The University Record, June 7, 1993


Charges against Goldberg without foundation

We are writing in regard to the recent controversy in which David Goldberg, a professor in the Department of Sociology, was accused of sexual and racial harassment in connection with a graduate class in social statistics that he taught in fall 1992. The charges against Professor Goldberg were first circulated in a March 31 letter from an anonymous group of students to several campus administrators and groups. The charges were reported by the Michigan Daily on April 9, and subsequent newspaper space has been devoted to them.

We are motivated to write because public charges of sexual and racial harassment are serious ones that can affect both the reputation of the individual who stands accused and the quality of the University environment. We believe that the charges made against Professor Goldberg are without substantive foundation and, therefore, may have unfairly damaged his reputation. We also believe that this incident has seriously and adversely affected the efforts of the University of Michigan to achieve important goals that we strongly endorse: the creation and maintenance of an environment where people of all races, ethnicities, genders, and sexual orientations have full access to learning, new ideas, free inquiry, and open interchange. This incident, and others like it, damage the very foundation of the University by casting a chilling effect on the ability of faculty and students to discuss evidence and ideas openly and freely.

In this letter we link the defense of David Goldberg with the protection of academic freedom because we believe that the principles of academic freedom cannot be separated from those concrete situations in which it is appealed to as a value. The public charges against David Goldberg require a thorough rebuttal, both to protect his reputation and to assure others that their reputations will be defended against unfounded charges. It is only as we defend the application of academic freedom in individual cases that we can prevent its erosion and weakening as a general principle protecting the very concept of a university.

We join with Howard Schuman, Chair of Sociology (Michigan Daily letter of April 19), in criticizing the irresponsible means by which the charges against Professor Goldberg were brought: anonymously and publicly without prior recourse to existing grievance channels. This failure to discuss concerns directly with Professor Goldberg and other responsible Department personnel unnecessarily escalated the disagreements and damaged both Professor Goldberg and the larger University community.

We have considered the substantive merits of the charges against Professor Goldberg by reviewing both the materials submitted by the anonymous group of students and Goldberg’s reply to those materials. Our examination of the evidence indicates that there is no support for the charges of either sexual or racial harassment.

The anonymous students provided only two kinds of material to support their charges. One piece of data submitted by the anonymous students was a cartoon handed out by Professor Goldberg. Goldberg distributed the cartoon entirely for the purpose of poking fun at himself and other social statisticians. The cartoon makes no statement about gender or race. While the cartoon does depict one character as male and one as female, that is irrelevant to the thrust of the cartoon. Furthermore, it could easily be argued that the female character is portrayed as more competent than the male.

The second kind of material purported by the anonymous students to support their harassment charges consists of handouts distributed by Professor Goldberg. During the course of the semester Professor Goldberg handed out a substantial amount of material ranging from statistical formulas and definitions to substantive examples of statistical procedures. Among the numerous illustrations of substantive analyses he used were a few dealing with race and gender differences. The race and gender examples were interpreted by the anonymous students as racial and sexual harassment.

We are baffled by this claim of the anonymous students. It is clear from the materials themselves that Professor Goldberg used the handouts about race and gender to explain and illustrate the principles of multivariate analysis. The basic components of these handouts are various tables of empirical data showing gender and racial differences in several dependent variables. These gender and racial differences are shown both with and without controls for other causal variables. In his discussion of these tables, Goldberg carefully and logically explains how these differences change as the multivariate controls are introduced.

It is crucial to note that the multivariate data and procedures Professor Goldberg was teaching and illustrating are standard ones that are frequently used in the social science literature. They are also totally in tune with the standard explanations and examples used in textbooks teaching social statistics and methods. There is no evidence that Professor Goldberg’s larger intent in providing these examples was underlain by a racist or sexist agenda. Moreover, if such data and procedures were to be restricted, we would have to throw out a large fraction of the current empirical research about race and gender. We would also have to ban material from some frequently used statistics and methodology textbooks.

In thinking about Professor Goldberg’s use of the race and gender examples in his social statistics class, it is useful to confront directly several arguments that have surfaced in recent discussions with colleagues. One viewpoint condemns Professor Goldberg for introducing race and gender examples into a social statistics class. According to this point of view, the use of such examples in a social statistics class is evidence of gross insensitivity to the feelings of minority and female students. We cannot accept this position because statistics are taught in Sociology so that students can both learn statistics and how statistical principles and procedures are applied to sociological issues. Given the centrality of race and gender to current debates in Sociology, we can think of few examples that would be more relevant in a social statistics class. Would the proponents of the viewpoint that race and gender examples are inappropriate in a social statistics class also ban examples that are based upon age, class, occupation, education, income, residence, marital status, family type, welfare status, and other potentially controversial concepts that sociologists use to differentiate human beings?

Another condemnation of Goldberg’s race and gender examples which has surfaced in conversations with colleagues is that they are incomplete and thus defective. According to this viewpoint, Goldberg was guilty of not mentioning all of the possible interpretations of the data or not discussing all of the caveats that might be applied to the data analysis. According to this viewpoint, this incompleteness makes his teaching defective and unsatisfactory. We find the application of this standard of completeness to the examples Goldberg used in his teaching to be troubling. Would we condemn all faculty members who discuss issues of race and gender in ways that are not complete or that have some blemish? Who among us could survive such standards?

Of course, the arguments in the previous paragraph are actually irrelevant to the present issue. The principles of academic freedom are designed to protect the rights of professors to make incomplete presentations. Without such protection, free inquiry and debate is impossible. So, even if Professor Goldberg’s discussions failed to pass the criterion of completeness, they are still protected by the principles of academic freedom.

The signers of this letter include people who have known David Goldberg for many years, some who have been students in his social statistics class, some who have been teaching assistants with him, and others who have examined the materials of this case but were previously unacquainted with David. While we have varying degrees of acquaintance with him, none of us has experienced or witnessed sexually or racially harassing behavior on his part. Our experience with David Goldberg stands in contradiction to the allegations of the anonymous accusers. It is also important to note that a number of people (including both minorities and females) who participated in Professor Goldberg’s fall 1992 statistics course share this view. We are saddened that his character and reputation have been called into question because he used race and gender examples in his teaching of standard multivariate data analysis procedures.

Many people have taught statistics in the Sociology Department over the years, and they can attest that this is not an easy assignment. Yet, those of us who have been in the classroom with David Goldberg can attest to the fact that he is an effective teacher. His social statistics course is a quality one. Professor Goldberg brings a unique package of characteristics to the classroom: he takes his teaching seriously, works hard, uses numerous examples, demands much from his students, challenges students to question assumptions and conclusions, requires thinking about alternative explanations, speaks bluntly, and is a tough grader. As with most professors, especially those who teach required statistics courses in Sociology, some aspects of Goldberg’s teaching style are not liked by all students. Nevertheless, we know from experience that David Goldberg offers a stimulating and effective statistics course that has benefitted the careers of those of us who have had the opportunity to take it. We also note that there is a number of distinguished data analysts in the United States today who began their graduate sociology training in David Goldberg’s course in social statistics.

Our perceptions of David Goldberg’s teaching effectiveness are buttressed by the end-of-semester student evaluations he has received. As one might expect, he did not receive positive evaluations in the fall 1992 social statistics course in which the racial and sexual harassment charges originated. However, those evaluations are atypical. When David last taught the graduate social statistics course in 1986, he received positive ratings. Furthermore, David receives outstanding student evaluations in his undergraduate social statistics course, which is very similar in structure to his graduate course. David has taught the undergraduate course 11 times in the last four years. His average score in the Sociology Department’s standardized rating system for those 11 courses is 1125, as compared to a Sociology Department mean of 1000. David’s average score of 1125 was good enough to place him more than one full standard deviation above the Department’s overall mean. It is also useful to note that of the 26 professors in the Sociology Department who taught a significant number of courses during the last six and one-half years that David’s average for all courses taught in that period (including the bad score from the fall 1992 statistics course) ranks him number 11. That means that 10 professors ranked above him and 15 scored lower.

Another indicator of Professor Goldberg’s commitment to quality teaching is his chairmanship of the Sociology Department’s Committee for Evaluation of Instruction, a position that he has occupied for many years. In that role Goldberg devised and now administers the system used to analyze and summarize end-of-semester student evaluations.

In summary, we repeat that we know of no evidence that supports the racial and sexual harassment charges made against David Goldberg. It is entirely relevant and appropriate in a social statistics class to use examples involving gender and race. The evidence indicates that Professor Goldberg utilized the gender and race examples in logical and reasoned ways to illustrate how statistical analyses can be used in evaluating different interpretations of empirical data. The procedures taught and illustrated by Professor Goldberg are central to statistical analyses in sociology, and we vigorously defend him from the charges made against him. We make our defense of Professor Goldberg to repair, to the extent possible, the damage that has been done to his reputation and to uphold the principles of free inquiry and discussion that lie at the foundation of university life.

Our defense of Professor Goldberg is particularly important because this episode is not the first of its kind to damage the reputation of a Michigan Sociology professor. Also to be regretted is the fact that these events cause serious negative consequences to the Department and University community. Among the casualties of such episodes are academic freedom and the quality of education. These events produce a chilling effect on the scholarly examination and teaching of the very controversial issues that are so in need of thorough exploration and discussion. As a result, there is increasing pressure for faculty members to avoid classroom discussions of important but currently unpopular viewpoints. This outcome seriously damages the University of Michigan and the learning environment it provides students of all genders and races.

Arland Thornton, Thomas E. Fricke, Duane Alwin, Juan Diez-Nicolas, Pamela Webster, John Woodford, Albert F. Anderson, James N. Morgan, Ronald C. Kessler, Lois Groesbeck, Daniel Hill, Rukmalie Jayakody, Jennifer Cancio, Willard Rodgers, Li-Shou Yang, Martha S. Hill, Leslie Kish, Xiaohe Xu, V. Ravishankar, Mark Mizruchi, Judy Baughn, Ronald Freedman, Miles Kimball, Linda Young De-Marco, Mary Scott, Carol Crawford, J. Michael Coble, Fran Bladt Heitz, Barbara Downs, Megan Beckett, F. Thomas Juster, Emily Hannum, Shiau-Ping Shih, Mark A. Schneider, Douglas Trelfa, F. Lincoln Grahlfs, Joan Main Grahlfs, Kashif Sheikh, Frank B. Livingstone, Konrad Sadkowski, Nancy Gebler, Greg J. Duncan, Regina R. Urbanowicz, David Tewksbury, Reynolds Farley, Donald R. Deskins Jr., Theresa M. Norgard, Ming-Cheng Lo, Werner Landecker, Juan Diez Medrano, Akos Rona-Tas, Linda L. Swanson, Kathy A. London, Bernard Agranoff, William G. Axinn, Aida Serrano-Diaz Jain, Allan Schnaiberg, Herbert L. Smith, Allen J. Beck