Professor Paul Griffiths, 61, who teaches Catholic theology at Duke Divinity School has resigned after facing action for calling an anti-racism program “intellectually flaccid.”
Griffiths reportedly made some controversial comments, as revealed by a published string of emails that began in February, when Duke’s administration called the faculty to participate in racial equity training.
An associate professor of Old Testament, Anathea Portier-Young was noted saying that those who have never taken a course like this before, described it as transformative, powerful, and life-changing.” She said she believes “it will have great dividends for our community.”
Griffiths, on the other hand, had an entirely different view. On his email that went out to all faculty members, he described the training as a waste of time.
“I exhort you not to attend this training,” Griffiths wrote in his email on Feb. 6. “Don’t lay [sic] waste your time by doing so. It’ll be, I predict with confidence, intellectually flaccid: there’ll be bromides, clichés, and amen-corner rah-rahs in plenty.”
“When (if) it gets beyond that, its illiberal roots and totalitarian tendencies will show,” he continued. “Events of this sort are definitively anti-intellectual.”
A few hours later, the school’s dean Elaine Heat reprimanded Griffiths for such strong criticism of the training in an open forum. In her email, Dean Heath wrote: ““It is inappropriate and unprofessional to use mass emails to make disparaging statements — including arguments ad hominem — in order to humiliate or undermine individual colleagues or groups of colleagues with whom we disagree.”
“The use of mass emails to express racism, sexism, and other forms of bigotry is offensive and unacceptable, especially in a Christian institution,” she added.
As per the email exchange the two had, Heath requested a meeting with Griffiths. However, the two failed to agree on the conditions of the sit-down and thus, it never quite happened.
In his emails, Griffiths had claimed that “intellectual freedom — freedom to speak and write without fear of discipline and punishment — is under pressure at Duke Divinity these days.”
He went on to express that he had been a subject of two separate disciplinary proceedings.
“Duke Divinity is now a place in which too many thoughts can’t be spoken and too many disagreements remain veiled because of fear,” the professor wrote. “I commend a renunciation of fear-based discipline to those who deploy and advocate it, and its replacement with confidence in speech.”
Thomas Pfau, a member of the Duke Divinity School faculty for 26 years further emphasized on Griffith’s point, by writing in his email that he is “fundamentally in agreement” with Griffith and that a school is an “intellectual asylum.”
“Any academic unit, DDS included, can only flourish if differences of opinion on any variety of subjects are respected and engaged on their intrinsic merits,” Pfau wrote. “Having reviewed Paul Griffiths’ note several times, I find nothing in it that could even remotely be said to ‘express racism, sexism, and other forms of bigotry.’