Longtime PSU instructor quits, citing harassment, lack of free speech

By Meerah Powell (OPB)
Sept. 9, 2021 6:58 p.m.

In his resignation letter, Peter Boghossian - known for his ‘hoax’ articles - says Portland State has turned into a ‘Social Justice factory’

Portland State University

Portland State University

Hanin Najjar / OPB

Peter Boghossian, an associate professor who taught philosophy at Portland State University for the past decade, resigned Wednesday.


Boghossian was a controversial figure at PSU — hosting a variety of contentious viewpoints from guest lecturers and gaining both flak and praise for the co-publishing of “hoax” papers.

In his resignation letter, published online, Boghossian said university administrators had continuously limited free speech, and favored viewpoints focused on racial equity, social justice and similar ideologies.

Most recently, Boghossian taught a “Science & Pseudoscience” class as well as a critical thinking class this past spring term. He was a full-time faculty member, though he was not tenured or tenure-track, according to PSU’s philosophy department webpage.

During his time at PSU, Boghossian opened his classes to guest lecturers, ranging from “Flat-Earthers” to climate change skeptics to advocates of the Occupy Wall Street movement, in order to spur discussion, according to his letter.

“[B]rick by brick, the university has made this kind of intellectual exploration impossible. It has transformed a bastion of free inquiry into a Social Justice factory whose only inputs were race, gender, and victimhood and whose only outputs were grievance and division,” he wrote.

He said he received pushback during his time at the school when he began publicly asking questions about how “trigger warnings and safe spaces contribute to student learning,” why racial consciousness should be at the forefront for educators, and how cultural appropriation came to be “immoral.”


“The more I spoke out about these issues, the more retaliation I faced,” Boghossian wrote.

He said in the 2016-17 academic year, a former student lodged a complaint against him which turned into a Title IX investigation. It was concluded that Boghossian did not violate PSU’s discrimination and harassment policy, though it was recommended that he receive coaching, he said.

In the following years, Boghossian co-published a series of hoax papers, including one which argued “that penises were products of the human mind and responsible for climate change,” in order to expose the flaws of peer-reviewing in academia.

He said he faced harassment in the form of “swastikas in the bathroom with my name under them” and “bags of feces” by his office door.

“Our university remained silent,” Boghossian wrote. “When it acted, it was against me, not the perpetrators.”

In 2019, PSU’s institutional review board found Boghossian committed “research misconduct” by writing the hoax papers, specifically by not receiving approval before researching on “human subjects” — the journal editors that accepted the articles.

Boghossian stated that PSU has failed its duty of providing “the freedom to question.”

“While I am grateful for the opportunity to have taught at Portland State for over a decade, it has become clear to me that this institution is no place for people who intend to think freely and explore ideas,” Boghossian wrote.

He said he felt “morally obligated” to resign from the school.

“Portland State has always been and will continue to be a welcoming home for free speech and academic freedom,” PSU said in a statement. “We believe that those practices are not in conflict with our core institutional values of student success; racial justice and equity; and proactive engagement with our community.”

The university did not give specific comment on Boghossian’s resignation, as it does not comment on “personnel matters.”