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'Grievance studies' hoax professor says he resigned facing investigation for promoting book

Peter Boghossian's new organization fights for "cognitive liberty," includes MMA associate of Conor McGregor.

Updated: September 13, 2021 - 10:21pm

Portland State University banned Peter Boghossian from conducting research in 2019 after he tricked academic journal editors into accepting made-up "grievance studies" papers on subjects including rape culture at dog parks and a feminist version of "Mein Kampf."

The atheist philosopher, whose first successful academic prank involved the "conceptual penis," had failed to get Institutional Review Board (IRB) approval for "human subjects" research, according to the public university.

He drew global headlines last week for his open resignation letter, accusing PSU of becoming a "Social Justice factory" based on race, gender and victimhood, where students are "trained to mimic the moral certainty of ideologues" rather than cultivate critical thinking skills.

Boghossian nearly endured a second IRB investigation in recent months, and it helped convince the untenured professor that 10 years was enough at PSU, he told Just the News in a phone interview Monday. 

An administrator "shamelessly" accused him of unauthorized research for using the word "investigation" in a tweet promoting his book on "impossible conversations," because the professor's Amazon author page mentions his PSU affiliation.

"It was at that point that I said to myself, 'Holy s--t, these people will stop at nothing'" to get him fired, Boghossian said, choosing to delete the tweet. Just the News has been unable to find an archived version.

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PSU spokesperson Christine Williams said she couldn't comment on the allegation "because it is directly tied to a personnel action." 

Boghossian is already on to his next project as executive director of the National Progress Alliance, whose mission is promoting "cognitive liberty." The website was registered in March.

He founded the alliance to "punch the beast in the face," Boghossian said. Its board includes journalist Melissa Chen, whose group Ideas Beyond Borders translates controversial English works into Arabic; Michael Trollan, chairman of Atheists for Liberty; and Matt Thornton, a mixed-martial arts pioneer who helped train Conor McGregor.

Boghossian is planning to post a series of short videos later this month on woke definitions of common words such as "equity." Other video series in the works are by fellow Portlanders Lyell Asher, a professor at Lewis & Clark College, and journalist Nancy Rommelmann, as well as Smith College whistleblower Jodi Shaw.

Scholars demand investigation

The professor made his name at PSU by touching third rails on a regular basis. He cohosted several intellectual diversity events, with speakers including podcaster Dave Rubin, former Google engineer James Damore and anti-feminist YouTube personality Carl Benjamin.

Challenging the sacred cows of wokeness over the years had prompted frequent campus harassment, from spitting and bags of feces to swastika graffiti with his name, as well as multiple retaliatory investigations, Boghossian alleged in his public letter.

One was a murky Title IX probe for which he was given few details, other than the complainant was a white male. Students interviewed for the investigation told him they were asked whether Boghossian beats his wife and children, which "soon became a widespread rumor."

While the probe exonerated the professor, he was required to receive "coaching" and banned from teaching in a way that his opinions on "protected classes" could be gleaned.

His "abrupt" resignation prompted the Oregon Association of Scholars (OAS) to demand the PSU Board of Trustees investigate "potential abuses of authority and unprofessional conduct" from faculty union leadership and diversity staff all the way to President Stephen Percy.

Trustees forced out PSU's last president, who approved the first IRB investigation, in part for destroying emails sought in a public records request.

"The fact that one of Oregon's most significant public intellectuals cannot survive at one of our public universities speaks volumes about how those 'universities' no longer deserve the name," said OAS President Bruce Gilley, another PSU professor who has faced repeated cancelation attempts. 

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Williams, the university spokesperson, declined to answer whether PSU would consider investigating the circumstances that prompted Boghossian's resignation.

"Portland State has always been and will continue to be a welcoming home for free speech and academic freedom," her statement read. "We believe that those practices are not in conflict with our core institutional values of student success; racial justice and equity; and proactive engagement with our community."

'A feature, not a bug'

Boghossian told podcaster Bari Weiss he had become "crazy stressed out" by the constant scrutiny of critics trying to get him fired, including someone interrogating his ex-girlfriends about his sexual activities.

He refused to back down, asking "what would I be if I capitulated to them?" But eventually Boghossian said he became too paranoid to teach effectively. "I was walking on eggshells, [fearful] that someone would complain about me," he said.

The diversity of students who take his classes and appreciate his heterodoxy was "the thing that kept stringing me along," Boghossian told Just the News. He thought "if I leave, who are these people going to have?" 

Just before the COVID-19 pandemic, Boghossian said he reached the conclusion he couldn't change PSU from the inside. 

When he brought up PSU's appearance on the worst colleges for free speech list released by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, his dean allegedly told him "it's a good thing to be on these lists." Boghossian said this admission "blew my mind ... this is a feature, not a bug" of PSU.

His own official complaints about the harassment he endured went nowhere in the PSU bureaucracy, according to Boghossian. "Everywhere I was walking," he recalled, "there were posters of me with Pinocchio noses," falsely saying he was pro-life or a Donald Trump supporter.

Boghossian said he never reached the level of despair suffered by another outspoken professor, the University of North Carolina Wilmington's Mike Adams, who committed suicide last year.

He was just "genuinely bewildered" why critics would have meltdowns in response to his intellectual forays. "I am not a victim here," Boghossian said. "I fought back ... I am not some passive recipient of this."

Boghossian told Weiss he has no animus against his academic critics, whose intelligence makes them "better at reasoning to bad conclusions." They are "epistemic victims ... of an ideology" who have no reason for their faith or knowledge of their opponents, he said, paraphrasing 1 Peter 3:15.