Dean Neil B. Guterman: “Scholarship” is No Shield for Racism
On July 29, 2020, NYU Silver Dean Neil B. Guterman sent the following message to NYU Silver students, faculty, and staff:
Dear Members of the Silver School Community:
The commentary “Poverty and Culture” in the journal Society, by NYU Professor of Politics and Public Policy Lawrence Mead, is antithetical to social science and social work and scholarship. While many others have dissected the poor scholarly quality of the work, including Silver Associate Dean for Research Marya Gwadz, it should be pointed out that, in essence, his published writing constitutes a misuse of the privilege of academic freedom he enjoys, as it enables outdated and blatantly racist statements to pass under the imprimatur of “scholarship.”
As an academic at NYU, Professor Mead is protected by the principle of academic freedom, which serves to permit the expression of a diverse array of viewpoints, even ones that are controversial. However, academic freedom should not be used as a shield to protect a scholar from issuing harmful, hateful statements, or those purveying negative stereotypes, devoid of evidentiary support, lacking minimal standards of scholarly rigor, particularly when targeting historically marginalized people. This feeds a long history of racism, anti-Blackness, and other forms of hatred that can be found in the academy, and does nothing to advance understanding, public policy, or society. Indeed, it does just the opposite. This is the worst of ‘social science.’
Scholarship should be conducted for the purposes of shedding light on and elevating our understanding of difficult problems, while sometimes even challenging assumptions. As a community of social work and social science scholars committed to social justice and the dignity and worth of people, among other core values, we believe in advancing and disseminating knowledge that is oriented toward deepening understanding, improving lives, and reducing inequities and their pernicious effects. Contrasting with that, scholarship should not be used to amplify or add legitimacy to simplistic non-evidence-supported and harmful canards. For this and other reasons, Society should retract the piece, and accept responsibility for its mistake.
I encourage you to participate in the various public dialogues addressing some of these issues, including a panel session tomorrow afternoon on Interrogating Racist Ideologies, Free Speech and Hate Speech featuring McSilver Associate Professor Robert Hawkins. You may also wish to read and sign a petition renouncing this harmful commentary.
Neil B. Guterman
Dean and Paulette Goddard Professor