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Biology Professor Luana Maroja's concern about an "existential threat" to science

All too often, college (and university) professors who favor cancelling speakers or otherwise constricting campus discourse make the biggest headlines. At the same time, countless professors and adjuncts doing the serious work of academia, teaching, researching, counseling, garner little—if any—media attention.

Many, if not most, of these scholars are committed to free speech and civil discourse. Indeed, there are a good number at Williams. Starting today and on future Fridays, we intend to highlight pieces by such individuals articulating the traditions of observation, inquiry, and debate which have helped define our alma mater as a place of learning over the years.

There is no better piece to inaugurate these #FacultyFridays than Professor Luana Maroja’s insightful warning of “An Existential Threat to Doing Good Science”. A Professor of Biology, she is also Chair of the college’s Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Program and a great champion of free speech.

Dr. Maroja fears that the “risk of cancellation” threatens “not simply our reputations, but our ability to pursue truth and scientific knowledge.”

“We each,” she continues:

have our own woke tipping point—the moment you realize that social justice is no longer what we thought it was, but has instead morphed into an ugly authoritarianism. For me that moment came in 2018, during an invited speaker talk, when the religious scholar Reza Aslan stated that “we need to write on a stone what can and cannot be discussed in colleges.” Students gave this a standing ovation. Having been born under dictatorship in Brazil, I was alarmed.

One of the things which she fears can no longer be discussed is “fundamental rules of biology from plants to humans is that the sexes are defined by the size of their gametes—that is, their reproductive cells.” Other topics becoming off limits are “heritability” and “cultural differences”.

If topics are put off limits, student "learning is impaired and important research is never done." These limits limit the ability of scientists to address problems that inhere in the human condition.

In her piece, Dr. Maroja not only details threats to science, she also recounts her “shock” when Willams students “broke into a faculty meeting” considering the Chicago Statement, a statement articulating a commitment to free speech and open inquiry. A Faculty Steering Committee did issue a watered-down Statement on Free Inquiry and Inclusion.

While this is a step in the right direction, we agree with Dr. Maroja that the college, like over 80 other institutions of higher learning, should adopt the Chicago Statement--much stronger than the Faculty Steering Committee's Memorandum.

Professor Maroja’s piece both highlights the challenges academics face in the current campus environment and helps articulate the principles we will be championing here at the Williams Free Speech Alliance.

Please read the complete article here. Dr. Maroja is a great credit to our alma mater. And her work and her commitment to keep open "avenues of inquiry" puts her in the tradition of the great teachers who have made our alma mater the place that so many of us loved.

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