Another Sign Of The Collapse Of Liberal Education

Talk About "Systemic" Issues

Dear Provost Susan Jeffords,

​​I’m writing to you today to resign as assistant professor of philosophy at Portland State University.

Over the last decade, it has been my privilege to teach at the university. My specialties are critical thinking, ethics and the Socratic method, and I teach classes like Science and Pseudoscience and The Philosophy of Education. But in addition to exploring classic philosophers and traditional texts, I’ve invited a wide range of guest lecturers to address my classes, from Flat-Earthers to Christian apologists to global climate skeptics to Occupy Wall Street advocates. I’m proud of my work.

I invited those speakers not because I agreed with their worldviews, but primarily because I didn’t. From those messy and difficult conversations, I’ve seen the best of what our students can achieve: questioning beliefs while respecting believers; staying even-tempered in challenging circumstances; and even changing their minds.

I never once believed — nor do I now — that the purpose of instruction was to lead my students to a particular conclusion. Rather, I sought to create the conditions for rigorous thought; to help them gain the tools to hunt and furrow for their own conclusions. This is why I became a teacher and why I love teaching.

But brick by brick, the university has made this kind of intellectual exploration impossible. It has transformed a bastion of free inquiry into a Social Justice factory whose only inputs were race, gender, and victimhood and whose only outputs were grievance and division.

Students at Portland State are not being taught to think. Rather, they are being trained to mimic the moral certainty of ideologues. Faculty and administrators have abdicated the university’s truth-seeking mission and instead drive intolerance of divergent beliefs and opinions. This has created a culture of offense where students are now afraid to speak openly and honestly.

I noticed signs of the illiberalism that has now fully swallowed the academy quite early during my time at Portland State. I witnessed students refusing to engage with different points of view. Questions from faculty at diversity trainings that challenged approved narratives were instantly dismissed. Those who asked for evidence to justify new institutional policies were accused of microaggressions. And professors were accused of bigotry for assigning canonical texts written by philosophers who happened to have been European and male.

At first, I didn’t realize how systemic this was and I believed I could question this new culture. So I began asking questions. What is the evidence that trigger warnings and safe spaces contribute to student learning? Why should racial consciousness be the lens through which we view our role as educators? How did we decide that “cultural appropriation” is immoral?

Unlike my colleagues, I asked these questions out loud and in public.

I decided to study the new values that were engulfing Portland State and so many other educational institutions — values that sound wonderful, like diversity, equity, and inclusion, but might actually be just the opposite. The more I read the primary source material produced by critical theorists, the more I suspected that their conclusions reflected the postulates of an ideology, not insights based on evidence.

I began networking with student groups who had similar concerns and brought in speakers to explore these subjects from a critical perspective. And it became increasingly clear to me that the incidents of illiberalism I had witnessed over the years were not just isolated events, but part of an institution-wide problem.

The more I spoke out about these issues, the more retaliation I faced. Read more»

Peter Boghossian | “My University Sacrificed Ideas for Ideology. So Today I Quit. The more I spoke out against the illiberalism that has swallowed Portland State University, the more retaliation I faced” | Common Sense With Bari Weiss | September 8. 2021

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  • R. Scott Clark
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    R.Scott Clark is the President of the Heidelberg Reformation Association, the author and editor of, and contributor to several books and the author of many articles. He has taught church history and historical theology since 1997 at Westminster Seminary California. He has also taught at Wheaton College, Reformed Theological Seminary, and Concordia University. He has hosted the Heidelblog since 2007.

    More by R. Scott Clark ›

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5 comments

  1. I couldn’t help but wonder two things. The first being: is this the end of the western world? Secondly, how has history played out in similar incoherence cycles in the past, in the UK in particular?

    • Randall,

      I do think we are witnessing a new dark ages or something like it. It’s happening across the West. When I was in the UK I felt much freer to speak there than here. That was unexpected and that was almost 30 years ago. Now, however, the the universities in the UK have “caught up” (or regressed) and are often about as repressive of free speech and open enquiry as the American universities. Genuine learning is in jeopardy.

  2. This is a sad, sad story. But I have to wonder, is this case more exceptional than the usual because it took place on a PDX campus or are things becoming this way nationally? After all, the Left Coast states have a reputation for this kind of thing.

    We have a granddaughter who just started her freshman year at a well-known Midwestern university, though a smaller private one, and we’ve been concerned about the things she will be exposed to there. She is very discerning, but she has already told us of some of the errant views of her dorm mates.

    • George,

      This isn’t unusual. This isn’t just a West Coast thing (though PDX does seem to feature this sort of weirdness). This is happening in universities across the USA.

  3. I know people in the church that are rabidly in favor of the political party that is staunchly behind this. Fun times ahead.

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