent pay raise. Then UIC said he would have to undergo sensitivity training after all. An eight-week diversity instruction regimen would involve 20 hours of course work, five “self-reflection” papers, weekly 90-minute sessions with a diversity “trainer” and supplemental molding by the trainer.
Could those who concocted this sentence ever recognize their kinship with the moral purifiers of Cambodia’s Khmer Rouge? Or of Mao’s Cultural Revolution? Or the Stalinist interrogator Gletkin in Arthur Koestler’s 1940 novel “Darkness at Noon”? If so, would UIC’s unconscious emulators be discomfited by the resemblance? Unlikely.
Today, bureaucrats parasitic off academia’s scholarly mission outnumber actual scholars. These threat-discerners, diversity-planners, bias-detectors, sensitivity-promoters, sustainability-guarantors and other beneficiaries of today’s multibillion-dollar social justice industry are doing well during the nation’s supposed apocalypse.
So meticulous is UIC about Kilborn’s reeducation, it assigned him “supplemental” readings that explain the problems White people might face when they realize that White racism is everywhere. One assigned reading included this: “White people who support their colleagues of color may be called ‘n______ lover.’” UIC’s prissy bullies, like fanatics generally, have no sense of irony.

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