Faculty and Student Pledges

Universities can ask members of the community to stay safe during the COVID pandemic. But they cannot prescribe what shall be orthodox.

|The Volokh Conspiracy |

My general policy, which I flagged on Friday, is to not sign any statement I do not write. I share many of Keith's concerns about the risks of joining open letters. Fortunately, most professors have the discretion to sign, or not sign public statements. But this year, I suspect that many faculty, as well as most students, will be asked to sign pledges. I italicize asked, because the request is not really optional.

Consider the pledge at the Ohio State University. The bulk of the pledge asks members of the community to take certain precautions to prevent the spread of COVID-19. [Update: Ohio State is not merely asking people to sign the pledge. Faculty and students are required to sign the pledge to return to campus.] Whatever. This document will not serve as a valid liability waiver. And if undergraduates are as careful as Major League Baseball players, classes will be online by Labor Day.

But the pledge also requires signatories to "acknowledge the Buckeye values." What are those values? Here are two of them.

it is important to embrace diversity in people and ideas; foster the inclusion of all Buckeyes.

In the abstract, this language is nebulous enough. What does it mean to "embrace diversity"? What does it mean to "foster inclusion." Who knows? But the ambiguity presents a precise risk. Signing onto this language will bind faculty and students to a pledge with an unknown direction. And the direction is not hard to figure out.

May I provide an insight where these measures are headed? Consider the "Race and Social Justice" curriculum that Seattle city employees will have to take. The classes separate employees by race, including a "whites-only training." White employees will have to process their "white feelings" and consider "what we do in white people space." Then the employees must examine their "relationships with white supremacy, racism, and whiteness." The white employees must explain how their "[families] benefit economically from the system of white supremacy even as it directly and violently harms Black people." And so on.

Some people may wish to take these classes. Others may not. But no mistake: there is no possible disagreement with these lectures. There is only one right answer. Any dissent will be deemed dispositive proof of bigotry, racism, and fragility. There is only one, orthodox truth.

In my mind, Justice Robert Jackson addressed this issues six decades ago:

If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein. If there are any circumstances which permit an exception, they do not now occur to us

Faculty and students should understand what they are signing up for when they agree to such pledges. These pledges are not meaningless statements.

Tenured faculty will have more autonomy to decline these pledges, but will still face pressure to join. Untenured faculty will reasonably fear retaliation for refusing to sign pledges. As it stands now, faculty candidates are required to submit "diversity statements." Students who decline to sign the pledges may be subjected to forced re-education.

This sort of regime is not limited to higher education. New York City public schools separated teachers by race for "affinity groups." Recently, a public high school teacher in Texas contacted me in a panic. He said his principal wanted to separate students by race, along the lines of the Seattle program. Black students could go to the white session. But white students could not go to the black session. This teacher had tenure protection, so he was prepared to object. But others may not be willing to do so.

This year will be very different from previous years. Faculty and staff should begin the semesters with their eyes wide open.

NEXT: "No-Protest Condition Will Be Dropped for People Facing Federal Charges in Portland Demonstrations"

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  1. I would think, and hope, that anyone required to take Seattle’s “classes” as a condition of employment has an open-ahd-shut hostile work environment case against his employer, whether public or private.

    1. Sadly, no. And one will remain unemployed for a very long time.

  2. Madison (Wisconsin) schools are also segregating students by race to indoctrinate them.

  3. Have you commented on the addition of “under God” to the Pledge of Allegiance in 1954, Prof. Blackman, which arranged innumerable hollow mouthings of those words by eight- and nine-year-olds for three-quarters of a century?

    I doubt your ostensible “principles” have been vindicated by your conduct in that context. If I am wrong — and you have objected to the imposition of superstition in the Pledge of Allegiance — I will apologize and be impressed by your devotion to principle.

    Have you ever objected to the collection of loyalty oaths or imposition of “statements of faith” by conservative-controlled educational institutions, Prof. Blackman?

    If not, how would you distinguish your lifelong record of silence with respect to the pledges favored by conservatives (Pledge of Allegiance, viewpoint-discriminatory invocations at public meetings, loyalty oaths collected on right-wing campuses) with the pledges underlying your paltry, partisan rant today?

    1. The correct answer is that all of these are wrong, if government mandates it, then or now. (Private religious institutions can do what they want.)

      Are you opposed to these kinds of political plank loyalty oaths, by government, in all contexts? Because the cultural shift you are joyous over, much of which I share, is the latest threat to freedom…freedom from government.

    2. “Have you commented on the addition of “under God” to the Pledge of Allegiance in 1954, Prof. Blackman, which arranged innumerable hollow mouthings of those words by eight- and nine-year-olds for three-quarters of a century?”

      Schools can’t require students to say the pledge, Arthur. If you’d gone to a real school instead of one of those progressive schools that teach that facts are racist, you’d know that.

      1. You figure the peer pressure on third-graders to mouth tribute to superstition is less intense the pressure Prof. Blackman laments with respect to college students asked to indicate they won’t be bigots?

        Other than that . . . great comment, clinger.

        1. “You figure the peer pressure on third-graders to mouth tribute to superstition is less intense the pressure Prof. Blackman laments with respect to college students asked to indicate they won’t be bigots?”

          Get an education from a real school. Start with the proper use of prepositions, you illiterate ignoramus.

          1. “you illiterate ignoramus.”

            You are giving him too much credit.

    3. Kirkland, there is a time and a place, this is neither…

      1. For what? Out with it, Flounder!

    4. It appears we may have finally found a way to dodge Prof. Blackman’s commentary.

  4. “foster inclusion.”

    I can guarantee this phrase does NOT include accepting any utterance further to the right than Karl Marx.

  5. “This year will be very different from previous years. Faculty and staff should begin the semesters with their eyes wide open.”
     
    Or, with eyes wide shut.  You are not supposed to see what you see, to know what is really going on.  

    How are the guilt-based classes not akin to CPC type struggle sessions, with accusers and confessors?

  6. While I believe that OSU can require adherence to reasonable heath measures as a condition to returning to campus, the other parts about diversity, affordability, and innovation are quite dubious. But OSU has power, and the students don’t, so the many students who have lab classes or otherwise have to be on campus don’t have a choice.

    1. I don’t know about OSU, but students at ZooMass this fall truly will be living in cages. There are “reasonable health measures” and then there is a total waiver of any scintilla of personal privacy or individual liberty that Americans are known to enjoy.

  7. If you don’t sign the pledge you are making a choice to state your position on the subject. Which is covered under their pledge to respect diversity and foster inclusion for which they promised to adhere.

    Don’t sign and sue as they are a public university. This has the same level of idiocy as loyalty pledges in the 50s.

  8. A reasonable reading of Bostock would flatly prohibit, as discrimination on the basis of race, requiring members of different races to engage in different behavior, or punishing people because their behavior is not regarded as appropriate for their race.

    Bostock prohibits this for gender. But there is no reason it shouldn’t do the same thing for race.

  9. That is not perfect, but honestly, as a right winger, I would sign that pledge in a second. I literally endorse every word of it, and would want to hold all other signatories to its meaning. In particular, that they embrace a literal diversity of ideas.

    If I were to write pledge for everyone, it would say something like: “I pledge to treat [all of my fellow Buckeyes] and their ideas with dignity and respect.”

    1. Yeah, that will work, until some left wing group adopts “Blacks Deserve Dignity and Respect” as a slogan. And all at once saying everybody deserves them will get you in deep trouble.

  10. Professional societies like the IEEE and ACM have long forced their members to sign on to what amount to liberal talking points as part of their “statement of ethics”. The constitution protects citizens from established governmental orthodoxies, but not from the tyranny of the mob.

  11. This is not going to end well — the fascist left has tasted power and much as a dog that has learned how to kill deer, they’re not going to stop.

    I can see this easily ending in bloodshed.

    1. How many Lavoy Finnicums you figure to be out there?

      I hope right-wingers find the wisdom to choose to be replaced as a result of natural causes.

      1. Kirkland fails to understand the lessons of history….

        1. Which lessons?

          The lessons of the Ballad of Lavoy Finnicum?

          1. No, that of Benito Mussolini….

    2. Blood is already being shed, and it’s being shed by the right-wing state. Or are you not noticing this, because you buy the state’s propaganda?

      1. I think the right-wing state needs to shed a bit more….

      2. What do you mean by “right” wing state?

        I see all manner of statists shedding low level blood regularly, but I don’t notice that it’s either right nor left, but merely statist (unless you’re making the argument that all state violence is tautologically right wing, just like Stalin and Mao were, in which case I completely follow you, while rejecting your framing).

  12. Because Ohio State University is a state school, it is a blatant violation of the First Amendment to condition a student’s attendance on affirming a particular set of beliefs. The Supreme Court ruled that students cannot be compelled to recite the pledge of allegiance. West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette 319 U.S. 624 (1943). There is no reason that this pledge should be any different.

    1. If this pledge is no different, where is Prof. Blackman’s outrage concerning the Pledge of Allegiance?

      I have attended Federalist Society events at which the Pledge of Allegiance has been recited. Does Prof. Blackman faint when that happens? Do his friends anticipate the problem and stand ready to catch him?

      1. Because the Pledge of Allegiance simply states that the US is “under God” instead of demanding that those reciting it “worship God.”

        Now I realize that you aren’t very bright, but please try to understand the difference between a statement of being (“under God”) and a promise of future personal action (“worship God”) — and how the latter is considerably more egregious than the former.

        Looking at it different way, if the 8th Amendment prohibits mere “drawing” as a cruel & unusual punishment, it would also prohibit the more egregious “drawing and quartering.” That doesn’t mean that also being quartered isn’t still more extreme than merely being drawn.

        1. ” Because the Pledge of Allegiance simply states that the US is “under God” instead of demanding that those reciting it “worship God.” ”

          That’s a great argument, Dr. Ed.

          That sound in the background is Prof. Blackman’s ‘you’re not helping’ lament.

          1. Benito Mussolini….

            1. What are you mumbling about?

            2. Dunno if you should invoke the specter of fascism when above you said you wanted more deaths at government hands…

      2. I doubt the Federalist Society requires people recite the pledge of allegiance as a condition of attendance. But even if it did, it would not implicate the First Amendment, because the Federalist Society is not a government entity. If Prof. Blackman said schools should be allowed to mandate students pledge allegiance to the flag, that would be inconsistent with his position on the “Together As Buckeyes Pledge.” But I do not think he does.

      3. More whataboutism. What a sad fool is Kirkland

        1. I have asserted that Prof. Blackman’s post seems unprincipled, partisan, nearly silly hackery. If he wishes to dispute the evidence underlying that conclusion, he has demonstrated the ability to contribute a few words to this blog.

          1. Which is all ad hominem argument.

            Do you support the Ohio State University mandatory pledge, yes or no?

            As far as I can see, it is a blatant violation of the First Amendment, not to mention academic freedom. The fact that you don’t like the Pledge of Allegiance in public school, and implementation of West Virgnia v. Barnette is neither here nor there.

            1. Nor do you have to SIGN the Pledge of Allegiance,

              1. True, but I would find enforce oral affirmation just as objectionable. Which is why the Supreme Court held that schools may not force children to recite it.

                1. Oh, these academic fascists will follow up on the signature.

  13. I doubt the Federalist Society requires people recite the pledge of allegiance as a condition of attendance. But even if it did, it would not implicate the First Amendment, because the Federalist Society is not a government entity. If Prof. Blackman said schools should be allowed to mandate students pledge allegiance to the flag, that would be inconsistent with his position on the “Together As Buckeyes Pledge.” But I do not think he does.

    1. Prof. Blackman seems to object strenuously to the asking — in this context.

      Perhaps he will explain.

  14. God damn, Josh – you’re such a hack.

    What are “Buckeye values?” Here is some nebulous, content-free language from what they actually say. But to glean the truth here is a link to a powerpoint for a completely unrelated course for some employees in Seattle, and here is a misrepresentation of what that powerpoint actually says, and here is a post that amply demonstrates so-called “white fragility,” one of the topics discussed as part of the Seattle course.

    This is all laughable, conspiratorial, obtuse nonsense to anyone who isn’t coming to the issue with your preconceived notions and carefully-nurtured grudges. It’s intellectually dishonest and almost proudly lazy. Reading this, it’s hard to believe that any of your academic work would be worth reading, or trustworthy.

    1. “This is all laughable, conspiratorial, obtuse nonsense to anyone who isn’t coming to the issue with your preconceived notions and carefully-nurtured grudges. It’s intellectually dishonest and almost proudly lazy. Reading this, it’s hard to believe that any of your academic work would be worth reading, or trustworthy.”

      Burt Bacharach and Hal David may have written a song about this.

      I think it went something like Do you Know The Way To South Texas?

      1. OK, that Osmonds part might have been a low blow.

  15. Subjecting “whites” to such “diversity training” is going to run foul of Title VII. I don’t even know how it is remotely defensible if one person feels offended which is an element of hostile environment harassment (but that is what they are banking on – not one white person complaining.)

    1. Not one daring to complain…

      1. If you complain, you will be ostracized at your university. The cancel culture of left-wing fascists has taken strong hold in academia. The Higher ranked the university, the strong that cancel culture is.

        Generally it is better to keep one’s mouth shut and avoid signing using various subterfuges.

        1. Just as the whole conservative speaker issue was not nothing, but generalizing it required one to lean hard on confirmation bias, until I see more I’m pretty skeptical that this is a statistically significant issue.

  16. “The classes separate employees by race, including a ‘whites-only training..’ White employees will have to process their ‘white feelings’ and consider ‘what we do in white people space.’ ”

    What happens if an employee is Chinese? The employee may consider himself to be oriental and not white. Will there be classes for Chinese, American Indians, Japanese, etc?

  17. Nothing too surprising here … terrified administrators are trying to stake out the importance of their jobs, lest they be layed off due to financial concerns.

  18. Prof. Blackman apparently will defend his position here with every bit of the courage Sen. Cruz exhibited in defense of his wife after Donald Trump repeatedly called her a hideous pig.

    Sad.

    #ConservativeCourage

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