April 26, 2007
In December, the psychology department at California State University of Long Beach added three statements to its Web site — all under the new heading of “Statements on Controversial Issues.” One endorsed principles of academic freedom, another emphasized the department’s commitment to diversity and equity, and the third discussed the “misuse of psychologists’ work.”
That statement says: “The department of psychology regards it as deeply unethical that any faculty member knowingly allows his/her work to be used to support groups that disseminate views of racial/ethnic superiority and/or racial/ethnic hatred.... We are concerned that psychological research has been used in the past in intellectually unjustifiable and socially harmful ways, such as limiting immigration of certain groups or justifying unequal opportunities in education and employment. We wish to make it clear that these uses are distortions of scholarship in the field.”
The department gave no indication why it felt the need to issue such a statement. But anyone who has been wondering will find the answers in a report released Wednesday by the Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks hate groups. The report reviews the career and writings of Kevin MacDonald, a tenured full professor of psychology who has devoted much of his work to studying Jews and what he considers the “evolutionary” way Jewish people band together, in part to undercut white society in the United States. (MacDonald acknowledges that most people think Jews are white, and says that in a black/white/Asian trio of races, Jews would be white, but several times in a phone conversation he refers to the “Middle Eastern” genetic roots of European Jews and refers to Jewish people and white people as separate groups.)
MacDonald has taught at Long Beach since 1985, and for much of that time, his views on Jewish people, immigration and other topics have not been widely known. An editor of the student paper said that prior to the Southern Poverty Law Center investigation, there wasn’t much awareness of MacDonald’s views. But there have also been moments when he did attract attention, as when he testified on behalf of David Irving, a Holocaust denier who unsuccessfully sued Deborah Lipstadt, an Emory University historian, over her comments that he distorted history in his Holocaust denial. (MacDonald’s testimony and his explanation of why he backed Irving are available on the Web site of the Institute for Historical Review, a Holocaust denying group. MacDonald says he is not a denier, but was helping Irving defend unpopular views.)
The 2000 testimony prompted debate at Long Beach, but that has generally died down, and MacDonald teaches his courses and has been appointed to serve on various university committees. There are no reports that he discusses his views on Jewish people or members of other ethnic groups in class.
Mark Potok, director of the Intelligence Project of the Southern Poverty Law Center, said that the group’s aim in releasing the report was exposure, not to seek to have MacDonald fired. “This is a fellow who associates with white supremacists,” said Potok, who noted that MacDonald’s work has been frequently praised by and published by supremacist groups.
“We’re not demanding or trying to demand that he should be fired. We’re very much proponents of the First Amendment and academic freedom. Our concern is that this man may be teaching these ideas in his classroom. If you are getting a child development program, you are required to take a class with Kevin MacDonald. That is remarkable.” (A university spokeswoman said that it does not believe that any of MacDonald’s courses are required for any programs, and while some on campus disagree, the psychology chair did not respond to messages seeking clarification.)
Potok contrasted Long Beach’s approach — which has been to defend academic freedom without issuing strong statements denouncing MacDonald — with the way Northwestern University has responded to a Holocaust denier, Arthur R. Butz, an engineering professor.
When Butz makes news every few years — as he did last year when backing Iranian leaders’ claims that the Holocaust is a myth — Northwestern issues statements that defend Butz’s right to hold whatever views he wishes, but that also condemn those views with regard to the Holocaust. Northwestern President Henry S. Bienen’s statement last year used words like “contemptible insult” and “reprehensible opinions” to describe Butz’s latest remarks. Northwestern also has a policy that if Butz teaches a course that is required for graduation or any degree program, another section of that course must be offered at the same time, so no student ever has to enroll in one of his classes.
Northwestern’s approach “puts some distance” between the university and bigotry, Potok said.
In contrast, Long Beach’s statement about MacDonald says nothing about his ideas, states his right to academic freedom, and says that “the personal and academic opinions presented by individuals do not necessarily represent the opinions or beliefs of the university or the faculty as a whole.”
Potok also asked why Long Beach was not investigating whether MacDonald’s views are ever expressed in his courses.
Toni Beron, a spokeswoman for Long Beach, said that at least two classes a year taught by all professors — including MacDonald — have student evaluations, and that some of the questions on those evaluations are open-ended, allowing students to raise any issue. “Nothing has come through” to suggest bias in class, she said. “We don’t see it.”
If the university receives a formal complaint, faculty members would then conduct an investigation and might review what goes on in the classroom.
In an interview Wednesday, MacDonald said that he would never punish a student for his or her race or ethnicity, and that to do so would be wrong. He said that because he doesn’t discuss his more controversial views in class, he doubts students even know them. (Two entries on him on the RateMyProfessors Web site mention his views, but that site is notoriously unreliable about who is making entries and Beron said that those did not count as a formal complaint.)
While MacDonald insisted that his in-class performance couldn’t be questioned by the university, he didn’t hold back on his views. He boasted that David Duke loves his writing (but also added that some white groups that post his writing do so without his permission or endorsement). He said that the “basic civil rights revolution” of the ’60s was a good thing, but that immigration — legal and otherwise — generally is not. (MacDonald’s anti-immigration stance does not mean he doesn’t have immigration in his family’s roots: Relatives came from Scotland and Germany in the 19th century, he said.)
The problem with immigration, MacDonald said, is that it puts “white culture” at risk. He said that when America becomes a white-minority nation, groups like Jews, Latinos and African Americans will “hold grudges” and somehow harm white people. He said that Asian immigrants are out-performing white students on college admissions already. And he said he was just exercising his right as an ethnic American to look out for his interests. “European Americans have ethnic interests like everyone else,” he said.
MacDonald combines his ethnic theories with his views on Jews in a subject on which he has written a great deal: Jewish views on immigration policy. MacDonald said that he believes that Jewish people view “a homogeneous white population of North America as a threat, and they would be better off in a multicultural policy.” So as a result, he said, Jewish organizations work with Latino groups to let in Latinos and others to undermine American culture.
Asked if Jews might support immigration not because of some Jewish-Latino plot but because of Jewish experience as immigrants, and particularly because many Jewish lives during the Holocaust might have been saved with more open immigration in that period, MacDonald said that would have only been a justification while Hitler was in power. Once Hitler was out of power, he said, Jews supported the right of others to immigrate as part of “a historical grudge.” More broadly, MacDonald said, Jewish people — acting collectively — help themselves at the expense of white groups. Jewish support for liberal ideas is another example, he said.
Just as MacDonald distinguishes between his writing and what he talks about in class, so he divides his online portfolio. His university Web page does not contain his writings about Jewish issues, although it has a link to his own Web site, where he has many articles and links about his writing on Jews, as well as responses to his critics.
Several faculty members said that they did not want to discuss MacDonald — although there have been heated discussions of him on e-mail lists for professors. Rumors abound that MacDonald will threaten to sue those who criticize him, although several who have heard the rumors and cited them in not wanting to talk on the record said that they didn’t know of anyone who had been threatened.
Don Schwartz, a professor of European history who teaches about the Holocaust and who has spoken out against MacDonald, said he was pleased to see the Southern Poverty Law Center report. “I think most of the faculty are largely ignorant of what he has been writing,” he said. Schwartz said he wants people to know about MacDonald when they are deciding whether he deserves release time for writing or to be appointed to committees.
“We should think very carefully” about what efforts the university may be supporting, he said.
Schwartz also said, however, that he has had students who had previously taken MacDonald’s classes, and that none of them indicated any bias issues or that MacDonald shared his views on race and ethnicity in class.
Jonathan Knight, who handles academic freedom issues for the American Association of University Professors, said that if there are no indications that MacDonald shares his views in class, “I don’t see a basis for an investigation” into what goes on in his courses. Knight said that the basic principle is that professors should not be punished for the views they hold.
As to the suggestion that Long Beach should offer separate sections of courses taught by MacDonald, Knight noted that City College of the City University of New York tried that approach in 1990 with regard to Michael Levin, a professor whose articles on race and intelligence set off a huge controversy. A federal appeals court upheld a lower court’s ruling that the creation of such “alternative” sections violated Levin’s rights, Knight said.
If colleges create “shadow sections” every time a professor offends, he said, academic freedom would be hurt. “I would find it very worrisome if an administration anxious not to offend the sensibilities of students could propose shadow courses because a professor’s views are disquieting on some subject,” he said.
Arlene Lazarowitz, a historian who is the director of Jewish studies at Long Beach, said she was very troubled by MacDonald’s research and disagreed with much of it. Lazarowitz teaches courses on American Jewish history and she said that the premise that there is a single Jewish view on most issues is simply not true — whether it is immigration policy about which MacDonald writes so much or Israel (while there might be a broad consensus among American Jews on Israel’s right to exist, there is a large diversity of views beyond that question, she said).
Lazarowitz said that she does not favor MacDonald’s censure or firing. “I very much believe in academic freedom,” she said. “And all of us at the university are doing research that in one way or another may offend someone.”
Her disappointment, she said, is that there have not been public debates in which others in MacDonald’s field publicly critique his views. “Several faculty members have offered to debate him. I’d like to see that,” she said.
— Scott Jaschik