Not only was Jeff ostracized, he was effectively erased. None of the faculty talked about him, if they could possibly avoid it. Meanwhile, our department chair opened most faculty meetings by solemnly intoning that our department was a community, a family, and that “we’re here for each other.” In private conversations, I was able to elicit from some of my colleagues an embarrassed acknowledgment that the woke faction had treated Jeff abominably, and that we strongly resembled a dysfunctional family in denial.
Defenestration of a Colleague
I’ve been a professor in the Anthropology Department at UCLA since 1996; I received tenure in 2000. My research has spanned topics ranging from nonhuman primate behavior to human personality variation. For decades, anthropology has been notorious for conflict between the scientific and political activist factions in the field, leading many departments to split in two. But UCLA’s department remained unusually peaceful, cohesive, and intellectually inclusive until the late 2000s.
Gradually, one hire at a time, practitioners of “critical” (i.e. leftist, postmodernist) anthropology, some of them lying about their beliefs during job interviews, came to comprise the department’s most influential clique. These militant faculty members recruited even more militant graduate students to work with them.
I can’t recount here even a representative sample of this faction’s penchant for mendacity and intimidation, because most of it occurred during confidential discussions, usually about hiring and promotion decisions. But I can describe their public torment and humiliation of one of my colleagues, P. Jeffrey Brantingham.
Jeff had developed simulation models of the geographic and temporal patterning of urban crime, and had created predictive software that he marketed to law enforcement agencies. In Spring 2018, the department’s Anthropology Graduate Students Association passed a resolution accusing Jeff’s research of, among other counter-revolutionary sins, “entrench[ing] and naturaliz[ing] the criminalization of Blackness in the United States” and calling for “referring” his research to UCLA’s Vice Chancellor for Research, presumably for some sort of investigation. This document contained no trace of scholarly argument, but instead resembled a religious proclamation of anathema.
As you won’t be surprised to hear, Jeff is not a racist, but a standard-issue liberal Democrat. The “referral” to the Vice-Chancellor never materialized, but the resolution and its aftermath achieved its real goal, which was to turn Jeff, who had been one of the most selfless citizens of the department, into a pariah. He taught—and still teaches—a course called “The Ecology of Crime,” which consistently drew more than 150 students and earned rave reviews. This course had a catalogue number that grouped it with sociocultural anthropology, and it fulfilled a sociocultural anthropology requirement for anthro majors.
In an act of petty spite, ritual moral purification, or both (take your pick), the woke faculty clique, which comprised a majority of the sociocultural anthro faculty, banned him from using—polluting?—any of their course numbers. (Jeff continued to offer the course, just under a different kind of number.)
Even though Jeff stopped attending faculty meetings, and in every other way accepted his punishment of permanent ostracism, his tormentors weren’t finished with him. In early March 2020, the following flyer appeared in the hallways of the anthropology department.
“Predpol” is the name of Jeff’s predictive software. The sponsoring “Institute for Inequality and Democracy” is a far-left UCLA unit whose associate director is Hannah Appel, who also holds a faculty position in anthropology. That is, a professor tried to organize a mob to demand the professional destruction of a colleague.
Within a few days after the appearance of these flyers, the pandemic lockdown confined us to our homes and the anti-police movement soon had bigger fish to fry after the murder of George Floyd. Nevertheless, Jeff remained a popular and powerful hate-figure for the department’s woke faction. On September 23, 2020, during a webinar, “The Case for Letting Anthropology Burn?” sponsored in part by the UCLA anthropology department—yes, you read that right—many of the chat comments from graduate students reviled him and called for further action against him.
The entire episode recalls a prescient observation in a 1995 article by the great psychological anthropologist Roy D’Andrade: “Isn’t it odd that the true enemy of society turns out to be that guy in the office down the hall?”
The Other Signs and Portents
Not only was Jeff ostracized, he was effectively erased. None of the faculty talked about him, if they could possibly avoid it. Meanwhile, our department chair opened most faculty meetings by solemnly intoning that our department was a community, a family, and that “we’re here for each other.” In private conversations, I was able to elicit from some of my colleagues an embarrassed acknowledgment that the woke faction had treated Jeff abominably, and that we strongly resembled a dysfunctional family in denial. This pervasive institutional doublethink was partly a result of Jeff’s own apparent decision to refrain from open confrontation: I offered to help him, by defending him publicly if he wished, after both the 2018 resolution and the 2020 flyers. He thanked me, but politely asked me to stay out of it.