“Let’s be blunt about what we face: We face a group of small-minded, petty ideologues who have hijacked a public institution and who are hell-bent on ripping down western civilization,” said Portland State philosophy professor Peter Boghossian at a recent virtual event when describing what he sees as rampant liberalism sweeping PSU.
The event, titled “The New Censorship in American Higher Ed: Insights from Portland State,” was held on May 7 by the Oregon chapter of the National Association of Scholars (OAS), a nonprofit advocacy organization which seeks to “promote excellence, freedom, and merit in higher education in the state,” according to its website. It included three speakers: Bruce Gilley, a controversial political science professor at PSU and president of the OAS; Boghossian, a controversial philosophy professor; and Oregon Republican Senator Dennis Linthicum.
The speakers discussed a report released by the OAS on April 29, which claims PSU is at the center of a “new-censorship” movement taking over universities across the country. Much of the report focuses on a resolution unanimously passed by the PSU Faculty Senate on March 1 which accused unnamed professors of using the guise of academic freedom to harass their colleagues and instigate hate crimes. President Stephen Percy and Provost Susan Jeffords supported the resolution.
At the event, Gilley said the OAS report identifies “two damaging attacks on the core principles of the university taking place” which have “unfolded under President Stephen Percy since the fall of 2020.”
“The first strategy is to curtail or ban criticisms of critical race theory, diversity training, woke studies programs, equity frameworks or radicalized classroom teachings by redefining such criticisms as harassment or intimidation or mob violence,” Gilley said. “The second strategy is an explicit denial of academic freedom.”
According to the Faculty Senate resolution, “carelessness in the exercise of academic freedom can undermine, stifle, and annihilate academic freedom itself.”
According to Gilley, that language institutionalizes left-wing ideology and censorship into the framework of the university.
“It’s an institutionalization also of a particularly partisan social justice advocacy agenda into every aspect of university operations,” Gilley said.
On top of the resolution on academic freedom, a proposal to instate a campus-wide Race and Ethnic Studies requirement to start in fall of 2022 will be voted on for approval by the Faculty Senate on June 7.
The speakers said the recent actions taken by the Faculty Senate, along with the university’s stated commitment to anti-racism, will have a devastating impact on the university.
“What you’re seeing at PSU in particular is a fundamental violation of the idea that all people are created equal,” Linthicum said.
“This is a question of our students being able to think for themselves, and have their beliefs questioned and challenged, and being able to question and challenge the beliefs of their professors and fellow students in a way that’s respectful and in good faith,” Boghossian said. “We do not have that. We have a catastrophic failure of the system right now.”
Shortly after the resolution on academic freedom passed, Faculty Senate Presiding Officer Michele Gamburd characterized its dissenters in an interview as “a kind of right-wing backlash against a lot of the work that campuses are doing on diversity, equity and inclusion.”
“They believe themselves to be the saviors of free speech and free thought at the university,” Gamburd said. “They believe that [liberal ideology] is being forced on people and that it’s creating a hostile environment for people who don’t share that commitment to equity.”
“We’re not censoring any faculty, but we are calling out behaviors that we feel are counter to the way we do things at an institution,” Gamburd continued. “We want to be welcoming of diverse views, but we also have rules around conversations when we have a difference of opinion.”
Gilley and Boghossian don’t see it that way. They accused the Faculty Senate and the PSU Board of Trustees of “railroading” liberal ideology into the functions of the university.
“In 10 years,” Gilley said, “[PSU] will have transformed into a cult, and the diversity of opinions and views that the public expects to find in a university will no longer be found on a university campus.”
“This is not an education that people are receiving,” Boghossian said. “This is an indoctrination.”
Audience members asked what should be done about it. In response, Boghossian encouraged people to show up at public meetings to voice their dissent and for concerned alumni to cease donations. He also advocates for suing the university.
“We have to sue to stop this ideology,” he said.
He also recommended that concerned students document classes they believe perpetuate left-wing ideology by taking video of lectures and pictures of class materials and sharing them online, which is what Gamburd and other members of the Faculty Senate singled out as harassment when the resolution on academic freedom initially passed.
“It’s not part of academic freedom to somehow have a right to take your colleagues copyrighted course materials, put them on the internet and encourage students to first view the materials, which is a violation of the student code of conduct, and then encourage the general public to attack your colleague,” Gamburd said in an interview.
At the core of the issue is a deep rift in what different factions at PSU believe constitutes academic freedom, education and equality.
“I’m not optimistic about the future,” Boghossian concluded.