When Antisemitic “Pseudo-Science” Gets Tenured and Promoted to Full

There’s quite a controversy brewing within academic circles about a tenured full professor of psychology at Cal State U. Long Beach, Kevin McDonald, that raises important questions about the creation of knowledge, the academic enterprise and race. McDonald, who is an evolutionary psychologist, contends that Jews are a separate race driven by genetics and evolution to band together, both for “group survival” and to undercut white, Western culture. Further, he asserts that the Third Reich’s Nazi movement developed specifically to counter “Judaism as a group evolutionary strategy.” He claims to be “agnostic” about whether or not the Holocaust happened, and yet, testified on behalf of infamous Holocaust-denier, David Irving. Not coincidentally, McDonald says that he testified in support of Irving because he was motivated by a desire to defend academic freedom, not deny the Holocaust. Although McDonald includes a disavowal on his website that he does not “condone white racial superiority, genocide, Nazism or Holocaust denial,” his actions – and his research – suggest otherwise, as Scott Jaschik demonstrates in his piece in Inside Higher Ed (Feb.14). Jaschik points out that a favorable story about McDonald’s work appears on Vanguard News Network, a white supremacist website. And, in Heidi Beirich’s thoroughly devastating piece on McDonald for SPLC’s Intelligence Report, she notes that his work is more popular than Mein Kampf with neo-Nazis and white supremacists. In fact, David Duke draws heavily on McDonald’s work for his own antisemitic and racist autobiography, My Awakening, and the condensed version, Jewish Supremacism. McDonald and AbernethyAnd, according to Beirich’s report, in 2004 white supremacists David Duke (former Klansman and Louisiana legislator), Don Black, Jamie Kelso (of Stormfront, the main online portal for white supremacy) and Kevin Alfred Strom (of the neo-Nazi National Vanguard) all attended a ceremony in which McDonald was honored by The Occidental Quarterly, a white supremacist journal. McDonald is pictured here receiving the award, alongside Virginia Abernethy, a self-described “white separatist.”

As you might expect, the controversy is widely being framed as an issue that tests the bounds of academic freedom. This is both an obvious, and a deeply problematic, way to frame this particular case. On the one hand, McDonald is an academic with tenure (and a promotion by his peers to full professorship) who has controversial and unpopular views and should, within the rules of the academy, be allowed to express those views.

On the other hand, framing McDonald’s vile “scholarship” as within the bounds of what is acceptable and even protected within the academy is deeply problematic given the context of his position within a public university with a commitment to human rights, diversity, and to offering an equal educational environment for all who enroll there. I’m generally quite critical of absolutist defenses of “free speech,” and am persuaded by critiques of the first amendment grounded in critical race theory.

Yet, I find this particular case vexing Continue reading…