Princeton’s Women’s Center Is Biased and Deficient: Student Edit Board

Women’s centers on U.S. campuses are not often the subjects of controversy, but the Center at Princeton University is right now. The editorial board of the student newspaper, the Daily Princetonian wrote that the campus Women’s Center “is neither as inclusive nor as effective as it could be,” and is “so politically homogeneous” in its choice of political programming that women who hold different opinions on contentious issues, like abortion or police relations, may opt out of involvement with the Center altogether.”

Furthermore, the editorial said, “By over-emphasizing issues related to sexuality at the expense of other valuable programming, the Women’s Center could harmfully reduce Princeton women to their bodies.” In the third full week of classes at the University, the center focused heavily on sex, including “Developing a Self-Pleasuring Practice,” “Yoga for Better Sex,” and “Sex with the Lights on” (three sessions) with “crass” publicity posters, the board said, asking “Where is the male g-spot?” and “Anal Is His Favorite Thing – What’s Yours?”  In contrast, election-related events are rare. The Center held one this week, the first since December 15, 2014.

“The Women’s Center has a long history of hosting politically charged and overwhelmingly liberal events,” including such subjects as Black Lives Matter and “Battling Abortion Stigma.” “The Board said it “believes such events are important to host at Princeton, but …Politically diverse programming is essential to be inclusive of all female students and in the spirit of Princeton’s intellectually open environment.” It also urged the Center to reach out to and welcome male students, “a critical improvement, as men are invaluable partners in promoting gender equality.”

Some campus commentary on the controversy:

Feds Lurch Toward Due Process in a Campus Sex Case

In a first for the Obama-era Office for Civil Rights, the Education Department’s OCR found in favor of an accused student who filed a Title IX complaint against Wesley College. At the least, after five years, we’ve finally found a case whose facts were so outrageous that even an OCR notoriously indifferent to due process couldn’t justify them.

The letter has received extensive coverage; the facts of the case are tawdry. At a fraternity in the Delaware school, two students had sex. Unbeknownst to the female student, the intercourse was streamed and witnessed (allegedly) by two other members of the fraternity. Two other students found out (from another fraternity member who had heard about the affair), went to the college, and an “investigation” ensued. Within seven days, all three of the accused students—the male fraternity member who had sex, and the two who allegedly watched—had been expelled.

The college violated multiple procedures in its handling of the case. It didn’t give the accused student a clear sense of the charges against him. It didn’t tell the student that the hearing (which would recommend his expulsion) actually was a hearing—the student thought it was a preliminary conference, so he had no witnesses to testify on his behalf. The college also gave the student an interim punishment—suspension—before the hearing, even though at that point of the “investigation,” the student had spoken to no one at the college about his side of the story.

Although the OCR letter doesn’t take a position on the matter, it suggests that the case  should never have been brought against the accused student at all. Wesley’s policy suggests that charges shouldn’t be brought against a student in a case without an accuser. In this instance, the accuser told Wesley administrators that though she hadn’t consented to the streaming of the intercourse, she didn’t believe the accused student had any role in the planning or execution of the event. Yet Wesley went forward with charges anyway.

The entire investigation and adjudication took a week. OCR investigators found that in 10 or the 12 most recent Title IX cases at Wesley, the matter had been resolved “in a matter of days.”

Though Wesley was the subject of the Title IX complaint, the real target could have been OCR itself. As FIRE’s Will Creeley has noted, “Given the many similarities between the procedural failures found by OCR here and those alleged by accused students in lawsuit after lawsuit over the past few years, chances are that Wesley College’s failings are far from unique.”

For instance, in its discussion of the threshold for imposing interim punishments, the resolution letter noted that “while a school must assess whether the presence of an accused student threatens the safety of individuals within the school community, a sufficient level of inquiry–that is not here evident–must be undertaken in determining the appropriateness of interim suspensions.” Yet nothing in OCR guidance over the past five years would have suggested that colleges should consider the rights of accused students when imposing interim punishments. Will OCR now retreat from its enthusiastically championing of the interim punishment approach for all students accused of sexual assault?

Similarly, the resolution letter noted that “OCR has concerns, however, that the College’s expedited investigation of complaints of sexual harassment and sexual violence may have compromised the equity of such investigations.” Yet nothing in OCR guidance over the past five years would have suggested that colleges should refrain from lightning-fast “investigations” and adjudications—indeed, OCR has been relentless in its pressure that colleges should speed things up. (Recall the Peter Yu case at Vassar as a particularly egregious example of how lightning inquiries frustrate pursuit of the truth.) Will OCR now abandon its pressure tactics on speed of inquiries, and encourage colleges to choose timeframes that allow students accused of sexual assault—who are, effectively, required to prove their innocence—enough time to prepare their case?

Finally, the letter is a striking testament to OCR’s hypocrisy. The only case specifically investigated involved treatment so unfair to the accused student that even OCR said the judgment had to be invalidated. Yet the general recommendations in the letter veered in the direction of changing procedures to increase the chances of guilty findings (more “training,” for instance, to remove a lack of “clarity” regarding the preponderance of evidence standard) or ensuring that more cases are adjudicated (fewer employees designated as eligible for confidential reporting). OCR expressly criticized the existing policy (which Wesley ignored in the case that prompted the complaint) of not having cases go forward without an accuser.

So, in short, while this case will need to be re-tried to allow the accused student to defend himself, the actual outcome of this letter is that more accused students at Wesley likely will be subjected to unfair procedures down the road.

Does Free Speech Matter at UVa?

An adjunct lecturer at the University of Virginia was forced to take a leave of absence because his criticism of Black Lives Matter in a Facebook post was “inappropriate” and “inconsistent with the University of Virginia’s values.” The lecturer, Douglas Muir, had been teaching at the university’s Darden School of Business and the School of Engineering and Applied Science.

Muir’s Facebook post, now deleted but quoted by the Cavalier Daily, asserted that “Black lives matter is the biggest rasist organisation [sic] since the clan [sic]. Are you kidding me. Disgusting!!!” Muir was responding to comments about a lecture given by Black Lives Matter co-founder Alicia Garza.

Undermines Our Values

Muir’s statement is obviously provocative (not to mention poorly spelled), and his rapid resignation suggests that the University of Virginia’s vaunted dedication to free speech and “inclusion” does not extend to provocative posts on social media.

“While free speech and open discussion are fundamental principles of our nation and the University,” a late Friday statement from the Dean of Engineering and Applied Science declared, “Mr. Muir’s comment was entirely inappropriate. UVA Engineering does not condone actions that undermine our values, dedication to diversity and educational mission.” The School of Engineering apparently regards a Facebook post as an “action,” not speech, and it deems only “appropriate” speech and speech that does not challenge “diversity” worthy of protection.

A statement from UVa Provost Tom Katsouleas was even more smarmy: Muir’s comment “is inconsistent with the University of Virginia’s values and with its commitment to the principles of academic freedom…. This position in no way squelches academic freedom, which welcomes dissent and encourages the voices of others whose perspectives may differ from ours — thereby adding new insights to our own. But statements such as Mr. Muir’s do not foster intellectual exploration, nor do they encourage the voices of others.”

What about Alicia Garza?

The fundamental question, in short, is not whether Black Lives Matter is or is not like the Klan. It is whether provosts and deans should be in the business of awarding or withholding UVa’s imprimatur of approval on highly charged political speech and empowered to decide which points of view are legitimate and which are “inappropriate” or “inconsistent with the University of Virginia’s values” or “do not foster intellectual exploration.”

But even if speech is to be monitored and regulated, that cannot be done in a discriminatory manner. In dismissing Mr. Muir because of his criticism of Black Lives Matter, however, UVa seems to be clearly engaged in content-based discrimination, since not only does it not ban but in fact welcomes speech that is equally if not more offensive.

Consider, for example, the typical invective of Alicia Garza, the co-founder of Black Lives Matter whose recent appearance provoked Muir’s rant. For example, responding to Donald Trump’s acceptance speech at the Republican convention this summer, Garza stated that “[t]he terrifying vision that Donald J. Trump is putting forward casts him alongside some of the worst fascists in history…. Trump is proposing a new, dark age where police have carte blanche authority to terrorize our communities.”

Garza is obviously fond of comparing Trump to Hitler because she does so repeatedly. And her target is not simply Trump — whom her friend and co-founder of Black Lives Matter Patrisse Cullors calls “a terrorist” — but also Trump’s supporters. “There’s millions of people backing a fascist ideologue,” Garza told Bloomberg News, anticipating by a month BLM supporter Hillary Clinton’s “basket of deplorables” description of the same voters.

In a similar vein, no doubt intended to “foster intellectual exploration” and “encourage the voices of others,” Garza responded in The Guardian to those fascists who insist that all lives matter by declaring that “[b]y and large, I’m starting to feel like, if somebody doesn’t want to f***ing understand — excuse my language — if somebody can’t see the contradiction of saying all lives matter … then they’re just wilfully [sic] being ignorant, and an a****le. If a movement can be judged by its heroes, what does it say about Black Lives Matter that Garza proudly asserts that she uses Assata Shakur’s “powerful demand in my organizing work”? Here’s a description of Shakur, originally known as Joanne Chesimard, from the FBI Most Wanted List:

“On May 2, 1973, Chesimard, who was part of a revolutionary extremist organization known as the Black Liberation Army, and two accomplices were stopped for a motor vehicle violation on the New Jersey Turnpike by two troopers with the New Jersey State Police. At the time, Chesimard was wanted for her involvement in several felonies, including bank robbery. Chesimard and her accomplices opened fire on the troopers. One trooper was wounded and the other was shot and killed execution-style at point-blank range.”

Chesimard was convicted of first-degree murder, but in 1979 she escaped from prison and fled to Cuba. Despite pressure to do so, President Obama refused to demand the return of Chesimard as part of his opening relations with Cuba, a decision supported by Hillary Clinton.

My point, it should go without saying, is not that Alicia Garza should be barred from speaking at University events, although I do think it odd that UVa’s Office of Diversity and Equity invited her to be keynote speaker at a Community celebration of Martin Luther King last winter (cancelled because of a scheduling conflict). Rather, it is the question of whether university administrators should be empowered to decide whether comparing the Black Lives Matter movement to the Klan is really beyond the pale of legitimate debate and discourse.

If BLM’s critics are not allowed to compare it to the Klan, what of its supporters? What, for example, will the protectors of UVa’s values do when celebrated Selma director Ava DuVernay’s new film about the incarceration of blacks, 13th, is shown in Charlottesville and predictably elicits some faculty gushing? According to the New York Post, it “wowed audiences at the New York Film Festival and looks like a leading Oscar contender,” no doubt in part because of its “[e]quating Donald Trump supporters with Deep South Lynch mobs.” Could a UVa faculty member now make that equation?

Is There Free Speech at UVa?

In any event, if UVa’s Provost and Deans insist that a Lecturer’s personal comments on social media must not be inconsistent with the University’s values, why are they not concerned that an official University invitation to Garza to be a keynote speaker at a University event might lead some observers to infer endorsement of her extreme views? Would they dismiss any untenured faculty members who posted or tweeted some of the things Garza says all the time?

No doubt the now problematic standing of free speech at “Mr. Jefferson’s University” will be subject of some discussion at a long-scheduled Symposium on Free Speech on Campus in Charlottesville on October 13-14 sponsored by the Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Speech. How embarrassing, not to mention ironic, if in the coming year would earn one of the Jefferson Center’s noted and notorious Muzzle Awards.

Academia: A Republican-Free Zone

Registered Democratic professors outnumber Republican ones nearly 12 to 1 in history, economics, journalism, psychology and law programs at 40 leading U.S. universities, with Republicans clustered among retired professors and in some business schools and economics departments. Of the five departments analyzed, history was by far the most Democratic.

There are more than 33 Democratic history professors for every Republican at the schools studied. Economics was the least Democratic, with a 4.5 to 1 ratio. Some departments and programs have no Republicans at all. Stanford’s psychology program, for example, has 34 Democratic professors and zero Republicans.

The analysis, published in the online journal Econ Journal Watch, is by Mitchell Langbert, Anthony Quain and Daniel Klein, all libertarian economists hostile or dismissive toward both major political parties. They looked up voting registration of 7,243 professors and found 3,623 to be registered Democratic and 314 Republican.

Harvard’s New Diversity Veto: “I Don’t Feel I Belong”

Harvard has just launched a University-wide Task Force on Inclusion and Belonging. “Inclusion” is a solidly established campus buzzword. But until now, Harvard’s overseers and sprawling diversity bureaucracy have not thought it necessary to put the feel-good word “belonging” in the title.

Harvard President Drew G. Faust has convened the Task Force to examine ways to help members of the “increasingly diverse community feel that they truly belong.” The goal is to make all 29,000 Harvard students feel “included” and “solicit ideas about ways to strengthen our shared commitment to building a community in which everyone has the opportunity to thrive.”

Related: Harvard to Supply Life’s Meaning to Students

And wait. Hasn’t Harvard spent a quarter of a century – maybe half a century – making inclusion the primary goal of institutional change? The Task Force’s organizing statement announces, “Harvard has a plethora of diversity officers, programs, and initiatives.”

Does anyone at Harvard still know that plethora means excess, overabundance, surplus, glut, surfeit, profusion? I mean: does anyone still take Greek at Harvard?

As with other Ivy League universities, two years of race-fueled protests and threats have cowed university administrators. The Black Lives Matter banner and Rainbow flag fly over the First Parish Church in Harvard Square. In a December 2014 open letter to Harvard students, College dean Rakesh Khurana proclaimed, “I have watched and listened in awe of our students, faculty, and staff who have come together to declare with passion, grace, and growing resolve that ‘Black Lives Matter’ and to call for justice, for ally-ship, and for hope.”

(Note what happened. Khurana gave Harvard’s backing to a controversial and aggressive racial group that many who fully support racial justice want to hold at arm’s length.)

Related: Asian Americans Move Against Harvard

“The diversity of our student body at Harvard College should be on the forefront of this paradigm shift,” Khurana announced. Two years later, President Faust and Dean Khurana are making that shift.

The idea of belonging raises the ante from mere inclusion. Accommodating the feelings of students of color and others who don’t feel right about, say, the American flag, white instructors, Eurocentric courses, or standard grammar will take a great deal of institutional work since disdain for authority and privilege is a calling card for many protesters.

No doubt, in those elegant offices overlooking Brattle Street and in Massachusetts Hall, another thick coat of Diversity Varnish will make everyone feel good. For whole offices, the Task Force will provide an ongoing sense of identity, purpose and leadership. Plethora gets lots of $120,000 jobs with fab benefits. Plethora gets new action workshops to attend. Plethora has grant deadlines and federal titles to worry over; it has initiatives to initiate.

The Primacy of Feelings

Listen to the ambitions of Harvard’s appointed diversity mongers interviewed in the Harvard Gazette. One of the Task Force’s three co-chairs, professor of education and government Danielle Allen, wants to ensure “thriving for all” so “all feel that they belong”:

Achieving a sense of belonging for all members of the Harvard community is an important measure of whether people are thriving. Even our efforts to be inclusive — to recruit a diverse faculty, students, and staff — will be strengthened by greater success at ensuring thriving for all. When all feel that they belong, we will feel the benefit of the full application of their talents to our shared problems and questions.

Archon Fung, the Academic Dean and Ford Foundation Professor of Democracy and Citizenship at the Harvard Kennedy School, says, “At its best, life at Harvard is transformative for the people who are here, because they experience new ideas, encounter people with different perspectives and experiences, and become members of communities of learning and exploration.”

Harvard Muslims Feel Uncomfortable 

Fluent in Harvard’s white noise – transformative, different perspectives and experiences, communities of learning and exploration – Fung continues: “President Faust’s charge had a very broad conception of diversity that includes not just race and class and gender but also different levels of physical ability, religion, different ideologies, and political views.”

What does diversity of physical ability, religion, ideologies, and political views entail for Fung? “I know from talking to Muslim students that many of them feel uncomfortable and isolated and at some risk even in our University and our School environments. That’s a dimension that merits particular attention,” he says. This covers religion, I guess. But here’s the kicker. Fung maintains, “Without self-conscious efforts to create more inclusive environments, we reproduce behaviors and practices and a culture that is suited probably to people who’ve been here for a long time, but not suited to the different kinds of people who now are part of the community.”

“Not suited to the different kinds of people” now at Harvard? What does this mean, Professor Fung? It reads to me that you are covertly or not-so-covertly challenging Anglo-Protestant inheritances and European legacies that have built Harvard into what it is today, declaring them unsuitable for newcomers. With or without intentional malice, you seem to be undermining and diminishing Western heritage.

What do you have in mind as an alternative specifically and in detail? After exorcising those behaviors and practices and culture, and I assume, freed from white, Christian, straight male shackles, what’s next?

I can be sure you don’t like the Harvard Clubs nor the evident tendency for students of many backgrounds to self-segregate by class, background, and intellect. But what do you mean by transformative? What precisely needs to be transformed?

At Harvard, there are few real achievement problems, with a few exceptions, and those that do exist, are often readily fixed. The degree to which undergraduate oversight has advanced at Harvard over the last half century is remarkable and laudable.

Harvard remains the cream of the crop, and it’s good at what it does. Diversity at Harvard is as fait accompli as it can humanly be. Not only has Harvard widened access with astonishing speed. Harvard and other leading universities have re-graded the playing field to give advantages to just about anyone who can play a diversity card.

In this already diverse community of winners, then, something else is going on with the Task Force. The Task Force seems like another ascriptive power grab – a paradigm shift filled with ill will toward Western culture and its American vernaculars. I may be wrong, Professor Fung. Please advise.

Many Harvard opportunists – Fung and Khurana would be good examples seek to dispossess phantom exclusion and forcibly refigure the past. Not to comply with this revisionism is to hate and possibly run afoul of the law. To be a bad person.

If you advocate, defend, study and revere a curriculum or culture said to be suited to people who’ve been here for a long time but not suited to the different kinds of people who now are part of the community you need self-criticism and re-education.

Harvard’s faculties and alumni, acting in good faith and with vast generosity, have done just about everything that can be done for decades to broaden opportunity and access for all. The loudest complaints often come from the students and professoriate that have been carefully groomed and admitted on a preferential basis.

How Will This Accommodation End?

No doubt the Task Force could lead Harvard’s 29,000 high performers — competitive, status-conscious, ambitious, and pursuing different courses of study — to definitive, final Harvard-quality answers about inequality, social conflict, inclusion, and most touchingly, belonging.

The Task Force could declare Harvard cured of its obsession and absolved of its manifold sins. See you later, Plethora, and thanks for doing such a good job. But I doubt very much that’s how this absurd charade, being launched at the expense of a great institution, will end.

Brown U. Messes Up Sex Assault Case, Accused Prevails

In campus sexual assault hearings, due process for accused students is rare, because of pressure from feminists and campus activists, administrators’ diffidence, and the Obama administration’s 2011 “Dear Colleague” letter that minimized protections for the accused.

Getting these cases into court for a due process trial is even rarer, but now the first such trial since the issuance of the “Dear Colleague” letter has ended with a victory for an accused Brown University student. Chief U.S. District Court Judge William Smith—as he had strongly hinted during oral arguments in mid-August—vacated Brown’s disciplinary judgment, arguing Brown had violated its own procedures, thus producing an unfair result.

Related: No Due Process, Thanks—This Is a Campus

The case involved student attempts to influence the judge, biased training of panelists in Brown’s sexual assault cases and the university’s extraordinary belief that flattery and flowers qualify as a manipulative part of sexual assault.

The case arose out of a fall 2014 incident where two members of the Brown debate team had oral sex after purportedly meeting (in a small room on campus) to watch a very late-night movie. In texts that flew back and forth between the two, the male student made clear his desire for no-strings-attached sex; the female was ambivalent, but signaled consent in some of her texts, while in others stating she wasn’t eager for sex. A few weeks later, the male student urged the female to put in a good word for him with a friend, with whom he wanted to have sex. These were not, to put it mildly, overly appealing characters.

Related: Don’t Bother with Due Process

In his 84-page ruling (which you can read here, and which both Robby Soave and Ashe Schow have also summarized), Smith identified three areas of misconduct by Brown (definition of consent, conduct of investigator, conduct of one of the panelists). Some of these issues were peculiar, related to the specific facts of this case, in which Brown had changed its policy between the time of the incident and the time the accuser decided to file her charges.

The decision has three areas of relevance, however, for matters beyond Brown. The first involves the “training” that the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) mandates all schools to provide to panelists in sexual assault cases. The equivalent in the criminal justice process would be if all jurors in rape trials (and only in rape trials) had to get training material—provided only by the prosecutors, designed to increase the chances of a guilty finding.

Anything Proves Sexual Assault

The inevitable result of this biased “training” manifested itself in the Brown case. After the incident, the accuser told a roommate what a great time she had with the student she’d eventually accuse; post-incident text messages sent by the accuser likewise indicated her having consented to sex. But one of the panelists, Besenia Rodriguez, said she didn’t consider the post-incident texts or conversations because her interpretation of Brown’s “training” suggested that sexual assault survivors behave in “counter-intuitive” ways. Therefore, she reasoned, “it was beyond my degree of expertise to assess [the accuser]’s post-encounter conduct . . . because of a possibility that it was a response to trauma.”

Rodriguez’s contention that her university-provided training shows that essentially any behavior—intuitive or counterintuitive—proves sexual assault “clearly comes close to the line” of arbitrary and capricious conduct, Smith noted. Yet the training Rodriguez received, and the mindset she reflects appears to be commonplace in campus sexual assault matters.

The case’s second key feature involves the pressure campaign—in the form of non-public e-mails—organized by a Brown student named Alex Volpicello. He even prepared a template—and dozens of students followed his lead and e-mailed Smith to urge him to uphold Brown’s handling of the case.

Volpicello’s ham-handed initiative predictably backfired with Smith. But the flurry of e-mails provided Smith with a glimpse of the witch-hunt atmosphere that exists on today’s campuses. He was deeply troubled, noting that “the Court is an independent body and must make a decision based solely on the evidence before it. It cannot be swayed by emotion or public opinion. After issuing the preliminary injunction this Court was deluged with emails resulting from an organized campaign to influence the outcome.

These tactics, while perhaps appropriate and effective in influencing legislators or officials in the executive branch, have no place in the judicial process. This is basic civics, and one would think students and others affiliated with a prestigious Ivy League institution would know this. Moreover, having read a few of the emails, it is abundantly clear that the writers, while passionate, were woefully ignorant about the issues before the Court. Hopefully, they will read this decision and be educated.”

Alas, the anti-due-process activists have shown no interest in education. Indeed, Volpicello issued a statement denouncing Smith’s ruling as indifferent to “the emotional trauma of the survivor” and insulting to “the intelligence and civic awareness of us as Brown students.” “Where is the justice?” wailed Volpicello. Where, indeed.

Third, despite the victory for the accused student, Smith’s ruling was very limited. He appeared deeply reluctant to involve himself in a campus disciplinary matter and explicitly said Brown could re-try the accused student—even as he spent page after page detailing Brown’s dubious conduct in this case. (And this comes after he spent page after page detailing Brown’s dubious conduct in another sexual assault case.) Nor did he pull any punches about the absurdity of Brown’s current policy, which defines sexual assault as including such behavior as a male student giving a female student flowers, or flattering her, in hopes of getting her to agree to sex. As Smith noted, Brown defines such manipulative behavior as sexual assault.

As FIRE’s Samantha Harris perceptively noted, “Smith’s opinion also makes quite clear that the court takes no legal issue with the substance of Brown’s new Title IX policy, which employs an affirmative consent standard and uses a single-investigator model to resolve claims . . . Courts are deeply reluctant to interfere in the inner workings of university judicial systems, particularly at private institutions . . . When we talk to the families of students facing serious misconduct charges at private universities, they often express shock at how easily the school can jeopardize a student’s future while giving him or her so few rights. This case, while a legal victory for the plaintiff, underscores this problem.”

In his opinion, Smith contended that he could strike down only a college disciplinary system that “tends to injustice.” If a system whose personnel regularly violate students’ rights, while defining the giving of flowers before sex as a sexual assault, and amidst a witch-hunt atmosphere doesn’t tend to injustice, what type of system possibly could?

Conservative vs. Liberal, Plato vs. Descartes

Conservatives are climbing aboard Jonathan Haidt’s “viewpoint diversity” train, pushing for more variety of opinions and attitudes on what many call our monocultural campuses. They are, of course, admirably trying to spin the hugely successful and wonderfully diaphanous brand “diversity” for their own purposes.

Haidt is not a conservative. He’s a self-described moderate, but his moderation is the product of compromising the clash of opposites rooted in human nature.

He’s become America’s most influential social psychologist by being able to explain so clearly who each of us is according to our nature. We have conflicting impulses, one we now call liberal and the other we now call conservative.

Related: A Conversation with Jonathan Haidt

Each of us is hardwired to be a social animal, oriented around preserving and enhancing our species by living according to our social instincts. We’re happiest when we devote ourselves to family, community, and country, and we’re alive to the costs various forms of disruptive innovations have on our relational lives.

Conservatism, from this view, is social conservatism, favoring patriotism over cosmopolitanism and thinking of ourselves as parents and children more than liberated individuals. Conservatives are also inclined, of course, to be religious, seeing how institutional religion supports social bonding and “family values,” especially as a countercultural antidote to the excesses of modern individualism.

Each of us, however, is also, by nature, self-conscious. We’re the dominant species because we’re very social and having singularly huge brains. The result is that we’ve become self-conscious, able to distinguish our own personal good from those of the social groups of which we are a part. Self-consciousness doesn’t merely generate the selfishness that produces the joyless pursuit of happiness at the experience of the real happiness of parents, citizens, friends, and so forth.  It also produces just criticism—on behalf of universal principles—of the narrowness or exclusivity of various forms of human tribalism.

Related: The New Age of Orthodoxy Overtakes the Campus

Self-consciousness, ironically, can both lock each of us up into our puny selves and open us to the cosmopolitan truth about what we share in common. From this view, the social danger posed by self-consciousness is its extremism, producing two forms of being displaced or abstracted from the social embeddedness required for the flourishing of animals such as ourselves.

From this view, the combination of individualism—or maximum conceivable autonomy—and cosmopolitanism that animates those around today who are most proudly self-conscious at the expense of real social responsibility.

Now the reason Haidt so clearly lays out the socially instinctual and self-conscious parts of human nature is that he was an undergraduate major in philosophy. He knows that the insights of evolutionary psychology are most deeply articulated by the philosophers. From this view, the fundamental alternatives are really Plato and Descartes. Plato presents a utopia in which human beings are completely socialized to care for nothing but what the good citizens share in common.

The result (as Socrates ironically suggests) is the impossible and undesirable effort to suppress the forms of human Eros that are mixed up with self-consciousness and produce the most wonderful (and often dangerous) human achievements.

Descartes, by contrast, thinks of being human as an isolated consciousness located in an alien machine or body. And so the point of human life is to liberate oneself through doubt from being suckered by the call of instinct. The point of life becomes to keep me around as long as possible and simply to overcome all the limitations—including the natural guidance—of being embodied. Descartes seems to forget that even being conscious is “knowing with,” and so he unrealistically minimizes what’s required for all forms of human happiness.

For Descartes, the human good is autonomy, and that means defining for oneself one’s own personal identity independently of all exterior authority. Even religion, in this view, becomes the religion of me. And even justice becomes what’s best for me, as “human rights” become pretty much keeping the persons around right now alive for as long as possible and as free (or unconstrained by natural or social imperatives) as possible.

Too Much Success for Descartes?

Plato and Descartes present polemical alternatives, attractive partial visions to achieve desirable social reform. Plato wanted the liberated self-consciousness represented by Socrates harnessed by the invincible imperatives of social and political life. Descartes wanted self-consciousness liberated from repressive religious moralism to achieve whatever reform is possible through technological innovation.

In our time, we need Plato—and other forms of pre-modern or highly social and relational thought—to counter what might be called the excessive success of Cartesianism, just as we can see all the good for justice and individual liberation that Cartesianism has achieved.

According to philosophically informed evolutionary psychology, the job of higher education is to take the student beyond the partial truth dominant in his or her particular time. The truth about who we are remains the same, but seeing all of it always required a countercultural educational effort. As Alexis de Tocqueville, the author of the best book ever written on democracy and America, said, had he lived in Descartes time, he would have joined him in getting people’s eyes off heaven onto what they can do for themselves.

But in a techno-democracy, the task is to get them to take the soul and its needs seriously by arousing the social instincts through various educational means that habitual Democratic or Cartesian skepticism are bound to slight.  They include local government, organized religion, and reading the great books of the Greeks and Romans, if possible in their original languages.

That’s why Haidt founded his “Heterodoxy Academy.”  The truth is that our colleges and universities are dominated by a rather uniform set of opinions characteristic of a proudly liberated elite. They think history has surpassed the wisdom of pre-Cartesian thought, and that we have achieved unprecedented insights when it comes to marriage, personal responsibility, citizenship, God, and personal identity. So they think they have nothing to learn from conservative opposition to their agenda, both found among today’s social conservatives—religious and otherwise—and old books with unfashionable points of view.

Today’s Orthodoxy: Dissing Orthodoxies

Being “heterodox” means being unfashionable, nonconformist, and not orthodox. The irony is today’s orthodoxy is all about dissing orthodoxies. Here’s the orthodox assertion: Question authority?  Here’s the heterodox response:  Why? Explain to me how people can get by without taking anything at all on trust. And today’s orthodoxy really is a kind of political expertise that dismisses the truth and authenticity of the personal experiences of ordinary people—reducing them to racism, xenophobia, and so forth.  It’s not that such accusations of uncritical tribalism have no truth in them; it’s just that they’re far from the whole truth. Today’s orthodoxy amounts to:  Trust the experts and their studies.

The defense of heterodoxy by the evolutionary psychologist is, let me emphasize, quite different from the liberal or libertarian who puts all his faith in the free marketplace of ideas. That faith, which has its origin in the liberalism of John Stuart Mill is that just as the unimpeded marketplace leads us to the shortest route to economic progress, the free clash of ideas leads us to progress in the direction of the truth.

The problem, more or less, is that what economic progress is pretty clear, but the history of thought is constantly ambivalent, with gains in some areas producing losses or forgetfulness in others. Our libertarians too often believe that progress in the moral libertarian of the individual has been won with no cost at all to truth and morality, with no forgetfulness about who we are: social or relational animals.

For thinkers such as Haidt (or Tocqueville), thinking—or higher education—is always a return to the beginning for the particular person born to know, love, and die. Making the whole truth available to that person requires an aggressive assault on the fashionable opinions of our time, on the thought that history has some right side which has superseded the moral wisdom of the past and the wisdom still shared by those attached to deep social, political, and religious lives in some particular place.  We live in a time when genuine orthodoxy—as described by the Catholic Chesterton and lived, say, by the Orthodox Jews—is also genuine heterodoxy.

There is, of course, something deeply utopian in the thought that most of our elite institutions would heed the call to “viewpoint diversity.”  But, you know, it remains the case that the American system of higher education as a whole is marked by a singular moral and intellectual diversity.

Just like at Alice’s restaurant, you can still get pretty much anything you like when it comes to higher education in America—and often at a surprisingly affordable price. Do you want Smith or Oberlin?  Do you want Christendom or Thomas Aquinas? Do you want Berry or Berea?  Do you want Hampden-Sydney or Wabash? Do you want Cal Tech or MIT? Do you want Pomona or Swarthmore? Do you want Yeshiva?  Do you want Morehouse? Do you want Hillsdale or Patrick Henry? Do you want Union or Baylor?  Do you want Notre Dame or BYU?  It’s all there on our fabulously extensive viewpoint menu of choice.

We should be most attentive to the threat to that real viewpoint diversity flowing from the standardizing pressures of accrediting associations, government bureaucrats, foundations, think tanks on both the left and the right, misguided politicians—from Bernie Sanders to Scott Walker, and all the experts in general.


Rolling Stone Goes to Trial

A lawsuit stemming from the most famous of the modern rape hoaxes—the Rolling Stone account of a brutal but fictional attack on “Jackie” at a University of Virginia fraternity—gained ground last week.  A federal judge in Virginia ruled that UVA administrator Nicole Eramo’s lawsuit against Rolling Stone should go to trial.

The lawsuit has been of enormous value in producing documents that exposed both the closed-minded incompetence of Rolling Stone and the poisonous, guilt-presuming campus atmosphere at UVA. However, unlike the lawsuit filed by the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity (reporter Sabrina Rubin Erdely’s chief target), an Eramo victory would send, at best, a mixed message.

Judge Glen Conrad’s ruling allowed Eramo’s suit to proceed on multiple grounds. The dean’s strongest claim involves Rolling Stone’s manipulation of a mundane photo of her, to give her wild, almost devil-like eyes, with her back turned to victims demanding justice. Even the Rolling Stone fact-checker, who independently concluded that the fantasist “Jackie” was telling the truth, worried that the photo was too harsh.

Conrad also greenlighted a count involving Erdely’s claim that Eramo had discouraged Jackie from reporting her non-existent attack because she worried that UVA would develop a reputation as a “rape school.” It seems very unlikely Eramo—who comes across in the depositions as a true believer about a campus rape panic—ever uttered such a remark. But Erdely had two sources suggesting otherwise (Jackie and a fellow campus activist), and UVA refused a request to let Eramo be interviewed. Perhaps that will be enough for Rolling Stone to prevail.

Other aspects of Eramo’s lawsuit, however, are deeply troubling. The UVA Dean gathered support from a variety of campus activists—Emily Renda, Sara Surface, and Alex Pinkleton—with a de facto goal of ensuring that the discrediting of the Rolling Stone article won’t discredit their joint cause of fueling a moral panic about the issue of campus sexual assault.

In depositions for the lawsuit, the activists framed Erdely as an irresponsible journalist (which is not hard to do)—but not because she was a closed-minded ideologue who had reached her conclusions before she did any investigation. Rather, the trio of activists criticized herafter the fact—for focusing on Jackie and Eramo, and not on what they see as the epidemic of victims on campus, and the indifference to them of administrators other than Eramo. So in this view, Eramo is a victim of Rolling Stone, but the magazine’s basic thesis was correct.

One Erdely source, Alex Pinkleton, summarized the view of the activists that people must not let Jackie’s lies get in the way of the preferred narrative. “We need to remember,” said she, “that the majority of survivors who come forward are telling the truth.” How people who did not tell the truth about being sexually assaulted could still be considered “survivors” Pinkleton has never explained.

It would not have been difficult for Rolling Stone to have discredited these activists’ depositions—after all, each of them vouched for the veracity of Jackie’s tale in their interviews with Erdely, and each seemed to be eager for the Jackie story to be told at the time. But Rolling Stone ultimately shied away from portraying these figures as the non-credible witnesses they are. The magazine probably had no choice—because Erdely had relied so heavily on them for her article. Moreover, Conrad’s ruling cited the depositions of these non-credible activists as proof that three individuals “advised Erdely that her portrayal of Eramo was inaccurate.”

Perhaps the oddest section of Conrad’s ruling dealt with Rolling Stone’s December 5, 2014 Editor’s Note, which disavowed the story. Eramo claims that because Rolling Stone only said it no longer believed Jackie, and because the magazine did not remove the allegedly defamatory statements about the dean, the disavowal constituted a republication of the attacks on Eramo. This interpretation is bizarre. Jackie was the story.

The repudiation of her truthfulness repudiated the entire article. I cannot imagine how anyone—except, perhaps, the activists who are now riding to Eramo’s defense—could have interpreted the disavowal as Rolling Stone expressing full confidence in everything else Erdely wrote about UVA.

In her deposition, Erdely expressed regret—not to the fraternity members she falsely accused. (She has never apologized to them.) Rather, she said that she wished that instead of orienting her article around Jackie, she had chosen another accuser (“Stacy”) to serve as the article’s spine. The rest of the article would have remained unchanged—and since Stacy’s story was (it seems) not self-evidently false, Rolling Stone would have needed to make no retraction.

I suspect if Erdely had followed that course, none of the activists currently defending Eramo would be on the UVA dean’s side. Ironically, despite the lawsuit, the opinions of campus sexual assault held by Erdely, Eramo, and the UVA activists seem to be almost identical.

Will Princeton Change Its Name?

Elle Woods, the sexy Harvard Law School student from la-la land in the 2001 comedy Legally Blonde, got a taste of what has become a daily diet of politically corrected speech.

In that movie, Enid, the super-smart lesbian in the study group from which Elle was excluded, was lobbying to change the word semester to “ovester.” The reason: semester sounded like semen, which was offensive to women.

Today, PC language is causing a ruckus at Princeton and many other private and public universities. Some administrators want to ban what they claim is sexist terminology from official campus communications. Fireman, freshmen, and policewoman become firefighter, first-year students and police officer.

“Manning” the front desk is unacceptable. Employees must “staff” the front desk. This language war dates back to the early 1960s when feminists began writing irate letters to the editor complaining about words such as mankind. Today, those letter-writers are college administrators, determined to change the language by decree.


At Yale and Harvard, the undergraduate residences are overseen by faculty members known as “masters of residential housing.” Oops. Not anymore. The term master offended people of color, even though it was derived from schoolmaster or headmaster — the latter a term derived from Oxford and Cambridge.

One of two things are apt to happen next: abolishing the Master’s degree or implementing the Mistress degree. Wait. That doesn’t sound right.

There is a glimmer of hope for Princeton, as The Daily Princetonian is fighting back. A recent editorial said, “Censoring the English language through the dissemination of lists of acceptable vocabulary is contrary to the values of the University and a sinister first step towards Orwellian restriction of language and speech.”

In previous outbursts over this issue, some worried about what to do with terms such as “manhole.” Somehow person hole doesn’t sound right. “Mankind” should yield to “humanity,” but the word man is embedded in humanity, just as “son” is right there in “person” and “male” is buried in “female.”

And how about the sexist “Prince” in Princeton?

What if you are on a ship, maybe a Princeton cruise, and someone falls overboard? It would be sexist, of course, for Princetonians to shout, “Man overboard!” A quick poll among people on deck could settle whether most observers thought the unlucky person was male or female.  Couldn’t they just yell, “Person overboard”? Not really.

A generic shout for help could be taken as a subtle rejection of the falling person’s private gender choice. Not everyone who appears to be a man considers herself a male, even during a fall overboard. “Possible male or female overboard” wouldn’t work either, since everyone knows there are somewhere between two and 32 genders and failing to acknowledge them all before attempting a rescue would surely be seen as non-inclusive and therefore micro-aggressive.

Since nomenclature is so difficult in this case, it might be just as well to let the individual drown and get the gender right later. The Princeton administration would know.

The Age of Liberal Education Is Ending

America’s universities are collapsing into a miasma of postmodernism and multiculturalism. They have been approaching peak radicalization for several decades now, but in recent years the cultural left has pushed toward a complete takeover of our campuses. A hyper “political correctness”—with trigger warnings, safe spaces, micro-aggressions, censorship, and sometimes even physical violence—has enveloped our universities.

Leftist professors, administrators, and students have created a stifling, anti-intellectual monoculture, and they are now attempting to remove the last pillars of the traditional university: free thought and free speech. Once those are gone, America’s universities will have become little more than seminaries of intolerance and indoctrination.

Related: The Normalization of Bad Ideas

I came to intellectual maturity during the first wave of the academic culture wars of the 1980s. As a graduate student at Brown University, one of America’s most “politically correct” universities, I saw up close the hypocrisy, dishonesty, intimidation, and violence used by the campus left to impose its psychological and moral hegemony on students, faculty, and administrators.

In 1987, during my second year at Brown, a group of student radicals broke into one of the grand old buildings on campus and defaced ten historical portraits of distinguished Brown personages from centuries past. These “social justice warriors” spray-painted one large white letter onto each portrait, visually adding up to the words “ELITE? WHO US.” Pathetically, as is typically the case with leftist vandalism on campus, the Brown administration did nothing to identify, much less arrest, expel, or prosecute the criminals.

The leftist assault on higher education has become much worse over the past thirty-five years. Most universities today, particularly in the humanities and social sciences, are thoroughly politicized. Administrators and faculty have corrupted, gutted, and repackaged the idea of a liberal education to serve the ideological interests of the postmodernist and multiculturalist agendas.

To the extent that the history and culture of the West are still even subjects of serious study in today’s humanities departments, they are there only to be “deconstructed” and condemned. A helpful illustration of this situation can be seen in the field of literature. It is increasingly rare today for literature majors to graduate having read the great novelists, poets, and playwrights of Western literature, such as Shakespeare, Austen, Dickens, Hawthorne, Twain, Hugo, Flaubert, Dostoyevsky, and Tolstoy. Instead, they are now required to read third-rate literature published in the past twenty-five years that serves the race-class-gender-sexuality aspirations of their professors’ anti-West “oppression studies” agenda.

They are also required to take courses that explicitly push postmodernism and multiculturalism. To receive a bachelor’s degree in English literature from UCLA, for instance, students no longer are required to take a course in Shakespeare, but they are required to take three courses in gender, race, ethnicity, disability, sexuality, or postcolonial studies. At Yale, a group of students and faculty recently demanded that the English department “decolonize” the major by abolishing its required “Major English Poets”9 course (a course that covers Chaucer, Shakespeare, Donne, Milton, Pope, Wordsworth, Eliot, et al.) and replace it with a course concerned with race, class, gender, and sexual identity. According to one Yale student, reading “canonical” dead white males marginalizes and oppresses “non-white, non-male, trans and queer people.”

Related: Times Says Conservatives Unwelcome in Academia

That view, it is worth noting, was not shared by the radical African American writer, W. E. B. Du Bois, who declared in his 1903 book “Souls of Black Folk” his affinity with the Eurocentric intellectual traditions of Western civilization, precisely so that he could temporarily escape the racism of postbellum America: “I sit with Shakespeare and he winces not. Across the color line I move arm in arm with Balzac and Dumas…. I summon Aristotle and Aurelius and what soul I will, and they come all graciously with no scorn nor condescension.” Today’s universities would be virtually unrecognizable to men such as Du Bois and those who guarded the ivory towers of academia for 2,500 years.

From Plato’s Academy in 4th-century BC Athens to the Ivy League in the first half of the 20th century, the core of Western learning was found in the humanities and liberal arts. Broadly speaking, the purpose of what we call a liberal education was to expose students to a select body of accumulated knowledge and wisdom about the world in which we live. It was a journey of discovery in pursuit of the truth about the human condition, and it was an education in what we might call high culture. To paraphrase Matthew Arnold’s famous definition, it was an immersion in the best that has been thought, said, and done in order to elevate our lives above the ordinary, the vulgar, and the savage.

Such an education would enrich the lives of young people as individuals while also preserving the achievements of the past and endowing to the future the wisdom of the past. Tragically, with the exception of a few Great Books colleges and the Lyceum Scholars Program at Clemson University, the vision of higher education that once sustained the West for centuries now seems all but dead. The old-fashioned idea that the central purpose of a university is to lead the search for truth and to preserve and perpetuate all that is great in our civilization is now openly attacked, mocked, or simply eliminated.

In recent years, Yale and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill have turned down gifts of twenty- and ten-million dollars respectively to teach courses on Western civilization. At Stanford, students recently voted by a 6:1 margin to ban the teaching of Western civilization from the university curriculum. As one student put it, such a course means “upholding white supremacy, capitalism and colonialism, and all other oppressive systems that flow from Western civilizations.”

Related:  How a Generation Lost Its Common Culture

Serious scholars—those who are the intellectual curators of Western civilization’s repositories of knowledge and high culture—are now marginalized on our campuses. The sad reality is that very few people left in American higher education have the interest and courage to defend and perpetuate the humanities. In fact, we are fast approaching a period in which people qualified to teach traditional humanities courses will be virtually extinct. The few who still take the life of the mind seriously and spend their days reading old books with young people and discussing with them the ideas that have shaped Western culture for millennia— they will be strangers in a strange land.

What we are witnessing today on our campuses is akin to the Afghani Taliban bombing out of existence two giant Buddhas carved into a cliff in the Bamiyan Valley nearly two thousand years ago—or ISIS fighters leveling Nimrud, a three thousand-year-old Assyrian city; and ransacking museums in Iraq and Syria, destroying their antiquities with sledgehammers. The efforts of leftist administrators, faculty, and students to remove Western civilization’s great works of literature and philosophy from curricula, to rename or tear down important historical buildings, to censor or ban certain ideas from college campuses, have the same effect.

The Essence and Foundation of Liberal Education

A proper liberal education involves essentially three things: first, a quest to understand important truths about nature, human nature, and the necessary conditions and means for people to live and flourish; second, substantial knowledge of great works of philosophy, religion, literature, history, science, and the arts produced through 2,500 years of Western civilization; and, third, substantial knowledge of great deeds and projects men and women have undertaken in order to expand the boundaries of human freedom and flourishing. This is the kind of education that the great universities of the West originally sought to provide, and it is summed up by the Harvard and Yale mottos, “Veritas” and “Lux et Veritas” respectively.


Higher learning was once just that: an ascent to truth, a quest for wisdom, an attempt to expand one’s knowledge of the past for the purpose of applying it in the present and shaping the future. A liberal education rests on the assumption that the human mind is capable of grasping reality; of understanding the world and man’s relationship to it; of distinguishing between true and false, good and bad, just and unjust, honorable and dishonorable, beautiful and ugly; and of discerning differences of degree where such differences exist. Such an education introduces students to the importance of such matters and inspires them to think in such terms as a matter of course in life.

Related: ‘Most People Are Horrified by What’s Going on in the Universities’

Of course, all such thinking and all such judgments presuppose knowledge of—or at least the pursuit of—objective standards of truth and goodness. This, too, has roots in the ideas and thinkers examined in a liberal education. Take the Roman philosopher Epictetus, who wrote the following in his Discourses: “The fact that someone holds this or that opinion will not suffice to make it true, any more than we are inclined to trust a person’s word in dealing with weights and measures.”

In either case, whether discussing people’s views about truth and value, or claims about weights and measures, Epictetus implores his students to search for and develop what he called an “objective standard,” an absolute, certain, and permanent standard of true and false, good and bad, right and wrong. Once “we’ve found it,” he continues, “let’s commit to never making a single move without reference to it.” When I read such passages with my students, they’re challenged to transcend the moral relativism dominant in today’s culture and to join Epictetus in what he called his “hunt” for objective truth.

In his essay on “The Shortness of Life,” the Roman philosopher Seneca suggests that one should become “intimate friends” with the “high-priests of good learning” (he names Zeno, Pythagoras, Democritus, Aristotle, and Theophrastus). Such friends, he notes, never disappoint; they’re never “too busy,” day or night, to talk about the most important questions; they never send you away “empty-handed.” Indeed, they bring nothing but “happiness” and “an attractive old age.” With friends such as these, you can “discuss matters great and small” and “hear the truth without insult and praise without flattery.” They provide models of goodness, excellence, and nobility worthy of emulation. On a personal level, the great books aspect of a liberal education is a journey both outward and inward. The outward journey enters a world created by the mind of another.

To read ancient philosophers such as Plato, Aristotle, Cicero, and Seneca, or to read modern playwrights or novelists such as Shakespeare, Austen, Hugo, and Dostoyevsky is to drop through a rabbit hole and to reemerge in a foreign place, an alternative universe that we visit for a short time but from which we gather knowledge for life. We confront Shakespeare’s Macbeth, Austen’s Elizabeth Bennett, Hugo’s Jean Valjean, Dostoyevsky’s Rodion Romanovich Raskolnikov, and we judge their actions as good or bad, just or unjust, noble or ignoble.

Related: Diversity Anger at UCLA

The inward journey then follows a path to the interior of one’s soul. The purpose of this introspective journey is to ponder, evaluate, and avow or disavow the ideas discovered in the external journey. We think about what we can learn from these characters and how they can be models or anti-models for our lives. Such introspection expands the boundaries of our inner world. Thinkers for more than two millennia have understood the value of such journeys and conversations. With the rediscovery of ancient Greek and Roman texts during the Renaissance, modern thinkers began a sustained and sophisticated dialogue with ancient authors that became a defining feature of Western culture.

This was particularly true of the modern founders of the humanities, men such as the 14th-century Florentine poet Francesco Petrarch and the 16th-century Florentine historian and political philosopher Niccolò Machiavelli. They taught that past civilizations, particularly the lost worlds of Athens and Rome, were exotic places to which one could travel, through books, for enlightenment, solace, friendship, pleasure, and improvement. At a distance of some fourteen hundred years, Petrarch wrote beautiful letters addressed to his old friends, Cicero and Livy. In 1345, Petrarch wrote to Cicero lamenting that his dear friend would “weep bitter tears” should he “learn of the fallen state of our country.” Five years later, he thanked Livy for having transported him back to a better time, where he could live and converse with the great heroes of the Roman republic. “It is with these men,” he confided, “that I live in such times and not with the thievish company of today among whom I was born under an evil star.”

Machiavelli’s well-known 1513 letter to Francesco Vittori is a beautifully evocative description of how one 16th-century Florentine escaped the burdens of daily life by retiring every night to converse with his old friends: When evening has come, I return to my house and go into my study. At the door I take off my clothes of the day, covered with mud and mire, and put on my regal and courtly garments; and decently re-clothed, I enter the ancient courts of ancient men, where, received by them lovingly, I feed on the food that alone is mine and that I was born for. There I am not ashamed to speak with them and to ask them the reason for their actions; and they in their humanity reply to me. And for the space of four hours I feel no boredom, I forget every pain, I do not fear poverty, death does not frighten me. I deliver myself entirely to them.

This great Renaissance tradition continued through the Enlightenment and beyond. Two hundred and fifty years after Machiavelli’s nightly visits with his Roman friends, a twenty-one-year-old John Adams used and applied Xenophon’s discussion of “The Choice of Hercules” from the Memorabilia (beautifully captured in Annibale Carracci’s 1596 painting and in Handel’s 1750 oratorio) to his own life. In order to bolster and inflame his flagging spirit after an extended period of lethargy and weakness, Adams sketched a fable of Hercules, adapting the story to his own situation. “The other night the choice of Hercules came into my mind,” Adams wrote in his diary, “and left impressions there which I hope will never be effaced, nor long unheeded.”

The young man then sat down and wrote himself an inspirational “fable on the same plan, but accommodated, by omitting some circumstances and inserting others, to my own case.” In all earnestness, he began, “Let Virtue address me:” Which, dear youth, will you prefer, a life of effeminacy, indolence and obscurity, or a life of industry, temperance and honor? Take my advice; rise and mount your horse by the morning’s dawn, and shake away, amidst the great and beautiful scenes of nature that appear at that time of the day, all the crudities that are left in your stomach, and all the obstructions that are left in your brains.

Then return to your studies, and bend your whole soul to the institutes of the law and the reports of cases that have been adjudged by the rules in the institutes; let no trifling diversion, or amusement, or company, decoy you from your book; that is, let no girl, no gun, no cards, no flutes, no violins, no dress, no tobacco, no laziness, decoy you from your books. But keep your law book or some point of law in your mind, at least, six hours in a day. Labor to get distinct ideas of law, right, wrong, justice, equity; search for them in your own mind, in Roman, Grecian, French, English treatises of natural, civil, common, statute law; aim at an exact knowledge of the nature, end, and means of government; compare the different forms of it with each other, and each of them with their effects on public and private happiness.

Related: How Diversity Came to Mean Downgrade the West

Study Seneca, Cicero, and all other good moral writers; study Montesquieu, Bolingbroke, Vinnius, &c., and all other good civil writers. Petrarch, Machiavelli, Adams, Du Bois, and many others were enticed by the philosophic and artistic genius of the great ancient (and modern) writers to enter lost worlds radically different from their own. There they found companionship in solitude; consolation in affliction; respite from the mediocrity, vulgarity, and discord of the world around them. They also found inspiration to achieve great tasks. In quiet repose with their books, they were able to see, ponder, and experience things to which they would otherwise never have had access. These great books dramatically expanded their inner lives and fueled their souls for endeavors in the outer world. The same can be true for students today. If given the chance, great books can expand the inner worlds and elevate the lives of 21st-century American teenagers.

Consider, for instance, Cicero’s discussion of Marcus Atilius Regulus in De Officiis [On Obligations], which I teach to freshmen every year. Regulus, Cicero tells us, was a Roman consul and general, captured by the Carthaginians in 255 BC during the First Punic War. Regulus’s captors released him back to Rome on the condition that he negotiate the release of Carthaginian prisoners. Should he succeed, Regulus would be free to stay in Rome. Should he fail, however, he pledged to his captors that he would return to Carthage. Upon his return home, Regulus went directly to the Senate, where he successfully argued against the release and return of the Carthaginians. And then, in the face of immense pressure from family and friends to break his oath and stay in Rome, Regulus voluntarily returned to Carthage, where he was imprisoned and tortured to death.

Cicero recounts Regulus’s story in order to have his readers consider the relationship between the honorable and the useful. Cicero recognizes that for most people the “useful” or self-interested course of action would have been for Regulus to renege on his oath and to live out his retirement peacefully with family and friends in Rome. Not so for Regulus— or Cicero. For Cicero’s great-souled man, there can be no dichotomy between the honorable and the useful, which means that Regulus’s decision to return to Carthage represents the embodiment of the useful. But how can this be so? It is counterintuitive to how most people think. For Cicero, the man of high moral character could not break an oath without damaging his honor. In returning to Carthage, Regulus was protecting the integrity and beauty of his most selfishly prized possession: his honor. According to Cicero, “If there is something repulsive about physical disfigurement, how monstrous must the deformity and foulness of a soul steeped in dishonor appear!”

Writing only two centuries later, Cicero says of Regulus that his actions are “remarkable,” even to the honor-obsessed people of Cicero’s time. But Cicero’s account of Regulus raises issues that transcend time and place. My students are utterly captivated by Cicero’s account of Regulus. Imagine how strange and shocking Regulus’s actions must seem to a generation of college students raised on safe spaces and trigger warnings. Such actions are incomprehensible to them; they’ve never heard or seen someone act on principle in the way that Regulus did.

A liberal education fosters what Alfred North Whitehead called “the habitual vision of greatness.” This vision originated with the ancient Greeks and Romans, was adopted in part by Christians, and was likewise embraced by Enlightenment thinkers. In Philippians 4:8, for instance, we are presented with a view of education that runs parallel to the Greco-Roman tradition: “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”

Modern thinkers such as Montaigne, Bacon, Chesterfield, Pope, Hume, and Nietzsche held views of human greatness that are worth studying as well. As the 18th-century Scottish educator George Trumbull said of liberal education, it is concerned with everything that is “good or great in human life.” So it is. For millennia, there was never much doubt in the West about whether greatness existed. Men might have quibbled over which civilization or country was greater— ancient Greece or ancient Rome, England or France, America or Russia.

And they might have debated the relative greatness of Plato versus Aristotle, Michelangelo versus Da Vinci, Jefferson versus Adams, Dostoyevsky versus Tolstoy, Newton versus Einstein, or Carnegie versus Rockefeller. Only recently have Westerners doubted that greatness exists and that their lives are improved by studying the cultures and men who embody it. In this sense, the goal of a liberal education is to identify and inform the student of important ideas, people, cultures, creations, and events of the past that have advanced human life, and to inspire him to pursue his own view of greatness in life.

The goal is not to tell him what to think but to provide him with knowledge that enables him to think more deeply and clearly. A liberal education enables students to perceive the breadth and depth of human accomplishments and to aspire to a life beyond the banal and vulgar pathways that dominate contemporary life.

This essay from the Fall 2016 issue of The Objective Standard is published here in an abridged version with permission.

Is the University of Tennessee Safe for Women?

At the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, fall is the time for students to worry about sexual assault. At least that’s the message in the current issue of the Chronicle of Higher Education. As reporter Robin Wilson tells it, the beginning of the school year is a dangerous “red zone,” when predatory campus males are most likely to attack female students. The article features a long red carpet on a campus walkway, which students sign as a promise to be alert to sexual assault.

The article strikes an apprehensive, near-paranoid tone: “Female students come here with a list of warnings: Never walk alone. Carry Mace. Don’t take Uber, because your driver could kidnap you. Keep the number of the campus police chief in your cell phone. With heightened national attention to campus safety, the most common advice that young women say they’ve heard from relatives and friends isn’t “Have fun” or “Do your best.” It’s “Be careful.”

The threat of rape seems inescapable: “With all the admonitions to stay safe, female students here describe a constant low-grade state of fear. They talk about almost never being on their own and developing secret hand motions to signal to friends when they’re uncomfortable somewhere and want to leave. Many parents who started tracking their daughters’ cell phones in high school still do.”

Constant fear and secret hand signals seem excessive to the actual sexual threat on campus. During 2015, 38 sexual misconduct complaints were filed on campus, up from 13 in 2011. The 38 last year may include sexual assault (the different categories are not separated out), but they also cover a wide array of misconduct, from sexual harassment to “sexual exploitation,” which might extend to peeping Toms, misunderstandings, seduction, or next-day regrets.

Also,the numbers include misconduct offenses by student organizations. In all, 8 complaints were filed with Knoxville Police and 3 with the campus cops, low numbers for a student population of 28,000.

A great many campuses contain groups that consider males inherently dangerous and toxic. Tennessee-Knoxville seems to be one of them.

Dismissing the Reality of Affirmative Action

Gallup and Inside Higher Ed co-hosted a conference in Washington last week, determined to ignore the results of a Gallup survey for IHE showing that nearly two-thirds of Americans oppose affirmative action in college admissions. About 75 to 100 attendees, mostly college administrators, focused on reaction to the Supreme Court decision last June 23rdFisher v. University of Texas at Austin – in which the court upheld racial preferences. Educators and student affairs administrators found the survey results mysterious but chalked them up to white privilege, bias, and ignorance.

Racial Preferences

Only one person on the conference program represented the opinion of the public to this audience. That was Roger Clegg, president of the Center for Equal Opportunity, who spoke in the opening session on the court’s decision. Inside Higher Ed editor Scott Jaschik introduced him saying, “For those who think you’re safe, Roger’s watching you.”

Clegg outlined a clear case against racial preferences in admissions and Clegg said that under the current decision, colleges and universities have three options: 1) don’t use racial preferences; 2) consider race in a way that is narrowly tailored, considers race-neutral options first, and has a serious paper trail; or 3) consider race in an illegal way.

Clegg offered four reasons for colleges to forgo the use of racial preferences:

  1. Not factoring race into admissions is what most people favor, as the Gallup poll showed.
  2. There are no legal problems with not using racial preferences.
  3. It is fairer. Poverty and privilege come in all colors. Using skin color as a proxy for disadvantage is unjust.
  4. It avoids the costs of discrimination, including stigmatization, resentment, mismatch, and encouragement of an unhealthy obsession with race that spills over into protests.

He said his organization will bring FOIA requests and lawsuits against colleges that use racial preferences without jumping through all the necessary hoops.

The room seemed tense after Clegg spoke, but his fellow panelists and the audience basically ignored the substance of his remarks and did not refer to him again the rest of the day. After that panel, the atmosphere settled into one of complacency and the assumption that everyone agreed that racial diversity has educational benefits.

Even during his panel, another speaker, Art Coleman (Managing Partner and Co-Founder, Education Counsel) said, “Forget the law.” He said if you want to do the “educationally right thing,” you should figure that out first, then the law. The University of Texas, he said, had told the Supreme Court what the law should be.


Some of the recent campus controversies over race were mentioned and cast aside. For example, the College Fix report about California State University, Los Angeles (CSLA) establishing “segregated housing for black students,” Scott Jaschik said was simply false. The story was on Cal State’s new “Halisi Scholars Black Living-Learning Community.” The University has responded to the scandal by declaring that students of any race can apply to live there. The College Fix did acknowledge that “these housing options are technically open to all students,” but explained that they are “billed and used as arrangements in which black students can live with one another.”

The university’s title, “Black Living-Learning Community,” is plainly aimed at recruiting students of a particular race. The new housing appeared after student protesters in November 2015 demanded “the creation and financial support of a CSLA housing space delegated for Black students and a full-time Resident Director who can cater to the needs of Black students.”

Another instance of racial exclusion hit headlines in August when a Pitzer College student posted a roommate-wanted ad, specifying “POC [people of color] only” and adding, “I don’t want to live with any white folks.” At the IHE conference, Jaschik offered sympathy to the communications staff at Pitzer College for having to deal with the media backlash that resulted from “one student at one college” regarding off-campus housing. Inside Higher Ed missed an opportunity to respond to the rising impulse to self-segregate.

Meeting Demands

In a panel on how to deal with student demands, the speakers said that students don’t want just to be heard and sympathized with; they want results. So it is best to try to anticipate what they want and work toward that, being “proactive, rather than reactive.” It was assumed throughout their session that just because students want something, administrators should try to do that for them. During the Q&A, I asked about times when an administration should say no. The panelists admitted that sometimes they do have to say no but, administrators should do so in a way that opens up dialogue rather than shuts it down.

One person mentioned John Coleman, the former president of Haverford College, who once was confronted by student protesters who wanted to burn the American flag on campus. Though he recognized students’ right to do so, he persuaded them to have a washing machine brought to the quad to “cleanse” the flag instead. Coleman was held up as an example of reasonable compromise.

Payton Head, who was student body president at Mizzou last year, shared from the perspective of a student activist. A year ago the Washington Post ran an article about him as the target of a racial slur on campus. Head talked about how many of the demands from protesters come from students who don’t know how a university is run, which is why they ask for impossible things. He said he spent the last year learning how the university worked while mediating between students and the administration, and that by the time he was starting to get it, his term was over. Head’s fellow panelist Kimberly Griffin, associate professor of higher education at the University of Maryland, urged administrators to understand that protesters’ demands are not so much a laundry list of things to do as a feeling that they want to go away.


The keynote speaker was Beverly Daniel Tatum, former president of Spelman College and author of Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together at the Cafeteria? She recounted receiving an award at the University of Michigan this spring, where Michael Bloomberg was giving the commencement address. She said when she heard him criticizing safe spaces, she thought of a line in a 1981 poem by Lorna Dee Cervantes (which she read in the beginning of her talk): “But they are not shooting at you.” After his speech, she said, Bloomberg left with his bodyguard. “We don’t have shared perspectives,” she said.

One of the final speakers of the day, Brandon Busteed from Gallup, reported results from a poll of black graduates from historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) compared with black graduates from other institutions. The students who went to HBCUs said they felt three times more emotionally supported by their professors.

I asked him afterward what he would say to someone who took these results as a case against diversity in higher education, and he said all colleges and universities can support students if they are intentional about it. When I said, “It sounds like what we need are simply people caring about other people,” a white woman who works in admissions who had joined the conversation corrected me, “But be careful, because that’s like the difference between Black Lives Matter and All Lives Matter.” She said we have to recognize that minorities’ experience is different. Busteed agreed and said we can’t treat everyone the same; we have to treat everyone differently.

The emphasis on treating people differently ran throughout the conference. Much of what was said seemed to point to the need for basic human empathy, friendship, listening, and care for the emotional well-being of others. These are virtues that a university can cultivate without violating its core mission of education in the context of intellectual freedom. But when it came down to practical questions, the solutions offered were race-conscious. Changing the culture by appealing to shared human values was not on the table.

Why History Courses Are Declining

A few years ago, when critics of academia warned that the humanities were sinking, academics shot back with data showing that enrollments were steady and the departments were doing just fine.  They also sprinkled smug remarks about Chicken-Little conservatives who were just upset that the hegemony of the traditional canon had crumbled.

We don’t need to answer this ad hominem.  The evidence speaks for us.  Earlier this month, the American Historical Association released a survey of 123 history departments and found a 7.6 percent decline in enrollments over a two-year period, 2012-13 to 2014-15.  Enrollment slipped in 96 departments and rose in only 27 departments.  In absolute numbers, enrollments in those schools went from 390,000 to 360,000.

This finding expands on the finding noted a few months earlier by the Association that the numbers of history majors dropped significantly from 2013 to 2014.  At the same time, the Association reported that the number of earned doctorates in history in 2014 maintained a steady trend of growth. In other words, we have more history professors to teach fewer history students.

There is an irony to this decline.  When I started graduate school in the 1980s, history had just become THE loaded term in the field of English.  It had a particular moral-political force.  What history was claimed to do was this: to reveal traditional values and concepts as historical constructs, not objective realities.  The difference between high culture and popular culture collapsed, it was alleged, as soon as we put it into a historical context in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries in which an elite tried to distinguish itself from a rising middle class.

The literary canon could be shown to be a fairly recent creation, not a sacred corpus from time immemorial.  Western civilization could be dislodged from the center of the history of the world, and American Exceptionalism could be revealed in all its political tactics and demythologized.

Everyone, then, was to study history.  “Always historicize!” was one slogan of the time.  Deconstruction, Lacanian psychoanalysis, reader-response criticism, and formalism no longer had any cachet.  Instead, the trend was New Historicism and historically-inflected political criticism (Edward Said’s Orientalism was the model) and Foucault, whose archival historical work gave his speculations about sexuality and politics great authority.

Many of my peers were mighty exhilarated by it all.  They wielded history as if it were a hammer to take down the idols of humanitas, beauty and Great Books and high art.  But undergraduates don’t seem to feel the same inspiration.  The humanities are, indeed, declining, and it has happened on their watch, the liberals and leftists who run the place.  They insist on the centrality of historical understanding, but they are losing in the competitive terrain of the campus marketplace.  Eighteen- and 19-year-olds are increasingly uninterested in what the history professors have to say.  They are voting with their feet.

Have More Fun With PC—Enter This Contest

The National Association of Scholars (NAS) is running a satirical subtitle contest, asking readers to suggest appropriate PC subtitles for classic books. Example: Tom Sawyer: Adventures in Whitewashing. The assignment for the first week: any book by Jane Austen. Pick an Austen book and share your new subtitle on Twitter, with the hashtag #PCSubtitle and the NAS Twitter handle @NASorg. You can also tag us on Facebook or fill out this form. Winners will add a subtitle that transforms the book into something today’s sensitive yet resentful students can’t resist.




Catholic Colleges Define Down Their Catholic Identity

In an essay on Catholic higher education published in First Things before his death in 2009, Fr. Richard Neuhaus wrote: “When a school is haggling over its mission statement, it is a sure sign that it has already lost its way.”  While Fr. Neuhaus never taught on a Catholic campus, he understood that debating over the mission statement was just the start of the defining down of the Catholic identity itself.

Identifying the strategies that some Catholic colleges have used to redefine themselves, Fr. Neuhaus wrote that describing themselves as having been “shaped” by their “Catholic heritage,” or their “historic Catholic tradition,” was a sign that the institutions were distancing themselves from the Church.  And, he noted that some referred only to the name of the founding religious order rather than the Church itself.

For example, the University of St. Mary in Leavenworth, Kansas, described itself as having been “shaped by the educational mission of the Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth.”  Ohio’s Ursuline College describes itself as offering an education, “within a Catholic tradition marked by the Ursuline heritage of educating women.” And, although the College of St. Catherine in St. Paul, Minnesota maintains that the college has been “dedicated as a campus community to our Roman Catholic heritage and identity,” the College distances itself from that heritage by stating that St. Catherine’s affirms the aspects of the Catholic identity that are “appropriate to higher education,” and claims that the College “values the rich and diverse history of the Church and the vision of Vatican II.”

Related: A Controversy at Post-Catholic Georgetown

While the University of St. Joseph in West Hartford, CT describes itself as having been “founded by the Sisters of Mercy in the Roman Catholic tradition,” the “Core Values” section of their website states: “The University of St. Joseph is grounded in its heritage as a Catholic institution expressing the Catholic tradition in an ecumenical and critical manner.” And, although Stonehill College describes itself as a Catholic institution, it reassures potential students and faculty members that the College has a “long tradition of free inquiry.” Likewise, Holy Names University described itself as being “rooted in the Catholic tradition,” but the reference to the lower case spelling of “catholic” is meant to show the university’s inclusiveness—what they call the University’s “universality:”

Rooted in the Catholic tradition, Holy Names demonstrates a respect for others’ values and customs. This is evident in holiday displays that incorporate symbols for Kwanzaa, Muslim, Jewish and Christian celebrations.  Students experience the universality of a catholic education at Holy Names University.”

My own campus—Franciscan University of Steubenville, Ohio, one of a few dozen truly faithful colleges and universities in the country—describes itself on its website and in all promotional materials as “Passionately Catholic.”  In contrast, most Jesuit colleges and universities have historically described themselves as “Jesuit institutions,” rather than Catholic colleges and universities.   But, recently, the Jesuits have defined even that identity down in what a 2014 article in Atlantic Monthly called a “major rebranding.”

The Jesuit Rockhurst University in Kansas City, Missouri removed the word “Jesuit” from the university tagline; and Regis University in Denver, Colorado, launched a new brand campaign deleting both the words “Jesuit” and “Catholic” in the school’s definition or its brand platform. “We hide the word ‘Catholic’ from prospective students,” Regis spokesperson, Traci McBee, told an interviewer for Atlantic Monthly: “We focus on the Jesuit piece rather than the Catholic piece.  We’re able to transform a little quicker because we are not waiting for the archbishop to give us permission. We don’t have to ask the Pope when we want to make changes.”

Related: Marquette’s Reputation at Stake

While such actions may seem to be a drastic departure from the Catholic identity of each of these schools—and a refusal to acknowledge the mission of Catholic higher education as articulated in Pope St. John Paul II’s Ex Corde Ecclesiae—the truth is that when one visits the websites of each of these Jesuit institutions, there is no question of their commitment to helping students become “men and women for and with others” in terms of addressing poverty and social justice.

The ideological commitment to social justice has not only become institutionalized on Jesuit campuses, it has also reached far beyond the twenty-eight Jesuit campuses to the majority of the more than 200 Catholic colleges and universities. Such a commitment can be noble, but sometimes the commitment to social justice can become so distorted that it requires a pro-choice perspective on abortion, or women’s ordination—both counter to Catholic doctrine—to ensure social justice for women.

For example, in an attempt to help create a new generation of Catholic law school graduates who are ready, willing and able to expand access to abortion through shaping public policy, and defend organizations like Planned Parenthood, Law Students for Reproductive Justice now have chapters at the following Catholic University law schools: De Paul, Fordham, Georgetown, Loyola (Los Angeles), Loyola (Chicago), Santa Clara, Seattle, St. Louis University, University of Detroit Mercy, University of San Diego, University of San Francisco and Villanova.  The Cardinal Newman Society has also documented that many Catholic colleges and universities provide undergraduate student internship credit for volunteering to function as clinic escorts at Planned Parenthood and other abortion facilities.

The movement away from evangelization and toward social justice is reflected in the mission statements on each of the Jesuit campuses and is increasingly part of the mission statement of the more than two hundred non-Jesuit Catholic colleges and universities. Sometimes the social justice mission is reflected in the campus itself. The newest building on the Sacred Heart University campus in Fairfield, CT has been named Jorge Bergoglio Hall.  An enormous residence building in the heart of campus, Bergoglio Hall stands across the street from Angelo Roncalli Hall—a residence for first-year students.  

Neither building has any indication that the buildings are named for the papal leaders of the Catholic Church, and it is likely that some students have no idea who Angelo Roncalli is. But, in a two-sentence explanation on an obscure page on the Sacred Heart website, students can find that “Jorge Bergoglio is the birth name of Pope Francis…his views align perfectly with our mission to instill in our students and other members of the SHU community with a deep sense of the Catholic intellectual tradition and its emphasis on social justice.”

A similar entry on the website reads that “Angelo Roncalli is the birth name of Pope John XXIII, the “Good Pope.”  Crediting him with “radically changing the face of the Catholic Church in the 20th Century by calling the meeting of the Second Vatican Council in 1962,” both men are viewed as social justice advocates. Neither Karl Wojtyla (Pope St. John Paul II) nor Josef Ratzinger (Pope Benedict XVI) have been given such honors on the Sacred Heart campus.

On many Catholic campuses, the mission of social justice is a phrase with the power of a command.  During a public debate at the Jesuit St. Joseph’s College of Philadelphia, the dean of the faculty stated, “a student who did not believe in social justice would not qualify for a degree at this school.” Fairfield University’s mission statement makes the promotion of justice “an absolute requirement.” The problem with mandating a commitment to social justice is that students and faculty are often mandated to agree with the ways in which social justice is defined on campus—and beyond.

Earlier this month, the Catholic Theological Society of America awarded its most prestigious annual award to University of San Diego theologian Orlando Espin, a theologian whose work was lauded by the CTSA as having “wrestled with problems associated with the historical and contemporary legacies of colonization, slavery, racism, and prejudice against LGBT persons.” In accepting his award, Espin thanked his husband of eight years.  Expanding access to marriage for same sex couples is viewed as part of the commitment to social justice on many Catholic campuses—despite Catholic teachings to the contrary.

Still, a commitment to social justice, without a commitment to teaching students about the Church’s natural law foundation for social justice makes a Catholic education no more distinctive than a secular education.  In 2013, concluding that his alma mater “takes pride in insulting the Church and offending the faithful,” William Peter Blatty, author of the best-selling book, The Exorcist filed a Canon Law petition with the Vatican asking that Georgetown University be denied the right to call itself Catholic. Calling Georgetown a “Potemkin Village,” Blatty complained that “at alumni dinners, they will make sure there is a Jesuit in a collar at every table, like the floral arrangement.” Others have filed similar lawsuits. Whether the Vatican chooses to respond remains uncertain.

The Feds Now Run a Bureaucracy That Regulates Sex

Writing in the California Law Review, Harvard Law School professors Jeannie Suk and Jacob Gersen note, “Today we have an elaborate and growing federal bureaucratic structure that in effect regulates sex.” This is largely the result of pressure from the Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights, where I used to work. It has told colleges like the University of Montana and University of New Mexico to classify all “unwelcome” sexual conduct or speech as “sexual harassment.” It did so even though this violates free speech, and even though courts have never defined sexual harassment that broadly.

The Obama administration expects colleges to massively meddle in students’ romantic lives, even off campus. It has told colleges to investigate students for sexual harassment or assault even when their allegedly victimized partner does not want any investigation. It instructed the University of Virginia to investigate further even when the accused has already admitted guilt (even though that could needlessly force a victim to relive her trauma) and even in “cases in which students chose not to file a formal complaint” or even to pursue an “informal resolution process.” It perversely faulted Michigan State for not investigating a false complaint fast enough, even though the complainant didn’t want a college investigation at all, and it suggested the University might have to offer the false accuser academic “remedies.

By pressuring colleges to vastly increase their regulation of students’ sex lives, and demanding investigations students don’t want, the Obama Education Department has fueled vast expansions of college bureaucracies. There are now thousands of staffers responsible for enforcing Title IX sexual conduct mandates. As Suk & Gersen note, “the bureaucracy dedicated to that regulation of sex is growing,” and a recently-formed association of Title IX officials boasts 1,400 members.

Reason magazine’s Elizabeth Nolan Brown says, “The root of the confusion lies in federal government guidance. For instance, here’s a definition the White House offered universities in a model survey on campus sexual violence:

Sexual violence refers to a range of behaviors that are unwanted by the recipient and include remarks about physical appearance; persistent sexual advances that are undesired by the recipient; [or] unwanted touching…. These behaviors could be initiated by someone known or unknown to the recipient, including someone they are in a relationship with.”

If you expect colleges to police “remarks about physical appearance” made during a relationship with an ex-partner, and treat it as “violence,” you will end up with vastly more investigations (and need a vastly larger and costlier administrative apparatus).

Legislation may further fuel the growth of the sex bureaucracy. Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), the former (and possibly future) House Speaker, has advocated passing laws requiring college students across the country to show “affirmative consent” before engaging in sex or intimate touching, and requiring colleges to discipline those who don’t. This term “affirmative consent” is usually not well-defined (in terms of exactly what intimate activities it applies to, and what is needed to show the required “agreement”). So when the co-sponsor of California’s 2014 “affirmative consent” law was asked how an innocent person could prove “affirmative” consent, she said, “Your guess is as good as mine.”  Yet California state legislators expect colleges to enforce such rules for them (a number of colleges are now being sued by expelled students).

As Gersen and Suk note, very little actual consent qualifies as “affirmative consent” under the extremely narrow definition of “consent” contained in many campus “affirmative consent” policies. For example, many such policies require that the consent be “enthusiastic”: “Very rapidly,” point out Suk and Gersen, “the consent line shifted again in many places to make enthusiasm a requirement of consent itself—anything less than enthusiasm is sexual assault.” The claim is that consent is not meaningful unless it is “verbal,” “enthusiastic,” “sober,” “informed,” “honest,” etc.

Even if you liked being kissed, a college may deem it sexual assault if there was no explicit discussion beforehand between you and your partner to establish the existence of “affirmative consent,” as Ramesh Ponnuru has noted at Bloomberg News.

As supporters of “affirmative consent” legislation acknowledge, such laws require regulated entities to enforce “sweeping” changes on the government’s behalf. Ezra Klein, a leading supporter of California’s “affirmative consent” law, says it will define as guilty of sexual assault people who “slip naturally from cuddling to sex” without a series of agreements in between, since

It tries to change, through brute legislative force, the most private and intimate of adult acts. It is sweeping in its redefinition of acceptable consent; two college seniors who’ve been in a loving relationship since they met during the first week of their freshman years, and who, with the ease of the committed, slip naturally from cuddling to sex, could fail its test.

The Yes Means Yes law is a necessarily extreme solution to an extreme problem. Its overreach is precisely its value.

If the Yes Means Yes law is taken even remotely seriously it will settle like a cold winter on college campuses, throwing everyday sexual practice into doubt and creating a haze of fear and confusion over what counts as consent. This is the case against it, and also the case for it…. Men need to feel a cold spike of fear when they begin a sexual encounter…. To work, “Yes Means Yes” needs to create a world where men are afraid.

There is also talk of enacting “affirmative consent” as a national requirement for not just students but all citizens. Historically, the federal government could not pass a nationwide law mandating “affirmative consent,” even assuming states could require it in their own borders. That’s because the Supreme Court’s 5-to-4 ruling in United States v. Morrison, 529 U.S. 598 (2000) had ruled that it is the function of states – not the federal government – to define and punish intrastate crimes like sexual assault. The Supreme Court’s Morrison ruling struck down Subtitle II-C of the Violence Against Women Act, which authorized federal lawsuits over sexual assault. The Court ruled that Congress lacked the power to do that under the Constitution’s commerce clause and section 5 of the Fourteenth Amendment.

But the crucial fifth vote, in that case, was provided by conservative Justice Antonin Scalia, who died in 2016.  He will likely be replaced by a progressive Justice who supports broad federal power over intrastate activities. That may encourage a more liberal Congress to pass national “affirmative consent” legislation covering everyone.

Students have often raised practical concerns about the workability of affirmative consent policies.  The New York Times quotes the developer of California’s “affirmative consent” curriculum, Ms. Zaloom, saying that to comply, you have to say “‘yes’ every 10 minutes” during a sexual encounter, resulting in constant awkward communication:

 “‘What does that mean — you have to say “yes” every 10 minutes?’ asked Aidan Ryan. . .

“‘Pretty much,’ Ms. Zaloom answered.”

The Times quoted a female student calling it “really awkward and bizarre”:

“The students did not seem convinced. They sat in groups to brainstorm ways to ask for affirmative consent. They crossed off a list of options: ‘Can I touch you there?’ Too clinical. ‘Do you want to do this?’ Too tentative. ‘Do you like that?’ Not direct enough.

“‘They’re all really awkward and bizarre,’ one girl said.”

One supporter of “affirmative consent” legislation says it requires “state-mandated dirty talk” before intimate touching. Professors Suk and Gersen (and others) have argued that requiring students to do this sort of thing raises serious constitutional privacy issues under Supreme Court decisions like Lawrence v. Texas (2003), which struck down Texas’s sodomy law as a violation of privacy rights.

“Affirmative consent” laws have been opposed by civil liberties groups like the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, and former ACLU Board member Wendy Kaminer. They also have been criticized by columnists like Bloomberg News’ Megan McArdle, Newsday’s Cathy Young, The New Republic’s Batya Ungar-Sargon, New York Magazine’s Jonathan Chait, and Amy Alkon, McArdle notes that such legislation “seems to criminalize most sexual encounters that most people have ever had, which (I hear) don’t usually involve multistep verbal contracts.” Affirmative-consent legislation has also been opposed by the editorial boards of newspapers such as the Los Angeles Times, Orange County Register, and New York Daily News.

2017 US News Top Ranked Colleges

National Universities (in order of rank or tie)

  • Princeton University (NJ)
  • Harvard University (MA)
  • University of Chicago (IL) (tie)
  • Yale University (CT) (tie)
  • Columbia University (NY) (tie)
  • Stanford University (CA) (tie)
  • Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  • Duke University (NC) (tie)
  • University of Pennsylvania (tie)
  • Johns Hopkins University (MD)

National Liberal Arts Colleges

  • Williams College (MA)
  • Amherst College (MA)
  • Wellesley College (MA)
  • Middlebury College (VT) (tie)
  • Swarthmore College (PA) (tie)
  • Bowdoin College (ME)
  • Carleton College (MN) (tie)
  • Pomona College (CA) (tie)
  • Claremont McKenna College (CA) (tie)
  • Davidson College (NC) (tie)

Top Public Schools

National Universities

  • University of California–Berkeley
  • University of California–Los Angeles (tie)
  • University of Virginia (tie)
  • University of Michigan–Ann Arbor
  • University of North Carolina–Chapel Hill
  • William and Mary
  • Georgia Tech
  • University of California–Santa Barbara
  • University of California–Irvine
  • University of California–Davis
  • University of California–San Diego
  • University of Illinois–Urbana-Champaign

See all the US News Rankings here.

Wear that Batik Dress and You’re a Cultural Appropriator

 What follows are excerpts from the keynote speech on “Fiction and Identity Politics” delivered September 8 at the Brisbane Writers Festival in Australia by Lionel Shriver.

Let’s start with a tempest-in-a-teacup at Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine. Earlier this year, two students, both members of student government, threw a tequila-themed birthday party for a friend. The hosts provided attendees with miniature sombreros, which—the horror— numerous partygoers wore.

When photos of the party circulated on social media, campus-wide outrage ensued. Administrators sent multiple emails to the “culprits” threatening an investigation into an “act of ethnic stereotyping.” Partygoers were placed on “social probation,” while the two hosts were ejected from their dorm and later impeached. Bowdoin’s student newspaper decried the attendees’ lack of “basic empathy.”

The student government issued a “statement of solidarity” with “all the students who were injured and affected by the incident,” and demanded that administrators “create a safe space for those students who have been or feel specifically targeted.” The tequila party, the statement specified, was just the sort of occasion that “creates an environment where students of color, particularly Latino, and especially Mexican, feel unsafe.” In sum, the party-favor hats constituted – wait for it – “cultural appropriation.”

Curiously, across my country Mexican restaurants, often owned and run by Mexicans, are festooned with sombreros – if perhaps not for long.

But what does this have to do with writing fiction? The moral of the sombrero scandals is clear: you’re not supposed to try on other people’s hats. Yet that’s what we’re paid to do, isn’t it? Step into other people’s shoes, and try on their hats.

Yet were their authors honoring the new rules against helping yourself to what doesn’t belong to you, we would not have Malcolm Lowry’s Under the Volcano. We wouldn’t have most of Graham Greene’s novels, many of which are set in what for the author were foreign countries, and which therefore have Real Foreigners in them, who speak and act like foreigners, too.

In his masterwork English Passengers, Matthew Kneale would have restrained himself from including chapters written in an Aboriginal’s voice – though these are some of the richest, most compelling passages in that novel. If Dalton Trumbo had been scared off of describing being trapped in a body with no arms, legs, or face because he was not personally disabled – because he had not been through a World War I maiming himself and therefore had no right to “appropriate” the isolation of a paraplegic – we wouldn’t have the haunting 1938 classic, Johnny Got His Gun.

Though the book is nonfiction, it’s worth noting that we also wouldn’t have 1961’s Black Like Me, for which John Howard Griffin committed the now unpardonable sin of “blackface.” Having his skin darkened – Michael Jackson in reverse – Griffin found out what it was like to live as a black man in the segregated American South. He’d be excoriated today, yet that book made a powerful social impact at the time.

The author of Who Owns Culture? Appropriation and Authenticity in American Law, Susan Scafidi, a law professor at Fordham University who for the record is white, defines cultural appropriation as “taking intellectual property, traditional knowledge, cultural expressions, or artifacts from someone else’s culture without permission. This can include unauthorized use of another culture’s dance, dress, music, language, folklore, cuisine, traditional medicine, religious symbols, etc.”

What strikes me about that definition is that “without permission” bit. How are we fiction writers to seek “permission,” to use a character from another race or culture, or to employ the vernacular of a group to which we don’t belong? Do we set up a stand on the corner and approach passers-by with a clipboard, getting signatures that grant limited rights to employ an Indonesian character in Chapter Twelve, the way political volunteers get a candidate on the ballot?

I am hopeful that the concept of “cultural appropriation” is a passing fad: people with different backgrounds rubbing up against each other and exchanging ideas and practices is self-evidently one of the most productive, fascinating aspects of modern urban life.

But this latest and little absurd no-no is part of a larger climate of super-sensitivity, giving rise to proliferating prohibitions supposedly in the interest of social justice that constrain fiction writers and prospectively makes our work impossible.

So far, the majority of these farcical cases of “appropriation” have concentrated on fashion, dance, and music: At the American Music Awards 2013, Katy Perry got it in the neck for dressing like a geisha. According to the Arab-American writer Randa Jarrar, for someone like me to practice belly dancing is “white appropriation of Eastern dance,” while according to the Daily Beast Iggy Azalea committed “cultural crimes” by imitating African rap and speaking in a “blaccent.”

The felony of cultural sticky fingers even extends to exercise: at the University of Ottawa in Canada, a yoga teacher was shamed into suspending her class, “because yoga originally comes from India.” She offered to re-title the course, “Mindful Stretching.”

Seriously, we have people questioning whether it’s appropriate for white people to eat pad Thai. Turnabout, then: I guess that means that as a native of North Carolina, I can ban the Thais from eating barbecue. (I bet they’d swap.)

Writing fiction is a disrespectful vocation by its nature – prying, voyeuristic, kleptomaniacal, and presumptuous. And that is fiction writing at its best. When Truman Capote wrote from the perspective of condemned murderers from a lower economic class than his own, he had some gall. But writing fiction takes gall.

As for the culture police’s obsession with “authenticity,” fiction is inherently inauthentic. It’s fake. It’s self-confessedly fake; that is the nature of the form, which is about people who don’t exist and events that didn’t happen. The name of the game is not whether your novel honors reality; it’s all about what you can get away with.

My most recent novel The Mandibles was taken to task by one reviewer for addressing an America that is “straight and white”. It happens that this is a multigenerational family saga – about a white family. I wasn’t instinctively inclined to insert a transvestite or bisexual, with issues that might distract from my central subject matter of apocalyptic economics. Yet the implication of this criticism is that we novelists need to plug in representatives of a variety of groups in our cast of characters, as if filling out the entering class of freshmen at a university with strict diversity requirements.

You do indeed see just this brand of tokenism in television. There was a point in the latter 1990s at which suddenly every sitcom and drama in sight had to have a gay or lesbian character or couple. That was good news as a voucher of the success of the gay rights movement, but it still grew a bit tiresome: look at us, our show is so hip, one of the characters is homosexual!

We’re now going through the same fashionable exercise in relation to the transgender characters in series like Transparent and Orange is the New Black.

Fine. But I still would like to reserve the right as a novelist to use only the characters that pertain to my story.

Besides: which is it to be? We have to tend our own gardens, and only write about ourselves or people just like us because we mustn’t pilfer others’ experience, or we have to people our cast like an I’d like to teach the world to sing Coca-Cola advert?

For it can be dangerous these days to go the diversity route. Especially since there seems to be a consensus on the notion that San Francisco reviewer put forward that “special care should be taken with a story that’s not implicitly yours to tell.”

Thus in the world of identity politics, fiction writers better be careful. If we do choose to import representatives of protected groups, special rules apply. If a character happens to be black, they have to be treated with kid gloves, and never be placed in scenes that, taken out of context, might seem disrespectful. But that’s no way to write. The burden is too great, the self-examination paralyzing. The natural result of that kind of criticism in the Post is that next time I don’t use any black characters, lest they do or say anything that is short of perfectly admirable and lovely.

Why, it’s largely in order to keep from losing my fictional mojo that I stay off Facebook and Twitter, which could surely install an instinctive self-censorship out of fear of attack. Ten years ago, I gave the opening address of this same festival, in which I maintained that fiction writers have a vested interest in protecting everyone’s right to offend others – because if hurting someone else’s feelings even inadvertently is sufficient justification for muzzling, there will always be someone out there who is miffed by what you say, and freedom of speech is dead. With the rise of identity politics, which privileges a subjective sense of injury as actionable basis for prosecution, that is a battle that in the decade since I last spoke in Brisbane we’ve been losing.

Worse: the left’s embrace of gotcha hypersensitivity inevitably invites backlash. Donald Trump appeals to people who have had it up to their eyeballs with being told what they can and cannot say. Pushing back against a mainstream culture of speak-no-evil suppression, they lash out in defiance, and then what they say is pretty appalling.

We should be seeking to push beyond the constraining categories into which we have been arbitrarily dropped by birth.

Writing during the day and reading when I go to bed at night, I find it an enormous relief to escape the confines of my own head. Even if novels and short stories only do so by creating an illusion, fiction helps to fell the exasperating barriers between us, and for a short while allows us to behold the astonishing reality of other people. We fiction writers have to preserve the right to wear many hats – including sombreros.

Lionel Shriver is an American journalist and author who is resident in the United Kingdom. Her novels include We Need to Talk About Kevin and The Mandibles.

Obama Backs the Worst Colleges While Destroying For-Profit Schools

The federal government happily subsidizes inferior state colleges that graduate few if any of their students. That includes Chicago State University, which has a 12.8 percent six-year graduation rate.

The Obama administration has rewritten federal student loan rules in a way that encourages colleges to raise tuition and effectively subsidizes the worst colleges the most. The Federal Reserve Bank of New York found that each additional dollar in government financial aid results in a tuition hike of about 65 cents.

The federal government also subsidizes expensive, low-quality third-tier law schools whose graduates are often unemployed. It does so even though many of their graduates will never pay back their student loans because of their low graduating salaries, and the huge amount of money law students are allowed to borrow from the government.

While the government is indulgent towards wasteful state colleges, it has a very different, hostile attitude towards for-profit colleges. It will sometimes financially destroy them even without any proof of wrongdoing. The Washington Post editorial board gives the latest example of the Obama administration doing this, its destruction of ITT Technical Institutes:

Never mind that the higher education plans of tens of thousands of students will be disrupted. Or that 8,000 people will lose their jobs. Or that American taxpayers could be on the hook for hundreds of millions of dollars in forgiven student loans. What is apparently of most importance to the Obama administration is its ideological opposition to for-profit colleges and universities. That’s a harsh conclusion, but it is otherwise hard to explain why the Education Department has unabashedly used administrative muscle to destroy another company in the beleaguered industry.

ITT Technical Institutes, one of the nation’s largest for-profit educational chains, on Tuesday abruptly announced that after 50 years in business it was shutting down more than 100 campuses in 38 states. The announcement, displacing an estimated 40,000 students, follows last month’s decision by the Education Department barring the school from enrolling new students using federal student aid and upping its surety requirements. The department said it was acting to protect students and taxpayers, noting the school had been threatened with a loss of accreditation and that it was facing a number of ongoing investigations by both state and federal authorities.

What is so troubling about the department’s aggressive move — which experts presciently called a death sentence — is that not a single allegation of wrongdoing has been proven against the school. Maybe the government is right about ITT’s weaknesses, but its unilateral action without any semblance of due process is simply wrong. “Inappropriate and unconstitutional,” said ITT officials.

Such unfairness sadly is a hallmark of the Obama administration policy toward higher education’s for-profit sector. It has singled out the industry for stringent employment and student loan rules and stepped up enforcement with stiff sanctions that, as The Post’s Danielle Douglas-Gabriel reported, have some companies on the brink of ruin.

As the Cato Institute’s Neal McCluskey notes, ITT Tech produced better graduating salaries for its students than nearby public alternatives. But no one is suggesting that those lousy public colleges be shut down.

How Diversity Came to Mean ‘Downgrade the West’

There was a time, within living memory, when the term multiculturalism was hardly known.  More than twenty years ago, Peter Thiel, cofounder of PayPal and in late July speaker at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, wrote a book with fellow Stanford alum David Sacks called The Diversity Myth: ‘Multiculturalism’ and the Politics of Intolerance at Stanford (1995).

The book’s title refers to the pretense that embracing “diversity” actually promotes diversity of all types, a claim commonly heard to this day.  Thiel had been a student at Stanford when, in January 1987, demonstrators defending “the Rainbow Agenda” chanted “Hey hey, ho ho, Western Culture’s got to go!”  This protest led to the infamous “revision” (i.e., suppression) of the Western Culture requirement at Stanford, replaced with a freshman sequence called Cultures, Ideas, and Values, mandating an emphasis on race, gender, and class.

In her foreword to Sacks and Thiel’s book, the well-known American historian Elizabeth Fox-Genovese referred to Stanford as “a surreal world of social engineering and institutional arrogance” and highlighted the school’s efforts to wage a “campaign to reshape thought and behavior.”  She noted that while the term “affirmative action” had been replaced by “diversity,” the latter term, far from actually promoting intellectual diversity, rested on “a series of interlocking attitudes and practices.”

Furthermore, “multiculturalism” did not involve greater emphasis on mastering foreign languages or carefully studying cultures other than those of the English-speaking world.  Instead, work in literature and culture programs was (and still is) done increasingly in English and focused on contemporary writers.  Nor did multiculturalism, any more than the word diversity, mean familiarizing students with a diversity of views. Rather, as Fox-Genovese summarized it, it meant requiring students “to agree with or even applaud views and values that mock the values with which they have been reared.”  And all this, she observed, was being accompanied by rampant grade inflation.

Related: Hey, Stanford: Western Civ Has Gotta Grow

On the very first page of their book, Sacks and Thiel commented on the double entendre implicit in the Stanford protesters’ chant of “Western Culture’s got to go.”  It was not just the required Western Culture course that was being denounced, ostensibly because most of the books studied had been written by “dead white males,” a group that was by definition considered illegitimate. Rather, it was the Western tradition as a whole.

Such a move was both novel and extraordinary, Sacks and Thiel wrote, for it “attacked not the quality or historical significance of the great books, but rather the authors themselves – for being of the wrong race, gender, or class.”

The Diversity Myth noted the chilling potential consequences of such attacks, which are now entirely routine, hardly worth commenting on. “Whereas the Western Culture canon had been based upon a belief in universalism—the belief that the insights contained within the West’s great works were potentially available to everybody—the new curriculum embraced particularism: What one may know is determined by the circumstances of one’s birth.”

The assault wasn’t merely on the idea of universalism, which assumed that, as Sidney Hook explained in a 1989 essay that Sacks and Thiel summarize: “There exist truths that transcend the accidents of one’s birth, and these objective truths are in principle available to everyone—whether young or old, rich or poor, male or female, white or black.”  A distinct view of human nature was being proposed instead, one that rejected the belief that individuals, and indeed humanity as a whole, “are not trapped within a closed cultural space that predetermines what they may know.”  Sacks and Thiel warned that by this rejection, the Stanford protestors of 1987 “would pave the way for a very different kind of academy.”

Fast forward 20-some years and the “different kind of academy” is everywhere around us, proudly kowtowing to the demands of (certain) identity groups and wearing its heart on its sleeve about its profound commitment to, as the chancellor of the University of Massachusetts Amherst constantly reiterates, “diversity, equity, and inclusion.”  The pressures have intensified and grown more and more unabashedly political, as evidenced in UMass’s recently revised “cultural diversity” courses, which go well beyond the standard inclusion of particular identity groups.

Whereas in the past the university had concentrated on prohibiting offensive speech, via the sorts of “harassment” policies that exist to chill speech in virtually all universities today, UMass now also compels certain types of speech and attitudes.  The new version of  “cultural diversity” courses, of which all students are required to take two, must now explicitly critique inequalities and injustices, oppression and hegemony, in order to lead students to pursue change on behalf of “social justice,” yet another overused and vague term (see Patai and Silverglate).

Related: Race-baiting in the Name of Justice

At Yale University, to take another recent example, in 2016, in the context of the numerous protests across the nation that campuses were not addressing “systemic racism,” undergraduates in the English Department crafted a petition to “decolonize” (not just diversify) the department’s two-semester famed basic course sequence, Major English Poets, pre-1800/1900, which focused primarily on eight great poets.  In the petition, the students claimed that the absence of women, people of color, and queer folk from these two courses “actively harms all students, regardless of their identity” by creating “a culture that is especially hostile to students of color.”

The existence of many courses in the department (and out of it) related to race, gender, ethnicity and sexuality was deemed insufficient, since these were mainly upper-level courses. The demand shows that the students’ motivation is not to make available to them courses including or devoted entirely to non-white-males (since such courses already exist), but rather to force other students to study what these student activists believe they should study.

The Yale Daily News account of this episode is followed by 20 comments critical, often scathingly so, of the petition. One of these quotes at length from W. E. B. Du Bois’s 1903 book The Souls of Black Folk:

I sit with Shakespeare, and he winces not. Across the color line I move arm and arm with Balzac and Dumas, where smiling men and welcoming women glide in gilded halls. From out of the caves of evening that swing between the strong-limbed Earth and the tracery of [the] stars, I summon Aristotle and Aurelius and what soul I will, and they come all graciously with no scorn nor condescension. So, wed with Truth, I dwell above the Veil. Is this the life you grudge us, O knightly America? Is this the life you long to change into the dull red hideousness of Georgia? Are you so afraid lest peering from this high Pisgah, between Philistine and Amalekite, we sight the Promised Land?

It is likely that most student protesters today are ignorant of this passage (and of so much else), or, if they knew of it, would merely sneer at its universalist underpinnings, or dismiss it as nothing but a “reinscribing” of dominant views.

As Sacks and Thiel foresaw in their book, the diversity myth has devolved into a host of additional myths rooted in identity politics and ideological policing, while the reality of a debased education, deliberately made subservient to present political passions, goes unaddressed. Elizabeth Fox-Genovese, however, was still optimistic at the time she wrote her foreword to Sacks and Thiel’s book.

Stressing the alarming core argument of The Diversity Myth, she nonetheless believed that the book was “appearing at a moment of mounting public consciousness of the ways in which our educational system is failing our young people. We all know that we are doing something wrong.”

Related: A College Guide to Viewpoint Diversity

Such warnings, along with numerous similar ones, as it turned out, went unheeded, as the ever more extreme episodes of politically correct demands on college campuses over the past two decades indicate.  An ironic detail confirms this reality:  Just before their book was released, Sacks and Thiel published an opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal (October 9, 1995) ridiculing the new curriculum as “mindless.”

This in turn inspired Stanford’s president to write in protest, labeling their op-ed “demagoguery” and accusing them of concocting a “cartoon” image of the new curriculum.  By now, sadly, it is hardly possible to satirize American universities, since even not-yet-dead white administrators rush to embrace perspectives that used to be held mostly by angry students.

Increasingly, students these days present their grievances as non-negotiable demands. In addition to the ever-expanding identity categories, in recent years we have seen both administrators and faculty members forced to resign for holding the “wrong” opinions or not capitulating rapidly enough to the demands of student protesters. In other words, what Sacks and Thiel argued very clearly more than two decades ago was on the mark. They saw that the real issues roiling universities had to do not with education or intellectual diversity or even equal opportunity (long since replaced by the demand for equal outcomes, “safe spaces,” and “comfort”), but rather with promoting particular aggrieved identity groups and their political views, in the classroom and out.

Stanford’s story doesn’t end with the curriculum revision thirty years ago, however.  As it happens, in 1987 Peter Thiel was a co-founder of the Stanford Review, created to promote campus debate beyond the perspectives that were rapidly acquiring the status of a new orthodoxy.  In the spring of 2016, the Stanford Review, still pursuing its contrarian mission, sponsored a ballot initiative to restore, as a requirement, a two-part freshmen course on the Western world.  The result – which ought to shock everyone but in fact surprised few people in the academic world – was that the initiative was roundly rejected, garnering less than 15% support from the student body.

The strict limitations, both political and cultural, that define multiculturalism and diversity are also displayed in the spate of disinvitations in recent years of Commencement speakers, lecturers, and other guests whose political views do not suit the petty tyrants on college campuses (see FIRE’s “Disinvitation Report 2014: A Disturbing 15-Year Trend”).

To take just one example, which also demonstrates that to campus ideologues, having the correct politics trumps even race and gender, consider the case of Somalian-born writer and human rights activist Ayaan Hirsi Ali.  In 2014, Brandeis University rescinded an invitation to Hirsi Ali, who was to receive an honorary degree at Commencement. A campus petition objecting to the award, on the grounds of her impassioned criticisms of Islam, was signed by nearly 25% of Brandeis’s faculty and 6,000 others inside and outside Brandeis.

FIRE’s Disinvitation Report noted that the trend was growing, and that severely restrictive speech codes were typically found at those schools with the highest numbers of incidents of disinvitation. There is a sublime irony in the spectacle of self-righteous individuals at an elite university using the liberal values of free speech and open debate to denounce a fearless critic of female genital mutilation and other practices of violence that she experienced as part of the Islamic culture in which she grew up. This intolerance of “diverse” points of view is particularly telling at the present time, when Islamist terrorism is on the rise worldwide but, mysteriously, is seldom addressed on college campuses.

For her outspoken positions, Hirsi Ali is accused of “hate speech” and “Islamophobia” – even as equally adamant critics of, say, the U.S. or Israel are welcomed as speakers and faculty members, and universities and professional academic associations seek to enforce the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel.  In fact, as Andrew Anthony wrote in The Guardian (April 27, 2015), Hirsi Ali “is loathed not just by Islamic fundamentalists but by many western liberals, who find her rejection of Islam almost as objectionable as her embrace of western liberalism.”

Perhaps the students at these prestigious universities need to read the work of historian Niall Ferguson, who moved to Stanford’s Hoover Institution in 2016, after 12 years at Harvard.  Ferguson’s book Civilization: The West and the Rest (2011) presents a thorough account of 500 years of Western civilization’s contributions to the world, in terms of such basic measures of well-being as health, economic prosperity, and civil and political rights.

No doubt all this counts for nothing among today’s student protesters, who are incapable of spotting anything other than racism, sexism, and imperialism in the West. Although these university students are among the very people who benefit the most from all that Western culture has achieved, they evidently lack the imagination to grasp what it would mean to actually live in a society that controls their speech and movements, deprives them of the right to be heard, and imposes a rigid political ideology (not the one they happen to support) on their education.  But to truly understand the values they so blithely reject, they’d probably need a course in Western culture.

Explaining Black Rage on Campus and in the Inner-City

Many factors have been suggested to explain the explosion in Black protest and Black rage over the past two years on college campuses and in cities like Ferguson, Baltimore, and Milwaukee: racist police, insensitive college administrators, bigoted White students, pervasive “micro-aggressions,” the stigma-creating effect of racial preference policies, among others.

But most such factors fail to answer the crucial “why now?” question. It is a fundamental principle of social science analysis, as well as of simple common sense, that change cannot be adequately explained by a “constant.”  If the price of gasoline goes up it is not much of an explanation to say that the gas station owners and the oil companies must be trying to earn more profit.  Under a free market system market participants are almost always trying to maximize their profits, so if gasoline prices rise (or fall) some other factor besides changes in profit motive must be responsible for the price increase or decrease.

Almost all of the factors typically mentioned to explain recent racial upheavals are “constants” that existed just as much — or to a greater degree — five, ten, or twenty years ago. There is no credible evidence that America’s police have become more racist, that White college students are more bigoted or more “micro-aggressive” than they used to be, that college administrators and college presidents are more insensitive to Black concerns, or that there has been an increase in hostility to Black aspirations either on college campuses or in America’s cities. Something clearly has changed, but it is not to be found in the factors most commentators have focused upon.

Related: How Student Protesters Cheat Themselves

What clearly has changed is the level of Black frustration and disappointment in the closing years of Barack Obama’s administration.  And to explain it we must understand what is sometimes called the “Tocqueville Effect” and what social scientists in the 1950s began to describe as frustration born of an unfulfilled “revolution of rising expectations.” Whatever else one might say about Barack Obama’s two victories in his campaigns for the U.S. presidency, they raised the hope, pride, and aspirations of tens of millions of Black Americans in addition to that of many non-Blacks as well.  “Hope and change” was the dominant theme of his White House quest, and for many — including the Nobel peace prize committee — his campaign slogans were the source of great expectations.

Whatever else one might say about Barack Obama’s two victories in his campaigns for the U.S. presidency, they raised the hope, pride, and aspirations of tens of millions of Black Americans in addition to that of many non-Blacks as well.  “Hope and change” was the dominant theme of his White House quest, and for many — including the Nobel peace prize committee — his campaign slogans were the source of great expectations.

For many Black Americans the election of the first U.S. Black president was euphoric.  A pervasive sense of promise and the expectations for fundamental change were everywhere. A new day and a new dawn were upon us.  Here, for instance, is a memoir written by a family friend who watched the presidential election returns the night of November 4, 2008 as they were telecast on a large overhead screen in the heart of New York City’s Harlem:

The night Obama was elected for the first time I stood in Harlem in the Adam Clayton Powell State Office Building Square with thousands of Harlemites watching the huge television screen mounted above our heads. … I was awed at the many black men who wept openly.  Parents lifted small children in the air and told them to remember this day in history.  Some people knelt in prayer.  I just felt I finally had personally gotten back at all those who had violated, abused or hated my existence because of the color of my skin.  A European media group … approached me because I obviously was an older woman who had experienced more racism than those younger celebrating around me.  They wanted to interview me.  Though I tried, I could not speak an intelligible sentence, I was too overcome with emotion. … It was a glorious, victorious night!  I had lived to see a needed change in this country.  My hopes were high for change.

A European media group … approached me because I obviously was an older woman who had experienced more racism than those younger celebrating around me.  They wanted to interview me.  Though I tried I could not speak an intelligible sentence, I was too overcome with emotion … It was a glorious, victorious night!  I had lived to see a needed change in this country.  My hopes were high for change.

With hopes raised to such exalted heights, it is no surprise that disappointment would eventually set in.  For most Black people, life during the Obama years went on pretty much as it had, with gradually mounting frustration and anger the inevitable result.  Even after six years of the Obama presidency, there was little if any fundamental change in the Black standard of living, Black social mobility, Black achievement in the nation’s school system, Black/White race relations, or improvements in the stability and solidarity of Black family ties.

Related: How Yale Tries to Dodge New Protests

The anger and frustration that resulted from dashed hopes and failed dreams led to a situation whereby minor irritants previously endured. A college building named after an early 20th century U.S. president who shared the White southern view of race relations typical of his time suddenly became intolerable outrages and symbols of extreme and painful oppression.

What was previously viewed as rare and hardly typical cases of rogue cops gunning down innocent and non-threatening Black men came to be identified as an all-pervasive feature of a Black-hating, Black-oppressing, White racist society.  Rioting, looting, seizure of college buildings, and the issuance of a host of non-negotiable demands for redress came to be seen by significant numbers of Black people and their White leftist supporters as the understandable — and perhaps even justifiable — response to such provocations.

People who are angry, frustrated, and disappointed often discharge their negative emotions on objects unrelated to the real source of their actual distress. Someone who has had a fight with his boss at work comes home, kicks the cat blocking the path to his favorite easy chair, and screams at his young son for leaving his bicycle in the driveway.

A similar kind of displaced anger and frustration, I believe, was a hidden factor behind much of the heightened racial resentment and Black rage that we have seen since the summer of 2014 on many college campuses and in several U.S. cities. Growing frustration over unrealistic hopes was the “non-constant,” I believe, that helps explain the otherwise inexplicable change in Black behavior. An increase in White racism — the explanation so beloved by the left — explains none of these developments since no such increase has ever been demonstrated and is hardly likely to have occurred.

This situation was in many ways a repeat of the social dynamic that existed in several of the inner-cities of America during the “riot years” of the mid and late 1960s.  Then too there was a “revolution of rising expectations” among many Black Americans, one triggered by the unprecedented legislative victories in civil rights during Lyndon Johnson’s presidency.   Passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which prohibited racial discrimination in many areas of American life, was seen as a milestone in the Black quest for human dignity and equal rights.

Areas covered in its reach included private and public employment, educational institutions receiving government aid, and private businesses deemed to be “public accommodations” like restaurants and hotels. Hopes were also raised the following year by the passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, which assured Blacks the right to vote throughout America, a right effectively denied to them in many of the states of the Old Confederacy.

The passage of these laws, the injustices to which they drew attention, and the hype surrounding their claimed benefits by their most influential supporters led to both a) an exaggerated expectation of immediate positive change, and b) a heightened sensitivity to remaining problems and injustices that the laws did not reach.  This combination proved explosive in terms of triggering Black frustration and Black rage that in the years between 1965 and 1969 led to serious Black riots in over a hundred U.S. cities. Paradoxical — and incomprehensible — as it seemed to many, it was precisely in those years in which the social, legal, and economic conditions of Black people advanced most rapidly that Black anger, frustration, and violent behavior reached their peak.

The Tocqueville Effect

One person who would not have been surprised by this 60s-era development was Alexis de Tocqueville, who in his study of the French Revolution first described the relationship between rapidly accelerating expectations and the consequences that often follow from them in terms of frustration, heightened sensitivities, and outwardly directed anger and violence. “It was precisely in those parts of France where there had been most improvements that popular discontent ran highest,” Tocqueville explained about France’s bloody revolution. “This may seem illogical,” he went on, “but history is full of such paradoxes.

Patiently endured so long as it seemed beyond redress, a grievance comes to appear intolerable once the possibility of removing it crosses men’s minds.  For the mere fact that certain abuses have been remedied draws attention to the others and they now appear more galling; people may suffer less, but their sensibility is exacerbated.  At the height of its power feudalism did not inspire so much hatred as it did on the eve of its eclipse.  In the reign of Louis XVI the most trivial pinpricks of arbitrary power caused more resentment than the thoroughgoing despotism of Louis XIV.” (Alexis de Tocqueville, The Old Regime and the French Revolution.)

Revolutions of rising expectations are dangerous affairs and may have various causes. The one of the 1960s in America was produced by an array of factors similar to that of late 18th century France but quite different from that of the Obama years.  But whatever their source, greatly exaggerated hopes for change and improvement are always in danger of leading to great disappointment and frustration, heightened dissatisfaction with one’s lot in life, and a gross reduction in one’s overall sense of happiness and wellbeing. These in turn can lead to political instability, uncontrolled anger, and often violent social unrest.

It is this dynamic, I believe, which helps to explain much of the racial turmoil we have seen of late on college campuses and in many of our cities, and it is this same dynamic which explains why such seemingly minor irritants as a politically incorrect Halloween costume or a tasteless theme-party at a college fraternity house can unleash such immense hatred, pain, and rage.  Tocqueville would have understood it all very well.

What Diversity Officers All Believe

Those of you who wonder what diversity officials do all day must listen to Sheree Marlowe, the new chief diversity officer at Clark University. During first-year orientation, a baffled and tense freshperson asked if she could sing along with a carful of other white people when a song containing the N-word filled the air. “No,” said Marlowe, who applies diversity ethics for groups off campus as well as on.

Marlowe had other nuggets of advice: don’t ask an Asian student for help with your homework and don’t ask a black student if he plays basketball because these acts evoke stereotypes of Asian intellectual competence and black athleticism. Also never use the term “you guys” when addressing a group, because it could imply you are leaving out women.

There’s more: Marlowe thinks careless statements such as, “Everyone can succeed in this society if they work hard enough” are not just micro-aggressions but also micro-invalidations because they suggest that race plays a minor role in life’s outcomes.

Related: The New Age of Orthodoxy Overtakes the Campus

This advice came in a New York Times article  yesterday by reporter Stephanie Saul, which added this concern about racism negatively affecting college attendance:

“Fresh on the minds of university officials are last year’s highly publicized episodes involving racist taunts at the University of Missouri in Columbia — which appear to have contributed to a precipitous decline in enrollment there this fall.”

This is an odd way of putting it, since we recall only two incidents of racist taunts (and one mysterious swastika) reported before the Mizzou protests, one from a passing car and thus probably not a good barometer of campus racial attitudes.

Most people think applications to the campus are down not because of the two or three incidents in or near a campus of 35,000 students, but because of the turbulent protests and the way they were handled — the abrupt resignation of the university president and chancellor, a hunger strike, the temporary paralysis of the campus and the now famous Melissa Click attempt to bar a photographer from covering events for the school paper.

Related: Finally, One Major Campus Condemns Trigger Warnings, Safe Spaces

Reporter Saul adds a dark interpretation of resistance to the diversity tsunami: “Some graduates have curtailed donations and students have suggested that diversity training smacks of some sort of communist re-education program.

The backlash was exemplified recently in a widely publicized letter sent to incoming freshmen at the University of Chicago by the dean of students, John Ellison. The letter clearly rejected the need for “trigger warnings” and “safe spaces” for an adult student body that should be capable of hearing ideas and concepts contrary to their own.

A communist re-education program, quickly linked to the University of Chicago free-speech letter? Probably not. You would almost think that some reporters can’t resist adding their opinions to stories.

Brown’s President Says She Values Free Speech, but…

Christina Paxson, president of Brown University, published a ringing endorsement of free speech on campus yesterday in The Washington Post. The op-ed said, “Freedom of expression is an essential component of academic freedom, which protects the ability of universities to fulfill their core mission of advancing knowledge.”

That’s nice. What the article didn’t say is that Brown has long been an unusually censorship-minded institution and that a short documentary, released in July, is making the rounds saying so. According to the Web site the College Fix, the documentary (see below), by Brown graduate Rob Montz, says, “the university is plagued by administrators who shelter students from controversial ideas and faculty who are too cowed to publicly defend free speech.”

Also, The Brown Herald, the student newspaper, scrubbed two columns from its site on grounds that they were hurtful and inaccurate. One took on the campus anti “white-privilege” movement, “The Whiteness of Cows;” the other argued that Columbus Day should be celebrated for the infusion of European values, culture and technology, even if Columbus himself is not regarded as admirable. A Daily Beast article on the subject, “Freedom of Speech? Not at Brown University,” noted that “the Brown administration appeared unconcerned by the attempt to censor freedom of speech.”

When Christina Sommers spoke at Brown, arguing that “Rape Culture”—systemic social and political support for rape—does not exist, Paxson scheduled or (allowed the scheduling of) a feminist rape lecture at the exact time Sommers was to speak, presumably to draw away attendees.

Brown also made the news in 2013 when angry Brown students shut down a scheduled speech by then-New York City Police Commissioner Ray Kelly on grounds that the city’s stop-and-frisk policy was racist. Despite ample indications that students would try to shut Kelly down, the Paxson administration supplied only one security guard for the event. If Paxson really valued free speech, there was an obvious way to demonstrate it: She could have re-invited Kelly and supplied enough campus cops to handle the yahoos. But she didn’t.

Poll Indicates Race Problems on Campus Greatly Exaggerated

The Knight Foundation survey, conducted by Gallup, of where the First Amendment stands among college students and U.S. adults has several interesting findings.  One of them cuts to the heart of all the other issues of the First Amendment on campus today:

There is a real perception that campuses are not fully open environments. A slight majority of students, 54%, say the climate on their campus prevents some people from saying what they believe because others might find it offensive.

Related: Watch Out for the Campus Bias Team

Nobody should find this an extraordinary rate of self-censorship. Instead, we should wonder about the 46 percent who didn’t think that their campus climate suppresses free speech precisely on the grounds of giving others offense. The phrasing of the question doesn’t cover jokes in bad taste, forms of harassment, vandalism, or discriminatory conduct. A bit of discretion and other-awareness is one of the costs of living in polite society. But this goes beyond basic manners and touches on the core of an academic environment — the freedom to press an argument some find disagreeable (as long as you do so with evidence and reasoning).  It asks about people’s intellectual statements, about “what they believe”–opinions, norms, values.

The reply shows how far belief has been submitted to sensitivities. Even 19-year-olds now understand that the measure of their thoughts on topics of race and sexuality is the possible reaction of someone, somewhere, who might not be able to sleep that night after hearing those words. It has only taken a few instances of an indiscreet professor or administrator who muttered the wrong words, aroused a protest, apologized profusely for offending others, and slunk off in shame for everyone to get the message. Keep your head down and your mouth shut.

There is another finding in the study that attributes the shutdown of belief entirely to the sensitivities of the complainers, not to the reality of the campus.  When students were asked about the racial climate of their campus, 26 percent termed it “excellent” and 48 percent good.  That makes three-quarters of all students who have no concerns about systemic racial tensions or problems.  Only a mere six percent rated the climate “poor.”

Within this response, too, we find that only 13 percent of black students gave the “poor” rating.

Related: Race Baiting in the Name of Justice

This makes for an astonishing contrast.  More than half of students see a “chilling” climate for speech, while barely one-in-twenty see a bad climate for race relations.  We know that much of the censorship and offense-taking has to do with race issues, and yet the vast majority of students find that there is no general basis for curtailing speech because of them.

What this suggests is that racial problems on campus have been vastly exaggerated–at least according to the students. The relatively rare racial episode has produced an overreaction. More than two-thirds of students (69%) say that they rarely or never hear anyone make “insensitive comments about someone’s race, ethnicity, or religion.” Given the low bar that the category “insensitive comments” sets, we may assume that the rate of outright nastiness is much lower.

Given the many forms of coarseness that adolescents are disposed to on-line and off-, we should broadcast this finding as a triumph of civility. Indeed, this poll provides abundant evidence against the accusations leveled against colleges in the heated student protests of 2015-16. We all know that Oberlin, Wesleyan, and all the other selective campuses targeted by the students are some of the most progressive and sensitive acres on earth. Now, in this poll, the vast majority of students say the same thing.

I suspect, however, that students know this already.  They also know that they can do nothing about the exaggerations.  They have seen that college administrators and many professors, too, are willing to go along with them and pretend as if they indicated something real and pervasive at work on their campuses.  Again, it only takes one example of the people in power countenancing a patent falsehood for the underlings to realize that truth is no defense.

Let me give you an example.

One year after I arrived at Emory in 1989, a racial incident happened.  An African American pre-med student named Sabrina Collins landed in the hospital, mute and traumatized, after finding racist death threats in her dorm room. Her case became a national story, reported in the New York Times and USA Today as well as in the local media.

On March 5, someone had entered her dorm room, scrawled racial epithets, tore her stuffed animals, and poured bleach on her clothing. She reported the incident, and Emory offered safe haven for her and her family off campus plus options for completing her schoolwork. Collins declined, so more locks were placed on her door and a motion detector and alarm system installed.  She decided to move out weeks later, however, and as she was doing so, she discovered more racist threats written in nail polish on the floor under a throw-rug. That’s what threw her into a catatonic silence that continued while she recuperated in a hospital in Augusta.

Dekalb County police and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation began an inquiry to try to track down the perpetrator. The U.S. Attorney in Atlanta offered to help. Campus officials went into crisis-management mode as protests erupted. One group, Students Against Racial Inequality, judged Emory “a hostile environment for people of African descent.” The leaders of it gave the president 12 demands, including new centers for the study of African American culture, more African American enrollments and professors, and the dismissal of the head of public safety.

I remember the incident and the feeling of disgust.  What coward would pick on this poor girl? I thought. She deserves all the support we can give her. A few weeks later, while driving to work, I heard the issue come up on local talk radio, everyone solemnly denouncing the deed as I presumed they should.  But then one young man phoned in and said in a halting voice something entirely unexpected. I don’t recall the exact words, but they went something like this:

I know this sounds hard to believe, but this situation may not be what you all think. It looks to me like she may have made the whole thing up. That’s what I’ve heard from some people who know.

The host challenged him, and the caller delicately but firmly stuck to his suspicion.  My first response was incredulity. You gotta be kidding.  Who would make up something like this up?

Well, not long after the case fell apart. Yes, Collins fabricated the whole thing. On May 31, the New York Times printed a story under the headline, “Woman’s Claim of Racial Crime Is Called a Hoax.” Investigators said that all the evidence pointed back to Collins—fingerprint analysis, the paper and typeface used to make the threats, and the fact that the death threat misspelled the word “you’re” as “your,” an error found in Collins’ own writing.  Her symptoms—traumatic muteness, holding herself for hours in a fetal ball—were faked.  There was an added speculation by some people that Collins conceived the hoax to distract attention from an Honor Code investigation of her regarding a chemistry exam.

Here is where the duplicity of the administration comes in.  When the truth came out, the administrators played it down. “University officials,” the Times reported, “who have tried to steer clear of assessing blame, had little comment today.”

But the advocates didn’t do the same. Here is one of them, whose remarks conclude the Times story:

Otis Smith, president of the Atlanta chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, who earlier assailed Emory, said the new findings were largely irrelevant. ”It doesn’t matter to me whether she did it or not,” he said, ”because of all the pressure these black students are under at these predominantly white schools. If this will highlight it, if it will bring it to the attention of the public, I have no problem with that.”

How familiar has this rationale become?  A victim turns out to be not a victim at all, according to the facts—but then she really is a victim because of a pervasive reality that underlies those facts.  Lying to expose a bigger truth is no lie, even if there is no evidence of that larger truth except for the distraught condition of the victim.  When someone says, “It doesn’t matter whether she did it or not,” and the school leaders don’t come right out and assert, “Yes, it does!” everybody else learns the lesson.  You don’t have to have done something to be convicted of doing it. Emory University and all the white people in it were tried and found innocent of the specific charges but walked away guilty of the general charge of being a “predominantly white institution” that makes life terribly hard for black students.

I didn’t see any news stories on the follow-up treatment of Ms. Collins, but I heard that Emory proceeded to cover all of her medical bills.  Here is how an undergraduate in Emory Magazine recalled the whole episode 20 years later:

A statewide investigation deemed the alleged hate crime a hoax a few months later, but its impact on the Emory community was anything but inauthentic. In the wake of that incident, students banded together to raise cultural awareness on campus.

Again, the same rationale for deceit prevailed. The crime was a sham, but the response “authentic.”  Ms. Collins’ hoax proved to have a salutary impact, raising awareness and uniting students. It’s okay to lie as long as it produces a good outcome.

This way of handling falsehood is an important factor in the self-censorship that afflicts so many people on college campuses. The Knight poll shows how many of them hide their thoughts, and they may be wise to do so in light of the Collins hoax and so many other double-dealing campus episodes of recent times.  If people were confident that allegations of harassment, discrimination, and bias would be settled because of the truth, then they might not choke down their beliefs even if those beliefs proved troubling to others.

But if they assume that they may be denounced no matter what the facts are, so long as one party is distressed—particularly a representative of a historically disadvantaged group—then they certainly will take the safe route and be quiet.

The Alarming Decline of U.S. Political History

One of the year’s most important essays on higher education appeared earlier this week in The New York Times op-ed page. Historians Fredrick Logevall and Kenneth Osgood wrote of the decline of U.S. political history. “The public’s love for political stories,” they correctly noted, “belies a crisis in the profession. American political history as a field of study has cratered. Fewer scholars build careers on studying the political process, in part because few universities make space for them. Fewer courses are available, and fewer students are exposed to it. What was once a central part of the historical profession, a vital part of this country’s continuing democratic discussion, is disappearing.”

Related: A Big Campus Trend–Ignorance of U.S. History

As someone who almost lost his job in part because (as a former colleague put it in a then-secret letter), my scholarship took the “old-fashioned” approach of focusing on “figures in power,” I obviously share the concerns raised by Logevall and Osgood. I’ve made similar points about the field at Minding the Campus and in Congressional testimony.

The two historians also offered a solution: “What is needed, to begin with, is for university administrators to identify political history as a priority, for students and families to lobby their schools, for benefactors to endow professorships and graduate fellowships and for lawmakers and school boards to enact policies that bolster its teaching—and without politicizing the enterprise.” They’re absolutely right, of course, that history departments won’t solve the problem (though I suspect the reason is less “tight budgets” than the fact that the departments, through their hiring policies, created the problem in the first place).

I’m dubious that administrators will do anything about the issue; only a reckless administrator takes on faculty on personnel matters when faculty has strong ideological objections. And based on what we saw from student protests in 2015-2016, restoring U.S. political history seems unlikely to be a central concern (despite the fact that political, and diplomatic, history classes tend to be very popular with students). I agree that state legislatures are fully within their rights to bolster the teaching of political history, especially since—as at schools like CUNY—state policies require public school history teachers to get M.A. degrees, on the theory that this knowledge will train the students to be better teachers. If history departments don’t hire specialists in the areas that states need to have taught, why should states continue to prop up these departments through the tuition dollars from M.A. students? Trustees also should play a critical role. They can and should be far more involved in ensuring pedagogical diversity in key departments, including (and perhaps especially) history.

Related: Big History Kicks American History to the Back of the Class

The op-ed has (appropriately) generated lots of positive responses. Academic criticism has come from two sources—one of which is correct but not germane to the point Logevall and Osgood raise, and one of which unintentionally proves their point.

The first noted that good work in political history sometimes comes from people outside of history departments. True. To take some examples from my experience: whenever I teach an M.A. or Ph.D. class in political (or constitutional) history, I assign at least one book by Kevin McMahon, a Trinity political scientist who’s written on FDR and Nixon. The next time I teach my undergraduate course in recent political history, I’ll use this article on the state marriage equality debates from Anthony Kreis, currently on the faculty of Chicago-Kent Law School. (Kreis’ work is also a reminder to historians that if we don’t write about recent events for which lots of sources are available, we cede the topic to non-historians.) And Robert Mann of LSU, who holds chairs in journalism and mass communication, is the author of one of the two or three finest histories of the Senate.

The fact that some academic non-historians write good political history, however, isn’t a reason why history departments shouldn’t hire specialists in U.S. political history. Imagine the reaction if (say) political science departments started not hiring specialists in race or gender in U.S. affairs, because those topics are already extensively covered in history departments.

Related: The Campus Assault on American History

Critical reaction was more troubling. Here was the New School’s Claire Potter (a 1990 Ph.D. whose sole published monograph appears to be War on Crime: Bandits, G-Men and the Politics of Mass Culture), tweeting to six other historians: “According to @nytimes we don’t exist.” It’s not clear to me why—even if Potter is correct that all seven of these people were hired in U.S. political history—the existence of seven U.S. political historians among the nation’s 7000 universities would undercut the Logevall/Osgood thesis. The reaction of Potter and her correspondents, however, seemed to reflect a general argument that Logevall and Osgood have misunderstood the nature of the field—overlooking what once was called the “new” political history, or a “re-visioned” political history, which sees the field as more attuned to themes in social history, or urban history, or elements of identity politics.

Some of this history, of course, is excellent—such as the work of Tom Sugrue (who unsurprisingly dismissed the op-ed) or Nancy Cott. But, as an approach, the “new” political history envisions a narrowed, not broadened, field—one in which it’s difficult to fit in most elements of congressional or even presidential history, or institutional histories of the government, or public policy histories that don’t correspond to identity politics or urban themes, or many types of political biographies, or the history of campaigns and elections. “The most interesting scholars blend the older fields,” as Potter euphemistically put it.

I suspect, for instance, that someone like Potter would not be pleased if gender history as a field generated few jobs; and that a significant portion of the diminished tenured or tenure-track positions in the field had gone to specialists in biographies of female members of Congress, with a heavy focus on their committee work. Such studies could be considered gender history. But they’d obviously represent only a small segment of the field.

It’s good to see Logevall and Osgood speaking out, and I hope their op-ed makes a difference.