Breaking: Bright Sheng is exonerated

Breaking: Bright Sheng is exonerated


norman lebrecht

October 20, 2021

Professor Sheng has just been informed that the Uiversity of Michigan has dropped its inquiry into his classroom movie screening and will not open a formal investigation.

He is free, apparently, to resume teaching.

Our information comes from Foundation for Individual Rights in Education.

The student mob has been defeated.


  • Gerry Feinsteen says:

    Sanity prevails.

    Any Marxist defeat is a good day.

    A Bright day, indeed.

    • Barry Guerrero says:

      I fail to how economics, Marxist, Keynesian or otherwise, had much to do with this. Please read Mr. Bortlap’s for a more perceptive comment.

    • Tom Clowes says:

      How is opposition to blackface Marxist?

      • Gerry Feinsteen says:

        you write it as if Sheng himself were guilty. It’s a film currently distributed by Warner Bros., perhaps you should climb a bit higher up the chain to protest and see how much you’ll be heard.

        You might be happy to know, too, that the effort to cancel Shakespeare has been ongoing.
        You can be the first to make the choice to forget him and his work.

        One must wonder—has ever a rapper said anything offensive?
        Drop the record needle on about ten seconds of nearly any Eminem, DMX, and 50 Cent track and ask why no one’s protesting?

      • Giustizia says:

        How is obvious anti-Asian racist student hostility at its core that clearly and fundamentally led to this in the first place not to be deplored.

    • SlippedChat says:

      I don’t claim anything approaching a finely detailed knowledge of Marx, but my understanding is that he was mainly “about” the economic class structure of society and the desirability of worker control of the means of production.

      The students who demanded disciplinary action against Prof. Sheng were, on the other hand, apparently wokesters obsessed with ideological purity in identity politics and with avoiding whatever might “trigger” the most sensitive among them. (One of the students was quoted as saying that a classroom was supposed to be “a safe place,” meaning a place where nothing would ever make her uncomfortable. In my opinion, this displays a lack of understanding of what education is supposed to accomplish. Prof. Sheng started out talking about how to translate great plays into musical compositions, and then found himself trapped in a tempest about an actor’s makeup.)

      Therefore, I think that your claim that Prof. Sheng’s exoneration was a defeat for “Marxism” is not only incorrect but (pardon the expression) a “red” herring.

      Take note of this separate SlippeDisc article reporting that, contrary to your own assertion, a group of LEFTist students were among those insisting that Prof. Sheng be reinstated.

    • Towe Truckstein says:

      What does Marxism have anything to do with this? Do you call everything you dislike “Marxist”, just like teenagers call anything they detest “gay”?

      • Tamino says:

        Americans are in average not so educated about these things. They use the buzzword of the day they were told to use by some propagandists. Just look how they bastardised the original meaning of ‘liberal’.

        • Umberto G. says:

          You should ask those who label themselves as liberal. See what response (if any but a blank stare) you get.

          Those who are younger simply want desperately to be ‘accepted’ so they go with the loudest most attention seeking and historically needy crowd…the left. They can’t manage to solve their own problems because they manifest them and induce them decade after decade. They are always the most mentally unstable and addicted in society. So much so that google who is far left and white founded has suppressed or omitted studies from their search algorithms.

          Regarding google who was founded by 2 white males who reside in wealthy, white-only enclaves, they continue to discriminate against blacks in their hiring processes. Virtue signaling with a female, black diversity…whatever her title is hasn’t rendered the results even the left expected. Blacks continue to to do side jobs, serve their food and drink plus clean up after them. To make their numbers look better, they excluded these jobs by contracting them out. Their executives, engineers and financial staff are lily white/oriental dominant. -Asian is PC so I don’t care.

          The left clearly doesn’t care when true data and facts are clear which still leaves those who claim to be left out in the cold. Those people remain angry yet feel stuck in the left never to find success in life. Hate and resentment continue to control the shrinking left. Biden’s betrayals are driving the young out. He and Pelosi destroyed their faith after reneging on erasing massive student loan debt as promised. So much for the college educated..

      • Gerry Feinsteen says:

        it’s a bit more of neo-Marxism; you can search it a yourself with google, I wouldn’t waste space on SD explaining history and contemporary social movements.

      • Paul J. says:

        You got Shylocked as Obama would say.

    • Ramesh Nair says:

      The fat lady hasn’t sung quite yet. What remains to be seen is whether he receives any new commissions from North American institutions. He has composed a handful of operas [ including one on Mao’s last wife ], but it’s unlikely the Met will ask him. I wish someone rich would commission him to write an opera called, oh, ‘O-Hell-o’, or ‘Ladies Macbeth from Michigan’, based on his experiences. At least it would have a strong dramatic plot. Odds-on he will be attracted to a relatively less toxic musical scene, eg Western Europe or the Far East.

      • John Borstlap says:

        In 2016, Scheng had a great success with a full-night opera ‘Dream of the Red Chamber’ (on a famous tale from Chinese antiquity) at the San Francisco Opera, a spectacular production which will be mounted again somewhere in the coming seasons – a kind of new, Western/Eastern Puccini. His reputation will surely not suffer from the Michigan melodrama.

  • WTF says:

    If this is the first indication that the pendulum is retreating from the obscene extremist position, then we are better for it. This abuse of power that has been given to immature and unprepared students has caused much unwarranted damage to people with little forethought or afterthought. In the past, one of the main and good purposes of attending a college or a university was to open the senses and mind to new thought, different thought, to gain enough knowledge to challenge the status quo and obtain a more complete knowledge that enables the student, the teacher, and their fellow persons ( I dare not say man anymore) to be better. To that end, I say the actions of these students did more harm than good. This professor, although exonerated, has been damaged professionally and I would guess in the realm of student/teacher relations. Power in the hands of the immature and self-righteous becomes a misguided weapon of mass destruction rather than a well-honed healing tool. It will take a while but the pendulum does swing back.

    • John Borstlap says:

      Yes, but is ‘to gain enough knowledge to challenge the status quo’ the right ingredient in this case? No doubt this was exactly the idea those protesting students had, however misconceived.

      The idea that students go to university to challenge the status quo is a political motive, right from the textbook of Foucault, and the opposite of what a university is supposed to be. Namely, a university is there to offer knowledge, insight, and mind/character formation and acculturation. If this leads to challenging the status quo in any field or in any context, this should be the RESULT of an educational trajectory, and not the motivation behind it.

      Because, there may be things in the ‘status quo’ (? whatever that may be) that better be preserved. Any ‘a priori’ conclusion that if something is there, it should be challenged, is mere prejudice.

      • Violinophile says:

        It seems to me absurd to take seriously any demands for colleges to casually overturn the approach and content of courses that professors have painstakingly labored for decades to develop, when those making these demands themselves are fresh arrived at college, with
        only the most shallow and meager grasp of what they are striving to learn. They are simply not prepared to judge, or even close.

    • Sue Sonata Form says:

      I have optimism: haters are always gonna hate.

      But the tide is slowly turning against the pernicious ideologies of woke, as they were always going to do.

    • Victoryman says:

      Amen, WTF

  • Althea T-H says:

    How is this series of posts relevant to the classical music profession, Mr Lebrecht?

    Unless there was something wrong with the film soundtrack (which would be a stretch), surely this belongs on a more personal – or academic – blog?

    I think that there is sufficient cultural warfare to be going on with, within the music business, without shoehorning in a tangential issue.

    It creates even more strife and bad temper in the SD comments.

    Let’s stick to musical matters!

    • James says:

      It is relevant because he is a composer who was suspended from his composition class, dor something related to good trying of the opera Otello.

    • MWnyc says:

      This is a musical matter: Bright Sheng is a prominent composer in the US, and anything serious that happens with his employment as a professor in UMich’s music department qualifies as classical music news.

    • anon says:

      How is discussing a pedagogical episode of a major living composer’s career in a University training composers of “serious” music NOT relevant to Classical music?

    • Fliszt says:

      So what if Sheng had shown the film “Aida” with Sofia Loren, overdubbed by Tebaldi?

    • Tiredofitall says:

      Boy, you could not be more wrong. Perhaps you don’t regard a composer/educator part of the music profession?

      With the empowered cancel culture in the US, hang onto your seatbelts, it’s going to be a bumpy decade.

    • Only someone born yesterday would think that the Sheng matter is irrelevant to music (or the arts). You need only read about the Soviet Union and how it controlled composers to understand that from the point of view of a totalitarianism, doctrine and social control come before everything else…..and determine what creative artists are allowed to say. Stalin was devilishly clever and understood that government’s tentacles must always remain wide to suck in even the smallest particle of dissent or criticism. We in the US are now at the mercy of neo Stalinism pretending to be for racial equality, when it is nothing of the sort. It is the same
      purging and cleansing, whether of Jews or composers
      or writers, always in the name of something progressive. It is no accident that the culture wars are taking place simultaneously with a revived anti Semitism in which the left plays the major role, pretending it is about Israel when it is nothing of the sort. Ideology and indoctrination are the main menu. And liberals naively accept it in order to avoid being called racists, not noticing or caring that the very foundations of the Enlightenment, democracy and human rights are being shattered daily.

      • John Borstlap says:

        The Enlightenment has never been fully accepted in the West, it is not finished yet – thanks to its inner contradictions and abstractions. It has become a layer over a darker layer which is still there.

      • Violinophile says:

        I don’t know where you are getting your information, but I would strongly disagree. Anti-Semitism is now and has since the Truman years at least been strenuously fought and opposed by liberals and progressives. It has long been the forces of conservatism that are pulled to that, as they are to white supremacy in general. Listen to the Nixon tapes, and how he talks about jews and blacks. Reagan also, as tapes of him speaking to Nixon show. And a huge part of Trump’s whole act is bashing immigrants from non-western countries. Actually the record of Republican racism in modern times is endless. Where have you been? And do not lump the vast majority of liberals with the fringe for whom identity politics and political correctness are all important. That’s not reality, it’s Republican propaganda. Liberals have a long history of supporting Israel also, with few exceptions on the fringe. President Truman was central to the very creation of Israel. Again, where are you hearing these things?

    • Bone says:

      Really? The firing of a major composer is “tangential? Stunning.

  • John Borstlap says:

    If this is true, this would be the only acceptable outcome of the affair. Hopefully there will be some crash course on the side for that class to better understand racism and the concept of ‘safe environment’ and privilege and social justice.

  • Paul Dawson says:

    Good news, although I wonder if this will really be the end of the story.

    • George Neidorf says:

      There is no fury like a student scorned. (with apologies to Willie the Shake.)

      • Allen says:

        Sorry, George, but that is not Shakespeare.

        Although often misattributed to him, that line is by William Congreve from “The Mourning Bride” (1697) :

        “Heav’n has no rage, like love to hatred turn’d, nor Hell a fury like a woman scorn’d”

        All the more proof that we need more Shakespeare studies in schools these days 😉

  • James Weiss says:

    Don’t bet on the woke mob being defeated. They are playing a long game. They’ve taken out dozens of professors all over the USA. Their actions are a warning to thousands more not to challenge the woke orthodoxy. They are winning. We must keep fighting back against their anti-intellectual witchhunts.

    • Sue Sonata Form says:

      You flatter them. They’re intellectual pygmies and that’s the highest rating I can give.

    • George Neidorf says:

      With the next generation, wokeness will pass. The counterculture eventually becomes that which they countered.

    • Kev H. says:

      Take heart.
      When their precious, endless ‘scholastic funding’ dries out, they’ll suddenly accept their fate.

      Now that student loan debts will NEVER be discharged by Biden (as he promised these debt-ridden infants) schools won’t have the money they want. Pair that with the unaffordablity of university and college trumpeted by the msm, you’ll see enormous financial holes which will FORCE these teachers out on their asses.

      Biden, Harris and Pelosi LIED to their voters! What’s new?

  • Tiredofitall says:

    Thank God. Hopefully the shining of the light by media outlets (thank you, Norman…) changed the university’s mind. No US institution that relies on public and private funding can ignore bad publicity.

    Those poor misguided students who don’t know what they don’t know…they could have turned the incident into a teaching moment, but they opted for censure. Thinking requires work.

    • John Borstlap says:

      But the opposite is more often true, work requires thinking. I get fed up by such requirements because one easily gets confused in the end!


  • Larry says:

    One wonders whether Professor Sheng will want to continue teaching there, considering how he has been treated.

  • Japecake says:

    Pleased with this outcome, if still profoundly unsettled by the whole affair. When you remember these events, don’t forget the names of two other composers. Like one of the Parsons children from Orwell’s 1984, Kristin Kuster, a “colleague” of Sheng’s in the same department, informed on Sheng to the Pulitzer Prize committee, MacArthur Foundation, and other musical organizations. (This action is now memorialized, permanently, in the New York Times’ recent article on the incident, for which Kuster declined comment.) Evan Chambers, another colleague, publicly branded Sheng’s actions “racist”—a bell that, as we know all too well, can never be unrung. If you care about academic freedom, Stalinist/Maoist tactics in the university, or just how composers and human beings treat one another, maybe think twice about your next commission or invite.

    • Sue Sonata Form says:

      Bravo. Age-old jealousies finally outperform absolutely anything else. I’m sure Kuster is also a man-hating feminist, if you drill down. Haters gonna hate.

    • Allen says:

      I see that the Wikipedia page of Evan Chambers mentions that he “Chambers accused fellow faculty member Bright Sheng of racism…” Perhaps now someone can update his wiki page to include that Sheng was exonerated.
      Maybe her actions should also be mentioned on Kristin Kuster’s wiki page too?

  • Rob Keeley says:

    Excellent news. He had been treated appalingly.

  • pvl says:

    Thank god for that!

  • Barry Guerrero says:

    It’s hard to see how any real trust could be reestablished at this point, but many of you have pointed that out already. Good luck to everyone at U of M.

    • John Borstlap says:

      But that is easy. The lecturer simply returns to the normal procedures of teaching and the students just shut up. Trust is not necessary, just listening and trying to think it through.

  • There are some points in the above report that might confuse people such as, “He is free, apparently, to resume teaching.” Bright Sheng was not barred from teaching. He was only replaced as the teacher of the class where viewing the Othello film was required. He continued with all of his other teaching duties.

    The Title IX Office’s decision not to investigate Sheng’s teaching of the course is not an exoneration. The university’s condemnation of his error in not contextualizing the use of blackface in the film still stands and he was replaced by another prof. I would assume that the university decided not to investigate because the facts are known and Sheng’s replacement as the teacher of that specific course resolves the issue.

    To say he was exonerated could lead people to think that showing blackface materials to students without contextualization is acceptable. Such confusion could cause teachers serious trouble–as it did Prof. Sheng. To say he was exonerated could also be interpreted by some as trivializing racist imagery. From Jim Crow to the Holocaust, we know that racist imagery is part of a mindset that can have unspeakable consequences.

    • John Borstlap says:

      Meanwhile, we know that there was no racism involved in the case. To look for racism everywhere, also where clearly there’s none, is also a form of racism.

      • No *intended* racism, which is something different. Blackface is racist whether the intention in presenting it is racist or not. Intentionless or passive racism permeates both US and European societies.

        • sabrinensis says:

          Olivier’s Othello is “blackening up”, it is not “blackface”. Blackface in its American connotation was specifically intended to ridicule and embarrass AfAms. Othello is a high ranking member of his society, respected and celebrated. There is nothing racist about an actor donning makeup to play a character. It is literally what they do. Your one-dimensional take on this is disappointing.

          • Nonsense. Blacking up is just another word for blackface. Any form is now considered insulting because of its associations with conventionalized comic travesty of black people. In a work like Othello, it is a needless racialization so crude it is ridiculous. We see once again, how crudely reactionary, if not plainly racist, so many SD respondents are.

    • Sidelius says:

      The accusation is utterly manufactured and imaginary. We’re talking about makeup, not blackface. It conveys no malicious or demeaning significance. It’s not “racist imagery” just because you declare it so. It does not “trivialize racist imagery” because it isn’t, it’s an actor playing a role as called for by the play. Do you have any kind of evidence that Olivier was some sort of racist? How about the director? I’m waiting… Then you dream up a “slippery slope” argument from “racial imagery” (nonexistent) to Jim Crow and the Holocaust. Just a bit of a stretch, ya think? Oh wait, Olivier did play a German…yep, that proves it. As for Bright’s “exoneration”, none is necessary. If he hasn’t been given his class back, that disgrace is on the administration, not him. They are too cowardly to fully own their blunder. He never deserved removal, and needs no affirmation from them or you. As for your other thesis, that “unintended” racism is still racism, that is a
      quagmire where anyone can call nearly anything racist and get away with it. Is that the world you want?

      • Just make-up? Ridiculous. See my response above to Sabrinenesis. Astounding the veiled, or not so veiled racism that takes place in these pages. Norman gives the boil a prick and its amazing what comes out.

        • Sidelius says:

          Needless racialization? So, a white actor playing Othello should just ignore the play’s description and be white, or face your condemnation? Maybe your argument should be with Shakespeare himself for creating a “black” character in a white country to begin with. Good luck with that conversation. How dare he have a character that calls for makeup!

  • Sidelius says:

    This is a good development, but I agree with Mr. Weiss that wokeism is heavily entrenched in many colleges and is just growing worse. One reversal probably won’t change much. This tide of intolerance and intimidation has been around for decades- see Page Smith, Roger Kimbell, Alan Bloom, etc. What makes it so insidious is how little it is covered by major media. There is always something more “urgent” to cover. But let’s not dismiss the gross dishonesty on the other side, which routinely portrays every democrat or even moderate Republican as “far left” later day Maoist or Stalinist or, even worse, “New Deal-Great Society” Democrat. Because using government to save the environment or help those in need or end racism is just completely unacceptable, and “against the constitution”. As is anything to protect workers from being exploited by powerful corporations, or given health care. Woke provides plenty to make one despondent, but pales compared to the tsunami of lies and ideological sewage of Fox News and the like. You have an aspiring dictator doing everything possible to undermine belief in democracy itself,
    so be very concerned about that as well. It seems evil truly never rests.

  • Jj says:

    Students will protest, that’s their prerogative, but when the University itself surrenders its own prerogative and asks Professor Sheng to resign, that’s obscene and despicable.

    • John Borstlap says:

      It’s also self-defeating: if a university gives-in to student protests, afterwards there remains nothing to protest against. This would mean that a university would take-away the students’ opportunities to protest, so, to keep their prerogative intact university staff should always dig-in their position on whatever subject.

      Thinking this through, it may be helpful for the students to have universities maintain social injustice positions so that they can find their identity through forceful protests.

  • Penn Towers says:

    His heartfelt apology should have been accepted immediately …. but an apology was due, no mistake about that.

  • Zandonai says:

    I wonder how many of these woke liberals will be cancelld out by the next phase of political fad?

  • Zandonai says:

    What sould I call my black and Asian friends who defend the unfashionable practice of blackface Aida’s or whiteface Cio-Cio-San’s?


    The “student mob” ?! While I decry the extreme ease in which students express being triggered, the professor chose to ignore a spectacular video performance by James Earl Jones, who didn’t have to wear black-face. There had to be response. Perhaps he did not deserve to lose his job, but this was one occasion where students’ reaction should not be simplified and denigrated as that of a mob…imho.

    • Sidelius says:

      Chose to ignore? Is it not possible he hadn’t seen or heard of it? This may come as a shock to you, but not every intelligent person has the time to watch every decent movie ever made, or even every Shakespeare movie. Or maybe he just preferred the Olivier overall. He has that privilege. There was NO need for any response, because there was no offense, except in the warped minds of highly immature and naive students who have been oversensitized to the point of delusional thinking by the woke culture on that campus.
      They are the offenders here, not he.


    While I decry the ease in which students express their being triggered ,in this case the professor ignored a spectacular performance on video of James Earl Jones who did not have to wear” Black-face” Your reference to them as a mob is prejudiced at best, and doesn’t recognize present reality, nor the tradition of black-face in the US. While the professor probably should not have lost his job over this, the students had every right to react in the way they did.

    • Cracker McWhitey says:

      No, the students in question are pathetic little crybabies and they should be coddled in no way whatsoever. There’s no excuse for their behavior, and if they can’t handle an actor in blackface they can go home and cry all by themselves. They don’t deserve to be taken seriously.

  • Guest says:

    A victory for Bright Sheng, but a minor victory at best.

    The office that decided not to investigate Sheng would be the University of Michigan’s Title IX office, known officially as the Office of Equity, Civil Rights and Title IX (“ERCT”), which recently replaced the university’s defunct and discredited Office of Institutional Equity (but without a change of leadership).

    The office isn’t investigating because Sheng’s dean, a man named David Gier, should never have referred the matter to them in the first place. They investigate harassment and discrimination, which no one had alleged against Sheng.

    After removing Sheng from the composition seminar and smearing him, Gier passed the buck to ECRT to create the appearance of doing something. Then he left all the talking to the university PR office. What leadership!

    I’ll believe that Sheng is out of the woods when he is reassigned to the composition seminar from which he was improperly removed and the university apologizes to him in as fulsome a way as Sheng himself apologized to his students. Until that happens, this decision not to investigate him will remain just a minor victory (though a welcome development nonetheless).

  • TCH says:

    The only reason Michigan backed off is because they were made the laughingstock of the nation by the very media that helped create the mob in the first place. Talk about being thrown under the bus!

    Still, there’s much work to do in the trenches of free expression and the Sheng incident highlights what a void of critical thinking skills and intestinal fortitude can lead to. Others have not been as fortunate as Sheng. But don’t even get me started on that. Oy. Vey.

    Very pleased for Prof. Sheng. Baby steps. Peace out

  • Dan says:

    Reading some of the public comments by the various students involved in this matter, it’s shocking how much they parallel in tone (and in some ways, substance) the rhetoric from from early-period (1966-67) Cultural Revolution-era China, with
    self-identified factions installing themselves as ultimate arbiters and enforcers of rigid ideologically-based standards of thought and language.
    My choice of that analogy is not accidental, obviously. Mr. Sheng would have been 11 at the start of the Cultural Revolution, and growing up in Shanghai could have crossed paths (even if only posthumously) with some of the musicians from the Shanghai Conservatory who were killed or forced to commit suicide during the Cultural Revolution.

  • Allen says:

    Evviva! Evviva!
    Vittoria! Vittoria!

    Abbasso le spade 😉

  • Joseph zhou says:

    I grew up under communist rulers in China for my first 27 years, I probably had similar experience with many Russian and east European people back those dark period, let put the most simplest term: we were all starving, there’s never enough food around… this is Karl Marx’s communism ideology at work. sadly, today’s American seemed more believe their Karl Marx can bring them different result: free everything, from college, no need to work, roof over head, dream vacation, and most important famous, they never ask one question: who is going to pay all their freebies and dream?

  • steveb says:

    FIRE does important work. It is good that they got involved.

  • BrianB says:

    Thank you, TheFire! Not to virtue signal or anything but I just made a modest donation and hope others will consider it as well.

  • Joe says:

    How does he just go back to teaching? He was attacked for no go reason and not supported by the campus. The suspended him and now say never mind. Why would he want to continue teaching at that school?

  • Sharon says:

    Two or three years ago I saw an off-off Broadway production of I Never Sang for My Father. Although it was now a professional production the program said that it originated as a student project.

    For those of you who do not know the play or the movie which was closely based on the play, it focuses on a middle aged man trying to redefine his relationship with his conservative formerly abusive and selfishly domineering father who had now aged and was experiencing early Alzheimers and other health problems after his wife’s death.

    In this production the father and son characters were of different races and neither wore makeup. The racial makeup of the characters was just ignored as the actors played their roles. However this made it difficult for me to “get into” the play or see it as realistic or naturalism which was clearly the play’s intention.

    One of the underlying themes that actors through the centuries have given Othello, even if it might not have been Shakespeare’s original intention, is the racial issue. The implication is that the reason for Othello’s intense jealously, and that he could be manipulated so easily by Iago, is that he is very insecure about his race and has a hard time believing that a beautiful white woman can truly be in love with a Black man. If Othello were not Black and there was no discernible reason for his jealousy he would have been nothing but a truly mentally ill paranoid schizophrenic. That would have been a different play.

    Therefore, it is important for Othello to be Black and for the audience to see or imagine him as such. This would be much more difficult to do without some visual aid. Does it make me racist because I cannot easily imagine someone playing someone of another race without the use of makeup?

    As far as the idea that actors should only play people of their own ethnic group, the whole purpose of acting is to become someone that you are not. In off-off Broadway productions where frequently there is no stage door I I sometimes amazed that the actors can just wipe off their makeup, change into street clothes and walk out the door while I, and audience member, am still in the play! Who should be the actor when the character is for an ethnic group that no longer exists, or for gods, ghosts, or spirits?