David Acevedo
National Association of Scholars

(February 1, 2021/Ongoing)

Updated February 1, 2020—This list, originally published in June 2020, will be updated periodically. The National Association of Scholars counts 122 academic cancellations in the United States and Canada. If you know of additional professors, administrators, or students who have been canceled, please let us know at contact@nas.org.

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According to Dictionary.com, cancel culture “refers to the popular practice of withdrawing support for (canceling) public figures and companies after they have done or said something considered objectionable or offensive. Cancel culture is generally discussed as being performed on social media in the form of group shaming.” This new form of mob rule has dominated virtually every sector of American life for the last several years: politics, journalism, music & entertainment, sports, business, and of particular interest to the National Association of Scholars, higher education.

Academic administrators, students, and even professors risk “cancellation” when expressing viewpoints deemed unacceptable by the progressive ideologues ruling our colleges and universities. These allegedly abhorrent views need not be outside the Overton window—most aren’t—to anger the progressive mob. Indeed, radical academics and bureaucrats have shifted the window steadily leftward, such that those who espouse ideas considered uncontroversial even a few years ago are anathematized.

These intolerable sentiments allegedly offend progressive orthodoxy by “perpetuating” one of the myriad “isms” or “phobias” seen as cardinal sins by the modern left, including but not limited to racism, sexism/misogyny, ableism, sizeism, nationalism, climate change denialism, homophobia, transphobia, xenophobia, fatphobia and islamophobia. In fact, academics are now expected to devote themselves to the “work” of being “anti-” all of the above (e.g. recent rhetoric surrounding “doing antiracist work”).

Academic cancellation usually goes something like this: 1) a professor, administrator, or student says or writes something considered heretical by progressives; 2) outcry ensues among the faculty and student body, who demand institutional discipline; 3) administrators cave to the mob and punish the “culprit.” In most cases, it really is that simple.

For untenured professors and administrators, this discipline may take the form of suspension or firing, but always with a large dose of public humiliation. Tenured faculty have more protections, but schools often make their jobs harder through burdensome investigations and never-ending “sensitivity” and “implicit bias” trainings. Canceled students may have their professional careers ruined before they’ve begun.

After punishment, victims of cancel culture rarely have the opportunity to fight back. Many are at-will employees and therefore lack the ability to pursue legal recourse. Even if they could, colleges and universities can almost always out-lawyer any individual with their internal or external legal teams paid out of hefty hedge funds sometimes called “endowments.” Sadly, the fate of most “cancelees” is banishment from their academic communities, leaving them either to disappear or to join fellow dissidents in the heterodox corners of the academic and professional world.

Consider the recent experience of Professor Gordon Klein, a lecturer in accounting at UCLA’s Anderson School of Management. He declined to accommodate demands to award lenient grades to his African-American students in the wake of George Floyd’s death. His email response was as follows:

Thanks for your suggestion in your email below that I give black students special treatment, given the tragedy in Minnesota. Do you know the names of the classmates that are black? How can I identify them since we’ve been having online classes only? Are there any students that may be of mixed parentage, such as half black-half Asian? What do you suggest I do with respect to them? A full concession or just half? Also, do you have any idea if any students are from Minneapolis? I assume that they probably are especially devastated as well. I am thinking that a white student from there might be possibly even more devastated by this, especially because some might think that they’re racist even if they are not. My TA is from Minneapolis, so if you don’t know, I can probably ask her. Can you guide me on how you think I should achieve a “no-harm” outcome since our sole course grade is from a final exam only? One last thing strikes me: Remember that MLK famously said that people should not be evaluated based on the “color of their skin.” Do you think that your request would run afoul of MLK’s admonition? Thanks, G. Klein

Abrupt? Perhaps. Racist? Of course not. And yet, Professor Klein has been “canceled” for his “woefully racist response”: he has been suspended, his classes have been assigned to other professors, and he is in police protection after receiving multiple death threats. Klein later stated that he was used as the “sacrificial lamb” to placate “those who threaten to riot.” And so, the cycle continues.

The National Association of Scholars believes that cancel culture within higher education has reached an extraordinary level. Indeed, many colleges and universities have become progressive seminaries. With every new societal crisis—COVID-19 and racialist protests/riots being two recent examples—comes a fresh wave of academic cancellations. The threat to academic freedom is obvious: when those within academia are unable to contradict progressive orthodoxy, the disinterested pursuit of truth is lost. Reasoned scholarship is traded in for the cheap, vapid substitute of political activism. And in the long run, higher education itself dies.

In an effort to cancel the cancel culture, NAS will track these incidents in higher education and record them in a downloadable archive. It’s our hope that this resource will help bring to light the widespread malfeasance of academic administrators in our colleges and universities for the sake of tangible accountability. Those who violate academic freedom must be called out, publicly exposed, and permanently marked for their misbehavior. Ideally, violators’ sullied reputations will then limit their ability to inflict further damage. This is not to form a counter-mob in opposition to the current one, but rather to hold the guilty parties responsible in the court of public opinion. Let the punishment fit the crime.

We need your help compiling a complete list of cases. If you know of academic cancellations not on our list, please email us at contact@nas.org.

Below, we list the cases in reverse chronological order by approximate date of cancellation. Download the chart for more detailed information:

Read more…

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2 thought on “Tracking “Cancel Culture” in Higher Education”
  1. Skeptics have labeled this undertaking “cancel culture,” which of late has occasioned a pushback from its representatives. The goal, they suggest, is less to eliminate all signs of a person’s existence—which tends to be impractical anyway— than to supplement critique with punishment of some kind.

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