Why aren’t emails to an at-work lover copyrighted?

Academia is always great for showing those with inferior credentials (i.e., “inferiors”) how to think and behave appropriately. University of Michigan recently fired its president for having sex with someone else who works at the University of Michigan. The press release:

After an investigation, we learned that Dr. Schlissel, over a period of years, used his University email account to communicate with that subordinate in a manner inconsistent with the dignity and reputation of the University. In the interest of full public disclosure, we have released dozens of Dr. Schlissel’s communications that illustrate this inappropriate conduct …

(He’s actually a real doctor, not merely someone lacking the creativity to quit grad school before getting a Ph.D.: “Mark Schlissel, MD, PhD”)

A 118-page PDF is available as a link. Note that the sex/knish partner is “Individual 1”, implying that this guy had a Cuomo-style stable of females, but no “Individual 2” appears.

Suppose that Mark Schlissel had identified as a member of the 2SLGBTQQIA+ community and used his official email account to make reservations at some of the places featured in “San Francisco tells gay bathhouses, ‘Welcome back!'” (Bay Area Reporter, January 25, 2021, just in time to catch a few more COVID-19 waves!):

The city’s public health department has rescinded the restrictions that have kept such businesses from operating in the city since the mid-1980s. A legacy from the height of the AIDS epidemic, bathhouses in San Francisco until now could not have private rooms with locked doors and were required to monitor the sex of their patrons.

Those regulations, when put into effect, resulted in a de facto ban on gay bathhouses in San Francisco, leaving residents to have to travel to such businesses in Berkeley and in San Jose. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the lone gay bathhouse left in the Bay Area is Steamworks in the East Bay and it remains closed because of the health crisis.

While gay sex clubs without private, locked rooms continued to operate in the city, most eventually closed their doors. There is just one in operation today: Eros on upper Market Street in the city’s LGBTQ Castro district.

The venues must provide safe sex materials free of charge, such as lubricants and condoms. Those establishments with locked rooms must have such materials stocked in each room.

And all such businesses need to provide wash-up facilities for their patrons where they have access to hot and cold running water, liquid soap, hand sanitizer and paper towels.

Presumably the Board of Regents would have celebrated their president’s decision to live the university’s values. Instead of getting to know 50 new male friends at a bathhouse, however, the implication is that President Schlissel was having sex with 1 female friend from work and that they were organizing the sex around athletic events, Saudi filmmaker Safa Al Ahmad events, and articles from Harvard Business Review about how to breathe (a skill that folks who’ve paid $500,000+ in Ivy League tuition may not have mastered, apparently; one tip for easier breathing… move to Florida and then you don’t have to try to do it through a mask). Rather than enhancing campus Pride, as the bathhouse visits might have, the (cisgender?) heterosexual office romance was “inconsistent with the dignity and reputation of the University.” (But if the Board hadn’t fired Dr. Schlissel and released the emails, thus telling everyone about this exciting situation, how would the reputation of the university been affected?)

This post is not about whether the Board made the right decision, but how it is possible for them to publish 118 pages of the president’s emails from a copyright perspective. The university IT folks had the technical means to dig into the president’s account, of course, but can they publish these documents without permission? I guess they can because they did, but how?

Tougher question: What does Mark Schlissel, MD, PhD do now if he wants to continue working? Emigrate to China or France? No American university can hire him, right?

The Michigan commerce mural above is from the Guardian Building, in Detroit (Returning from EAA AirVenture (‘Oshkosh”), August 2021), and contains some job ideas if Dr. Schlissel wants to stay local.

Related:

  • “Why did University of Michigan fire Mark Schlissel? He broke a rule he introduced this summer” (MLive): At the July Board of Regents meeting, he announced an overhaul of sexual misconduct policy changes, particularly the prohibition of relationships between subordinates and supervisors. There would be zero tolerance for someone in a leadership position to “solicit a personal or romantic relationship with someone they have a supervisory authority or career influence over,” he said at the time.
  • The Wikipedia page for this guy mentions that he was criticized for not following the science in maxxing out the university’s level of coronapanic. In other words, a group of elite Americans rejected as unscientific the leadership of an MD, PhD (professor of microbiology and immunology as well as a professor of internal medicine). Paging Dr. Tegnell!
  • Real World Divorce chapter on Michigan (in case the doctor’s wife decides it is time to cash out)
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Teaching Information Security

This post is to help professors trying to teach information security, a subject typically studied by seniors earning a Bachelor’s in Information Technology. Information Security covers how to protect information from all of the bad things that might happen to it. Example problems include at least the following:

  • loss due to backup failure plus hardware failure, flood, or fire
  • theft by hackers and/or competitors
  • encryption followed by a ransom demand from hackers
  • corruption due to human or software error
  • service becomes unavailable due to hardware or network failures, hackers, etc.

The textbooks on this subject, and most of the materials published on the Web, including from ISO and NIST, are abstract and all about the process rather than the substance. Remember the old saying about ISO 9000 that it would be possible to certify a life preserver made out of lead. You would just need sufficient paperwork. So that you don’t have to pay ISO, see NIST 800-100 to get a flavor. The textbooks might be good resources for those working as Chief Information Security Officers at Fortune 500 companies, but young people just getting their first degree aren’t going to have jobs like that. Our textbook, chosen by a previous professor, was Management of Information Security, 6th edition, by Whitman and Mattord.

In order to make sure that the students developed some real capabilities, I decided to make all the assignments applications of the high-level principles to simple concrete scenarios. They were all open-ended essay assignments, with reviews in class and chances to revise. This part actually didn’t go over that well with students, who are accustomed to multiple-choice quizzes and fill-in-the-blanks questions. I don’t see how IT graduates can be useful to employers without becoming competent writers. If they’re not being trained to be hands-on technicians, e.g., Cisco Certified router admins, then what role can they have in a company other than developing the policies and plans that the technicians will follow?

I built all of the assignments around three concrete scenarios:

  • a hangar leasing operation in which a waiting list is maintained as a spreadsheet and active tenants are recorded in QuickBooks Desktop. All work is done by a single employee on a single desktop PC connected through a network-address translating router to the Internet (“HangarSys”)
  • a 1990s-style web site offering custom-cut khaki pants for sale (mustering all of my imaginative powers, I picked iKhakis, a site that I had actually built much of, back in 1998)
  • a T shirt shop that sells online and in person with all IT outsourced to Shopify and QuickBooks Online (Pop Ts of Delray)
  • a 50-employee law firm (“KWA”) with a classic Microsoft intranet in which almost everything hinges off a single Windows Server machine

Summary of the assignments:

  • apply the NIST standards to develop an Information Security Plan for HangarSys
  • develop an Information Security Plan for iKhakis
  • develop an Information Security Policy for HangarSys
  • develop an Information Security Program for Pop Ts of Delray
  • explain the differences among and between Information Security Plan vs. Program vs. Policy
  • develop a risk management process for HangarSys
  • develop a risk treatment plan (via transference) for HangarSys
  • develop a disaster recovery plan for HangarSys (desktop PC destroyed)
  • risk treatment plan for iKhakis source code only
  • protect investors and founders so the source code is kept secret, but flows to the investors if the founders die or run away
  • plan for hiring a temp to fill in for the HangarSys worker (the worst information security problems these days are related to people)
  • contingency plan for the KWA law firm (earthquake destroys office)
  • report on a network access breach at the KWA law firm (coffee shop customers got the WiFi WPA password)

By the time they’re done, the students will probably hate you, but they’ll have a portfolio of documents demonstrating practical skill in applying abstract principles. They can use these to show to employers. As discussed below, it may be smarter to assign these projects to groups of 2 or 3 students.

HangarSys

  • Microsoft Windows desktop computer (easy to train replacement if Robin quits)
  • Microsoft Excel as waitlist DBMS (only one user updating)
  • Quickbooks Desktop for accounting (bank statement integration)
  • Microsoft Outlook as e-mail system (merge Word doc with Excel list)
  • Second internal hard drive as destination for Windows File History
  • Microsoft OneDrive as off-site backup in cloud (Dropbox or Crashplan would also work)
  • Internet connection through network address-translating (NAT) router

Robin works at the F45 airport, owned by Palm Beach County and part of that organizational structure. There are 300 Tee hangars occupied by tenants who pay rent monthly. There are 175 people on a waiting list. Robin checks to make sure that the tenants have paid up by matching payments to accounts in QuickBooks Desktop (not QuickBooks Online, a different product). She periodically sends out mass emails to either everyone on the waiting list or everyone who is a tenant. When someone vacates a hangar, Robin invites the person at the top of the waiting list to move in.

If students need more detail to complete a plan, they can make it up, e.g., by positing a directory structure for the files in OneDrive or on the hard disk.

iKhakis

iKhakis, a startup within a big company, has the following:

  • Factory in Tennessee that can produce custom-cut khaki pants; Oracle RDBMS-based information system to support manufacturing and shipping
  • Web server to take orders from customers; Oracle RDBMS behind the Web server
  • Desktop access by developers in Massachusetts to Web server
  • Desktop access for operations from acquired startup in Masschusetts to Web server
  • Data warehouse for senior management in San Francisco to see reports on what is selling
  • All of the software for the public ecommerce site is on the Web server and edits go live immediately
  • The Internet Service Provider makes a backup of the SSD every Sunday morning at 3:00 am

Pop Ts of Delray

A pop-up T-shirt shop (“Pop Ts of Delray”) in Delray Beach is selling shirts both in-person (point of sale) and online via a web site. To minimize IT spending, the shop uses Shopify for its online presence, processing online orders, fulfillment of online orders, and also for point-of-sale payment processing.

Pop Ts has six employees:

  • the founder/owner, who works in the store most days and from home sometimes (devices: Windows 11 laptop and iPhone running iOS 15)
  • three retail clerks, who work from iPads in the store, but also bring their own smartphones and use Instagram for personal and promotional purposes
  • a merchandising expert, who works from home from a laptop running MacOS
  • an operations manager, who makes sure that inventory is maintained, bills are paid, etc. Works from home on a Windows 10 desktop connected to QuickBooks Online and Shopify. Also works from a Windows 10 laptop in the store sometimes and checks Shopify from an Android smartphone.

All locations are provisioned with Internet via AT&T fiber, with an AT&T-supplied router/WiFi base station.

KWA Law Firm

The 50-employee law firm of Kirkland, Watkins, and Austin (“KWA”) has an office in San Francisco. Everyone works primarily in person in the office, except when in court, out with a client, home sick, etc.

  • Core information systems:
  • shared filing cabinets for physical documents
  • central server running Windows Server 2016 (set up when the firm moved to Windows 10)
  • Windows shared drive (server with mirrored disks in an IT closet) for PDFs and TIFFs (documents from discovery) and Microsoft Office documents (work product)
  • Microsoft Active Directory for single sign-on to all of the Microsoft applications as well as PCLaw and Time Matters
  • Microsoft Exchange Server 2016 on the local server; Microsoft Outlook on the laptops
  • PCLaw 16 and Time Matters 16 on the local server for accounting
  • Microsoft SQL Server 2016 to support PCLaw and Time Matters
  • Central phone number and Cisco 7800-series IP phones on desks (shares network/wiring with the PCs, contrary to Cisco recommendations, due to limited Cat 5 wiring in the building)
  • Every attorney has a Windows 10 laptop computer that plugs into a dock (hard-wired via Cat 5), but can also be used in conference rooms via WiFi
  • Working when away from the office: VPN into the firm’s network (otherwise protected by a firewall)
  • The IT department consists of two employees: IT Manager and IT Helper. The manager selects equipment, sets up and administers systems, hires contractors, and supervises the helper (who can solve individual users’ problems). The manager has already engaged a part-time Cisco-certified network engineer for configuring the routers and firewall as well as dealing with the phone system.

KWA has a Managing Partner, but otherwise a fairly flat management structure. There is an Office Manager who supervises most of the general administrative functions and a Finance Manager who makes sure that accounts receivable and accounts payable are current. The firm relies on PCLaw for billing and accounting and Time Matters for recording attorney hours. These applications rely on the Windows share drive server and can be used only from within the firm’s network. Payroll is handled by ADP and does not rely on any KWA systems.

(Fun to share with students who are dreaming of the California lifestyle, a 2018 response from a young colleague when I asked him where in San Francisco I should stay: “The review location is a cubicle inside of WeWork Civic Center on Mission between 7th and 8th wedged between a homeless encampment and emergency heroin detox center. I would recommend picking a hotel in another part of town. … I’ve actually found taking the train to the Civic Center stop and walking the rest of the way to be the best approach. Specifically walking down 7th street and crossing to the far side of Mission then turning right. Due to the layout and direction of the one way streets and traffic I’ve found cabs/Uber to work fairly poorly and often take longer than BART. I stopped using cars when junkies started trying to open my door at stop lights.”

Just a couple of blocks from my luxury hotel:

and on the same trip, I happened to get a picture of the In-N-Out Burger that was later shut down for refusing to check customers’ vaccine papers:

)

Checklist for the Students

For each document in your portfolio, use the following checklist

  • filename makes sense, e.g., “20211103-meetfish-source-code-version-control-and-escrow-plan-joe-smith” (YYYYMMDD at the beginning enables the documents to sort chronologically if displayed in a typical file system browser; add your own name (not “joe smith”!) at the end so that if the document ends up in a folder with others’ work it will be clear how to find yours)
  • only one version of each plan at the top level (create a “Drafts” subfolder if desired and put the obsolete versions in there)
  • contains author’s name, email, and phone number
  • contains date created and date of last revision
  • contains the full text of the original assignment either at the beginning or the end (so that your document, if printed, can be read and understood without reference to any other material)
  • does not contain any “plan for making a plan” material (e.g., cut and paste from textbook-type materials designed to cover a broad range of scenarios)
  • does not contain any conditionals (“if the system is using a VPN, then…”) since your assignments always reference a concrete scenario (fill in additional details if designed)
  • is in Microsoft Word format if at all possible (makes it easy for me and others to add comments and Track Changes)

The “plan for making a plan” bullet point is critical. Students struggled with these assignments at first. A standard technique for American college students is to take every 7th paragraph of the textbook chapter and submit that as their essay. If there is a guide to writing a plan, therefore, what is submitted is a condensed guide to writing a plan, not an actual plan. Until this has been pointed out to them at least three times, they don’t realize that they’re submitting the wrong category

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Politicians raining on my parade as a would-be educator

I have been fighting a losing battle all semester with students who do not see the importance of plural versus possessive, capitalizing proper nouns, distinguishing between “it’s” and “its”, etc. Many won’t take the trouble to click right when Microsoft Word underlines something in red or blue to suggest a correction. I have stressed that in the world of Information Technology details matter and it is important to demonstrate the characteristic of attention to detail and conscientiousness (prized by employers and mostly genetic so it can’t be fixed on a post-hire basis).

On the very eve of the latest class, a tweet from one of America’s leaders:

Representative Greene did correct part of this a few minutes later with “*You’re for the spellcheck police.” (it isn’t possible to edit tweets once they’ve been sent out to the Interweb) But “RINO’s” remains incorrect if we’re talking about plural individuals.

I can’t tell students that they’ll never get anywhere in life if they won’t adhere to the demands of Standard English if one of our top 535 legislators (out of 200 million potential within the estimated 333 million residents of the U.S.?) got this position without being a slave to grammar and spelling.

(My other big problem is that I can’t tell them they need to accomplish something in order to be valuable since Rivian became the world’s third most valuable vehicle maker without shipping any product.)

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Thankful for archive.org

One weekend per year devoted to being thankful doesn’t seem unduly burdensome. Today I’m expressing thanks for archive.org. Especially given the recent American tendency to rewrite history in accordance with current #Science/religion/belief/etc., where else would would we be able to find evidence of just how bad things were in the bad old days? (though the evidence might not be complete; see Web publishers can delete stuff from archive.org)

archive.org enabled at least the following blog posts here:

Harvard University attracted a bit of attention when it hosted a theatrical performance restricted to audience members of one skin color earlier this fall. Emboldened by the federal judiciary saying it was okay to discriminate against Asians, the school apparently decided that Massachusetts General Law, Section 98 did not apply (“Discrimination in admission to, or treatment in, place of public accommodation… Whoever makes any distinction, discrimination or restriction on account of race, color, religious creed, national origin, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, which shall not include persons whose sexual orientation involves minor children as the sex object, … in any place of public accommodation, resort or amusement, … shall be punished by a fine of not more than twenty-five hundred dollars or by imprisonment for not more than one year, or both, …”). The web page has been scrubbed from the theater’s web site, but it remains alive on archive.org:

We have designated this performance to be an exclusive space for Black-identifying audience members. For our non-Black allies, we appreciate your support in making this a completely Black-identifying evening. We invite you to join us at another performance during the run.

Proof of vaccination or negative test results required to attend.

A Facebook friend attended and wrote “I can now tell my grandkids that I tasted segregation first hand, just like my mom and dad.” He attached this picture that includes a sign regarding Harvard’s expressed commitment to “anti-racism” (which includes “we will not tolerate racism”) and a sign saying that prospective audience members with the wrong skin color should go elsewhere.

Note that the above-mentioned web page contains an admission that the theater is on stolen land:

A.R.T. acknowledges that its theaters are situated on the traditional and ancestral homelands of the Massachusett Tribe.

With a $53 billion endowment, Harvard apparently can’t afford to give the land back to the nearest Native Americans and then pay for a ground lease from them. If the rightful owners do show up to reclaim this land and Harvard scrubs its damaging admissions from the live pages, archive.org will be the dispossessed owners’ best friend.

Readers: What have you found on archive.org that the original authors/publishers probably wish had remained forgotten/hidden?

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Harvard Art Museums shows us the alternate universe of non-profits

Here’s a request for money from the Harvard Art Museums, recently received in the mail:

They lead with the fact that they were closed for 1.5 years. Surrounded by fully open (“essential” according to the governor) marijuana and liquor stores, adults meeting in restaurant-bars after Tinder matches, etc., the Harvard Art Museums decided that they would all sit at home and they want potential donors to know that. If we assume that the primary mission of an art museum is to have people come in and look at art, the non-profit did nothing to further their primary mission during this 1.5-year period, despite the fact that they were ordered closed by the governor for only about 3 months of the 18-month closure that they proudly highlight.

(Even now, they won’t be executing all that aggressively on their primary mission; visitors have to make online reservations before showing up, a significant discouragement to those strolling around (fully masked, of course!) Harvard Square.)

Readers: Does this seem like a good illustration of the alternate universe inhabited by non-profit organizations? A for-profit enterprise wouldn’t expect to win points with customers by highlighting more than a year of voluntary closure, would it?

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MIT’s president weighs in on the shunned heretic

MIT’s President weighs in on the situation previously covered here in Corpus Juris Canonici for academic cancellations (MIT). A follower of the Climate Change Alarmism religion held a heretical belief that universities should not admit or hire people based on skin color. He was, appropriately in my view, shunned. (Why “appropriately”? If you’re going to run a religion, you should do it right!)

Apparently it is extremely rare for a group at MIT to develop something new and useful because the only subjects on which the president of MIT sends out emails are social justice-related (Donald Trump bad, low-skill immigrants good, our former best friend and major donor Jeffrey Epstein bad, coronapanic good, etc.). Continuing in that tradition, an email from yesterday….


To the members of the MIT community,

You may have heard about a situation centered on our Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences (EAPS) regarding an invited speaker, Professor Dorian Abbot.

In a recent letter to the faculty, Provost Marty Schmidt lays out the facts, some of which have not come through clearly in the media and on social media. I encourage you to read his letter. You will also find thorough coverage in The Tech.

The controversy around this situation has caused great distress for many members of our community, in many quarters. It has also uncovered significant differences within the Institute on several issues.

I would like to reflect on what happened and set us on a path forward. But let me address the human questions first.

To the members of the EAPS community: I am deeply disturbed that as a direct result of this situation, many of you – students, postdocs, faculty and young alumni – have suffered a tide of online targeting and hate mail from outside MIT. This conduct is reprehensible and utterly unacceptable. For members of the MIT community, where we value treating one another with decency and respect, this feels especially jarring.

I encourage anyone who is subjected to harassing or threatening behavior or language to reach out for support and guidance to the Institute Discrimination and Harassment Response (IDHR) office.

I also want to express my tremendous respect for Professor Rob van der Hilst, department head in EAPS, who faced a difficult situation. I know Rob as a person of the highest integrity and character. We are fortunate to have his leadership in EAPS. In this case, when Rob concluded, after consulting broadly, that EAPS could not host an effective public outreach event centered around Professor Abbot, he chose to extend instead an invitation for an on-campus lecture; Rob took this step deliberately to preserve the opportunity for free dialogue and open scientific exchange.

Professor Abbot is a distinguished scientist who remains welcome to speak on the MIT campus, and he has been working with EAPS to confirm the event details.

Nevertheless, there is no doubt that this matter has caused many people inside and outside our community to question the Institute’s commitment to free expression. Some report feeling that certain topics are now off limits at MIT. I have heard these concerns directly from faculty colleagues, alumni and others who care deeply about the Institute.

Let me say clearly what I have observed through more than 40 years at MIT:

Freedom of expression is a fundamental value of the Institute.

I believe that, as an institution of higher learning, we must ensure that different points of view – even views that some or all of us may reject – are allowed to be heard and debated at MIT. Open dialogue is how we make each other wiser and smarter.

This commitment to free expression can carry a human cost. The speech of those we strongly disagree with can anger us. It can disgust us. It can even make members of our own community feel unwelcome and illegitimate on our campus or in their field of study.

I am convinced that, as an institution, we must be prepared to endure such painful outcomes as the price of protecting free expression – the principle is that important.

I am equally certain, however, that when members of our community must bear the cost of other people’s free expression, they deserve our understanding and support. We need to ensure that they, too, have the opportunity to express their own views.

A path forward [emphasis in original]

The issues this situation has brought to the surface are complex. No unilateral declaration on behalf of MIT could either resolve them in the moment or prevent future controversies. So I believe it is vital now that we engage in serious, open discussion together.

As the provost’s letter described, we will begin with a faculty forum, being planned for the last week of October. Discussion in this working session might address questions like these: Given our shared commitment to open inquiry and free expression, are there further steps we should take to practice it consistently? Should we develop guidelines to help groups in their own decision making? Does the concept need more prominence in our curriculum? How should we respond when members of our community bear the disproportionate cost of other people’s speech?

It will be essential in this overall process to include the perspective and experience of graduate and undergraduate students; I have asked Chancellor Melissa Nobles to work with student leaders to decide the best way to do so.

I have also asked Provost Marty Schmidt, Chancellor Nobles and Chair of the Faculty Lily Tsai to begin immediately assembling a special ad hoc working group to consider the insights and lessons we should take away from this situation. I believe this extremely important topic deserves and will benefit from this kind of thoughtful, deliberative, nuanced approach, perhaps including experts from outside MIT. The themes that emerge from the initial faculty forum will help inform the working group’s charge.

From the comments that have come to me directly, I can attest that our community encompasses a wide spectrum of very strong views about what has transpired in these last weeks.

As we cope with the aftermath of this public controversy here at home, let us hold ourselves to the same standards in our interactions with each other as in our intellectual work: To learn more, assume less and ask more – and listen as closely as we can to each other’s ideas, perspectives and experiences.

I hope that, in this moment and always, we will all continue to value and respect each other as fellow members of one community, united in a single great mission.

Sincerely,

L. Rafael Reif


Speech generates an externality (“cost” repeatedly mentioned above). Thus, the sensible way to deal with it, according to Econ 101, is to charge people every time that they speak and distribute the funds received (minus an administration fee) to the BIPOC and 2SLGBTQQIA+ members of the community who currently “bear the cost” of this externality. There is already a “Institute Discrimination and Harassment Response (IDHR) office,” according to the above. This office could be tasked with running the tax-and-spend system.

(Note that the above email is self-contradicctory. President Reif says that expression is costing for those who hear it. Yet he says “I believe it is vital now that we engage in serious, open discussion together.” If “open” means that people are going to say things along the lines of what the heretic Dorian Abbot said in Newsweek, i.e., that universities shouldn’t consider skin color in admissions and hiring, won’t that generate a huge cost to be borne by “members of our community”? Wouldn’t this actually be worse than the lecture Professor Abbot was going to give? (the canceled lecture was not on the subject of skin-color-based university policies))

Related:

  • “Male Workers Allowed Into Baldwin, Unsettling Residents” (Oberlin Review): Baldwin Cottage is the home of the Women and Trans Collective. The College website describes the dorm as “a close-knit community that provides women and transgendered persons with a safe space for discussion, communal living, and personal development.” Cisgender men are not allowed to live on the second and third floors, and many residents choose not to invite cisgender men to that space. I was angry, scared, and confused. Why didn’t the College complete the installation over the summer, when the building was empty? Why couldn’t they tell us precisely when the workers would be there? Why were they only notifying us the day before the installation was due to begin?
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Corpus Juris Canonici for academic cancellations (MIT)

From a Johns Hopkins professor, “Why the Latest Campus Cancellation Is Different” (Atlantic):

Following a Twitter outcry, a scientist was stopped from giving a lecture at MIT for reasons that had nothing to do with the lecture itself.

For although most outlets have covered [Dorian] Abbot’s disinvitation as but the latest example of an illiberal culture on campus, it is qualitatively different from other recent instances in which invitations have been rescinded—and suggests that the scope of censorship is continuing to morph and expand.

Is Abbot a climate-change denier? Or has he committed some terrible crime? No, he simply expressed his views about the way universities should admit students and hire faculty in the pages of a national magazine.

In other words, cancellation is often a good idea. Suppose, for example, Professor Dr. Dorian Abbot, Ph.D. (colleague of Professor Dr. Jill Biden, M.D., Ph.D.) had expressed skepticism about the latest 100-year simulations. Perhaps Dr. Professor Dorian Abbot, Ph.D., might have noted that his field is one in which the experts rejected plate tectonics and continental drift until the late 1960s. That would have been tantamount to climate-change denial and, therefore, it would make sense to nail Dr. Dorian, Ph.D. to a cross of #FollowTheScience.

On the other hand, the Corpus Juris Canonici does not provide for cancellation, at least according to this Hopkins professor, for the particular infraction of which Professor Dr. Abbot, Ph.D. was guilty (questioning the skin-color-based university admissions systems that have been implemented across the U.S.).

The subtleties are fascinating!

Related:

  • “The Diversity Problem on Campus” (Newsweek), the hate-filled article that generated the Tweetstorm leading up to MIT’s cancellation: The new regime is titled “Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion” or DEI, and is enforced by a large bureaucracy of administrators. Nearly every decision taken on campus, from admissions, to faculty hiring, to course content, to teaching methods, is made through the lens of DEI. This regime was imposed from the top and has never been adequately debated. In the current climate it cannot be openly debated: … [MIT proved Abbot right on that last point!] … DEI compromises the university’s mission. The core business of the university is the search for truth. [??? Harvard spent all of its time searching for truth and just incidentally acquired $42 billion?] We propose an alternative framework called Merit, Fairness, and Equality (MFE) whereby university applicants are treated as individuals and evaluated through a rigorous and unbiased process based on their merit and qualifications alone. Crucially, this would mean an end to legacy and athletic admission advantages, which significantly favor white applicants, … [an athlete does not have more “merit” than someone who watches TV all day?] Viewed objectively, American universities already are incredibly diverse. [because all possible human ages are represented in the range from 18 to 22?]
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Follow-up on the Coinbase corporate version of Florida

A year ago, the CEO of Coinbase paid employees who were the most passionate about social justice and political causes to leave. See “Coinbase is a mission focused company” and also “Taking a Stand Against Social Stances” (NYT, 9/29/2020). (If he’d been a Southerner he might have said “Don’t let the screen door hit you on the butt on your way out.”)

In other words, he was trying to create something like the Florida that we’ve experienced. After nearly two months here, I have seen exactly one Black Lives Matter message (bumper sticker on a black (not “Black”) Toyota Prius as we were on an excursion to Miami (IKEA, Guitar Hotel, and Marlins baseball game)). Supposedly there are a lot of people here who voted for either Trump or Biden, but there is no evidence of that from lawn signs or bumper stickers. Bumper stickers are display at perhaps 1/200th the rate compared to in Maskachusetts and the most common type of bumper sticker is school-related.

What happens at a company without on-the-clock activism? Discrimination against those who identify as Black, according to the NYT… “‘Tokenized’: Inside Black Workers’ Struggles at the King of Crypto Start-Ups” (11/27/2020):

One by one, they left. Some quit. Others were fired. All were Black.

The 15 people worked at Coinbase, the most valuable U.S. cryptocurrency start-up, where they represented roughly three-quarters of the Black employees at the 600-person company. Before leaving in late 2018 and early 2019, at least 11 of them informed the human resources department or their managers about what they said was racist or discriminatory treatment, five people with knowledge of the situation said.

One of the employees was Alysa Butler, 25, who worked in recruiting. During her time at Coinbase, she said, she told her manager several times about how he and others excluded her from meetings and conversations, making her feel invisible.

“Most people of color working in tech know that there’s a diversity problem,” said Ms. Butler, who resigned in April 2019. “But I’ve never experienced anything like Coinbase.”

(Wikipedia says Coinbase is “remote-first”, so how do employees know anything about the race IDs of other employees? See Achieve college student skin color diversity via image processing? as well)

How did it go for Coinbase from Management’s perspective? The CEO who wanted people to fight their social justice and political battles on their own time followed up with a Twitter thread:

It’s been about a year since my mission-focused blog post. It wasn’t easy to go through at the time, but looking back, it turned out to be one of the most positive changes I’ve made at Coinbase, and I’d recommend it to others.

We have a much more aligned company now, where we can focus on getting work done toward our mission. And it has allowed us to hire some of the best talent from organizations where employees are fed up with politics, infighting, and distraction.

One of the biggest concerns around our stance was that it would impact our diversity numbers. Since my post, we’ve grown our headcount about 110%, while our diversity numbers have remained the same, or even improved on some metrics.

Several people told me this would never happen when I circulated the original draft internally. It turns out that there are people from every background who want to work at a mission focused company.

If he is putting employees into buckets based on skin color in order to get “diversity numbers”, isn’t he himself engaging in a social justice cause at work? There was no legal requirement for Coinbase to gather these data, right? (Let me guess right now that age is not one of the axes of diversity for which Mr. Armstrong is anxious to get numbers!)

In other diversity news, the guy who stirred up hatred at University of Chicago (see “Geophysical Sciences Grad Students Call on Faculty to Denounce Videos By Department Member” 12/2/2020) got literally canceled at MIT, where he had been scheduled to give a lecture. From the Daily Mail:

…. after outraging ‘totalitarian’ Twitter mob by arguing that academic evaluations should be based on merit not racial ‘equity’

Dorian Abbot was denied the opportunity to give the Carlson Lecture, which is devoted to ‘new results in climate science’ and hosted by MIT’s Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences.

The lecture was scheduled to be delivered on October 21, but Abbot learned over the weekend that EAPS would be canceling his talk.

In August, things took a turn when Abbot co-wrote an opinion piece for Newsweek in which he argued that the ‘Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion’ (DEI) initiative embraced on many college campuses nationwide ‘violates the ethical and legal principle of equal treatment.’

DEI, according to Abbot and co-author Professor Ivan Marinovic, ‘treats persons as merely means to an end, giving primacy to a statistic over the individuality of a human being.’

Abbot and Marinovic instead proposed ‘an alternative framework called Merit, Fairness, and Equality (MFE) whereby university applicants are treated as individuals and evaluated through a rigorous and unbiased process based on their merit and qualifications alone.’

(But who decides “merit”?)

It is kind of exciting for alumni when MIT can share a newspaper with Joe Biden’s $2.5 million granddaughter.

What would Dorian Abbot have talked about? He seems to be at least a little interested in Snowball Earth, one of my favorite geology subjects ever since reading an awesome book on the subject. He’s also interested in exoplanets, which fascinate everyone far more than how their Windows 11 computer or iPhone work. Maybe if Professor Abbot can get Elon Musk to blast him off to Gliese 273b (shouldn’t take that long to go 12.2 light-years in a Plaid Edition rocket), his critics will forget about him?

Related:

  • “Tesla must pay $137 million to a Black employee who sued for racial discrimination” (NPR, 10/5/2021), in which we learn that the article doesn’t match the headline. The now-rich elevator operator worked for a contractor to Tesla and was never directly employed by Tesla. (electrek has a more accurate headline: “Tesla is ordered to pay ex-worker $137 million in racial abuse lawsuit, releases blog about verdict”: Mr. Diaz never worked for Tesla. He was a contract employee who worked for Citistaff and nextSource. Mr. Diaz worked as an elevator operator at the Fremont factory for nine months, from June 2015 to March 2016. There was no witness testimony or other evidence that anyone ever heard the n-word used toward Mr. Diaz. Even though Mr. Diaz now complains about racial harassment at Fremont, at the time he said he was being harassed, he recommended to his son and daughter – while they were all living together in the same home – that they work at Tesla with him.)
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Coronapanic is a huge boon for tenured faculty

A friend gets a guaranteed salary as a tenured professor at M.I.T. If he wants to drive away from his comfortable home, fight through the Boston traffic (back with a vengeance), and work all day in his office, he must comply with all of the procedures laid out at https://covidapps.mit.edu/covid-pass:

He prefers not to deal with this and therefore he has opted out of the system. What’s the consequence to him of failure to comply? He doesn’t have to commute and doesn’t have to work with students except in the rare instances when a student is able to pin him down and demand a Zoom meeting. Excluding infancy, he’s never worked less in his life.

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Why don’t the white saviors let the BIPOC take their jobs?

“White Brandeis Dean Kate Slater posts epic critical race theory rant: ‘I hate whiteness’” (New York Post):

A white Brandeis University administrator defended critical race theory in a social media post that included how she hated “whiteness.”

“Yes, all white people are racist in that all white people have been conditioned in a society where one’s racial identity determines life experiences/outcomes and whiteness is the norm and default,” Kate Slater, assistant dean of Graduate Student Affairs, posted on Instagram.

“That includes me!” added Slater, who describes herself on her personal website as a white anti-racist scholar and educator.

From kateslater.com:

Previously, she was the Associate Director & Manager of Programs at the Institute for Recruitment of Teachers, a nonprofit that promotes racial equity in the American educational sector. She is also a lecturer at the University of New Hampshire for the course Teaching Race, which explores the history of race and racism in America. Her doctoral research centers the experiences of underrepresented minorities students in higher education, and in particular, at predominantly White institutions.

I believe that a core pillar of racial justice work is the redistribution of resources to people of color. I donate 75% of all facilitation / training / writing fees to individuals, nonprofits, and mutual aid organizations that focus on the uplift of BIPOC communities.

Wouldn’t “the experiences of underrepresented minorities students in higher education” be improved if they could see administrators who looked like them? And wouldn’t “the uplift of BIPOC communities” be greater if Dr. Slater resigned and let the Brandeis bureaucrats replace her with a BIPOC?

It makes sense to me that there are white saviors. But white savior was not traditionally a paid role. I don’t understand how there can white saviors who say that they’re passionate about improving equity as measured by skin color and who simultaneously collect a paycheck that rightfully belongs to a person with darker skin.

Along the same lines, the Maskachusetts Senator Ed Markey, an old white guy, claims to be somehow an advocate for women and people of color. From March 8, 2020:

  • Gender based discrimination impacts all aspects of a woman’s life from the personal to the professional and the political. We will fight for social and economic justice and guarantee women’s rights and autonomy
  • Women still make 77 cents on average to a man’s dollar. Black women make 63 cents to a white man’s dollar. Latinas make 53 cents to a white man’s dollar. If we closed the gender pay gap, we could cut the poverty rate for working women and their families in half.
  • Women hold fewer than 25% of seats in Congress. And even though a record number of women ran for the presidency this year, we still have yet to elect our first female president.

From September 1, 2020:

  • Racial justice means dismantling the systemic and structural racism that is killing communities of color, and listening to and fighting alongside these communities to achieve true dignity and justice for all.

He says that he wants to “[dismantle] systemic and structural racism” and help Latinas and Black women earn more. Wouldn’t the most obvious first step be for him to resign on condition that Governor Baker appoint a Latina or Black woman to replace him?

Finally, let’s consider one of the oldest and whitest white saviors… Joe Biden. “Joe Biden Calls For U.S. To ‘Root Out Systemic Racism’ In Speech To Congress” (HuffPost April 28, 2021), for example. He also says that he wants to “empower women” (campaign site). Shouldn’t he resign in favor of Kamala Harris, who identifies as a woman of color?

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