A tale of three professors, all women, all of Asian descent

In the wake of Yale’s firing of Bandy Lee, a psychiatrist[1] who felt it her duty to warn of the danger that Donald Trump did indeed pose in multiple ways,[2] apparently at the behest of, of all people, Alan Dershowitz,[3] came news that Yale Law School had taken away a small group class from Amy Chua, who though popular with students, is also controversial, partly because of accusations leveled at her husband. The accusations against Chua largely smack of hearsay,[4] not the sort of evidence you’d expect a law school to admit.

Both professors are women of Asian descent and, on Twitter, both allege racism.

I am reminded of my own experience at California State University, East Bay. First, there was the professor whom I usually mean when I refer to a formerly favorite professor, who I think tends to overemphasize race in discussions of social inequality—it’s race, class, and gender,[5] and really, every way humans can come up with to distinguish among ourselves along group lines—and who alleged racism in university faculty hiring decisions. Notably, when my department was seeking a new chair, he observed that the three candidates they considered were all white men.

The one they hired turned the program in a hard, solipsistic post-modernist direction. It was a direction that I did not receive well and indeed this chair did not last long. I outlasted him and managed to finish my Master’s degree anyway.[6] But this brings up the tale of my other favorite professor, also a woman of Asian descent, and a situation which I must confess I did not handle as well as I wish, partly because I still had some learning to do.

This professor was also very popular among students, enthusiastic, and supportive. She had just won tenure when the new department chair arrived and was, I continue to believe, everything you want in a professor, particularly in a program that serves students from less-privileged backgrounds.

But the new department chair held quantitative research in disdain. And she was “quantitative girl.” She alleged sexual harassment, an accusation a department investigation failed to validate. But I know the accusation was at least partly true because the look I saw on her face coming out of her office one day matched my own feelings in the first Ph.D. program I was in, the program that was not right for me, when I found myself in conflict with that department chair and founder of the program.

Let’s be clear here: Academic politics are real, vicious, and petty.

At the time, I was about to take a class from the new department chair in my Master’s program and I promised her I would watch for signs of sexism.

I didn’t see them and I told her so, but I noted that there was something odd, something I couldn’t put my finger on, with his emphasis on “theory.” She heard the first part, I think, louder the second.

But I was on to something. I had not yet read Jack Holland’s Misogyny, where he explains that Plato associated ideas—theory—with air and masculinity, sensuality with earth and femininity; he (Plato) exalted the former, and disdained the latter.[7] I would see this again in Richard Tarnas’ The Passion of the Western Mind[8] and eventually connect it with a conservative emphasis on the way they think things ought to be, at the expense of how things are, the naturalistic fallacy.[9] That department chair was actually a conservative, masquerading as a liberal as in the sort not quite so far to the right as right wingnuts, who disguised his sexism with an equal opportunity patronizing attitude and intellectual bullying.[10]

He called himself a “human scientist,” but I’m now the real thing.

Let’s also be clear here: Social inequality in academia is very, very, very real. And it goes well beyond the hierarchies of elite and non-elite universities, degrees, tenure status and the absence thereof, and administration versus faculty versus students.

Do I think my other favorite professor was harassed? Hell, yes. I know this now both from that look on her face and my own learning since.

And do I accordingly suspect Yale’s motivations in disciplining Bandy Lee and Amy Chua? Hell, yes.

  1. [1]Len Gutkin, “Shared Psychosis; Academic Psychiatry; Academic Freedom,” Chronicle of Higher Education, April 5, 2021, https://www.chronicle.com/newsletter/chronicle-review/2021-04-05
  2. [2]David Benfell, “Riot or insurrection? Lies or madness?” Not Housebroken, January 22, 2021, https://disunitedstates.org/2021/01/12/riot-or-insurrection-lies-or-madness/; David Benfell, “In service to a psychotic delusional raging narcissist,” Not Housebroken, April 5, 2021, https://disunitedstates.org/2021/04/05/in-service-to-a-psychotic-delusional-raging-narcissist/
  3. [3]Len Gutkin, “Shared Psychosis; Academic Psychiatry; Academic Freedom,” Chronicle of Higher Education, April 5, 2021, https://www.chronicle.com/newsletter/chronicle-review/2021-04-05
  4. [4]Tom Bartlett, “A Yale Law Prof Was Disciplined for Holding Dinner Parties. There’s More to the Story,” Chronicle of Higher Education, April 22, 2021, https://www.chronicle.com/article/a-yale-law-prof-was-disciplined-for-holding-dinner-parties-theres-more-to-the-story
  5. [5]Scott Sernau, Worlds Apart, 2nd ed. (Thousand Oaks, CA: Pine Forge, 2006).
  6. [6]David Benfell, “Coalescing thoughts while waiting for a phone call,” Not Housebroken, February 21, 2009, https://disunitedstates.org/2009/02/21/coalescing-thoughts-while-waiting-for-a-phone-call/
  7. [7]Jack Holland, Misogyny (New York: Carroll and Graf, 2006).
  8. [8]Richard Tarnas, The Passion of the Western Mind (New York: Harmony, 1991).
  9. [9]David Benfell, “Conservative Views on Undocumented Migration” (doctoral dissertation, Saybrook, 2016). ProQuest (1765416126).
  10. [10]David Benfell, “Coalescing thoughts while waiting for a phone call,” Not Housebroken, February 21, 2009, https://disunitedstates.org/2009/02/21/coalescing-thoughts-while-waiting-for-a-phone-call/

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