Brown University President Christina Paxson likened the passage of bills meant to limit diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives, also known as DEI, to the suppression of Italian astronomer Galileo Galilei, despite the discrimination which such programs routinely induce.
Paxson wrote in a recent opinion piece for The New York Times that the nation is facing a “fundamental threat” as state lawmakers move to limit public funding for DEI initiatives. The administrator noted that Galilei was forced to renounce his “false opinion” that the Earth circles the sun in 1633 due to “the prevailing beliefs” of the Roman Catholic Church; she also cited the prohibition of Charles Darwin’s work from Trinity College Cambridge in 1859 and the “loyalty hearings” in the 1950s under former Sen. Joseph McCarthy.
“The mistakes of the past are being repeated in this country, right now,” Paxson wrote. “The State Senate in Texas last week advanced one of three bills aimed at public colleges that would ban diversity, equity and inclusion activities, end tenure, and fire professors accused of indoctrinating their students. Several states, including Georgia, Idaho and most notably Florida, have passed varying laws making it easier to ban books and limit what American educators can teach.”
The statutes referenced by the administrator indeed restricted funds for DEI initiatives, which have often been accused of fomenting division and limiting viewpoint diversity while entrenching a Left-of-center orthodoxy on college campuses. The condemnation of efforts to “ban books” appears to reference recent orders to remove sexually explicit and pornographic materials, some of which include graphic depictions of how children can masturbate and cartoons of children engaged in homosexual activity, in elementary school libraries.
“Like their forebears, the proponents of these laws are on the wrong side of history. They are acting out of political expediency, exploiting convenient political wedge issues,” Paxson added. “They are mounting a direct and dangerous attack on America’s longstanding commitment to free expression, democracy and education. Legislating toward a future where the state decrees what ideas may be taught and debated upends a bedrock principle of this country.”
DEI initiatives at Brown, a private institution based in Providence, Rhode Island, which maintains a reputation as the most Left-leaning of the eight Ivy League schools, have discriminated against students according to their race. Beyond a recent commitment to “increase the representation” of black students, Brown administrators restricted a class on mindfulness-based stress reduction to students who identify as black, indigenous, or Latino.
Christopher Rufo, a conservative activist who sparked the nationwide efforts to limit DEI initiatives, contended that Paxson’s views are easily falsified. “DEI does not cultivate genius; it stamps out genius,” he wrote on social media. “Galileo himself would be punished as a straight, white male.”
Despite the claims from Paxson about the “state-sponsored censorship” academics face in some parts of the country, administrators who subscribe to the DEI movement have frequently sought to sanction or dismiss professors for their views. Charles Negy, an associate psychology professor at the University of Central Florida, was fired and later reinstated after he disagreed with the assumptions of the Black Lives Matter movement, while Coastal Carolina University theater professor Steven Earnest faced termination after he criticized students who mistakenly accused him of racism after seeing the names of minority students written on his whiteboard.