Friday, April 22, 2022

Elevate Your Game (Reconstruction Conference Edition)

I'm in Chicago right now, presenting at a conference on the Reconstruction Amendments back at the University of Chicago Law School. I'm obviously excited to be here -- slightly less excited to have unwittingly been thrust onto a largely-maskless plane thanks to a murder cult judge on an ego trip* -- but I'll leave off on more until after the conference is over.

Rather, I want to talk about my hotel's elevators.

I'm staying at The Study at University of Chicago, which apparently just opened this past October. Overall, it seems nice, and I'm having a pleasant stay. However, there's something weird about the elevators. 

They have one of those sensors where you need to scan your room card to go to your floor. That's normal. What's not normal is that the sensors are approximately 18 inches from the ground. I'm not especially tall, but I have to bend way over just to reach them. They could not be placed in a less convenient spot unless they were on the elevator ceiling.

The reason this baffles me as that elevators-in-hotels-with-sensors are not a new concept. I'm not going to say we've utterly perfected the genre, but they're hardly uncharted terrain. Elevator manufacturers have been building these things for quite some time, and have long since learned (if there was ever any doubt) to place the sensors at a convenient arm-accessible height. That's definitely already the default option. So what possibly prompted this UI disaster? It feels like it must have been a conscious choice by someone, but I cannot for the life of me figure out what prompted it. It's like if, decades after manufacturers started putting radios in cars, one car came out with the radio controls placed inside the glove compartment. Why? Just, why?

Anyway -- as inconveniences go, this is very minor. The rant is not so much because I'm upset by this, but again, because I'm just flummoxed as to how it happened.

* My view on masking on airplanes is relatively straightforward. On the one hand, I get why people would rather be unmasked and are happy to no longer where them. On the other hand, I also do not get how or why wearing an extra scrap of fabric on one's body -- even one that you'd rather not wear! -- has become the greatest sacrifice and deprivation of human liberty since slavery. Ultimately, I believe the decision on when masking should end in a pandemic should be made by medical experts, not random district court judges in Tampa embodying pilpul.

Wednesday, April 20, 2022

"Vulgar Intersectionality" Doesn't Strike Again

For the past few months, I've been following the story of Daniel Pollack-Pelzner, a Jewish professor who was summarily terminated from his tenured position at Oregon's Linfield University after whistleblowing about sexual assault allegations against members of the university's board of trustees (Pollack-Pelzner was the faculty delegate to the board). Pollack-Pelzner also had complained of antisemitic language used by the university President.

The AAUP has just released its investigation and report into the incident, and it is blistering in condemning the university and its treatment of Pollack-Pelzner. The report is about 20 pages long, and is absolutely unsparing -- definitely worth reading if you want a thorough account of what happened here. One would struggle to find a more vicious (and frankly petty) abuse of power by a university administration against one of its tenured faculty than is presented here.

Here, I only want to add one thing. The President of the University (whom Pollack-Pelzner had accused of using antisemitic language) is African-American, and as the allegations against him and other high-level university leaders began to pick up steam in the media, he started to complain that the backlash against him was racist in character -- even enlisting the NAACP to conduct its own investigation. That investigation, in turn, inveighed against groups like the ADL and other Jewish organizations who had vigorously backed Pollack-Pelzner, and characterized the allegations against the President as "what systemic and institutionalized racism looks like in Oregon."

I do not venture an opinion as to whether the university president has faced disproportionate scrutiny on account of his race. Clearly, such treatment would in no way justify the inexcusable fashion he and Linfield had treated Professor Pollack-Pelzner.

However, I flag this because of what it tells us about a certain alleged trend that we are often told is ascendant if not unchallengeable in spaces like education and academia. Sometimes dubbed "vulgar intersectionality", this is the claim that in putatively progressive spaces the only factor that is functionally considered in cases of controversy or conflict is a sort of crude ranking of oppressions, one where (we are told) Jews are slotted in with privileged White folks (and accordingly ignored) while groups like African-Americans are giving immediate and unquestioning deference -- facts be damned.

If this thesis were true, it would suggest that in this case -- where a White Jewish man (alleging, among other things, antisemitism) was in conflict with a Black man (making a counter-allegation of racism) -- a group like the AAUP would have unquestionably backed the university president and vilified Pollack-Pelzner. This, we are told, is the hegemony of vulgar intersectionality: Jews are at the bottom (or top, depending on your point of view) of the totem pole, and so are unworthy of support when victimized or wounded -- still less, when the perpetrator is a member of the "favored" (to the intersectionalists) class.

But of course, this is not what happened. This is not even close to what happened. The AAUP conducted its investigation, assessed what happened, and again, backed Pollack-Pelzner to the hilt. It specifically condemned any effort to use claims of racism "to invalidate or distract attention from other allegations" of discrimination, such as those here. Simply put, the report's approach could not have been further from that predicted by the "vulgar intersectionality" thesis -- a thesis which always relied more on social panic than empirical observation.

I am pleased, of course, to see Professor Pollack-Pelzner vindicated. I hope that he his restored to his position at Linfield (if that is his desire), or gains whatever recompense or remediation he believes is his due. And I hope the Linfield administration listens to the robust consensus of its faculty and students (who have loudly rallied behind Pollack-Pelzner and the community members he had been supporting as a whistleblower) and shifts course away from these sorts of abuses and towards the ideal of academic freedom and shared governance.