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Coppedge Meets Kafka

When I first read the complaint filed in the David Coppedge case against NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, I had a sense of déjà vu. Something similar happened to me in college.

As Jay Richards points out, a striking thing about the computer specialist’s experience with the thought police is the way he was punished by Darwinist supervisors (for occasionally distributing samizdat documentaries on intelligent design) after having already agreed to abide by the outrageous demand to stop loaning out the DVDs and talking about intelligent design. There’s no indication he did anything other than keep his promise. Yet his supervisor came down hard on him, stripping Coppedge of a prestigious title and position, embarrassing him in front of colleagues. In Kafkaesque fashion, Coppedge received a formal written warning (against promoting ID) at the very same meeting where he was informed of his punishment.

With me, the issue wasn’t evolution but race. I was a junior at the time, at Brown, beginning the year as a counselor on a freshman hall and as a new columnist on the Brown Daily Herald. My inaugural column objected to the way well intended liberal race policies on campus — for example, allowing racially exclusive black fraternities and sororities — unwittingly promoted racial separatism. Sadly, black and white students ended up eating and socializing separately, taking different classes, and so on. Boy, was I ever naive. When the column came out I realized I had ticked off not only the black fraternities and sororities — graffiti such as “F–K YOUR RACIST A–” appeared on my door — but, worse, the university administration.

The dean of freshmen reprimanded me and appointed a student committee to monitor my counseling. For protesting racism, I stood accused of racism. The student committee — headed by a guy whose name was, no kidding, Josh Kafka — informed me that I was also being investigated for not spending enough time counseling. Kafka warned me to shape up or I’d be out of the counseling job and also out of my dorm room.

Of course, I did not have at stake anything like what David Coppedge does. I didn’t have a career or a reputation. Still, I was properly scared of being in trouble and losing a stipend so, like Coppedge, I did everything I could to comply. I didn’t write even one more word about race. I was scrupulous about being an affable, available counselor.

Which got me nowhere. Like Coppedge, even as I went about trying to save my job, I had already been condemned. Before long, Josh Kafka and his committee recommended that I be terminated as a counselor. A dean invited me to appeal only to inform me, on arriving in his office, that the final decision had been made. I was told to clear out of my dorm room immediately and find somewhere else to live.

Let’s hope David Coppedge fares better.

I don’t know, by the way, what became of Josh Kafka with his wonderful name. But in a rest-stop men’s room off Interstate 95, the dean was later arrested for soliciting an undercover police officer. Additional proof, perhaps, that God has a sense of humor after all.

Photo: University Hall, Brown University, by Apavlo [GFDL or CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons.

David Klinghoffer

Senior Fellow and Editor, Evolution News
David Klinghoffer is a Senior Fellow at Discovery Institute and the editor of Evolution News & Science Today, the daily voice of Discovery Institute’s Center for Science & Culture, reporting on intelligent design, evolution, and the intersection of science and culture. Klinghoffer is also the author of six books, a former senior editor and literary editor at National Review magazine, and has written for the Los Angeles Times, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, Seattle Times, Commentary, and other publications. Born in Santa Monica, California, he graduated from Brown University in 1987 with an A.B. magna cum laude in comparative literature and religious studies. David lives near Seattle, Washington, with his wife and children.



Brown UniversityDavid CoppedgeInterstate 95Jay RichardsJet Propulsion LaboratoryJosh KafkaNASAPoliticsViews