Letter:The faculty’s letter was misinformed and lacks integrity
Published: Thursday, February 20, 2014
Updated: Thursday, February 20, 2014 16:02
I can readily understand the dismay and even anger that motivated my faculty colleagues in writing this letter of theirs. I, too, would have felt much the same emotion upon learning that any professor at Loyola had bruited that slavery as actually practiced was not “so bad.” Their ire stems, however, from a misunderstanding. The New York Times took what I said wildly out of context.
The point is, I was undertaking a philosophical analysis: I of course know full well that slavery is vicious, immoral, depraved; but I was asking why this is so. My answer was that this had all to do with unjustified coercion, with compulsion, and did not at all concern picking cotton or singing songs or eating gruel. I am sure that Murphy, et al. would agree with me on this hardly debatable insight.
Unhappily, none of the signatories of this letter asked me about any of this. Had any of them interviewed me on this subject we could have readily cleared up this matter. I would hope that when and if anything like this ever happens again, my colleagues will follow basic journalistic policies and get all sides of a story before publication.
These authors maintain that “Block’s indefensible comments, printed in the national edition of the Sunday New York Times no less, hampers the university’s efforts to recruit the most accomplished and diverse students it can from across the U.S.”
First of all, my comments were not “indefensible.” I never did say what the Times attributed to me, that actual slavery was not “so bad.” I just plain never said that, as my response makes clear.
Second, does the dog wag the tail on campus, or does the tail wag the dog? Suppose, contrary to fact conditional coming up, be warned, that a professor did indeed say or write something that hampers a university’s recruitment drive. Suppose for example, that I stated, as I have done on more than on one occasion, that the minimum wage law disproportionately hurts young unskilled black workers and not only should not be raised, but should be eliminated entirely. And, posit, that as a result, fewer students enrolled at Loyola. Would I then deserve “censure” as the authors of this missive urge? If so, then we do not at all deserve to be considered a university.
Those who signed this letter say they want to improve recruitment, they resent my supposed stance on slavery because they think it will hurt our ability to attract students to Loyola. So, they attack me, a winner of the Dux Academicus Award in 2008, a holder of an endowed chair in economics — The Harold E. Wirth Chair — and a colleague of theirs. Do they really think that will improve Loyola’s recruitment chances? Instead, if they really were aiming at this goal, they should have criticized The New York Times for taking my comments out of context and attributing to me views the opposite of which I hold. Does it really make Loyola look good to embrace the claim that one of our colleagues thinks that actual slavery was not “so bad?” Would not it have been better, for recruitment, to refute this preposterous claim?
The authors of this letter go on to state: “Moreover, this is not the first time that his disregard for socio-historical truth has proven to be an embarrassment to many of the faculty at this institution.” What did I do, several years ago, to earn the condemnation of the Loyola Diversity Task Force? I gave a speech at another Jesuit university, Loyola Maryland. I maintained there that wages are determined by productivity and that the reason females and blacks have lower wages than males and whites is not at all unrelated to this economic axiom (i.e., I rejected the discrimination explanation for these facts). At that time, the Diversity Task Force at Loyola also condemned me without asking for my side of the story, based on hearsay evidence provided by the president of that university, who had not heard my speech either. For more on that episode, see my writings in 2008 and 2009, and consult my reaction to that publication.
Walter Block, Ph.D.
Professor of economics
The Harold E. Wirth Chair of economics