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Why Didn't Everyone Sign?
19 members of the GMU Economics Department signed the Statement of Commitment to Academic Freedom and to Intellectual Merit. 19. Quite a few bystanders have been puzzled by that number. GMU Econ has far more than 19 faculty. Why didn’t all of them sign?
Here are the main objections I heard or surmised.
Despite our libertarian reputation, some of my colleagues are normal academics. They may not be personally woke, but they think that it’s OK to be woke - and OK for colleges and universities to adopt woke policies.
Other colleagues see themselves as apolitical scientists. As such, they avoid expressing any policy views - especially outside their narrow areas of expertise.
“Don’t poke the bear!” This was probably the most-often voiced. We’ve got a Republican governor now in Virginia. The GMU administration has calmed down. They aren’t persecuting us currently. Why antagonize them by challenging their long-run goals - real and suspected?
Personal fear. While most of our faculty have tenure, some untenured members deem the risk to their careers too great. How can they know that GMU won’t retaliate against them when their tenure case comes up?
Sheer non-conformity. “I’m not a joiner - and I’m not a signer.”
“It won’t do any good.” So a bunch of GMU economists sign a statement. What happens next? The authors feel important, a few people cheer, and life goes on.
Although I was one of the main authors, I still feel a lot of sympathy for #6. More likely than not, nothing will come of our Statement. Nothing good. Nothing bad.
Still, there are two admittedly speculative effects that kept me on board.
Globally, there are a lot of demoralized non-woke professors. They’ve been intimidated into silence. Posting our Statement marginally quells their fear and gives them hope.
Locally, it is precisely when the GMU administration is relatively calm that we should precommit to resist the next mad crusade. That way, when the administration tries to make our chair go along with their Orwellian demands, the chair can say, “Most of our faculty has publicly announced their staunch opposition to such policies. I wish I could help you. But alas, my hands are tied.”
Will either of these benefits actually materialize? Probably not. But writing and signing a statement was a minor cost, so why not give it a try?