College surrenders to prof who refused 'mandatory diversity training'

Converse College Jeffrey Poelvoorde (Converse College)

A professor apparently was won his battle with college officials over their mandatory diversity training, maintaining his post after he was ordered eight months ago to complete the courses.

Jeffrey Poelvoorde of Converse College in Spartanburg, South Carolina, received a warning letter from Provost Jeffrey Barker in August 2020, the College Fix reported.

If you don’t complete the mandatory diversity training, “Converse will take appropriate corrective action, up to and including termination of your employment,” the letter stated.

But Poelvoorde not only has kept his job, he’s heard nothing from his supervisors on the matter.

“I believe that they did back down from their threat of termination in the face of unfavorable publicity,” he told the College Fix via email last week.

“I must say, I do think there was a minor victory here,” he said. “I wasn’t fired, although I lost the respect and collegiality of a significant portion of the faculty and students at Converse. I can live with that.”

Poelvoorde said the reaction of his colleagues “speaks to the larger war and the longer struggle for the soul of the academy.”

He said he’s grateful for the support of influential alumni and enterprises such as the Academic Freedom Alliance, National Association of Scholars and the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education.

They provided resistance “to the ideological destruction of the most remarkable academic universe in the history of humanity.”

Last summer, in the wake of the George Floyd protests, Poelvoorde drew national attention for rejecting the demand to take his college’s “Diversity and Inclusion” and “Managing Bias” training modules.

He wrote at the time in an open letter he already was “quite familiar with the videos in question and the other materials produced by the company employed by our ‘Office of Diversity and Inclusion.'”

“They are at worst inoffensive and at best anodyne. But the administration must be either naive or disingenuous to deny that there is an ideological content and substructure to this material,” he said.

“Does the urge to impose upon us this material derive from a sincere desire to free the College and its members from bigotry … or from a felt need on the part of our leadership (and throughout the academic world) to impose an ideological conformity which masks itself as an embrace of ‘diversity?'”

The provost, Barker, extended the deadline for completing the training to Aug. 6, 2020, warning he could be fired if he didn’t comply.

The College Fix said it contacted the college’s media affairs division last week and received no response after a week.

A newly formed group, the Academic Freedom Alliance, assisted Poelvoorde. One of its members, Princeton University Professor Robert George told the Chronicle of Higher Education that the case shows what can happen when scholars stand up for themselves.

“They told him they would fire him, they would revoke his tenure,” George said. “He stood up to them, we came in and provided legal and moral support, and after a whole lot of Sturm und Drang, they completely caved, backed down, and exempted him.

“These are the stories people don’t know,” George said. “Everyone knows the stories of people getting destroyed — the struggle sessions, the abject apologies. … But here’s a case where somebody stood up to the bullies and won.”

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