Portland State University is punishing Peter Boghossian for demonstrating that grievance studies are nonsense. Dr. Boghossian, an assistant professor of philosophy at Portland State, joined two other academics to hoax the purveyors of gender studies and kindred fields committed to turning personal gripes into taxpayer-funded “studies.”
Boghossian and his colleagues submitted articles including an analysis of “canine rape culture” and an extract from “Mein Kampf” translated into the language of feminist theory. These were accepted by what counts as “major” journals in these pseudo-disciplines. In 2018, Boghossian and his colleagues made public these hoaxes, which elegantly and hilariously made the point that these fields’ “scholarship” cannot be distinguished from applesauce and horsefeathers.
Almost instantly Boghossian’s university brought him up on charges of “research misconduct.” The theory was that he should have told the editors of the journals that he was hoaxing them. Allegations of this sort multiplied. He was cleared of most of them, but Portland State stuck with the idea that he had carried out “improper research on human subjects.”
The theory was that the editors he hoaxed were the lab rats in an experiment. The university authorities were not completely clueless. They did drop the charge that the imaginary dogs in the paper about “canine rape culture” had been subjected to improper research techniques.
Boghossian was not subjected to this charade out of worry that his “research” posed a danger to innocent parties. Rather, he had embarrassed “grievance studies” professors, and they used the university’s bureaucratic apparatus to seek revenge.
His opponents wished to expel him from academia—and, at the very least, to make him endure an abrasive investigation. Persecuting Boghossian was also intended to intimidate into silence anyone else at Portland State University (and potentially anywhere else) who might consider criticizing the “grievance studies” complex.
On July 17, Mark R. McLellan, Portland State’s vice president for research and graduate studies, wrote to Boghossian that he had been found guilty of “violations of human subjects’ rights and protection.” Boghossian is now “forbidden to engage in any human subjects related research” and “forbidden to engage in any sponsored research,” until he completes “protection of human subjects training.” McLellan added, “[Y]our research behavior raises concerns regarding a lack of academic integrity, questionable ethical behavior and employee breach of rules.”
The National Association of Scholars wrote in January to Portland State President Rahmat Shoureshi, urging him to intervene against the ongoing persecution of Boghossian. We repeat our advice to Shoureshi. Portland State University has now made itself an official party to the harassment of Boghossian. The university, not just the grievance studies ideologues, is attempting to vitiate Boghossian’s academic freedom.
Boghossian’s next steps are unclear. Should he submit himself to being “trained” by his adversaries? Does he have legal recourse? If the latter, we will stand by him.
In the meantime, we affirm that Boghossian acted as an exemplary scholar by using a hoax to expose the intellectual hollowness of grievance-studies. Sometimes satire is the best tool. We decry Portland State’s abuse of its misconduct regulations. And we call on all defenders of academic freedom to keep state legislators in Salem in mind of how Portland State is using public funds.
Peter Wood and David Randall are the president and the director of research of the National Association of Scholars.