The University Record, April 26, 1993

LETTERS

Alum says U-M failing to compete nationally

It was probably only a matter of time before Michigan’s best hope for a Nobel Prize, Professor Francis Collins, was lured away. And it did take quite an offer. But the sad fact remains that this is but the latest example of the University’s pitiful performance in the physical and biological sciences, where, except for a few distinguished departments and scholars, it fails utterly in competition with Berkeley, Stanford, Harvard and even Wisconsin in the biological sciences and Illinois in the physical sciences.

In past years, it lost Donald Glaser to Berkeley after his Nobel Prize research had been done at Ann Arbor; it lost the great physicists George Uhlenbeck and Samuel Goudsmit; it lost the young physics star Larry Sulak; it lost the young astronomy star Robert Kirschner to Harvard; it lost the eminent biologist William D. Hamilton to Oxford—and there are more.

Will President Duderstadt convene the various department heads and ask them why the hell Michigan seems to be a minor-league farm team for the major league science universities? I hope so. Let them, as trained scientists, probe the reasons for the University’s continuing mediocrity in these fields. Perhaps they could enlist the advice of the chairpersons of the social and behavioral sciences departments, in which subjects the University does indeed stand among the very best. Possibly they could ask a few athletic coaches. After all, Michigan was in the top five in football, top four in hockey, and top two in basketball. Why not the same accomplishment in physics, chemistry, astronomy, molecular biology, biochemistry and neurobiology? Perhaps Mr. G.E. Schembechler could come in and offer advice on excellence.

It will do no good for Dr. Pangloss to tell us that we must be doing something good if all of these fine scientists are taken away by our rivals. That, after all, is precisely the mind-set of a farm team. I like to think that Michigan is in the bigs. Or should be.

Ivan N. Kaye,

’54 LS&A

Accusations against Goldberg ‘ugly business, scurrilous’

On March 31, 1993, a letter accusing Professor David Goldberg of “race-baiting and ethnic, racial and gender stereotyping” was sent to the Executive Committee of the Department of Sociology, to the President, and to the Affirmative Action Office, with copies widespread; no names are given as authors, but several student organizations are listed. The same day, sensational flyers excoriating Goldberg, headed “SEXUAL AND RACIAL HARASSMENT IN U OF M SOCIOLOGY DEPARTMENT” were widely distributed. Nine days later, before his rejoinder had been considered, Goldberg was advised by his Chairman that he was being removed from the teaching of his graduate course in statistics, Sociology 510.

From all other University authorities the response to this onslaught has been silence. Those who ought to be outraged have said nothing in Goldberg’s defense. Accusations of similar kind will surely be made against other members of our faculty before long; David Goldberg will not be the last.

He and others like him—Prof. Reynolds Farley, for example, also in Sociology—become the targets of such accusations, ironically, because they are concerned about social issues of the most critical kind. Statistical theory and technique can be taught in a dull way; Goldberg teaches first-year graduate students partly by showing—with real data sets and alternative analyses—how statistics can be misused in dealing with the most sensitive questions.

The relative circumstances of Blacks and whites, of women and men, are prominent among his illustrative analyses. Some of what careful analysis reveals is hopeful news in these spheres; some is not. Scholars ought not decide what may be discussed on the basis of how their findings will be received; but some students do not see it that way. And sometimes students fail to understand the point of analyses given. For example: part of the anonymous complaint against Goldberg consists of a collection of his handouts to the class: data sets showing the correlations of SAT scores, minority status, and broken homes, with his commentary; these are presented by his accusers to show what? Race-baiting? Ethnic stereotyping? The instructional point of these materials is very clearly put in Goldberg’s own words on the handout—that a “full model reduces the impact of minority [status] to virtually nothing ... and that the bulk of the explanation of SAT variation is associated with income.” Unschooled analysis, he points out, might draw inappropriate conclusions from the apparent correlation of minority status with lower SAT scores; that is because a sound multivariate analysis must regress to identify what is causally critical. For all such subtleties Goldberg’s critics have no patience. Simply to use such materials was for them inexcusable; he is obviously a racist.

When folks are determined to ruin you, there are many ways to do it. One data set Goldberg used shows an SAT difference between Blacks and whites that is substantially smaller than most similar reports commonly shown, whereupon Goldberg remarks (with full integrity) that that first figure (55 points) probably “should be” more like 100 points, one standard deviation. Ripped out of context, with evident malice, the words “It should be more like a hundred points” are quoted on the flyer to demonstrate his racism. Ugly business.

It gets uglier. The accusatory letter continues: “Based on the assertion that minorities are stupid because they have broken families and deficient cultures, Dr. Goldberg managed to humiliate, intimidate, and harass ... students of color who were subjected to his opinions.” That Goldberg ever made such assertions is an outrageous defamation, its absurdity made manifest by the thrust of the data he presented, and by his discussion of it, strongly tending to show the very reverse of what he is alleged to have said. There is no shame here.

Sexual harassment is also charged. This is shown in two ways. First, Goldberg distributes handouts with data and analysis to show that there is a “cost” to being a woman in the labor force; but that calculating that cost is a tricky business. He concludes that, all sub-groups and major factors appropriately considered, that cost is approximately 15 cents on the dollar in wages. His point is that the “59-cent Button” (worn as a political badge) mistakenly overstates the case (whether by accident or design) and thereby undermines what could be strong argument in support of women. But any reduction in the scale of victimization is, for some of his students, simply a mark of sexism and that sexism is confirmed, they contend, by the second exhibit: a cartoon having nothing at all to do with sex, in which it happens that one of the characters (arguably the cleverer of the two depicted!) is a woman.

There is nothing else. The accusations, accompanied by many pages of his handouts as support, are the product of personal antipathy; the “evidence” gives no support for the nasty charges made; some of what is submitted serves well to prove the very opposite of what is charged. Our Dean is a distinguished political scientist, experienced in the uses of quantitative analysis as a member of the Institute for Social Research. She is a person well-qualified to speak to the groundlessness of these scurrilous accusations.

But if they are groundless, what lies behind this assault? Partly the attacks come from those who simply do not understand, and take him to mean the very reverse of what he does mean; that is unfortunate. Partly the attacks come from students who dislike him intensely. David Goldberg is an intellectually pugnacious man. He loves an argument; he will not be intimidated; he is scrupulously honest and exceedingly blunt. When, looking one in the eye with a grin, he presents an argument that brooks no good reply, some find him very difficult to take, in spite of his good humor. Being on the opposite side of an argument on statistics with David Goldberg—I testify from personal experience—is not fun. But learning sometimes entails coming to accept as probably true what we dearly wish were false. Here, to illustrate, is the remaining example from the “evidence” submitted against him: one group of his data-set handouts strongly tends to show that the behavior of banks in giving loans, when correlated not merely with race, but also with the credit risk presented by loan applicants, does not display the outright racial discrimination that many of his students had apparently already decided must be the case. Statistical analyses that give ground for doubt about victim status are inappropriate in a class in statistics, say they; his teaching materials (the accusatory letter contends) exhibit a “reckless disregard for...the salience of sexism [and racism] in his targeted audience.” The only safe way to avoid such accusations of insensitivity would be to hold back what is known, selecting only those illustrations that pander to the prejudices of some students. Is that the sort of teaching we would encourage at the University of Michigan?

Goldberg does not hold back. That’s his root problem. A powerful scholar whose very prickly manner has long irritated colleagues and students alike, he simply will not suffer fools without response. He has no patience with incompetence; hypocrisy he treats with open contempt. In his own department some of his colleagues, sharply chided by him in the past, are delighted now to see him covered with ethnic glue. Lots of folks hate him—and now they are going to get him. But the price will not be paid by him alone; when the Goldbergs of this University have been chased away, we will all be much the poorer.

No one who knows him seriously doubts David Goldberg’s fairness, his tough even-handedness, his loyal service to thousands of students, graduate and undergraduate, of all races over many years. He is persona non grata now because he deals honestly and openly with what numbers reveal about the circumstances of women and minorities in our society. Candor in such matters is certain to be controversial; the results of such analyses, sometimes disputable, are sensitive; any such results are sure to be interpreted by some students as attacks upon them. Shall we then avoid sensitive subject matters? Shall we lie? None of us should forget this: there is no way to confront the realities of racial and sexual discrimination in our society, to consider and to judge alternative methods of coping with racial and sexual injustice, without honest, open, robust argument about what the numbers reveal, and how those numbers should be interpreted. If scholars who interpret their data honestly and emerge with results that are politically unpopular are subject to trial and sentence by a kangaroo court, its members often ignorant and unsophisticated, we are all—scholars and non-scholars alike—in serious trouble.

In a great university the horror lies in this: when such attacks are successful in eliminating the offending person, as they appear to have been in Goldberg’s case (“`Let the jury consider their verdict,’ said the King...‘No, no!,’ said the Queen, ‘Sentence first—verdict afterwards.’”) we teach each other that it is dangerous to discuss the facts of race and gender here, if anything may have to be said that could prove offensive to the least sophisticated member of the company. The result, of course, is that only they whose views are known not to offend may safely teach. The very subject matters that are most in need of scrupulously honest analysis, even when it may hurt, are rendered largely untouchable. If any professor has anything to say about race or sex that anyone here may find in any way troubling or disconcerting, the lesson is very clear: don’t say it if you value your reputation, even if it is true and you know it is true.

Therefore we ought actively to protect robust argument and wide-ranging analysis even were they presented by persons whose views we abhor. But when a serious and loyal member of our faculty, like David Goldberg, uses statistical examples in the field of race and sex in his classes to make the very point his critics would like to make, and is by some students who dislike him misunderstood, we are obliged to speak out for his good name and ours. All those who leave him unprotected, twisting slowly in the wind, are deeply shamed.

The damage done to David Goldberg has been substantial, and may be now irreparable. But where are those, on the faculty or in the administration, who rise up in anger at this dreadful shredding of our intellectual freedoms? Their continuing silence is very troubling, depressing. It cannot be, I tell myself, that they do not care. Then it must be either that they do not understand the damage done, do not grasp the impact of such kangaroo courts upon a free university—or that their silence is due to fear that any defense of Goldberg will bring his fate down on them. Perhaps they will eventually see how great the stake is in this matter, take courage, and speak up. I hope so, with all my heart.

Finally, I address the members of the De-partment of Sociology, David Goldberg’s colleagues. You will surely not have forgotten so soon that this is the second member of your department to have suffered painfully from groundless accusations of racism. Our colleague Prof. Reynolds Farley, quite similarly, was attacked only four years ago by some ignorant and some malicious people who knew well that his studies of racial issues in our cities were scrupulously fair and objective, and that accusations of racism against him were absurd, as they are in the present case. Prof. Farley’s crime, you will recall, was that (in a course entitled “Race and Cultural Contacts,” Soc. 303), presenting in historical perspective views of others that he explicitly rejected, he was not sufficiently condemnatory in his attitude toward them. So embittered did he become by vicious accusations that he ceased to teach in this sphere altogether. How much unjust punishment must an honest scholar endure?

So I put these questions, respectfully, to the members of the Department of Sociology: When will you speak out publicly on these matters? Surely you do not plan to avoid altogether teaching the applications of statistics in the spheres of sex and race. Who will join you to do this in a Department in which so censorious a spirit pervades? Is it your plan to deal with these topics only in ways that are found acceptable by the most sensitive first-year graduate students? Finally I ask: if most of the members of the Sociology Department succeed in keeping a very low profile now, allowing David Goldberg to serve as flak-catcher—-which one of you will be next?

Carl Cohen,

professor of philosophy