Thursday, January 13, 2022
There is a major fight unfolding over free speech and academic freedom at the University of Washington where computer science Professor Stuart Reges has been ordered to remove a statement from his syllabus. After the university encouraged faculty to add a prewritten “Indigenous land acknowledgement” statement to their syllabi, Reges decided to write his own statement. He has now been told that, while the university statement is optional, his statement is unacceptable because it questions the indigenous land claim of the Coast Salish people.
The school provided a recommended statement for all faculty to post and/or read to their students at the first of every course:
“The University of Washington acknowledges the Coast Salish peoples of this land, the land which touches the shared waters of all tribes and bands within the Suquamish, Tulalip and Muckleshoot nations.”
Professor Reges disagrees with that statement and expressed his doubts to the faculty while also noting that “Magda” did not want the faculty to discuss such reservations on the email system. That may be a reference to the Director of the Paul G. Allen School of Computer Science & Engineering Magdalena Balazinska.
Reges’ alternative statement read:
“I acknowledge that by the labor theory of property the Coast Salish people can claim historical ownership of almost none of the land currently occupied by the University of Washington.”
The labor theory (which I teach) is generally a reference to the theory of John Locke. In this Second Treatise, Locke laid the foundation for property as a divine gift of God that began in the state of nature where all was created in common by God. Here is the key passage:
“The labor of his body, and the work of his hands we may say are properly his Whatsoever, then, he removes out of the state that nature hath provided and left it in he hath mixed his labor with, and joined it to something that is his own, and thereby makes it his property. It being by him removed from the common state Nature placed it in, it hath by this labour something annexed to it, that excludes the common right of other Men. For this Labour being the unquestionable Property of the Labourer, no Man but he can have a right to what that is once joyned to, at least where there is enough, and as good left in common for others.”
Reges clearly believes that the claim of the university land was not sufficiently used or developed to bestow a claim upon the Coast Salish people, which is a broad collection of different groups that stretched from British Columbia to Oregon. The association is based on ethnic or linguistic associations.
At one time, this would have been treated as an interesting foundation for an academic debate over the meaning of ownership, Western v. indigenous views of property, and related issues. There is also the question of whether sweeping claims to such lands violates “Locke’s Proviso” to leave “as good left in common for others.”
This controversy is almost too good to be true. It has everything!
Jonathan Turley. A must follow on twitter.