On the morning of Tuesday, Oct. 16, Samuel J. Abrams, professor of politics at Sarah Lawrence, published an opinion-editorial in the New York Times entitled “Think Professors are Liberal? Try School Administrators.” Later that evening, an unknown person or persons put several signs urging resignation and apology on the professor’s office door.
The op-ed critiqued Sarah Lawrence administration for not giving students a “meaningful ideological alternative” to “overtly progressive events — programs with names like ‘Stay Healthy, Stay Woke,’ ‘Microaggressions,’ and ‘Understanding White Privilege.’” In addition, Abrams expressed being “taken aback” by the college’s sponsorship of the “Our Liberation Summit,” which he called a “politically lop-sided” event. The summit invited a panelists and presenters to the college who were interested in Social Justice Work.
Email-invitations to all of the events Abrams refers to in the piece, with the exception of “Understanding White Privilege,” went out in October and November of 2017.
Many students took to Facebook to express their frustration with Abrams’ op-ed. Among them was Andre Knight, ‘19, who used to work in the Office of Diversity and Campus Engagement.
“As a former employee of this very office I can say that the professor in question has, in my experience, NEVER attended an event of ours, begging the question of how much of these things are actual criticism,” Knight wrote.
Many of the online comments on his article also questioned what a “meaningful ideological alternative” would be to progressive ideas like white privilege or LGBTQ+ visibility. When questioned about the meaning of this phrase by the Phoenix, Abrams demurred. “People are going to read [the op-ed] with their own pre-existing biases.”
When pressed, Abrams had no suggestions on what could constitute the “alternatives.”
Suzanne Gardinier, professor of writing at Sarah Lawrence, wrote a comment on the op-ed that rebuked Abrams for writing from the minority perspective when his ideas are shared by the majority. “Sam's values run the world,” Gardinier wrote. “May the liberation that upsets him continue on its beautiful unstoppable way.”
Abrams cites a study he conducted of 900 administrators “whose work concerns the quality and character of a student’s experience on campus.” According to his study, liberal administrators outnumber their conservative counterparts by 12-to-one. In New England, the ratio is as high as 25-to-one.
“It appears that a fairly liberal student body is being taught by a very liberal professoriate — and socialized by an incredibly liberal group of administrators,” Abrams writes.
He closes the piece by urging first-semester freshmen “not to accept unthinkingly what your campus administrators are telling you. Their ideological imbalance, coupled with their agenda-setting power, threatens the free and open exchange of ideas, which is precisely what we need to protect in higher education in these politically polarized times.”
One of the signs on Abrams’ door reads “OUR RIGHT TO EXIST IS NOT ‘IDEALOGICAL’ ASSHOLE” [sic] and was signed “A TRANSEXUAL FAG”. The one below it was a to-do list of apologies, which included the Directors of Diversity and Res life, respectively, several minority groups, and “campus (general).” Below the list of demanded apologies is a sign reading “QUIT,” and in smaller text, “go teach somewhere else, you racist asshat (maybe Charlottesville?).” Below that sign is one simply reading “QUIT,” and several pieces of paper urging Abrams to “QUIT” are spread out at the foot of the door.
The sign simply reading “QUIT” and the list of apologies were placed there sometime before 5:30 Tuesday. The other signs and the papers at the door were placed sometimes between 5:30 and 6.
The Phoenix understands that students placed letters and notes addressed to Abrams outside his door Tuesday night sometime between 8pm and 12am.
Bee Kinstle, ‘21, placed a letter of their own outside Abrams’ door. They wrote that, as a bisexual and non-binary student, the discussion of their identity that Abrams seems to call for would make them “feel unsafe on campus.”
“I am disheartened by the entire opinion piece,” Kinstle wrote. “Yes, it is important to hear multiple sides of an issue, but not if that issue deals with a person’s identity being completely devalued. Human decency isn’t a partisan issue.”
Abrams is more disappointed than anything. To Abrams, the signs and notes under his door meant that he and other teachers had “failed” those who put them there.
According to Abrams, the signs and letters were gone when he arrived Wednesday morning.
He stated that he was not against the events he cited in the op-ed. “At no point did I say we shouldn’t do this. I just said we need balance.”
Abrams said that the statistics in the op-ed were from a study he conducted and had peer-reviewed through the National Opinion Research Center (NORC) in Chicago. NORC specializes in opinion survey research and is one of the largest non-partisan research institutions in the US. Abrams also submitted his study to the Institutional Review Board (IRB).
“The point was to make it as valid as possible,” Abrams said.
Abrams had previously cited his own statistics in another New York Times op-ed, this one from June of 2016, titled “There Are Conservative Professors. Just Not in These States.”
Abrams declined to release his study’s data to the Phoenix.
President Cristle Collins-Judd sent an email to students addressing Abrams’ op-ed. She took the opportunity to highlight the college’s “commitment to diversity and inclusive excellence as one of our foundational values.”
“This means intentionally building a community that fosters respect for difference through critical and compassionate engagement across all parts of the College,” the email continued. “Only then can we realize our collective potential to not only live and work in, but to shape, a culturally diverse and global society.”
Student Senate held an emergency meeting about the op-ed and the college’s response to it.
Student Affairs and the Department of Diversity and Campus Engagement have not responded to a request for comment.
Jerry O’Mahony, ‘19
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article equated “Our Liberation Summit” to the social justice retreat. The retreat happens off campus, whereas Abrams was referring to the on-campus panelist event