An ideological battleground has been developing in the country’s higher learning institutions. Once free markets for different viewpoints, some universities have restricted what can be discussed if the topic is a sensitive subject or offensive to certain demographics or people with certain ideologies and lifestyles.
On one of the frontlines of this battle is Professor Eric Thompson. Thompson is a tenured professor at Moreno Valley College, which is about 60 miles east of Los Angeles. He has worked there since 2005 and twice received “Faculty of the Year” designations from students.
In 2014, the college started investigating Thompson after several complaints arose from colleagues and students about a video called “Understanding Same-Sex Attraction.” The video proffers an opposing view to the position that same-sex attraction is biological and can’t be changed.
After two interviews with Thompson and his legal representation, I started to understand three things. The first is why this issue is complex, far-reaching, and in need of discussion. The second is why the topic of this particular video is an important factor amidst the ideological battleground; and the third is why this article will hopefully shed some light on this broad and complex issue.
After the investigations, Thompson was put on paid leave in 2016 and fired from the college in 2017 for holding “dangerous” and “immoral” discussions. In 2018, Thompson was represented by the Pacific Justice Institute, a non-profit legal defense organization, through a grueling arbitration process that resulted in the reversal of Thompson’s termination.
As of now, Thompson is still waiting to take the next steps in the legal process. He is currently supporting himself by working as a handyman. This bit of information illustrates how much Thompson’s life has been upended.
There has been an upward trend of these ideological disagreements at universities that end up being disputed in court. Thompson informed me of some of the more publicized examples.
In September 2017, Bret Weinstein, a professor at Evergreen State College in Washington State, received a settlement to the tune of $500,000 from the college. He received it because of a change in a tradition the college observed every year.
This tradition, called the “Day of Absence,” was set up for black students and other minorities to stay home for a day every year. When speaking with Thompson about it, he said the reason for this tradition was to “stoke the remorse that whites should have for being white and having white privilege, and to underscore how oppressed they themselves are.”
In 2017, when the college decided to have all of the white students and faculty stay home instead, Weinstein wrote a letter opposing and criticizing the change. This led to outcries and accusations against Weinstein. He was called a racist Nazi, homophobic, and so on.
The college took no action to protect him as he started to be threatened by aggression and violence on campus. Weinstein and his wife sued the college, which led to the settlement.
Weinstein disagreed with the changing of the tradition not because he is racist, but because he disagreed with a tradition that punishes skin color and background and is based on resentment.
There was also an instance at Oberlin College in Ohio, in which a black student stole a bottle of wine from Gibson’s Bakery close to campus. The bakery was having shoplifting issues and was trying to do something about it. The bakery clerk chased down and assaulted the black man.
This led to outcries and accusations that the family that owned the bakery were racist and eventually led to a mass boycott of the bakery.
Like in the previous case, these bakery owners weren’t racist. Somehow the altercation conflagrated into a racial, university-wide debacle. Gibson’s Bakery eventually received a settlement for $44 million from the college after a lengthy court process.
Thompson spoke with me about three cultural phases we have experienced over the years. He cited Alexander Hamilton as an example of the first phase, called “honor culture.”
Hamilton was a politician who, in 1804, shot and killed a bitter rival (Aaron Burr) in a duel, even though duels were illegal. This was how disputes were settled in honor culture—with violence.
Eventually the second cultural phase, called “dignity culture,” surfaced. In dignity culture, insults and indignities were ignored or tolerated.
Nowadays, a third cultural phase called “victim culture” is emerging. Here we can connect what we saw on the above-mentioned college campuses. This victim culture can have different names and take different forms, but it’s what is at the core of this prominent societal problem on college campuses.
Does racism exist, and are there extremely unfair situations and cruel people out there? Certainly. But should people become volatile about their misfortunes and attribute them to others being racist or homophobic if that isn’t the real reason?
Thompson spoke about equality of opportunity versus equality of outcome, an idea that was brought up by popular public speaker and psychology professor Jordan Peterson.
Thompson also referred to how this victim culture could affect STEM fields. Should you be riding on an airplane constructed by people who received 30 percent lower test scores but got the job because they are minorities or have a certain lifestyle?
So what is the problem on the ground level? Frankly, it is people’s ill reactions to ideas that make them question themselves or make them feel uncomfortable.
The disputed video that Thompson showed, “Understanding Same-Sex Attraction,” is a research-based academic video that focuses on the latest academic understandings and findings on same-sex attraction. It doesn’t criticize homosexuality, but the subjects in the video are people who “struggled with unwanted same-sex attraction.”
The standpoint of the video strongly suggests, citing research, that same-sex attraction is not biological and can be changed. For a person with beliefs steeped in the idea that same-sex attraction is as unchangeable as skin color or height, I can see how it might be offensive.
The fact is that there is zero conclusive evidence that homosexuality is biological, so professors have every right to show videos on the topic. The reason that the topic of this video is important is because the belief that same-sex attraction is unchangeable gives homosexuals a platform to make it a civil rights issue.
The fact that the origins of same-sex attraction are still unknown naturally separates homosexuality from inborn differences like skin color. The video is academic and even has a statement at the beginning about having compassion for people struggling with same-sex attraction.
This video is based on research and definitely has a place in the right classrooms. It is unfortunate that some people have to face a lot of discomfort in hearing different viewpoints. But if the material is academic and factual, it is nonsense to have it banned or censored because people’s feelings about their sexuality get hurt.
The video doesn’t say one negative thing about same-sex attraction. It is just a factual video from the standpoint of people who didn’t want to pursue sexual interactions with people of the same gender and found a way to accomplish that.
But students and colleagues automatically took it personally and felt victimized. This gave them impetus to involve the authorities of the college and to conquer their “oppressor,” since university policies these days are strictly in place to protect the dignity of homosexuals, minorities, etc.
Thompson referred to this new victim culture trend as “metastasized Neo-Marxist philosophy, a perverse idea of diversity which wars against true academic freedom, and a case of classic liberalism vs. social justice warrior that doesn’t square with reality, carried out by people whose main fuel is resentment.”
The education board and high-ranking officials of the institutions in question are mostly on the far left and support a viewpoint that these ideological issues should concede to protecting certain groups’ feelings at the expense of omitting factual viewpoints in classrooms.
That, however, is not true academic freedom and will be a detriment to any learning institution because it is based on human emotion rather than proven scientific fact.
Dr. Brad Dacus of the Pacific Justice Institute stated, “The only thing they could accuse Professor Thompson of was encouraging critical thinking on issues of the day in a class that was relevant to that, sociology.”
In this ideological battleground, classic liberalism—the acceptance of all viewpoints for the purpose of finding truth—is warring against this new leftist liberalism, or victim culture. It is clear in these court cases that the people who suffered losses (Thompson, Weinstein, and the owners of Gibson’s Bakery) never meant to offend anyone and weren’t fueled by racism or homophobia.
Viewpoints on sensitive subjects can make people uncomfortable or even resentful. In the college environment, students are taking these resentments to the level of retaliation because the policies that are in place make it possible for that to happen.
Thompson said: “It’s not hard to find these violations of the sacredness of academic and intellectual discussion being supplanted by these people who are essentially throwing tantrums because the world is not equal. … The equality of opportunity is something we should all champion and advocate for, but it is equality of outcome that is so pernicious because it says that if you’re not equal in all dimensions, then that means there is some systemic bias lurking in the society that needs to be corrected.
“So the evidence of racism in society, they would say, is that we still have differences in income, graduation rates, etc., etc. They don’t regard cultural problems that may exist that may keep one group back from attaining the achievements of another. They just focus on this one dimension; that is, if we’re unequal in our achievements, that must mean there’s some racism and inequity lurking in the society, and we should at the same time feel guilty for being white and having a so-called “white privilege,” and we should be attempting to turn back or make up for it with some sort of reparations like penance.
It is clear that this far-left ideology of victim culture is a detriment to our colleges, because they restrict and prevent a true open marketplace for all ideas. It is unfortunate that these two professors and the bakery owners were put through distressing difficulties.
However, the hope is that these court cases will serve as examples to show that retaliating with resentment, even if an entire university is behind you, isn’t effective.
Education enhances and strengthens society. Effective education requires being aware of all researched viewpoints that are given, even if you don’t like them!