James Young (US) is a former UKrant columnist and a former student of infamous conspiracy-theory UCG lecturer Tjeerd Andringa, who was recently suspended. Andringa asked his students for support, and James answered the call by writing him the following letter.
You were a bright light of inspiration during my time at UCG. Always pushing the envelope, challenging young minds, etc. By the time I graduated you had become one of my absolute favorite professors, and I hope I was one of your favorite students.
With that said, I absolutely cannot believe I was not invited to join your cult.
What about all the good times we had?
Like when you affirmed to me and another student that you’d prefer a dead child to an autistic one? Visionary. So brave.
Or the time you presented that famously doctored Ami Horowitz interview with those two Swedish police officers as fact? The interviewer literally asked them one set of questions, then edited in a second set of questions to make it sound like the subjects of the interview were saying something they weren’t.
It was so obviously, pathetically edited that several of the students picked up on it after just one viewing, and yet you still didn’t understand it even after being offered an enormous amount of credible evidence. Your capacity for critical thinking truly astounds. If only the rest of us could be so gifted, the world would surely look very different.
Like when you affirmed that you’d prefer a dead child to an autistic one?
Or when you assigned background reading that included a list of ‘false flag events’ and links to some of the least reputable conspiracy websites around, with absolutely no opposing views? Your students liked that assignment so much that some of them saved it and now still have it years later. That’s what I call a lasting impact.
Or the time you told a student how much better looking she’d become since starting at UCG, you said you ‘loved how much thinner she was’ since according to you it made her look less like her nationality. Remember that? I do. So does she, as do several other people. You really know how to make an impression, and I’m sure your reassurance that you ‘meant it as a compliment’ really helped her feel safe.
Or the time some of your students mentioned the Uyghur Genocide in one of their papers and you marked them down for it? Always on the lookout to protect your students from misinformation. You let them know it was ‘fake’ and ‘American propaganda to excuse boycotting the 2008 Olympics’. They sure deserved that 1 they got.
Or the time you asked students to rate sources for reliability and marked them down when they had the nerve to say sources like CNN, The NY Times, and the BBC were more reliable than some Word-art chemtrails website?
See? I think back so fondly on the time spent in your presence, so imagine how left out I felt when I heard you were luring students to your compound to preach to them about the ‘dominance of the Jew’. Alternative truths? I wrote the Alternative Facts column for UKrant for years!
That sort of stuff is right up my alley. What else could I have done to prove I’d be an excellent cultist? Plus, a fusion of religious theory and BDSM? That’s like, my perfect afternoon and you still didn’t invite me?! My disappointment is immeasurable and my year is ruined.
Heartbreak aside, I digress. You suggested your students write in on your behalf, and I’m here to do just that.
Alternative truths? I wrote the Alternative Facts column for UKrant for years
I hear you’ve gotten yourself into a bit of a pickle. Don’t worry, I can help set the record straight. While other, less enlightened minds might say you’ve ‘gone off the deep end’, and call what you’ve been teaching recently ‘abusive’ or ‘delusional’, I, for one, recognize it for what it is: a breakthrough pedagogical innovation for the ages.
Teaching critical thinking by confronting students with cartoonishly stupid claims that you’re unable to back up with facts? Genius. It’s a perfect introduction to skepticism.
Adding on a firsthand demonstration about how a position of authority can be maliciously leveraged to lend undeserved legitimacy while simultaneously skirting oversight? Fantastic.
Doing all of that as though you’re completely serious, and to first years who have never experienced a higher-level institution before? It’s the cherry on top, the pièce de résistance. A tour de force in all the things one would hope those students will learn to be wary of.
If the board doesn’t get it, please, show them this letter. I could even call in and speak on your behalf, and would love to refer them to multiple people who can corroborate all my happy memories of learning from you.
I send my love and my full support of your resignation,
PS: What happened, Tjeerd? This is a disgrace. Grading papers based on whether or not a student says they agree with you indicates a total lack of integrity. Your unwillingness or inability to engage with even first year students who question your views is not only sad, it’s evidence of complete intellectual bankruptcy on your part. If having ‘thought about it for longer’ is your defense when being questioned you shouldn’t be teaching.
You always did seem to have wackier views. The above anecdotes seem especially bad when written all together, but they’re years’ worth of odd things that would happen every couple months. You took the mask off infrequently enough that people always had time to forget. People didn’t report things because most of the time you were cordial, and when you took off the tinfoil hat you were an interesting lecturer. I and most other people judged you to be harmless. I have since re-evaluated this judgment.
The fact that you buy into the conspiracy doesn’t make you enlightened, it makes you gullible
The fact that you actually consider this drivel to be even remotely comparable to actual critical analysis (a vital part of all academic pursuits) is horrifying. It cannot be sanctioned, implicitly or explicitly by the university. There are actual, substantial conversations to be had in academia that require a critical examination of existing dogma, but that examination requires rigor.
Careful, thoughtful analysis of actual empirical data, and consideration of actual facts is not a step you can cut out. The fact that you repeatedly buy into the conspiracy du jour (remember assigning a YouTube video on Pizzagate in 2017?) doesn’t make you enlightened, it makes you gullible.
People who ask questions are both crucial and under-appreciated. We would all be better off if there was more glory in trying to replicate the findings of others.
All of my most memorable experiences in class at UCG came from examining things that people missed or got wrong in published work. Meno Rol’s class on policy was a granular analysis of similar policies implemented in different regions, looking at why they failed in some places and succeeded in others. In the capstone course I took, my partner and I identified a glaring statistical error in a paper from a researcher at a really prestigious university. The error completely invalidated their findings and somehow got through peer review.
What I’m trying to say is that the role of the critic is vital, and your attempted appropriation of that is infuriating. Unfortunately, it also makes you hard to hold accountable without allowing for an unjust deflection onto institutions and ideas that I care deeply about. You’re all for ‘critical thinking’ until your students think critically about what you’re saying.
Perhaps you yourself should enroll at the faculty, there’s a lot you could learn from it
From my own experience you are well practiced at presenting yourself as though you’re ‘merely’ offering an opposing viewpoint, and ironically you use that stance to imply that you yourself are free from the criticism you supposedly hold in such high regard.
What you purport to offer in your classes and what you falsely claim this controversy is about is not unique. The university would lose nothing special from your departure.
Every class at UCG offers multiple viewpoints. Reading one paper, and then a scathing critique of that same paper in the same day was common practice while I studied there. Students regularly disagree with their lecturers and make strange arguments and aren’t marked down for it so long as they adhere to high academic standards.
Perhaps you yourself should enroll at the faculty. There’s a lot I think you could learn from it.
After careful critical reflection, I’ve come to believe that your approach to ‘scholarship’ has the potential to cause serious harm. I can only hope your current students have escaped unscathed. Your grading alone should disqualify you from being allowed to teach at the university, and that’s only considering the academic integrity aspect of it.
Grooming students for some sort of antisemetic cult is not scholarship
The other aspect is professionalism. The attempt to throw chaff into the investigation by crying your disdain for bureaucracy is an unsurprising continuation of your seeming inability to engage directly with those who question you.
Without closer inspection the ‘cancel culture’ argument almost holds water. True, no one should be worried about where their scholarship takes them. However, commenting on a student’s figure is not scholarship. Telling a student, “well, you’re not that kind of autistic” is not scholarship. Grooming students for some sort of antisemetic cult is not scholarship.
Your presence at the university is an affront to an institution that I hold near and dear to my heart. This column is a pale attempt to express with words how angry that makes me.
If you have any respect left for yourself, the university, or academia as a whole you must resign.