THE BIG TALK
An occasional interview series with Americans who are challenging the status quo.
Once upon a time, Aaron Kindsvatter relished the scholarly world, which he found to be a fascinating marketplace of ideas with liberal leanings.
Those days are gone.
Now, a tenured professor of counselor education at the University of Vermont, he finds himself in a surreal, totalitarian environment. Faculty and administrators want him exiled because he has taken a stand against what he saw as pigeonholing of people according to skin color.
“Please stop reducing my personhood to a racial category in your teach-ins,” he asked in the first of three videos he made this month that embroiled him in a campus fury. “Please stop telling me my views are harmful just because they are more moderate than yours.”
Trying to come to grips with the dictatorial atmosphere on campus, he dubbed his video testimonies “struggle sessions.”
“I feel that I’ve been pushed into a corner by the University of Vermont,” he declared in a March 8 video. “The problem is there is a new kind of discrimination on campus that’s going on, and I think everyone is afraid to talk about it. This discrimination is against ‘Whiteness.’”
Mr. Kindsvatter is the latest in a growing number of university employees caught up in the left’s demand for rigid conformity of thought under the guise of the university’s credo: “Diversity, Equity and Inclusion.”
Like others appalled by the lockstep philosophy that restricts thought and speech on campus, Mr. Kindsvatter never considered himself a conservative.
“I guess I’m politically homeless now,” he said. “Before, I was attracted by the atmosphere here. I was very pleased to be working at a progressive university.”
The 40-year-old professor, an Ohio Buckeye by birth and Kent State University doctorate by training, said he was drawn to Burlington because of its famously liberal reputation. The flagship university in Vermont reflects its gentry liberal population, with a student body roughly 77% White and less than 2% Black.
“It is a pretty homogenous student body here as it is a land-grant university and thus quite expensive for out-of-state people,” Mr. Kindsvatter said.
He said the university environment has become less inclusive for many. The transformation of academia is what compelled him to speak out, even though he knew that taking a stand would imperil his employment.
Mr. Kindsvatter observed the creeping Maoist atmosphere with concern for some time, but recent teach-ins and a colleague offering him unsolicited help with his “Whiteness” brought him to the breaking point. He could no longer ignore the prevalence of critical race theory, an increasingly popular educational construct that presents the U.S. legal and governance systems as inherently racist and designed to retain economic and political power for Whites by oppressing people of color.
“So crude, so lacking in falsifiabilities,” he said.
Indeed, it is the righteousness of the social justice warrior blitzkrieg and its trick of portraying any opposition to it as racist that make it so insidious, he argued in thoughtful, anguished terms on the first video.
“I didn’t expect this ideology to endure, but it has flourished,” he said. “It’s remarkable how clever the ideology is at protecting itself. It makes it impossible to dissent for pain of being labeled a racist and pain of being ostracized.”
Such reasoning does not sit well with the powers that be in Burlington. Faculty and administrators predictably called for Mr. Kindsvatter’s resignation because a reluctance to define people by the color of their skin is at odds with the university’s principles.
“It’s a modern cultural revolution,” he said.
University Provost Patricia Prelock and Scott Thomas, dean of the College of Education and Social Services, where Mr. Kindsvatter teaches, released a statement after his first video. They said the statement was “in solidarity as we seek greater ‘diversity, equity and inclusion’ on our campus and in the world.” They also labeled Mr. Kindsvatter’s opinions “harmful” and threw their support behind a Change.org petition demanding his resignation.
The administrators, offering students a way out of Mr. Kindsvatter’s classes, declared his thoughts incompatible with “the core values that support the strength of our university.” Mr. Kindsvatter said those values, as expressed through critical race theories espoused at a “Turning Toward Whiteness” seminar required for faculty, are in fact racist.
In a video response posted March 23, Mr. Kindsvatter turned the statement on its head by asking, “Does diversity not include diversity of thought? Does inclusion not involve the inclusion of multiple perspectives on sensitive issues?”
By embracing the modern notions of social justice — what he calls “the secular religion” at UVM — Mr. Kindsvatter warned that the university was giving racism “a foothold and air of legitimacy,” which could boomerang in the hands of different-minded activists.
“They, of course, offer platitudes about ‘respect for freedom of expression’ at the same time they celebrate or encourage my resignation.”
Mr. Kindsvatter knew he had prodded a hornet’s nest by making the videos, but he said he did not consider it some sort of manifesto that would leave him figuratively blindfolded on a pole and hoping for a last cigarette.
“It’s as if my thinking is now not just antiquated but evil,” he told The Washington Times. “Their position is fundamentally racist and wrong.”
It’s not as if Mr. Kindsvatter objected earlier to the “Diversity, Inclusion and Equity” requirements that now form part of the faculty evaluation at the University of Vermont. Eager to expose his students to a wide spectrum of thought, his class syllabi have included Ibram X. Kendi and Robin DiAngelo, the high priests of the intelligentsia’s critical race theory, as well as John McWhorter and Coleman Hughes, Black thinkers regarded as more conservative.
His minority students were his one concern when making the videos. He fretted that they might think his philosophy belittles any discrimination they have faced in their own lives.
But the ideology ordered to be taught now will harm all the students, in Mr. Kindsvatter’s opinion. An enforced orthodoxy cuts against the very grain of a liberal arts education, and thus he has no intention of surrendering to the mob.
“No, nope, not a chance,” he said in his second video, released March 16 in response to calls for his resignation. “Never going to happen, no way. Haven’t thought about it, not for one second.”
A professor’s job requires him to offer students thoughtful perspectives, not divisive ideology, he said.
“You say I’m a racist and my only salvation is to buy into your ideology?” he said. “I do not find wisdom there; I find its opposite. Pretending I find wisdom in these authors would cause me a kind of spiritual sickness.”
• James Varney can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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