Two significant academic scandals from the past year underscore why the new book Critical Dilemma, written by Drs. Neil Shenvi and Pat Sawyer, is so timely and important. In my view, this book offers the definitive critique of critical theory from a Christian worldview. You can receive a copy for a gift to the Colson Center this month. (Just go to colsoncenter.org/October).
Eric Stewart, a former professor in the highly rated criminology department at Florida State University, is the principal author of a paper that concluded that, as Black and Latino populations increased, so did the public’s demand for more discriminatory sentencing. After the paper was published, his co-author Justin Pickett, a professor at the University of Albany, noticed problems with the data:
Pickett found that their sample size somehow had increased from 500 to over 1,000 respondents, the counties polled had decreased from 326 to 91, and the data was altered to the point of mathematical impossibility.
When Pickett approached Stewart with his concerns, he replied with evasive answers and would not share the complete data set. In Pickett’s analysis of the data from the first set of 500, the results did not support the conclusion that an increasing Black or Latino population is linked to more severe sentencing. If anything, the initial results pointed to the opposite conclusion. Also in the original survey, unanswered questions left blank had been filled in with “imputed values,” presumably by Stewart.
Both the journal that originally published the paper and Florida State University were reluctant to retract the paper or to take action against Stewart. However, the university’s hand was forced by the discovery of five other papers by Stewart that were also based on falsified data. Once that came to light, Stewart abruptly left his $190,000 position at the university.
Perhaps Professor Stewart faked data for grants or due to the pressure to publish. Perhaps he was convinced his theories were correct and too important to be proven wrong. Whatever the case, the data was falsified in support of ideas central to Critical Race Theory, and the consequences were more than merely academic. It’s hard not to believe that his studies have been used to shape policy when he’s garnered over $3.5 million in grant funding from taxpayer-funded organizations.
The more recent scandal involves Ibram X. Kendi’s Center for Antiracist Research at Boston University. Kendi authored How to Be an Antiracist, a book that shot to the top of The New York Times bestseller list and remained there for nearly a year. Boston University launched a center dedicated to Kendi’s ideas and hired him to head it. By the end of 2021, the center had collected over $45 million in funding.
Despite that funding, the center recently laid off about half its staff due to significant budgetary problems. A few initiatives had been launched, but the center produced minimal research. Staffers accused the center of a dysfunctional work environment and mismanagement.
Unlike the leaders of the Black Lives Matter organization, Kendi has not been accused of misappropriating donations, though he commands extraordinarily high speaking fees. This seems to be a case of an academic superstar put in charge of a center, who lays out ambitious goals, but is not competent to run it.
Clearly, Kendi wasn’t properly vetted by the university or by donors. The corporations that donated clearly ignored an argument central to Kendi’s antiracism, that capitalism is oppressive and should be dismantled.
Each incident underscores both the pervasive influence of Critical Theory on academic culture and its flaws as a theory. Like all ideas, Critical Theory and its offshoots (Critical Race Theory, intersectionality, Queer Theory, and others) have consequences. Like all bad ideas, it has victims.
For the sake of truth and out of love for our neighbors, Christians must be prepared to push back against these bad ideas. This requires understanding these ideas and responding to them with competence and grace for the people who hold them.
Critical Dilemma: The Rise of Critical Theories and Social Justice Ideology is such a crucial resource right now. Authors Shenvi and Sawyer take seriously the worldview behind various versions of Critical Theory, identify each version’s central ideas, and define key terms such as “intersectionality,” “antiracism,” “privilege,” “wokeness,” “heteronormativity,” and others. They trace the history of these ideas and offer a thorough response from a Christian worldview. As our way of saying thank you for a gift to the Colson Center this month, you can receive a copy of Critical Dilemma by Drs. Neil Shenvi and Pat Sawyer. To request a copy, go to colsoncenter.org/October.
This Breakpoint was co-authored by Dr. Glenn Sunshine. For more resources to live like a Christian in this cultural moment, go to breakpoint.org.
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