Thursday, June 20, 2019

Removing portraits — a mistaken approach to promoting diversity in medicine

The walls were entirely bare. Thirty-one oil portraits of medical and scientific leaders that had made the room distinctive were gone. Images of Harvey Cushing, Soma Weiss, George Thorn, Eugene Braunwald — and other historic figures — had been removed.

I’d been to the Bornstein auditorium of Brigham and Women’s Hospital many times during 40 years on the Harvard Medical School faculty and nine years as its dean. But when I arrived in the early morning several weeks ago to lecture to the hospital’s storied department of medicine, I was startled upon entering the familiar venue.

A year earlier, The Boston Globe reported that the portraits would be removed as part of a diversity initiative, but I hadn’t seen the result. What I experienced was not diversity, but sterility.

The room was empty, and I snapped a photo of the bare walls. As the audience assembled, two senior professors greeted me. When I queried them about the missing portraits, both seemed uncomfortable. Loss of the portraits was sad, they said, but looking around to ensure they weren’t overheard, they said discussion was “no longer possible.”

After introduction by the chief resident, I delivered my lecture, the bare walls a constant reminder of the missing portraits. Later that day I tweeted my reaction.

The response to the tweet was mixed. Some praised me for my “bravery” in addressing this, while others suggested I should have been more sensitive to the unwelcoming environment the portraits created for some in the community.

Why should this be? Today’s Brigham is increasingly diverse with respect to gender and underrepresented minorities, but nearly all the portraits were of white men.

The gap between portraiture and current workforce was obvious, and addressing it fell to Brigham’s CEO, Elizabeth Nabel, a physician-scientist who had trained in medicine and cardiology at the Brigham 30 years earlier. She concluded that removing the portraits would foster a more welcoming environment for the increasingly diverse community of employees, students, trainees, and faculty. And then — overnight — the portraits were gone. Some were redistributed to other, less public, locations, raising the question of how such relocation would promote diversity or create a more welcoming environment.

Reactions to removal of the Bornstein portraits varied. Some who couldn’t decouple the portraits from prior exclusion of women and minorities cheered.

Others supported the portraits as a means to recognize past accomplishments, despite the subjects living at a time of limited opportunities for women and minorities. But voicing such views today is not without risk. As I discovered on Twitter, discussion is less likely when those questioning the change are probably going to be characterized as members of a white patriarchy indifferent to concerns of women and minorities.

My tweet inspired discussion and reflection. I concluded that, despite some valid concerns, removing all the portraits from this historic amphitheater — in this way — was a mistake. Celebrating diversity doesn’t require erasing or suppressing the memories of those who contributed greatly to the institution and the profession — people whose work continues to have impact today.

This issue is not restricted to the Brigham. In Harvard’s historic psychology department, portraits of its founder, William James, famed psychologist B.F. Skinner, and other leaders were removed for similar reasons. Such events have broad cultural significance.

Institutions commission portraits to acknowledge past contributions and to narrate institutional history, and their public display highlights important issues. In this case, American medicine — and medicine elsewhere — was for much of its history largely closed to women and minorities. The first women were admitted to Harvard Medical School in 1945, and the first woman was appointed full professor in 1946. Black medical students were few in number until 1968, when faculty pressure happily produced a sustained effort to increase their numbers.

But display or removal of portraits doesn’t change history or current practice. The latter requires culture and policy to evolve. Brigham and HMS now aggressively seek equal opportunity for women and minorities, reflected in broadly increased participation by students, residents, faculty, and CEOs. Women represent half of entering medical students and lead programs and departments throughout the school. Underrepresented minorities have also advanced, though their numbers are smaller than their share of the population, so more remains to be done.

We should seek to learn from this story of substantial progress — rather than hide it from view.

Some wish to judge those who lived at a time when different values prevailed, but this is hardly straightforward. Unlike disputed portraits and statuary related to slavery and the Civil War, these men made contributions to medicine and research that stand up well to current scrutiny. Early in Brigham history, actions of single individuals wouldn’t have diversified the workforce — that required major shifts in societal values. More recent leaders played essential roles in promoting today’s more diverse community.

History and context matter, and should be accurately communicated in any effort at portrait renewal.

Removing all the historic amphitheater portraits — leaving bare walls in their place for the past year — won’t advance diversity. What might? An array of art that reflects today’s rapidly changing physician leadership, while recognizing essential but less male-dominated health-related professions, such as nursing and social work.

Perhaps a rotating subset of older portraits displayed alongside newly commissioned works — with the reasons for the choices conveyed in historically informed commentary. As images of women and minorities join those of past leaders, the divide between limited past diversity and the more diverse present would diminish. And importantly, newly configured portraiture could provide an essential lesson: that diversity and inclusion are hard-won victories that should neither be hidden nor taken for granted.

Gender and ethnicity must cease being barriers to positions and recognition. As that day approaches, public portraiture should be reconfigured to promote pride in institutional history, education about the difficult path to progress, and a welcoming environment for today’s diverse communities.


Atheists Drop $1 Billion Church Suit

An atheist group has dropped its attempt to strip American pastors of their tax exemption for housing.

The Freedom from Religion Foundation will not appeal an appeals court decision that said the federal government is allowed to exempt priests, pastors, rabbis, and other religious instructors from paying taxes on the housing they receive, ending an eight-year legal battle.

The suit threatened to cost clergymen $1 billion if successful, but Chicago's Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals rejected the foundation's argument that such a tax break violated the Constitution's establishment clause. The three judge panel, citing previous Supreme Court rulings, found that, "Providing a tax exemption does not ‘connote sponsorship, financial support, and active involvement of the [government] in religious activity.'"

"Its principal effect is neither to endorse nor to inhibit religion, and it does not cause excessive government entanglement," the court ruled unanimously in March.

The Freedom from Religion Foundation had until Thursday evening to appeal the suit to the Supreme Court, but allowed it to expire rather than challenge the ruling further. The foundation filed the suit after several officers attempted to have their own income exempted and argued they were discriminated against when they failed to qualify as a minister. Foundation co-president Annie Laurie Gaylor said in an email to the Washington Free Beacon that the foundation stands by the merits of the suit. She blamed the make-up of the Supreme Court following President Trump's appointments of Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh for the decision to not pursue the case further.

"We have full confidence in the legal merits of our challenge of the discriminatory pastoral housing allowance privileges," Gaylor said. "We did not, however, have confidence in the current Supreme Court."

The Appeals Court faulted the foundation for failing to provide historical evidence demonstrating that any tax break should be seen as a government endorsement of religion. State and local governments in the United States have been giving churches tax exemptions out of deference to their charitable missions, and the federal government began adopting such policies as early as 1802, according to the court.

"FFRF offers no evidence that provisions like § 107(2) were historically viewed as an establishment of religion," the ruling said. "The government and intervenors, and amici curiae supporting their position, have provided substantial evidence of a lengthy tradition of tax exemptions for religion."

Religious liberty groups were pleased to see the suit dropped. The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, a pro-bono law firm that joined the case on behalf of several churches, said the suit threatened to impose a $1 billion burden on clergymen. It would have particularly harmed small churches in low-income neighborhoods. Pastor Chris Butler of the predominantly African-American Chicago Embassy Church, who was represented by Becket, called the end of the case "a victory for all houses of worship."

"This is a victory for all houses of worship that serve needy communities across the country," Pastor Butler said in a release. "I am grateful that my church can still be a home for South Side Chicago's at-risk youth, single mothers, unemployed, homeless, addicted, victims of gang violence and others on the streets."

Luke Goodrich, vice president and senior counsel at Becket, faulted the plaintiffs for ignoring the extensive carveouts in the tax code that benefit workers of all stripes and said it is misleading to claim only clergy enjoy special privileges granted by the IRS.

"The tax code has long exempted housing allowances for ministers under the same principle that it exempts housing for soldiers, diplomats, peace corps workers, prison wardens, nonprofit presidents, oil executives, school superintendents, teachers, nurses, fisherman, and many more," Goodrich said. "The court rightly recognized that providing this kind of equal treatment to churches is perfectly constitutional, and churches should be allowed to serve the neediest members of their communities without the tax man breathing down their necks."

Other religious liberty activists said they do not expect the fight to end with the Seventh Circuit. Terry Schilling, executive director of the American Principles Project, welcomed the conclusion of the suit, but said he expects atheist groups to continue chasing religion from the public square.

"Church tax exemptions, including for housing allowances, have a long history in this country, and the argument that these are somehow unconstitutional is absurd," Schilling said. "No doubt this will not stop the left from continuing to push the legal envelope in the future as they try to eradicate religion from the public square. But fortunately today, sanity has again prevailed."

Gaylor said the group feared that its appeal would have been rejected by the Supreme Court or, if it were accepted, "put the kibosh on future challenges." Gaylor, who led the suit, was "dismayed" to see it come to an end before reaching the High Court. She said she hopes to see a future attempt to bring an end to the exemption.

"We have (secular) faith that someday the Supreme Court composition will again favor the Establishment Clause and be willing to scrutinize this preferential code and declare it unconstitutional," she said. "By leaving this at the Seventh Circuit level, the Freedom From Religion Foundation is making it possible for another challenge to be taken in the future, and we hope to be part of that."


Starbucks Goes Overboard on Progressiveness, Will Provide All Transgender Surgeries for Employees Now

Starbucks has long been known for its liberal politics, but it’s drawing attention again after revealing how far the company is willing to go in the realm of activism and support for transexuals.

On Monday, the coffee giant announced its decision to cover all surgical expenses for current and future transgender employees, according to The Hill.

Since 2012, Starbucks has proclaimed great pride in funding the sometimes controversial gender reassignment surgery for its employees.

Now, the company is expanding its coverage and opting to pay for several additional cosmetic procedures and services for transgendered employees.

For example, surgeries such as facial feminization, voice therapy, breast reduction or augmentation and hair removal or transplants will now be covered.

Ron Crawford, Starbucks vice president of benefits, said the new plan will make the company fully inclusive.

“The approach was driven not just by the company’s desire to provide truly inclusive coverage, and by powerful conversations with transgender partners about how those benefits would allow them to truly be who they are,” Crawford said in a company blog post.

“I view this as a diagnosis with a treatment path. You have to think of it from an equity perspective.”

The World Professional Association for Transgender Health brought Starbucks on as a partner and together they crafted a benefits package that Crawford said isn’t being offered elsewhere.

“Nobody else is doing this. We would love to see more employers doing this,” Crawford added in the corporate blog.

While Starbucks is an independent business that can make its own decisions, there are definitely reasons other companies probably won’t be launching benefit programs like this one. First and foremost, it’ll likely be a target of abuse, even if it’s on a very small scale.

Theoretically, would-be transgender individuals will be able to get a job at a local shop, work for a few months until benefits kick in and then request the company fund their numerous, expensive surgeries.

Second, this program wades into legitimate gray area. Gender reassignment surgery is elective — especially the numerous cosmetic procedures Starbucks is now saying it will cover. Basically, how far are they prepared to go in order to be “fully inclusive?”

Can a female employee request a tummy tuck because her transgender co-worker got a boob job? How about hair extensions? Liposuction surgery? How about a celebrity nose job?

The line between essential benefits and elective benefits has been crossed and it could cause a lot of headaches for the company down the road.

And it could make a $6 cup of coffee, which is already too expensive, a $10 cup of coffee if the program is widely used. Who knows?

That’s not to mention the headaches Starbucks has today, as many potential or former customers are not happy with the announcement of these pro-transgender benefits. “I will never go there again! My hard earned money will not supply treatments I disagree with,” one Twitter user wrote.



Australia: Controversial Anglican priest Father Rod Bower hit out at footballer's Bible-based condemnation of sexual deviancy

"Father" Bower  may be an Anglican priest but he is not a Christian.  You can believe anything and be an Anglican. As long as you can balance a cup of tea on your knee you are right. He is just a "social justice" warrior in a clerical collar.  He has form for ignoring the Bible teachings on homosexuality

An outspoken priest has hit out at sacked rugby union player Israel Folau following his latest attack against transgender and gay people.

Father Rod Bower shared his support for the LGBT community on the billboard at Gosford Anglican Church, on the New South Wales central coast, on Monday. 'LGBT friends. Folau is wrong. Don't listen to him,' the message read.

The gesture comes after Folau took aim at the LGBT community in his latest sermon at the Truth of Jesus Christ Church in Kenthurst, Sydney, on Sunday.

Folau said allowing children to undergo a sex change was giving in to the 'devil' and kids were going through treatment despite 'not even knowing what they are doing'.



Political correctness is most pervasive in universities and colleges but I rarely report the  incidents concerned here as I have a separate blog for educational matters.

American "liberals" often deny being Leftists and say that they are very different from the Communist rulers of  other countries.  The only real difference, however, is how much power they have.  In America, their power is limited by democracy.  To see what they WOULD be like with more power, look at where they ARE already  very powerful: in America's educational system -- particularly in the universities and colleges.  They show there the same respect for free-speech and political diversity that Stalin did:  None.  So look to the colleges to see  what the whole country would be like if "liberals" had their way.  It would be a dictatorship.

For more postings from me, see TONGUE-TIED, GREENIE WATCH,   EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS and  DISSECTING LEFTISM.   My Home Pages are here or   here or   here.  Email me (John Ray) here.  Email me (John Ray) here


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