Earlier this week, student organizers held a town hall in Harris about controversial psychologist Dr. Satoshi Kanazawa’s presence at Northwestern.*
Kanazawa, an evolutionary psychologist at the London School of Economics and Political Science, will spend the remainder of his year-long sabbatical at Northwestern. His research focuses mainly on gender, religion and race, and he has written articles with headlines such as “Are All Women Essentially Prostitutes?” and “What’s Wrong with Muslims.” His personal page on the London School of Economics and Political Science website warns “Prepare to be offended.” Kanazawa is most known for a 2011 blog post for Psychology Today titled, “Why Are Black Women Less Physically Attractive Than Other Women?” Dozens of evolutionary scientists subsequently condemned the article – which was later removed – and Kanazawa’s blog was terminated.
NU’s announcement that Kanazawa would be coming to Northwestern was met with similar outrage from students. A month ago, Weinberg junior Deborah Shoola started a petition to overturn Kanazawa’s invitation and improve screening for visiting academics. It had over 5,000 signatures at the time of publication. However, university administrators said that, while Northwestern does not endorse Kanazawa’s views, he still has a right to present them.
“I find that his scholarship presents ideas that are antithetical to values that Northwestern University holds dear,” Provost Jonathan Holloway said in a statement. “As a member of the Northwestern community, I believe that personally held views, no matter how odious, cannot be a reason to undermine the vital principle of intellectual freedom that all academic institutions serve to protect.”
He added that the vetting process in the Department of Psychology was “weak,” and that “the department was unaware of Kanazawa’s controversial views or his flawed scholarship” when it said he could come to Northwestern. Holloway said the department unanimously voted to adopt a stricter vetting process for visiting guest scholars going forward.
But the story of how Kanazawa ended up at Northwestern may be more complicated than it appears. Professor Mike Bailey, who was also the subject of controversy in 2011 over a live “fucksaw” demonstration in his human sexuality class, is credited with bringing Kanazawa to Northwestern.
Bailey said in an email that he “didn’t invite him, in the usual sense of that word.” He said he received an email from Kanazawa in July saying that, because of construction, he could no longer complete his sabbatical at Cornell University. In other words, Kanazawa was just asking for “a desk and library access,” Bailey said.
Bailey did not deny knowing about Kanazawa’s past research.
“Although I knew about his controversial status, I thought it was a bit overblown and a bit unfair. Importantly, I never thought it would be such a big deal,” he wrote. “I asked two other faculty what they thought, and both knew some of his work and thought he was kind of interesting. He actually is [interesting], although I don’t think he’s a great data scientist. Certainly Northwestern caliber. But I didn’t think that was necessary to provide someone a desk for a year.”
He described Kanazawa’s blog as “both bad and stupid,” but pointed out that he has not “blogged controversially for several years.” He denies knowing Kanazawa well, and wrote he thought he was “basically doing him a favor at little cost to anyone.”
He admits he was “wrong about that.”
The administration has underscored that it will not remove Kanazawa. A separate email from Holloway presented at the student meeting said that removing him would exacerbate the situation. To respond to Holloway’s statements and the actions of the university, the majority of the town hall was focused on and creating a list of demands and what to do going forward. The demands included immediately removing Kanazawa and establishing a more thorough review process for visiting scholars. ASG senators passed similar legislation earlier this week calling for Northwestern administrators to remove Kanazawa and denounce his research.
Students in attendance at the town hall expressed overwhelming disappointment in the administration.
“Disappointing but not surprised,” Weinberg freshman Gina Waweru said. “I feel like you could ask anyone in this room and they’d say that.” Medill sophomore Marie Mendoza echoed this sentiment, but also left the meeting with a sense of hope.
“It was nice to be in a space of validation, and it was also nice to come up with a plan for action,” she said. “I was really satisfied with this.” McCormick freshman Ama Asseh reflected the room’s overall sense of intense determination.
“I’m just disappointed and need this to end,” she said. “He will not be here until the end of the year. That can’t happen.”
Editor's Note: The organizers preferred to remain anonymous.