Portland State University is under attack for sheltering a professor currently facing a professional blacklist for defending colonialism.
Bruce Gilley, an associate professor of political science at PSU, is being rebuked by his peers in the academic world for writing an article in the scholarly publication Third World Quarterly called “the case for colonialism.”
A report on the College Fix on September 18 states that the peer-reviewed publication and its publishers at Routledge are facing calls from scholars and students to retract the piece and replace the journal’s editors for allowing the piece to go through.
In the piece, Gilley explores the history of Western colonialism and takes a scholarly look at the widely-maligned historical efforts of colonialists to spread civilization worldwide. He compares cases of countries before, during and after the advent of colonialism, and argues for its merits, stating that colonized societies benefited despite the well-documented negatives.
In Gilley’s contentious article, the PSU professor argues that opposition to colonialism tends to be reflexive, and not based on reason. He states that the strain of anti-colonialist thought tends to be historically revisionist and shortsighted. He criticizes it for ignoring atrocities done in service of anti-colonial nationalism.
“In our ‘age of apology’ for atrocities, one of the many conspicuous silences has been an apology for the many atrocities visited upon Third World peoples by anti-colonial advocates,” Gilley wrote, arguing that colonialist states should also consider a limited form of “recolonialization” or foreign intervention to aid consenting populations whose criminal justice and public finance systems are in disarray.
His argument prompted outrage on social media, including calls from Indian historian Vijay Prashad to threaten resignation from the editorial board of Third World Quarterly unless the piece was retracted. In a series of tweets, Prashad described the article as “execrable” and “badly argued.”
The founder of Current Affairs, Nathan Robinson, slammed Gilley and his article by calling it “the moral equivalent of Holocaust denial” in a piece titled “a quick reminder of why colonialism is bad.”
“Gilley’s article is a truly extraordinary piece of work. It’s hard to believe, at first, that it isn’t a Sokal-esque satire intended to prove how normalized abhorrent opinions are,” wrote Robinson. “But it appears to be sincere.”
Littering his piece with provocative images of indigenous people living under oppression, Robinson accuses Gilley of “distorting” the historical record to make a case for colonialism by “concealing evidence of gross crimes against humanity.”
The outrage against the professor has also prompted two petitions on Change.org by activists outside the U.S. calling for the piece to be retracted and the journal’s editors sacked. Jenny Heijun Wills, director of the Critical Race Network at the University of Winnipeg launched a petition against Gilley, condemning him for holding “white supremacist” views. Maxine Horton launched a similar petition. Horton claims that she doesn’t want to curtail his freedom of speech but instead “hold ourselves and our colleagues in academia to higher standards than this.” Both petitions have a combined total of nearly 18,000 signatures.
In a statement to College Fix, Margaret Everett, interim provost at PSU defended Gilley’s academic freedom to explore the controversial subject and express his views.
“Academic freedom is critical to the open debate and free exchange of knowledge and argument. Because of Portland State University’s commitment to academic freedom, we acknowledge the right of all our faculty to explore scholarship and to speak, write and publish a variety of viewpoints and conclusions. The university also respects the rights of others to express counter views and to engage in vigorous and constructive debate about the faculty’s work.”
However, PSU students and alumni disagree and are calling for him to lose his job at the institution.