May 9, 2022 • 1HR 7M

John McWhorter & Edmund Santurri – Cancellation at St. Olaf College

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Appears in this episode

Glenn Loury
Weekly conversations on race, inequality, and more, with Glenn Loury. Bi-weekly appearances by John McWhorter.
Episode details

This week’s plan for the show was to have Edmund Santurri, professor of philosophy and religion at St. Olaf College, join John McWhorter and I to talk about his soon-to-be terminated appointment as the director of the college’s Institute for Freedom & Community. Ed’s situation is the latest instance of a college’s administration folding to pressure from left-wing activists (more on that below). Unfortunately, Ed was only able to join us for the very beginning of this episode before tech glitches had their way with us. Ed’s story is important, and I do wish we had been able to carry on a full conversation, but it was not to be.

We do make some headway, though. Ed begins by explaining how, after he invited a series of speakers viewed by some as controversial, St. Olaf’s administration announced that they would remove him from his role as director of the Institute for Freedom & Community a year earlier than had been agreed upon. One might ask: What good is an institute devoted to free inquiry if it refuses to engage with controversial ideas? Ed begins to explain the recent history of student protests at the college, but we’re then forced to whittle our trialogue down to a dialogue. John expresses his disgust for the St. Olaf administrators responsible for Ed’s removal (which I share) and talks about the important work of FIRE, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education. We then debate whether there is a right-wing equivalent to left-wing campus cancel culture. I don’t think there is, but John thinks one can be found in attempts to remove books dealing with gender and sexuality from public grade schools and attempts to remove trans, nonbinary, and gender fluid teachers from classrooms. He’s not that worried about nonbinary gender identity in children. But I have to confess, I think the performative dimension of that sort of expression may be an indicator of a worrisome direction in our society. We then move on to something about which everyone can agree: My house is awesome. John visited it for the first time last week when he was in Providence for my festschrift, a conference held in my honor in which many of my dear and distinguished friends gathered to discuss my work and its impact. It was a moving and humbling event, and we’re hoping to post some video from it here soon. We finish our conversation with an extended debate about the Supreme Court’s upcoming decision that will almost certainly overturn Roe v. Wade and the political environment that led to a draft of Samuel Alito’s majority opinion being leaked to the press.

It’s good to have John back after his absence. I know you’ll all have some things to say about this one, so don’t hesitate to post a comment.

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0:00 Why Ed is being removed from the directorship of the Institute for Freedom & Community

11:39 The pressure campaigns waged against past Institute events

17:43 John: Administrators at St. Olaf should be ashamed of themselves

19:50 Are right-wing campaigns against openly trans and nonbinary elementary school teachers the equivalent of left-wing cancel culture? 

29:05 What are the social determinants of gender identity in young people?

37:53 Glenn’s awesome house

41:18 A festschrift for Glenn 

48:08 Can we separate jurisprudence from the lived consequences of overturning Roe v. Wade? 

56:12 Do the ends now justify the means in American politics?

Links and Readings

Inside Higher Ed on Ed’s removal from the Institute for Freedom & Community

FIRE, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education

FIRE’s letter to St. Olaf’s president protesting Ed’s removal