UPDATE: Discrimination-Gate 2011 “Atheist Activist with an Axe to Grind”

Update: Discrimination-Gate Scandal

By David G. McAfee


                Many of you may remember a couple of weeks ago when I told the story of the head of the UCSB Religious Studies Graduate Department who called me an “atheist activist with an axe to grind”- and my subsequent rejection from the graduate program. For those of you who don’t please check out the original article for details. Shortly thereafter, I was overwhelmed with e-mails of support from secular activists, professional lawyers, and those involved with the humanist movement more broadly. I posted an article with instructions for those wishing to participate in our Letter-Writing Campaign- and had some amazing letters sent to the Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs. This weekend, we will be organizing a second campaign directing letters to the heads of UCSB and the UC system as a whole voicing support for the separation of church and state in admissions decisions and conversations between professors and students at a secular, public, university.

As you may also be aware, I met with the Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs on Monday 04/18/2011. I discussed the particulars surrounding the conversation with Professor Taves in which she alluded to my lack of religious convictions as being the reason that I would be denied entry to Graduate School at UCSB in the Religious Studies department. Thanks to this meeting, and to the many letters of support from those of you who were generous enough to give your time to writing them, I learned today that UCSB has agreed to review my application again without input from the Professor charged with discrimination. Here is a portion of the e-mail that I received from the Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs, Dr. Michael Young:


I have learned that the Religious Studies Department is prepared to give your graduate program application another review.  Professor Taves will not be involved in this review in any way. The review committee will evaluate your original application materials and will also accept any additional materials you would like them to consider”

This, in itself, is an enormous victory- but the fight is not over. I chose, for purposes of preserving the integrity of my original application, to not submit additional materials, and should be hearing back from the review committee in the coming weeks. There are two points that I’d like to stress here.

1.)    I do not expect UCSB to accept my application for enrollment based on this second review of my original application. The reason that I believe this second review will result in the same decision is that to accept me now, after my formal discrimination grievance against Professor Taves, would be to admit wrongdoing and prejudicial discrimination on behalf of Taves during the first review. If this is the case, it is hard to see a scenario in which they would be able to continue employing Taves- and I don’t see it being beneficial for their “image” to fire a tenured Professor for discrimination based on religious preferences.

2.)    Secondly, if UCSB does decide to accept my admission based on this second review of my original application, I doubt very much that I’d choose to continue my enrollment there- working directly under Professor Taves- in a department that has condoned the discrimination of atheists (as the application decision was not solely Taves’, though she assuredly made the final decision).

That being said, I will continue to push this issue as far as possible, through legal channels, in order to ensure that future applicants are not met with the same unjust acts. I will continue to be in contact with Michael Newdow, leaders from various secular organizations across the country, and Americans United for Separation of Church and State in order to be sure that we receive- at minimum- a formal apology by Taves or the university, as well as the amount of publicity necessary to make sure that atheist students are given equal opportunities in secular, public, colleges across the United States.

Yours in reason,

David G. McAfee

Disproving Christianity Refuting the Worlds Most Followed Religion

Disproving Christianity Refuting the Worlds Most Followed Religion

10 responses to “UPDATE: Discrimination-Gate 2011 “Atheist Activist with an Axe to Grind”

  1. Look, I’m an atheist too, and like you I despise harmful discrimination in all its forms. But you need to be clear on this: you are very much “an atheist with an axe to grind,” and this is a perfectly legitimate reason for you to be denied admission to this graduate program.

    Your work is not academically rigorous, and that you seem to think it is (by way of including it along with your application) shows that you do not understand this. Why would this program admit you if you don’t even understand what quality academic work is like? Please, go to the Religious Studies program’s webpage and look at faculty research interests. Now tell me, how does something like “disproving Christianity” look next to those? I hope you see my point.

    This battle of yours is severely misguided. The problem has nothing to do with your atheism; in fact, I’m sure more than a few atheists are employed by the department. You will not get into this program, and you won’t get anyone in trouble. You’ve only received support because, to the non-academic, it does look a little like religious discrimination, but it’s not. You risk embarrassing yourself here.

    • @Ian I normally try not to get involved with comments on my own posts, especially the negative ones. But you are somewhat misguided in some of your assumptions and it’s causing you to continually post ignorant responses. I’m not here to argue with the conclusions you draw from a situation to which you were not a witness, but instead to clarify a few things.

      1.) “you are very much “an atheist with an axe to grind,” and this is a perfectly legitimate reason for you to be denied admission to this graduate program.”
      -No, it isn’t. Being an activist of any kind on your own time is NOT grounds for rejection from any public university. Do you think Taves would have IMMEDIATELY dismissed an otherwise qualified candidate who had worked as a Christian missionary in the past? I can answer definitively (as I know one within her program) NO. What is a missionary but an activist on behalf of Christianity? The difference is whether or not I let my activism be reflected in my SCHOLARLY work- which I do not. Also, take care to notice that I did not provide Taves a copy of my book as it does not reflect the type of work that I would be engaged in within the Graduate School setting- just as it has not influenced my writing as an undergraduate. She found out about my work- which is done on my own time- through a simple internet search.

      2.) “Your work is not academically rigorous, and that you seem to think it is (by way of including it along with your application)”
      – I did not include the book- or any of my secular writings- in my application. My scholarly interests as a religious studies graduate student wouldn’t be “Disproving Christianity”- but to study historical, philosophical, and ethical relationships between religions from a phenomenological approach.

      • There must be more than one “Ian” here because I’ve only posted the above comment.

        I’ve thought a little more about the situation and just wanted to say that it’s *really* in your best interest to remove all of the posts related to this incident. From a graduate admissions standpoint (which I am regularly involved with), this whole ordeal paints you in a very bad light. I’d suggest you listen to the academics involved in this discussion — we know best.

  2. I am confident, based on anyone’s level of bachelorette studies, that David far exceeded any of his competition’s level of publishing. How many people who have just finished their bachelor’s degree do you know who have published their own book and blog? His closest competitor probably just probably finished their degree in beer-drinking. David put any of his peers to shame. The only reason for rejecting him was for non-belief. His professor was afraid he would shatter her precious but fragile beliefs, regardless of what he would add to knowledge.

    • @Rudy: I was a graduate student at UCSB, department of anthropolgy, downstairs from Religious studies and I had routine interaction with them. Take it from someone who knows these people, to characterize the grad students in the department as having “just probably finished their degree in beer-drinking” shows nothing but your own ignorance of the graduate students there. Quite a few have publications going in, and those who don’t have produced sufficient work as undergraduates to demonstrate that they are to be taken seriously as scholars.

      Many of the religious studies students there are, in fact, atheists. Many of them find religious belief itself very strange, which is part of what makes them want to study it. All of them make a point, though, of addressing their research in a serious manner, which means not drawing conclusions prior to beginning the work.

    • @Rudy “I am confident” — as are all faithbots, but what you need is evidence, not ignorant proclamations. Neither what you wrote, nor the “reasoning” of David’s #1 above qualifies as rational thought; the notion that, if he were accepted upon a second review without Taves, that alone would necessitate firing Taves is ludicrous.

      • #3 “the notion that, if he were accepted upon a second review without Taves, that alone would necessitate firing Taves is ludicrous.”
        – I did not say- and I do not believe- that the school would NECESSARILY have to fire Taves if I were to be accepted upon a secondary review. What I mean to say is that after filing a discrimination grievance and being granted a second review, to accept my application (after I submitted NO additional materials, as you noted) would imply that my claim of discrimination is valid- and there would likely be some retribution there.

  3. Ian said it very well, but I’d like to add: The quote you provide from Vice Chancellor Young about the review committee includes an important flag (“…will also accept any additional materials you would like them to consider”). Basically, that was an open offer from him for you to re-evaluate what you’d submitted and add anything that would indicate your capability for graduate-level scholarship — which you declined to do.

    • @walkamungus — indeed. David apparently doesn’t consider it possible that the reason that “this second review will result in the same decision” could be that the evidence before both review committees is not adequate to support admitting him. Any honest academic would at least *consider* that possibility. But, by saying that he has prejudged the outcome, is withholding additional materials, and won’t go through with it anyway, he is demonstrating his own bad faith. Michael Newdow and AU would be unwise to get entangled with this and I will do what I can to see to it that my own freethinker organization stays clear.

      • #4 “David apparently doesn’t consider it possible that the reason that “this second review will result in the same decision” could be that the evidence before both review committees is not adequate to support admitting him.”
        – I do, indeed, consider this possibility. Applying for a Graduate School where one also attended undergrad is difficult in itself because the schools hope to promote diversity in this way. And, AS I STATED, I declined to submit additional materials because I believe that the application met the standards of the department the first time- and to add additional materials for a second review would skew the decision regarding whether or not the rejection was, in fact, discrimination or that I simply hadn’t submitted sufficient writing samples.

        All of this, however, is beside the point that Professor Taves’s words (while she claims to have chosen them carefully) were unnecessary and unprofessional- even if her personal views had nothing to do with the outcome of my application.

        That’s all I will say for now, and I hope this clarifies some of the misunderstandings that you seem to be promoting in these comments. If you would like additional information or have questions regarding specific encounters between myself and Taves or UCSB, please feel free to contact me personally at David@DavidGMcAfee.com.

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