How the Leftist Monoculture Took Over the Campus

By Richard Vedder

I didn’t sleep too well last night, thanks to Heterodox Academy’s (and NYU’s) Jonathan Haidt and John Leo, who recently carried on a provocative exchange in this space. Two questions really bothered me: Why is there so little intellectual diversity in the academy? And what can we do about the related problem of weak university leaders capitulating to ever more outrageous demands from student protesters?

So why is the academy increasingly a leftist monoculture, at least in the social sciences and humanities?  The standard answers relate to self-selection: conservatives and libertarians want to make money, so they go into business or the professions, or, more uncharitably, they are not as smart and thus cannot meet academic standards. In short, they are cognitively unfit for a life of the mind. Last month, James Phillips in an excellent paper discredited the latter notion with respect to law-school faculty presenting compelling empirical evidence that conservative underrepresentation amongst law-school faculty likely reflects some ideological discrimination.

Faculty—Wards of the State

One reason discrimination exists is that faculties are in some respects like fraternities—they like to have people around them with similar tastes and preferences; people who are simpatico ideologically probably will be closer colleagues and friends.

But it goes beyond that: faculty are increasingly wards of the state. They derive their income in large part directly or indirectly from governmental largess even at so-called private schools. Progressives favor big governments; big governments shower more dollars onto college campuses, providing larger salaries and lower teaching loads for academics. Those on the left push for free college and loan forgiveness; those on the right talk about restricting student-loan programs. The progressive view promotes larger enrollments and budgets, and with that more and higher-paid faculty. Don’t bite the hand that feeds you.

That brings me to the problem of recent student protests and the spineless reactions of presidents of prestigious universities like Yale. As temperatures rise this spring, protests will mount (our fragile students don’t want to discomfort themselves by protesting in the cold). Continued appeasement of students who seize control of buildings and curriculum and threaten university leaders destroys the rule of campus law and further reduces intellectual diversity and academic freedom. What can be done?

More Adult Supervision

I agree with Jonathan Haidt: bring in some adult supervision. Specifically, trustees and prominent alumni were educated when children were not protected by their parents from hearing or seeing hurtful things, when kids were raised to endure hardships and occasional blows to their self-esteem. By and large, I suspect trustees and large donors do not approve of coddling students. And one thing trumps everything else on campus: money. You don’t offend big donors

Typically, trustees rubber stamp administrative actions, and are seen but not heard. But they have significant power that needs to be unleashed: to borrow from a misguided University of Missouri professor, “Let’s have some muscle over here.” Presidents should be told in no uncertain terms that groups of spoiled brats cannot be allowed to ignore university procedures, disrupt operations, and threaten unfettered scholarly inquiry.

The problem ultimately is one of ownership. Radical students think they own the university. Faculty think they own or co-own it. Senior administrators think they are the owners, as sometimes so do powerful wealthy alumni. Universities earn financial surpluses that get disbursed to the putative owners, much like the dividends corporations pay to stockholders. That is what “shared governance” is all about –give the faculty low teaching loads and good salaries, administrators armies of junior administrators to do the heavy lifting, students low workloads and good recreational facilities, and the alumni a good football team. Everyone is happy except those paying the outrageous bills.

But for non-representative groups of students to claim an absolute right to determine major policies in return for not using violence is extortion. The legal owners of universities need to assert themselves and tell the presidents to show leadership and not let the lunatics run the asylum.


Richard Vedder directs the Center for College Affordability and Productivity, teaches at Ohio University, and is an Adjunct Scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.

Racial Discrimination by the University of Virginia

By John S. Rosenberg

The University of Virginia has just released data about it applicants for the class of 2020, including a “record number of Early Action minority applications.” These numbers reveal a prima facie case of racial discrimination by the university.

The cover of the February 1 Cavalier Daily presents a graphic display of the distribution of early admission offers by race. Offers were extended to 2893 of 9636 white applicants, for an acceptance rate of 29.7%. Of the 692 blacks who applied for early admission, 294 were accepted — an acceptance rate of 42.5%.

It is conceivable, of course, that there is a non-discriminatory explanation of these dramatically different acceptance rates. The accompanying article quotes Jahvonta Mason, a third-year undergraduate and co-chairman of the Student Council’s Diversity Initiative Committee, who, “These students tend to have some of the best undergraduate success rates of any university in the United States.” True, but how likely is it that their qualifications were so much higher than those of the white early admission applicants? In any event, it will be a freezing day in July in Charlottesville before UVa voluntarily releases test scores, etc., by race.

More likely is that UVa has to over-admit qualified minorities because they will also have been admitted to other institutions, many of which are quite literally bidding for them. According to Mason, “acceptance rate of minorities is exciting,” but that does not solve what minorities at UVa see as “the problem.” Many “minorities who received offers to come to UVa will ultimately decide to go to another university,” Mason said. “Part of the problem is that many of these students can go to other academically comparable universities for free because of minority scholarships, and UVa doesn’t offer any.”

That may or may not be true, depending in part on a Clintonian parsing of the meaning of “offer” (see my discussion of racially restricted scholarships in “Is The University Of Virginia A Racial Scofflaw?”), but it is clear UVa is going the extra mile after mile after … to recruit and retain minority students. Proudly describing these efforts to the Cavalier Daily, Dean of Admissions Gregory Roberts mentioned “several new initiatives the admissions office is implementing to increase the number of admitted minority students who enroll, including connecting current students to admitted students, hosting seven different open houses in the spring, reaching out to every admitted African-American student through alumni and a newly-redesigned admissions packet mailed to acceptees.” (Query: Should white and Asian students regard the absence of similar efforts on their behalf an institutional microaggression?)

When liberals see racial differences in rewards or punishments much less severe than UVa’s Early Action decisions, they are quick to decry discrimination, either overt and intentional or covert, “systemic,” etc. So far no such complaints have been heard in Charlottesville — perhaps simply providing more evidence for the old saw that if liberals didn’t have double standards where race is concerned they wouldn’t have any standards at all.


John Rosenberg blogs at Discriminations.

Struggling to Get Past ‘Master’

By Harvey Silverglate

Harvard College appears locked into one of those momentous transformational challenges that from time to time roils the eminently roil-able undergraduate campus: What title should replace the sobriquet “House Master?”

While the term “House Master” has been used for generations to denote the faculty members who reside in, and oversee, the student residential houses at Harvard, it has apparently become associated, by some, for reasons not entirely obvious, with the notion of slave masters. It is unclear whether the push to abolish the master title arose because students became upset that a position of honor and responsibility might be conflated with a historically abhorrent concept, or whether the mere mention of the word “master” causes some angst via the now-fashionable fear of traumatization in the absence of timely “trigger warnings.”

The search for a titular replacement by the 12 residential masters, who had unanimously agreed to change their title back in December, has encountered unexpected delays, as reported by The Harvard Crimson on January 26th. Despite an announcement in December by Dean of Harvard College Rakesh Khurana that the masters would announce their replacement title sometime early in 2016, progress “has been slow going.”

Indeed, when asked whether deliberations among the masters had even begun, Ronald S. Sullivan, Jr., the co-master of Winthrop House, simply replied, “No.” (One does wonder, hopefully, without becoming too cynical about yet another capitulation by the adults to the tantrums of the children, just how urgent the masters deem the need to remove this irritant in the lives of the college’s highly sensitive students.)

This delay has occurred despite the fact that the entire re-naming enterprise began late last semester, when, according to the Crimson, “a group of Harvard Latino students issued a set of demands to University President Drew G. Faust, one of which requested changing the existing nomenclature.” To emphasize the overriding importance of this initiative in the life of the College, one co-master wrote, “This change is a meaningful and important illustration of the sensitivity and the caring of those of us who are the heads of the Harvard Houses.” Dean Khurana, who is also a co-master of a house, was careful to assure the Crimson that he, too, was “personally uncomfortable” with the title.

Reflecting the extraordinary recent expansion of the cadre of student life administrators at Harvard College – a phenomenon mirrored on virtually every campus throughout the nation – the Crimson had a plethora of administrators to whom to turn in order to get the “story” of the status of this momentous change-to-be. Rachel Dane, described as a “College spokesperson,” is reported to have “confirmed that no decision on a new name has been made yet.” Masters of four of the houses – Winthrop, Mather, Eliot, and Adams – were also unable to say much in the way of progress of the selection process, although he did reveal that it was “slow going.” The Adams House co-master was reported to be less than excited by one suggested new title – “leader” – as being “too boring a title,” though if “Dear Leader” is good enough for the master of North Korea, one would think it should not be too boring for Harvard.

To those of us who wonder how and why it is that student life bureaucracies at Harvard and elsewhere have grown so rapidly in recent years, we now can see that administrators are required for a wide variety of undertakings to soothe the ruffled feathers of the sensitive beings who populate our college student bodies today. Out in the real world, we have master electricians and mechanics, chess masters, masters of the universe, taskmasters of all kinds, and other such varieties of positions and titles connoting particular skill, knowledge or authority. Only on college campuses, it seems, is the title so disturbing as to require a cast of a dozen, plus support staff, to remove this source of anxiety among students who see themselves (and are widely seen) as the future leaders of the nation.

One gasps at the very idea.


 

Harvey Silverglate is a Boston lawyer and co-founder and Board member of The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE).

State-Funded Law School Goes Partisan

By Luke Milligan

Since 1846 the law school at the University of Louisville has provided nonpartisan space for individuals to teach, discuss, and research matters of law and public policy.  Despite the thousands of partisans who’ve walked its halls, the law school as an institution has remained nonpartisan, preserving its neutrality, and refusing to embrace an ideological or political identity.

Unfortunately, this long run of institutional neutrality seems headed for an abrupt end.  Promotional materials for the law school now proclaim its institutional commitment to “progressive values” and “social justice.”  Incoming students and faculty are told that, when it comes to the big issues of the day, the law school takes the “progressive” side.

‘The Compassionate Law School’

The plan, in short, is to give the state-funded law school an “ideological brand.”  (The Interim dean says it will help fundraising and student recruitment.)  In 2014, the law faculty voted — over strong objection — to commit the institution to “social justice.”  Now we’re at it again, seeking to brand ourselves “the nation’s first compassionate law school.”

These branding projects are misguided.  For starters, the chosen brands are divisive, alienating about half the people in the country.  While terms like “social justice” and “compassionate” might seem “inclusive” to you, tens of millions of Americans disagree.  People hear these terms in a legal or political context and think “liberal orthodoxy.”  (Quick:  what’s the “social justice” and “compassionate” position on same-sex marriage, immigration, health care, affirmative action, gun control, securities regulation, equal protection, due process, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Antonin Scalia, Bernie Sanders, Rand Paul?

Even those who benefit from our divisive brands (e.g., “progressive” faculty and students) can appreciate the costs to higher education.  Universities function as a marketplace of ideas, where conventional ideas are tested, year in and year out, against unconventional ones.  Ideological brands like “social justice” and “compassionate” obstruct this critical process.  They do so by formally prioritizing liberal orthodoxy in an array of university matters (including research, hiring, and student scholarships).

‘Social Justice Credentials’

Readily characterized as “uncompassionate” by progressives, libertarian and conservative viewpoints are bound to be boxed out.  Don’t be surprised when departments add their thirtieth liberal professor instead of their first libertarian, or when applicants with “social justice credentials” win scholarships over high-achieving conservatives.  Brands like “social justice” and “compassionate” promise to sap higher education of its vitality and usefulness, leaving universities little more than salons of ideological self-congratulation.

We’re already experiencing the fallout at the law school.  In the name of “social justice” and “compassion,” students were instructed on Day 1 of law school to rise and make public declarations regarding their race, religion, and sexual orientation.  Under the Interim dean’s gaze, new students came out as gay, the devoutly religious were told to cheer for atheism, and evangelicals were called on to applaud the LGBT community.

State-sponsored “comp0assion” and “social justice” left students wondering if they’d need to sacrifice personal privacy, political values, and deeply held religious convictions in order to succeed at law school.

Student Groups Lurch Left

Naturally, the student organizations have lurched leftward.  The Student Bar Association shrugged off student complaints about the “social justice” brand as the “best proof yethat students need more social justice.”  (This calls to mind George Will’s quip that it’s “theoretically impossible for people in the ‘Party of Compassion’ to behave badly because good behavior is whatever they do.”)  Another student organization gravely announced that “ideological and political diversity” adds “insult to [their] injuries.”

As you’d imagine, classroom discussions have grown one-sided.  In Criminal Procedure it’s nearly impossible to find students to defend federalism, standing limits, or qualified immunity.  In Criminal Law, last year, not one student was willing to argue in support of criminalizing drugs.  Students find it hard to square these arguments with the law school’s institutional commitment to “social justice” and “progressive values.”

Well-Meaning, with No Understanding

Louis Brandeis warned us that “the greatest dangers to liberty lurk in insidious encroachment by men of zeal, well-meaning but without understanding.”  Brandeis was not a perfect man (he was conspicuously quiet on race issues), but he was one of America’s greatest advocates of political and ideological diversity.

By working to slap divisive and partisan labels on our state-funded law school, we betray Brandeis’s vision for public universities, revealing ourselves as men and women “of zeal, well-meaning but without understanding.”

There is a good reason why only three universities in the entire country (Spalding University, Central Connecticut State University, and Western Connecticut State University) have designated themselves “compassionate” institutions.  The University of Louisville should follow 99.9 percent of America’s universities and resist the “feel good” lure of these ideological brands.  State-funded universities should remain nonpartisan.

This commentary, published January 13 by the  Louisville Courier-Journal, is reprinted here with permission.


Luke Milligan is a Professor of Law at the University of Louisville’s Brandeis School of Law

America’s ‘Soft Civil War’ Is Here

By Fred Siegel

Twenty-five years ago, Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr.—premier historian of twentieth-century American liberalism, highbrow courtier to the Kennedys, and grey eminence for the Kennedy’s would-be successors—published The Disuniting of America: Reflections on a Multicultural Society. The Schlesinger of the 1950s idolized Adlai Stevenson, whose professorial demeanor endeared him to academia. Academic expertise was, as Schlesinger understood it, the key to the American future.

But in the wake of the Black Power movement, feminism, and anti-Enlightenment postmodernism, the quota-driven academia of the late 1980s lost its rationalist moorings. Both lament and warning, The Disuniting of America reflected a Schlesinger disconcerted by the rise, within overwhelmingly liberal academia, of multiculturalism and political correctness, the linked solvents of American identity.

Related:  Left Intellectuals Hovering over the Campus

Well before the evils of Western achievement were written into the catechism of college courses, cultural pluralism—not white supremacy—had become the American norm. Multiculturalism displaced a hyphenated Americanism in which we spoke of Italian-Americans, Irish-Americans, and, eventually, African-Americans as the norm. Pluralism assumed that Americans shared a common identity even as they retained ancestral attachments. The problem was that supposed multiculturalists were often “ethnocentric separatists” (in the manner of the recent National Book Award winner Ta-Nehesi Coates) who, in Schlesinger’s words, “see little in the Western heritage other than Western crimes.”

Their mood was “one of divesting Americans of their sinful European inheritance and seeking redemptive infusions from non-Western cultures.” Further, Schlesinger understood that academic debates about what should be taught could be readily translated into the program of the Democratic Party. “The self-ghettoizing of black history or women’s history,” noted respected literary critic Frank Kermode in 1992, “presages a more general social fragmentation, and endangers the precious ideal of political unity in ethnic diversity.”

The connection between political correctness and the doctrine of multiculturalism is integral. PC proscribes open debate. Instead, in classic Communist fashion, it judges an argument on the basis of the interests it serves. Schlesinger clung to a traditional notion of truth: “There is surely no reason for Western civilization to have guilt trips laid on it by champions of cultures based on despotism, superstition, tribalism, and fanaticism. In this regard the Afrocentrists are especially absurd.

The West needs no lectures on the superiority of these ‘sun people’ who sustained slavery till Western imperialism abolished it (and sustain it to this day in Mauritania and the Sudan) . . . .” On numerous campuses today, the once-lionized Schlesinger’s words would today be condemned as “hate speech.” Worse yet, Schlesinger saw the malign consequences of a black nationalism that strives to separate African-Americans from an increasingly colorblind mainstream. He wanly notes that, “If some Kleagle of the Ku Klux Klan wanted to devise an educational curriculum for the specific purpose of handicapping and disabling black Americans, he would not be likely to come up: with anything more diabolically effective than Afrocentrism.”

The book has its failings. Schlesinger tries too hard to discern a comparable quest for correctness on the right. He fails. Similarly, the celebrated historian who had spent much of the late sixties lambasting the white-ethnic working class tries to equate the passing revival of a heightened ethnic consciousness with Black Nationalism. He makes much of the 1974 Ethnic Heritage Act, a symbolic piece of legislation with scant consequences.

But Schlesinger also reached for a touch of optimism. “I believe,” he wrote, that “the campaign against common sense would fail.” And to buttress his point from the Left, he cited my old mentor, Irving Howe—the venerable socialist and “storyteller of ideas”—to speak on behalf of Western Civilization, warts and all. “The situation of our universities, I am confident,” Schlesinger writes, “will soon right itself once the great silent majority of professors cry ‘enough’ challenging what they know to be voguish blather.” Shaken by the Right’s ability to speak in terms of American “commonalities,” “the Left,” Schlesinger insisted, “cannot base itself on identity groups.”

For a time it seemed that Schlesinger’s optimism might be justified. The collapse of Communism looked to have put on end to expeditions into Utopia. Then the Clinton presidential years seemed to staunch the drift to academic inanity. Alan Sokal’s exposé—a hoax, whereby a physicist claimed to deconstruct gravity—was published by Social Text, a postmodernist magazine, which took him as being in earnest. The Sokal caper made the front page of the New York Times. It was hard to see how the postmodernists could shake off this fiasco.

Further, two of the heroes of postmodernism, Martin Heidegger and Paul de Man, were exposed as Nazi sympathizers. Articles lamented that postmodernism no longer seemed fresh and innovative, and a few literary critics—most notably, Terry Eagleton—distanced themselves from the reigning academic fashion. But there was never a shout of “enough” from academia, which seemed, on the contrary, to have developed an insatiable appetite for infantile exhibitionism. With few exceptions, faculties had no desire to distance themselves from campus hijinks. The Clinton years proved to be a mere interregnum. It turned out that the- collapse of political and economic Communism paved the way for the cultural Marxism that took hold in the universities.

How Universities Encourage Racial Division

Collapsing standards in high schools and colleges reinforced one another. Ill-prepared college freshmen increasingly needed remedial assistance. They arrived at college equipped with the politically correct attitudes appropriate for what passed as “higher education” in the humanities and “social sciences.” They left with their attitudes reinforced. Likewise, academia increasingly marginalized or repelled students with less politically correct views. The sixties-born faculty repeatedly replicated itself. Last year, when Brandeis University disinvited as graduation speaker the famed and formidable Ayaan Hirsi Ali—an outspoken critic of the Muslim suppression of women—not a single faculty member rose to defend her.

As the faculty became increasingly uniform in its outlook, power passed to students, who were treated as precious consumers. At the same time, academic administrators, now outnumbering the faculty, aimed for a stress-free atmosphere on campus. Colleges across the country replaced their classes on American history with therapy sessions about diversity that demanded not just orthodox thinking but orthodox speaking and feeling as well.

Attempts to upend free speech in order to protect “group rights” has produced a rash of campus hoaxes. Under pressure from feminist ideologues, a “man,” explains David Frum, shifted from a demographic category to an “accusation.” Men accused of rape were denied elementary civil liberties in order to propitiate the gender activists. Civil liberties, wrote Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates, “are regarded as a chief obstacle to civil rights.” The call for “safe spaces,” free of challenging arguments produced a Club Med ambience. Nursery school, sighed literary critic Camille Paglia only half-sarcastically, has become the model for college. Students today, Paglia explained in 2015, are “utterly uninformed,” and colleges are responsible for the lack of intellectual discourse in America:

“I’ve encountered these graduates of Harvard, Yale, the University of Pennsylvania, and Princeton; I’ve encountered them in the media, and people in their 30s now, some of them, their minds are like Jell-O. They know nothing! They’ve not been trained in history. They have absolutely no structure to their minds. Their emotions are unfixed. The banality of contemporary cultural criticism, of academe, the absolute collapse of any kind of intellectual discourse in the U.S. is the result of these colleges, which should have been the best, instead having retracted into care taking. The whole thing is about approved social positions in a kind of misty love of humanity, without any direct knowledge of history or economics or anthropology.

Related: How PC Corrupted the Colleges

In sum, explains former Harvard president Larry Summers, “there is a kind of creeping totalitarianism on college campuses.” Barack Obama, a product of the PC university, is the most polarizing president since Richard Nixon. Obama has reinforced the “which side are you on?” hyper-partisanship of the university, which is spreading beyond the campus. Ordinary working Americans are bullied by bureaucrats, who were, as Glen Reynolds, puts it, “credentialized” in college without being educated.

These preening bureaucrats are the ideal instruments of government overreach. They impose their ideological agenda in the name of racial, gender, and environmental equity, not to mention obscure IRS rules. And working Americans are forced to pay for a now-vast population of unemployed but subsidized Americans of working age, even as new immigrants—legal and illegal—undercut their wages. Meanwhile, college graduates educated in “victim studies” weaponize what they’ve learned and go to work in the aggrievement industry. The rhetoric of multiculturalism, feared Schlesinger, placed the American republic “in serious trouble.”

Somehow, even as they have spent the last 30 years insisting on the fundamental differences between people, multiculturalists are surprised at the rise of a white nationalism that feeds into the support for Donald Trump. Trump replays the extremism of Obama. Trump and Obama have been drawn into a see-saw dynamic in which each plays off the excesses of the other. Trump speaks to the frustration and anger of people whose wages have stagnated as government bureaucracy has grown dramatically more intrusive. Trump is a peculiar spokesman for that honor-driven egalitarianism that Walter Russell Mead describes as “Jacksonian America.”

“Our ruling class,” writes Angelo Codevilla, “has created ‘protected classes’ of Americans defined by race, sex, age, disability, origin, religion, and now homosexuality, (and perhaps Islam) whose members have privileges that outsiders do not. By so doing, they have shattered the principle of equality—the bedrock of the rule of law. Ruling class insiders use these officious classifications to harass their socio-political opponents.” Worse yet, Obama’s reaction to the San Bernardino terror attack has been to bemoan supposed Islamophobia—no evidence required.

Jim Webb would have been a better spokesman for Jacksonian America. Trump’s a big-city guy with a big mouth who made his money from casinos and TV shows and went bankrupt twice. His appeal lies in his brashness—his willingness to violate politically correct conventions that are widely despised. It was said in mistaken defense of Joe McCarthy that, unlike the liberals, he at least understood that the Communists were our enemies. True enough, but as Obama understands, liberals dined out for decades on the inanities of McCarthyism. Obama hopes that Trump will serve the same purpose.

Related: Too Many Hollow Men on  Campus

It’s been said of Trump that at least he understands that the Southern border needs to be closed, and at least he knows that the Syrian refugees are not, as Obama pontificated, all “widows and orphans.” Trump, we hear, understands that the deal with Iran boosts Iranian support for terrorism. It’s all well and good to suggest in a flight of realism that the Sunnis and Shia should feel free to kill each other. But what Trump seems not to understand is that Bashar al-Assad, the Iranian-backed ruler of the Syrian rump state, is the chief recruiter for the Sunnis of ISIS. Trump, like McCarthy, gets some things right, but in a manner that will pay dividends to his critics.

What rankles most among workaday white Americans is that, even as their incomes and life expectancies decline, and even as the protections promised in the Fourteenth Amendment are eviscerated in favor of new minority carve-outs, they’re accused of benefitting from “white privilege.” The rise of Ferguson’s Michael Brown and Baltimore’s Freddy Gray—the first a thug, the second a small-time drug dealer—as black icons of white oppression, exemplify the perversions of Obama’s America. Fifty years after the passage of the Civil Rights Act, a dramatically diminished racism is asked to account for the ongoing infirmities of the inner-city underclass.

Trump is both a reaction to and expression of liberal delusions. Schlesinger’s fears have largely come to pass; we’ve become what he called a “quarrelsome spatter of enclaves.” Schlesinger was too much a part of the elite to imagine that the class he always thought of as representing the best of the future would come to be despised by a broad swath of Americans for its incompetence and ineffectuality. But what Schlesinger saw on the horizon seems to have arrived, with no sign of abating: we are in the midst of a soft civil war.

This essay in reprinted from City Journal, with permission.


Fred Siegel is a writer in residence at St. Francis College and author of The Revolt Against the Masses: How Liberalism Has Undermined the Middle Class.

 How MOOCs Foil Distraction

By George Leef:

With the surge in online education over the past few years, one course at the University of California has been exceptional. “Learning How to Learn” with an enrollment of 1,192,697 since it was initially offered last year, is the world’s most popular online course, according to The New York Times, narrowly beating out “Machine Learning.” Students who have taken it include cardiologists, engineers, lawyers, war refugees in Sudan, and 12-year old kids.

“Learning How to Learn” is the creation of neuroscientist Terrence Sejnowski of the Salk Institute and Oakland University professor Barbara Oakley.  What is so fascinating about the course is that it teaches how the brain functions – the knowledge that enabled Professor Oakley to go from being, as she admits in this Nautilus article, “a terrible student” who “flunked my way through elementary, middle, and high school math and science” to a professor of engineering.

Related: MOOCs: What You Need to Know about Them Now

She had great difficulty with college course material, especially math, because the standard fifty-minute class with homework assignments didn’t convey the material effectively. Eventually, Oakley realized that the problem was the way the educational experience was structured did not match up well with the way our brains work best.

She explains, “Human brains have evolved with a flitting, fleeting ability to maintain focus on any one thing. Those who kept too fixed a gaze on the wildebeest they were stalking could end up being killed by the lions stalking them. So it shouldn’t be a surprise to learn that humans may not have been meant to sit boxed up for prolonged periods, focused on a teacher in a classroom.” In short, she says, “We’re built to be distracted.”

Short Bursts of Attention

That is why online education can be far superior to the traditional arrangement of putting a number of students in a room with a teacher or professor at an assigned time for a span of 50 minutes. While some learning can occur in that format, it is decidedly sub-optimal. Most students learn more in short bursts of attention highlighted with motion, followed by an interaction (a quiz of some kind) to ensure that they grasped the content.

Once Barbara Oakley figured that out, she was able to conquer the math and earn her Ph.D. in engineering. She learned how to learn the abstruse concepts. Well-designed online courses make it easier for students to progress through the material they need to learn.

Oakley’s experience matches up perfectly with that of Kevin Carey, who signed up for the daunting online MIT introductory biology course and wrote about his hard-won success in his book The End of College, which I reviewed here.

The Feedback Loop

Lacking in the science background expected of students attempting the course, Carey was able to earn a solid B only because he could listen (and watch) the videos at times of his choosing, with no distractions. He had the ability to go back over a point as often as necessary, consult with other students in study groups, and benefit from frequent quizzes so he’d know if he really understood the material or not.

That last element, the feedback loop, is especially important.

Oakley explains that research from physics shows that “students don’t really learn from careful explanations – they learn from making mistakes….Mistakes in the frequent low-stakes quiz questions available online can force students in physics—or any other subject—to revisit the explanation.”

Stopping a “real” class every few minutes to quiz the students and get their corrected answers back to them is hardly possible.  But in an online course, the feedback loop is a feature easily built in, one that simultaneously keeps students attentive and increases their comprehension of the subject matter.

Innovations in learning, however, have led to a Luddite reaction from many educators who don’t want to change what they have been doing for years or fear that online courses will make their jobs will disappear.

Oakley calls them the “MOOC deniers.”

Among them is Professor David Bromwich of Yale, who recently wrote an article entitled, “Trapped in the Virtual Classroom.” Bromwich argued that online coursework “discourages more complex thinking about the content and aims of education.” University of Pennsylvania Professor Robert Zemsky brushes aside the development of MOOCs claiming that they’re “neither pedagogically nor technologically interesting.”

Fortunately, educational traditionalists can say whatever dismissive, misinformed, or hostile things they want to about online courses without having the slightest impact on their growth. Educators like Oakley and Sejnowski will keep on improving their courses and large numbers of students will continue to give enroll in them and learn from them.

There is probably no more free market in America than the market for educational material. Nothing can prevent people from offering different modes of learning and students from trying them. No governmental agency (at least to my knowledge) has the power to regulate online education. Whereas incumbents can and often do turn to regulators to stifle new competition in other markets, education remains a wonderfully laissez-faire domain.

Don’t get me (or Professor Oakley) wrong. We are not saying that online courses are always the best or that face-to-face education will disappear. Our argument is simply that by expanding the range of choice for students, online courses catalyze healthy competition. That is vital in education, a field that has long rested contentedly.

The lessons from “Learning to Learn” and other MOOCs can help professors improve their “real” classes. They alone are not the answer to improving education. Oakley writes, “That will come from a variety of sources: MOOCs, resources developed by textbook companies, and teachers themselves. Online assets will not serve as a replacement for in-person instructors—rather, they’ll serve as assets, provide high-quality personalized tutoring and great testing materials with rapid grading.” (If you want to look into “Learning to Learn” yourself, you can do so here.)

How the Brain Learns

We often hear complaints that colleges are “failing their students” because high percentages drop out. I have never regarded that complaint as worth listening to; it’s the students who fail by not doing what it takes to pass.

But Oakley’s work casts a new light on this matter. Something can be said for the argument that if a school doesn’t encourage its faculty to look into what we have learned about our brains and does all it can to incorporate the research into their courses, it has indeed failed its students.

Instead of devoting time and money to workshops on “diversity” and similar fads, colleges should consider a faculty workshop on how to improve teaching effectiveness. Many professors will grumble, but the alternative to doing so might be unemployment.


George Leef is director of research for the John William Pope Center for Policy Research.

More Bad Numbers for the Humanities

By Mark Bauerlein

In recent years, several critics have chided those of us who say the humanities are fading by citing statistics on undergraduate enrollments that show no real declines at all since the 1980s.

One reason for the rebuke is that many arguing the “crisis” do so on the basis of intellectual decline, specifically, the rise of identity politics in the humanities, which have often made the disciplines a joke across the quad. (See here.)

Liberal defenders of race-class-gender-sexuality-disability-queerness-etc. studies don’t like to admit that their enthusiasms haven’t brought more respect to the fields, much less any material gains in recent years. And so, they call upon the numbers and sprinkle smug remarks against the other side among them, as in this piece by a past president of the Modern Language Association.

But the bad news keeps coming. The Job List of the Modern Language Association came out this month, and for the third straight year, the openings declined significantly. The number of jobs in English (1,015) for 2014-15 fell 3 percent, while all the foreign languages (949) saw a decline of 7.6 percent.

If we go back to 2009-10, English jobs this year fall 7.7 percent, while foreign languages are 7.3 percent lower. When we pull out tenure-track positions, things look worse. This year, 67.3 percent of the jobs available are tenure-track, a tiny rise of 0.8 percent from last year, but still way below the number of doctorates awarded in any calendar year. For the foreign languages, tenure-track jobs make up only 50.4 percent of the whole list, a slip of 2.1 percentage points from 2013-14. In previous years, tenure-track positions made up 75-80 percent of English jobs and 60-65 percent of foreign language jobs. Clearly, schools are shifting more and more teaching duties to adjunct positions and one-year lectureships.

What this means is that the build-up of bitter, frustrated job seekers continues. Many of those PhDs from 2010, 2011, 2012 . . . who didn’t get tenure-track jobs in past years are still out there sending applications to every job listing that comes close to their expertise, creating a pool of thousands of qualified people for hundreds of jobs. Tell them that the humanities are doing fine.

There are two other trends to factor into this dismal picture. We had a crushing decline in job openings after the 2008 economic crisis. As the Inside Higher Ed story notes, “The low point for jobs in that economic downturn was 2009-10.” People expected that some good financial years for private university endowments and public university state budgets would yield a steady recovery.

But, as you see above, that hasn’t happened. The other trend that should have spurred tenure-track hiring was the retirement of Boomer professors. Many of those people hired in the 70s have lingered in their posts beyond the traditional retirement age of 65, holding their posts through the 00s. They are now leaving, but it appears they aren’t being replaced with regular faculty lines. I suspect this is because the number of majors in the departments doesn’t justify their full replacement.

This is a hard fact that the-humanities-are-doing-just-fine crowd can’t spin out of existence.


Mark Bauerlein is a professor of English at Emory.

How Universities Encourage Racial Division

By James Huffman

In response to the campus protests, much has been written and spoken about how universities can best serve the interests of their students of color. Those who sympathize with the protesters argue that students of color, in particular, should be nurtured and protected from uncomfortable experiences that distract from their education.

Others insist that true education depends on students experiencing discomfort so they are better prepared to cope with the discomforts they will inevitably face in the future. No doubt there are good points to be considered on both sides of the question. Every campus has its boors and jerks whose bad behaviors might warrant chastisement from university officials, although peer disapproval is almost always a more effective remedy.

Whether and when offensive speech should be prohibited are more difficult questions. The boundary between gratuitous verbal assault and the free expression essential to the academy is not always easily drawn, although a few institutions have followed the example of the University of Chicago in making clear that their default position is free speech.

Sadly, Americans seem to lose any capacity for reasoned discussion when alleged personal assaults are said to stem from racial animus. Disagreements deteriorate into verbal and often physical violence, with an almost conclusive presumption of racism whenever racism is alleged. In this climate, college administrators see only two options. They can resign, as did the University of Missouri president and the dean of students at Claremont McKenna (after writing an email to which students of color took offense). Or they can accede to protesters’ demands for safe spaces, sensitivity training, trigger warnings, expanded diversity offices, and rapid response to allegations of discrimination and hurt.

But there is a third way. Colleges and universities should examine how their own policies and programs encourage racial division.

At the time of the University of Missouri protests, a story in the New York Times reported that students of color at the university felt isolated and disrespected. They, particularly the black students, tend to hang out together. According to a student quoted in the Times story, an area in the student center where blacks sit is called “the black hole.” There is little real integration, say both white and black students. Visit the cafeteria of almost any campus with even a small population of black students and you will see the equivalent of the University of Missouri’s black hole.

Do students of color hang out together because they feel disrespected and discriminated against—because they are excluded? Or is it a matter of choice rooted in racial pride, perceived cultural difference, and a desire to preserve and protect that difference from the dominant white culture? While the protesters would surely assert their right to racial self-segregation for reasons of pride, solidarity and culture, they do not hesitate to claim that disrespect and discrimination by other students and school officials prevent their full and equal participation in the university.

To be clear, no one is claiming that students of color are being denied access to higher education—the sort of discrimination James Meredith experienced a half century ago at the University of Mississippi. Rather, today’s discrimination is said to take the form of “micro-aggressions”—subtle actions and loaded language that slowly eat away at self-confidence and the sense of belonging.

Are colleges and universities responsible for the isolation and exclusion the protesters claim to experience, and for the de facto segregation that exists on most campuses? In significant ways they are, but not, for the most part, for the reasons said to justify the protests at the University of Missouri and elsewhere. There is little campus administrators can do, beyond declarations of disapproval, to prevent offensive comments, or even explicitly racist statements and actions of usually anonymous individuals. If the past two decades of sensitivity training haven’t solved that problem, there is little reason to think more of the same will help.

The core of the problem is that the vast majority of our colleges and universities have made race and racial differences central to almost everything they do. And to make matters worse, those who accredit our universities make attention to race in admissions and programming a condition of accreditation.

Central to the mission of the University of Missouri is diversity, described on the school’s website as “not an end to itself” but “a means for students, faculty and staff to experience firsthand the increasing multicultural world that we live in.” And what are the means for achieving diversity and the measure of success? The means is the admissions process and the measure of success is the degree to which the races of those admitted reflect the racial makeup of the state and nation. Whatever the university may claim to the contrary, race is a key factor in admissions, as it is at almost every other college and university in the country.

Once the racially balanced student body arrives at the University of Missouri, minority students have a wide array of options provided especially for them. For example, black students can enroll in black studies with a minor in multicultural studies. They can apply for many different “diversity-related scholarships.” They can join one of seven “historically black fraternities or sororities.”

They can hang out at the Black Culture Center and join the African Students Association, the Mizzou Black Men’s Initiative, the Mizzou Black Women’s Initiative, the Association of Black Graduate and Professional Students, the Legion of Black Collegians, the Black Business Students Association and the Black Law Students Association, just to name a few. Meanwhile their fellow white students can enroll in any number of diversity and sensitivity training courses all under the watchful eye of the vice-chancellor for inclusion.

Can there be any surprise that students of color feel as if they are treated differently from white students when their admission to the university is very likely to have been influenced by their race? When they, and only they, are often invited to campus a week early, purportedly to bond with their fellow students of color and to give them a head start on college? When one of their first experiences on campus is some sort of gathering with other students of color? When they are directed to the campus office of diversity or minority affairs as a place for counseling? When they are invited to join the Black or Hispanic or Pacific Islander or Native Hawaiian student union? When they learn they can major in Black, etc. studies?

No factor, not even athletic prowess, is more significant to college admissions than race. Diversity is a core mission for the vast majority of institutions and students of color know that means them. Students of color know themselves to be what we now call, in a terrible corruption of the language, “diverse” individuals. Special programming for minority students cannot help but convey, in a micro-aggression-like manner, that campus officials believe students of color need extra help to succeed. School sanctioned programs and groups that cater to students of color, even students of particular colors, segregate students on the basis of race. Separate minority counseling services reinforce the idea that students of color are different, that counselors of a different race cannot possibly understand a minority student’s issues and concerns. Some universities even provide separate (dare one say segregated) housing for students of particular races.

All of this focus on race cannot help but influence the thinking of white students. Even before going to college, most white students have been taught in secondary and even primary school that minority kids are different and that as white students they need to be sensitive to those differences. When they apply to colleges, white students know that they have a disadvantage in the admissions process. Once they arrive on campus, they witness university-sponsored and endorsed programming directed at students of color. Now they are learning that they need to shelve their “white privilege,” notwithstanding that many of their minority classmates may have come from economic or family circumstances far better than theirs.

Whatever privilege students may have before they arrive at college, the reality of American higher education today is that students of color have been privileged by their institutions in ways that invite segregation and differential treatment, whether done in the name of reparations for past discrimination, as affirmative action to overcome societally imposed disadvantages, or in the belief that celebrating and encouraging differences improves education for everyone. There should be no surprise that students of color often self-segregate and are seen as different by their fellow students.

The concept of white privilege is a logical outgrowth of the concept of institutional racism. In reaction to the now quaint notion that intent to discriminate must be proven to establish illegal race discrimination, lawyers and race scholars came up with the concept of institutional racism. The idea is that racism is so deeply rooted in American society that it persists even amongst institutions that have made genuine efforts to correct for any intentional past discrimination. Thus, the theory holds, the University of Missouri and all of its privileged white students are guilty, by definition, of racial discrimination today, albeit in subtle ways.

But there is nothing subtle about the most pervasive form of racial discrimination prevailing at most American colleges and universities today. It is done in the name of lifting up those who have been discriminated against in the past. But there should be little wonder that the intended beneficiaries of this allegedly benign discrimination feel themselves isolated and treated differently. By design, universities have isolated them and treated them differently.

Reprinted with permission from the Hoover Institution site, “Defining Ideas.”


James Huffman is dean emeritus of Lewis and Clark Law School.

Left vs. Right on Higher Education

John K. Wilson, editor of The Academe Blog, severely criticized Peter Wood’s January 13 article, “What Candidates Can Do for Higher Education Now.” His text is below, followed by Peter Wood’s reply.


By John K. Wilson

National Association of Scholars president Peter Wood has a column at Minding the Campus today arguing for an 7-point plan for what he calls “a real program for reform” of American higher education that would “take back the campus from those who are intent on making it a 24-7 taxpayer-subsidized indoctrination camp.” The notion that colleges are all run by people turning them into 24-7 “indoctrination camps” is laughably absurd, but Wood’s proposals are far from a joke.

First, Wood calls for “independent standing committees on free expression” (which is a good idea), and follows it up with a very bad idea, that if colleges “shelter students in ‘safe spaces,’ they forfeit any claim to public respect—and public support.” This talk of banning government funding for colleges that dare to provide “safe spaces” for students is alarming. It’s also hypocritical.

Would conservatives want to banish the chapels common at private colleges that are “safe spaces” for Christian students, and instead make them subject to heckling by atheists? What about Christian student groups who seek to create safe spaces by banning gay students from serving in leadership roles? The call for “safe spaces” is often a bad idea, but banning funding to colleges that respond to such requests is a far, far worse idea.

Second, Wood wants to amend Title IX because it is responsible for “reducing men to a minority group on most campuses.” Does Wood seriously believe that the absence of hundreds of thousands of men in college is due to a male boycott caused by Title IX, rather than, say, the large number of men in prison or the better job opportunities for men? Virtually all colleges already give preferences in admissions and athletic scholarships to men over women (in spite of Title IX). Wood doesn’t explain how he would amend Title IX to impose his twisted idea of equality.

Wood calls on politicians to “end higher education’s destructive focus on race” by, ironically enough, requiring colleges to report the racial differences in their students’ test scores and GPA.

Fourth, Wood wants to fix the student loan debacle by putting limits on total borrowing for students—that is, to limit opportunities for poorer students.

Fifth, Wood wants to “bust the accrediting cartel” (that is, open up higher education to more for-profit colleges that dumbed down education and worsened the student loan debacle) and also punish the College Board for being “politically correct” in the AP tests and SATs.

Sixth (continuing the theme of punishing his political enemies), Wood wants to put controls on the NSF and other federal funders to “end sycophantic science—the bribing of scientists to produce ‘findings’ meant primarily to advance political causes.” Of course, what Wood proposes is actually the creation of sycophantic science, by bribing the scientists who hold views on denying climate change that Wood thinks are right.

Seventh, Wood wants politicians to tell colleges they should require more study of Western civilization.

Wood concludes, “higher education should never be political indoctrination, welfare for special interests, or back scratching for politicians.” But that’s exactly what his proposals are: political indoctrination, welfare for corporate interests, and universities forced to serve politicians.

Wood’s proposals would involve massive political repression: he wants to change federal law to end equality for women in education. He wants to ban all government funds for colleges that he deems are responding to student activists and providing “safe spaces” for the types of students he doesn’t like. He wants to ban all government funds for researchers he thinks are engaged in “advocacy” by disagreeing with his views about science.

Wood apparently believes that trusting the government to suppress political ideas on campus is more likely to help his political wing than allowing academic freedom to prevail when many faculty are too liberal for his tastes. And that may be a bet that he would win, that his political side would prevail if today’s politicians were able to impose their ideological beliefs on colleges. But it’s not a principled decision. It’s not a decision on the side of academic freedom and free speech on campus. It’s a purely political stand made by someone who pretends he wants to eliminate politics on campus but is really imposing political tests on government funding.


Peter Wood replies:

My friend John K. Wilson offers some of his usual strictures about my advice to presidential candidates.  That he finds my counsel “deeply misguided” is not exactly a surprise.  He is an ardent supporter of several of the developments in higher education I criticized.  It’s entirely fair for him to defend his position.  But I do have a few observations.

Mr. Wilson has a tendency to paraphrase mischievously.  He quotes accurately my sentence about campus bullies who seek to make the campus “a 24-7 taxpayer-subsidized indoctrination camp,” and in the very next sentence transforms it into “the notion that colleges are all run by people” who would do this.  He calls this “laughably absurd” and indeed it is, but it isn’t what I wrote.

The technique of mischievous paraphrase runs through most of his published reply. Another example: I wrote that colleges “forfeit public respect—and public support” when they accommodate mob action and shelter students in “safe spaces.”  Mr. Wilson deftly transforms this into my calling for “banning funding” to colleges that respond to calls for safe spaces.  Banning funding is certainly one way to forfeit “public support.”  But you can generally get the attention of college officials with something less drastic.  The key question is how to end the sense among some college presidents that they are entitled to public support regardless of what they do.

Mr. Wilson wonders if I believe that the disproportionately low number of men attending college is “due [to] a male boycott caused by Title IX.”  Mischievous paraphrase again.  I stand with a great many observers of the campus scene who recognize that the invidious interpretations of Title IX of the Higher Education Act that have come from the courts and from federal bureaucrats have made colleges and universities less attractive to many students.  Disincentives are one thing; a “boycott” is something else, and I know of no evidence that men are boycotting college.

Mr. Wilson seems to think there is a contradiction between wanting to end racial preferences in higher education and requiring colleges to divulge the magnitude of the preferences they use. Hardly.  Colleges and universities hide this data because they know the public would be outraged.

Mr. Wilson continues in this vein of refutations that refute something other than what I wrote, and in the interest of avoiding tedium, I won’t go through the rest.  I do take as heartening that he responded at all.  Generally campus progressives refrain from any comment about views and opinions expressed by critics who do not share their premises.  Mr. Wilson is among a very few who persist in paying attention and responding.  He doesn’t do it especially well, but I make allowances for that.  He is stuck defending doctrines that are, at a deep level, indefensible.

BDS and the Rise of Post-Factual Anthropology

By David M. Rosen

Four anthropology professors stood at the entrance of the ballroom at the Colorado Convention Center in Denver last November, where members of the American Anthropological Association would soon vote to boycott Israeli academic institutions, organized by the Palestinian-led Boycott, Divest and Sanction movement (BDS).

Each professor held up one of a series of enlarged maps that purported to show a visual history of the shrinking Palestinian lands since the beginning of the British Mandate in 1918. The maps, however, had erased a key historical fact, namely that in 1922 the British administratively severed 75 percent of Mandatory Palestine and ultimately transformed it into the country of Jordan, whose population, by the most conservative estimates, is at least fifty percent Palestinian. Indeed, Jordan is the only country in the world that has a Palestinian queen. That part of “shrinking Palestine” was missing from the maps.

Related: Our Anti-Israel American Universities

I wanted to know how much the professors actually knew about the maps they were carrying. So I asked them, one by one, “How is it that a huge swath of Mandatory Palestine is missing from your maps?” The first responses: absolute silence. The fourth professor finally responded: “I don’t know.” These professors appeared to have little or no actual knowledge of the maps they were carrying. Had they created these maps, or had some BDS operative simply handed them the maps and told them to stand there? Would they have accepted this level of scholarship from their own students?

Although the vote for boycott was an ecstatic moment for BDS supporters, it represents a major crisis for the credibility and integrity of the American Anthropological Association and anthropology as a discipline. There is a huge amount of good anthropological research still taking place in the United States and elsewhere, but the BDS victory is illustrative of the way in which the ideology of the regressive left has hijacked much of the discipline.

The current crisis has its roots in the erosion of the American Anthropological Association’s commitment to science. When the association voted in 2010 to strip the word “science” from its long range plans, much of anthropology had already become thoroughly politicized. Evidence-based scholars such as archeologists and physical anthropologists had all but abandoned the association, and even many cultural anthropologists have walked away in disgust at the replacement of empiricism with narrative form and political aesthetics. What’s left, in many areas of anthropology, are the trace marks of a past discipline which now has little patience for science or for rational debate. The new anthropology is about political advocacy. It frames the world largely in terms of victims and victors, oppressors and oppressed. There is significantly less room for the careful analysis, thick description, and nuanced understanding that have long been the hallmark of good anthropology.

Related: The Erosion of Science

For BDS supporters, the association is the perfect petri dish for their political project. BDS supporters have captured much of the leadership of the association, which considers BDS activism to be bringing back the glory days of the 1960s student protests. Not surprisingly, these leaders decided that “something had to be done” about Israel. So, at the 2014 annual meeting, the AAA leadership promoted and packaged panels which served essentially as BDS political rallies. The panels, in which the stars of the BDS movement were treated like royalty, excluded virtually all dissenting voices. One anthropologist bragged about the politicization of the classroom, crowing that “teaching is my politics.” Another denounced objectivity as “part of the Zionist agenda.”

The Piltdown Adventure
Following this, the AAA leadership appointed a Task Force to examine the situation in Israel and Palestine. The report, released shortly before the 2015 vote, is itself a scandal, marred by pervasive citation bias and bad science. For a short while, the AAA leadership even appointed a known BDS advocate to serve as the chair. The Task Force report is dominated by the use of what can only be called Piltdown methods.

In the great Piltdown hoax of 1912, paleontological hustlers fabricated a phony fossil out of a modern human skull, the lower jaw of an orangutan, and chimpanzee fossil teeth, to produce the so-called “missing link” between human and apes. It took more than 40 years for the hoax to be fully repudiated. The heart of the hoax was the clever combination of unrelated and unconnected materials that were put together to create the appearance of legitimate fossil remains. But what was once a scandalous act has now become the central method of this Task Force as well as of much of the new anthropology.

As in the Piltdown scandal, the report combines exaggerations, distortions and outright fabrications to reach its BDS-mandated conclusion that Israel is a uniquely bad place and deserving of boycott. It’s a report which begins and ends with Israeli culpability for the situation in Israel and Palestine. The original Piltdown hoax was exposed only because anthropologists cared about the data. But in the new post-factual anthropology, only the narrative — not the data — actually counts. Like all forms of propaganda, the truth is a function of its emotional persuasiveness. If it fits the narrative –it is true.

Attacking Israel is a cheap shot for boycotters. There are very few anthropologists in Israel and no independent departments of anthropology. There are only about one hundred members of the Israel Anthropological Association. Of these, perhaps twenty or so hold full time academic posts. Moreover, American anthropologists have never been particularly interested in Israel as a research area, so have very little to lose in boycotting Israel.

Related: A Footnote to the Anthropology Debate

Anthropologists continue to happily work in the most dictatorial and oppressive regimes on the planet without losing any sleep. But to attack those regimes could seriously threaten anthropological research opportunities. So boycotting Israel provides a soft target of convenience – a painless way for radicals to feel good without cost.

Finally, there is the touchiest issue, the elephant in the room that no one in anthropology wants to talk about — anti-Semitism. BDS supporters and leaders emphatically deny they are anti-Semitic. But, of course, one could ask, exactly who is it these days who publically admits to being anti-Semitic, or racist, or sexist? At the 2014 association meetings, the single anthropologist who raised the possibility that BDS was anti-Semitic was booed and hissed into silence. Many BDS leaders call for the end of the Jewish presence in Israel and are indifferent to the fate of the millions of Jews living there.

Moreover, it’s hard to imagine that the animus that pervades a group like BDS would even exist if Israel were not a Jewish state. [Don’t hold your breath waiting for anthropologists to boycott Chinese, Russian or United States universities over the occupations of Tibet, Crimea, the Black Hills or anyplace else on the planet.] So just maybe BDS is not per se anti-Semitic. It is amply clear, however, that the BDS movement has become the international safe harbor for anti-Semites, Holocaust deniers, Israel haters, conspiracy theorists, and kooks of every variety. This is now the club that the new anthropology wishes to join. In this land of magical thinking, where ‘truthiness’ prevails over truth, it is hard to imagine anything less than the credibility of an entire profession is at stake.

This story has not yet reached its conclusion, however. The entire membership of the American Anthropological Association will be asked in April to ratify or reject the pro-boycott vote that passed at the annual meeting. One can hope that for the sake of their professional integrity and the future of anthropology, they will soundly reject the emotionalism, bad science and political posturing that have brought it to this juncture.


David M. Rosen is professor of anthropology at Fairleigh Dickinson University, Madison, N.J. and a co-founder of Anthropologists for Dialogue on Israel and Palestine.

Another Illegal ‘Diversity’ Scheme at Michigan

By John S. Rosenberg

In my first year of graduate school at Yale, the debate over admitting women to the college was still raging.  A joke (or maybe it wasn’t) at that time was that the Old Yalies were perfectly willing for the college to go co-ed — so long as no male who would have been admitted in the absence of co-education was rejected … and the size of the entering class was not increased.

I was reminded of this resistance to co-education by a recent front-page story in The New York Times detailing an extraordinary measure the University of Michigan has taken to increase the “diversity” of its entering class. “The size of the freshman class was cut, by 434 students to 6,071,” The Times reports, “and no one was admitted off the waiting list, which favors higher income — often white and Asian — students, who can afford to put down a deposit to reserve admission at another college while they wait.”

Think about that,” writes Roger Clegg. “People are refused admission, not just because it was preferable to admit someone of a different color (as bad as that is), but because the school wanted to increase the percentage of some colors of students by denying admission to students of other colors.”

Also think about this: what exactly is the nature — leave aside the value — of the “diversity” that is increased simply by reducing the number of the ‘non-diverse’ admits? Kedra Ishop, Michigan’s associate vice president for enrollment management (who no doubt developed her skills restricting whites and Asians as director of admissions at the University of Texas),  must believe that blacks and Hispanics possess only a finite amount of “diversity” to disperse, and that restricting the numbers who benefit in mysterious ways from being exposed to them will thus increase the dose of it each of the non-diverse will receive.

Refusing to admit any applicants from the waiting list because more of them are white and Asian is nothing more, or less, than intentional racial discrimination, different only in degree but not in kind from the ostensibly neutral “grandfather clauses” once used by Southern states to restrict black voting.

It is also not Michigan’s first foray into discrimination by proxy. Its “Descriptor Plus” demographic data analysis program developed in conjunction with the College Board (now called “Segment Analysis Service”) was an attempt to harvest minority students without appearing to do so.

That program segments the entire U.S. population into 180,000 “neighborhoods,” and then places each into one of 30 “clusters” with unique attributes such as mean SAT scores, parental education levels, percentage of high school graduates entering college, and percentage of minority students. “Using these collected attributes and clusters,” the Michigan Review reported, “U-M hopes to preserve current minority enrollment levels while obeying the letter, if not the spirit, of Proposal 2 [which banned the consideration of race].”

According to Teresa Sullivan, now the formerly embattled president of the University of Virginia but then the provost of the University of Michigan (and as a sociologist specializing in labor force demography and affirmative action no doubt heavily involved in the development of “Descriptor Plus”), these demographic indicators are “applied in a holistic admissions evaluation” and “are not simple substitutes for race or ethnicity.”

“Of course they are not ‘simple substitutes for race and ethnicity,’” as I commented here. “They are complex, expensive substitutes.” (For more on the exemplary career of Teresa Sullivan as an affirmative action apparatchik, see my “Was Teresa Sullivan an Affirmative Action Hire?” here and here.)

Michigan’s purely numbers-driven desire to restrict the admission of Asians and whites and its “diversity”-justified discrimination by demographic proxy is both offensive and presumptively illegal. Even Grutter described “outright racial balancing” as “patently unconstitutional,” and in Parents Involved Chief Justice Roberts noted that a fatal flaw of the “racial balance” sought by the school districts is that it was defined “solely by reference to the demographics of the respective school districts.”


John Rosenberg blogs at Discriminations

Sheldon Award Fans Hail 2015 Winner

Jack Fowler, on National Review Online’s “The Corner,” wrote, “Congratulations to the 2015 Sheldon winner. And condolences to the students.” Glenn Reynolds (Instapundit) said naming Peter Salovey of Yale the winner was “a good call, though it was a rich field this year.”

Perhaps with a touch of regional pride, Charlie Sykes, a well-known Milwaukee blogger, hailed the achievement of Michael Lovell, president of Marquette (Milwaukee) in finishing so high among the five worst presidents. “Okay, so Marquette President Mike Lovell didn’t win gold, but taking home a Third Runner-Up medal as the fourth worst college president in America is no mean feat, especially given the stiff competition. Think of it as the Super Bowl of academic awfulness, cowardice, and unprincipled appeasement. And 2015 was a banner year.  We suspect that if Lovell – who seems quite clueless about the actual issues involved here – goes ahead and actually fires McAdams that he will start the year as a front runner for winning the 2016 Sheldon.”

The Heartland Institute put out this statement: “The governing boards of UC-Berkeley, Marquette, Missouri, Virginia, and Yale should follow the lead of the University of Chicago, Purdue, and the University of Wisconsin system and pass the ‘Chicago standard’ resolution that reaffirms free speech rights on their campuses.”

One of the most common reader reactions to the Sheldon was regret that Tim Wolfe of the University of Missouri didn’t win it. An NRO reader wrote, “I’d have given the award to Tim “Fold Like a Cheap Suit” Wolfe of Missouri. Quitting your job because a handful of students are unhappy with you has to be one of the most pathetic performances out there.” Another said, “I’m disappointed it wasn’t Wolfe. His will be the most damaging precedent for higher education, long term.”

In California, the Orange County Breeze was disappointed that local Sheldon candidate Janet Napolitano didn’t win, asking, “Who managed to be even worse? Last year, competition was extraordinary. Many college administrators trampled one another in their zeal to oversee campus ruin and collapse…. Go read the entire article and ask yourself  how we got to the point that college administrators can be so easily bullied and the tender feelings of college students became the Law of the Quad.”

More About what Candidates Can Do…

By Roger Clegg

Kudos to Peter Wood for encouraging the presidential candidates to opine – and opine wisely – on higher education issues in his article, “What Candidates Can Do for Higher Education Now.” With regard to his Item #3 (“End higher education’s destructive focus on race”), I’d like to point out two specific proposals that have been made, along the lines of the legislation that Peter discusses.

First, Professor Gail Heriot, who moonlights as a member of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, had an excellent Wall Street Journal op-ed last year that made two important points. The first is that the “mismatch” that results from racial preferences in university admissions is an important factor in the relative dearth of African American graduates in the STEM disciplines.

But the second is that, while some of the pressure to use these preferences is self-imposed, a lot of it is not — and, in particular, much of it comes from accrediting agencies. She calls on Congress to step up to the plate and “prohibit accreditors from wading into student-body diversity issues.” Those interested in more information about what Congress should do on this can read Professor Heriot’s additional words of wisdom here and here.

Second, as long as university officials take race and ethnicity into account in admissions decisions, a bill requiring publication of the use of such preferences is necessary. Such a bill would require universities that receive federal funding to report annually and in detail on whether and how race, color, and national origin factor into the student admissions process. The Supreme Court has, alas, upheld such discrimination as constitutionally permissible, at least for now, but this is supposedly subject to numerous restrictions.

So even if some insist that taxpayer-funded universities should continue to practice racial discrimination in admissions, there’s no justification for it being done secretly and illegally – that is, without public disclosure and without taking pains to satisfy the Supreme Court’s requirements.

Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN), who chairs the relevant Senate committee and is an outspoken critic of racial preferences, ought to be supportive; so should his House counterpart, Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-NC); the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights endorsed this approach, including “sunshine” legislation, as a recommendation to the President and Congress in a 2006 report. And Rep. Steve King (R–IA) has on more than one occasion introduced legislation like this. You can find a draft of the bill (the “Racial and Ethnic Preferences Disclosure Act of 2014″) and more discussion here.


Roger Clegg is the President and General Counsel of the Center for Equal Opportunity.

What Candidates Can Do For Higher Education Now

By Peter Wood

In 2014 Senator Marco Rubio lent his support to CASA, the Campus Accountability and Safety Act—the effort by Missouri Senator Claire McCaskill and New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand to strip the due process rights of students accused of sexual assault.  The bill died that year but McCaskill and Gillibrand brought it back in 2015, and Senator Rubio renewed his support.

It is a terrible piece of legislation, and one that no reasonably informed observer of higher education who cares about the rule of law and individual rights on campus could support. Yet one of the mainstream GOP presidential candidates co-sponsored it, presumably because he calculates that it is “good politics” to be able to say he opposes “rape culture.”

Related: Gillibrand Revised—Still No Due Process

This one instance of many testifies to how little attention our leading candidates pay to higher education. Americans, however, have been shocked to see students at Dartmouth, Princeton, Yale, and other elite institutions protesting against free speech—and college presidents bowing down before little ripped-jeans, tuition-subsidized junior-league totalitarians.   Now would be a good time for some presidential candidates to come up with a real program for reform.

So far, the only candidates to propose anything noteworthy are Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton.  Sanders has floated a $47 billion proposal to eliminate undergraduate tuition at four-year public colleges and universities. Clinton has countered with a “New College Compact” that would spend $350 billion over ten years to eliminate student loans.

Making college an entitlement may appeal to some voters, but it would do nothing to end the open hostility to free inquiry that marks our campuses now. Here are some suggestions for how to take back the campus from those who are intent on making it a 24-7 taxpayer-subsidized indoctrination camp:

  1. Respect freedom of thought and expression. Colleges and universities should demonstrate commitment to these freedoms. They should, for example, establish independent standing committees on free expression. College leaders need to stand up against movements that try to turn academic freedom inside out by justifying mob action and intimidation as “free expression.” If they prefer instead to shelter students in “safe spaces,” they forfeit any claim to public respect—and public support.

Related: How Political Correctness Corrupted the Colleges

  1. Treat men and women equitably. Amend Title IX of the Higher Education Act, which was originally enacted to ensure that women in college had equal opportunities. It has been twisted over time by bad court decisions and radical feminist regulators to justify denying men due process, cutting men’s sports, and reducing men to a minority group on most campuses.

Curtail the Office for Civil Rights in the Department of Education which has, without Congressional approval, churned out regulations on the unwarranted premise that sexual assault is a form of “discrimination” covered by Title IX.  Sexual assault is a crime, best handled by the police and the courts, as Bernie Sanders has just said. Endorse the Safe Campus Act, which allows a college to conduct its own inquiry into a reported sexual assault only if the alleged victim consents to an investigation by law enforcement.

  1. End higher education’s destructive focus on race. Presidential candidates should join the majority of Americans who oppose racial preferences in hiring and college admissions. This may be a long fight. A good first step would be to expose the sheer extent of these preferences by passing legislation that requires colleges and universities to disclose them in detail by publishing admitted students’ standardized test scores and GPAs, broken down by race.
  1. Fix the student loan debacle. First, end the perverse incentives by which the government actively encourages students to take on unnecessary debt. Prompt students to think carefully about their college choices by favoring loans that go towards programs that meet national needs and that possess academic rigor. Cap each student’s total borrowing for tuition and other college expenses. Make colleges partly liable for student loan defaults.  Create federal incentives for three-year programs and the $10,000 B.A. pioneered by Texas.

Related: Making a Bigger Mess of Student Loans

  1. End federal cronyism in higher education. Bust the accrediting cartel, which impedes competition by hindering the creation of new colleges and online education. End the cozy relationship between the government and the College Board, a private monopoly that has compromised academic standards via its politically correct changes in the SATs and the Advanced Placement history courses.
  1. Restore the integrity of the sciences. Require the National Science Foundation and other federal funding bodies to spend research dollars on research, not public advocacy. End sycophantic science—the bribing of scientists to produce “findings” meant primarily to advance political causes. Pass the Secret Science Reform Act which would require universities to disclose the data and the manipulations behind publicly-funded research.  (The data behind Michael Mann’s infamous “hockey stick” graph, first published in April 1998, is still) Science that can’t be replicated isn’t science.
  1. Enhance the curriculum. Colleges should be free to decide what courses they offer and how these add up to a college degree, but our political leaders can reasonably exhort college leaders to set meaningful requirements and to offer students a coherent curriculum that includes core subjects such as Western civilization and American history.

Related: Emptying Content from College Courses

These steps would serve everyone, rich and poor, of every ethnicity, and would just as importantly serve America. We’ve allowed many of our colleges and universities to decline into little more than servants of progressive politics. But higher education should never be political indoctrination, welfare for special interests, or back scratching for politicians. It is time for a principled candidate to say “Enough!” and to take concrete steps to restore higher education to the nation’s colleges and universities.


 

Peter Wood is President of the National Association of Scholars.

 

How Title IX Became a Policy Bully

By KC Johnson

The Chronicle of Higher Education has received a good deal of attention for putting together a website cataloguing all the Title IX complaints currently pending with the Obama administration’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR). But the site should mostly be seen as a concrete demonstration of how little we know about these complaints, and how poorly the media as a whole has done in covering this issue.

Even before the issuance of the “Dear Colleague” letter in 2011, a marriage of convenience had developed between OCR and campus activists eager to weaken due process for students accused of sexual assault. In contrast to the Bush administration, OCR made clear by implication if not openly, it would welcome Title IX complaints, as a bludgeon to pressure universities to change their policies—if only the activists would file such complaints. And so local activists, increasingly organized by groups such as Know Your IX, SurvJustice, and End Rape on Campus, started filing complaints.

Related: The Hunting Ground—An Ethically-Challenged Tainted Documentary

The Title IX complaint against Yale—which produced the grossly unfair procedures that ensnared, among others, Patrick Witt—was the first example of this new process in action.

The only university that appears to have resisted OCR pressure was Tufts, and it did so only briefly, before backing down. The combined threat of bad publicity and a loss of federal funds—coupled with the fact that many on campus agree with the activists’ anti-due process agenda—has explained the remarkable academic passivity to this federal overreach.

OCR has followed the highly unusual strategy of releasing the names of colleges or universities under investigation, but refusing to release any of the details as to what prompted the Title IX complaint. And so, over and over again, the Chronicle website has lines such as these: “Sexual assault gained attention on the campus when the Office for Civil Rights notified leaders [and, of course, the public] in October that it had launched an investigation.”

OCR hasn’t explained why it has pursued this shaming strategy—whose only purpose seems to be to heighten the frenzy about the campus sexual assault issue and invite the media to assume the worst.

Related: Three Men Unfairly Branded as Campus Rapists

It’s not as if the agency doesn’t eventually release most of the details of complaints. Take, for instance, one of the most recent resolution letters, involving Michigan State University. There, once the matter was resolved, OCR published in some detail (without revealing the complainants’ identities) the initial allegations against the school. (In both instances, accusers claimed that the university had waited too long to investigate the charges, one of which was deemed baseless.)

OCR spares no details in these resolution letters: in the Michigan State case, for instance, the resolution letter included such unique details as the following: “In November 2010, during the investigation, Student A encountered the two male students in a University building where all of the students studied. The two male students were sitting in a private tutoring room with their tutor. While the door was closed, Student A could see the male students through a glass panel in the door. Student A remained outside the male students’ tutoring room for approximately 30 minutes.

When the male students were finished with their tutoring session, they left the room and walked past her to exit the building. Student A called the police to report that the male students had violated their PPOs by not leaving the building when she entered it. Student A stated that the male students were supposed to stay 500 feet away from her, but that the police had told her that the 500-foot rule has exceptions. After this encounter, the male students were assigned to a specific study area in the building that was separate from Student A’s study area and required them to use a separate entrance from the general student body.”

Related: The NY Times Reveals the Stupidity of ‘Yes Means Yes’

(This burden was placed on these two students, who also had been reassigned to a remote dorm on campus, even though the allegation was unfounded.)

This level of specificity, of course, ensures that those who knew both the accuser and accusers on campus would likely now learn about the sexual assault allegation. If the agency plans to release such details eventually, why not right off the bat? Perhaps because it sounded much worse to hear “Michigan State Under Title IX Investigation” than to learn that the allegation was that the school took long to conclude that an unfounded sexual assault allegation was, in fact, unfounded—and that the accused students had done nothing wrong.

An administration committed to transparency should release the details of the allegations, so the public could decide for themselves the seriousness of the Title IX complaints. That the Obama administration has chosen not to do so—as the Chronicle website helps to demonstrate—only compounds its bad faith on the issue of campus due process.


 

KC Johnson is a history professor at Brooklyn College and the City University of New York Graduate Center. He is the author, along with Stuart Taylor, of Until Proven Innocent: Political Correctness and the Shameful Injustices of the Duke Lacrosse Rape Case.

 

The Leftist Intellectuals Hovering over the Campuses

Political correctness – the academic aping of the class struggle — has increasingly generated campus hijinks unintentionally redolent of the cartoonist Al Capp’s 1960s depiction of S.W.I.N.E. (Students Wildly Indignant about Nearly Everything). Recently, referring to the plague of campus hoaxes regarding rape and race, capped off by the ruckus at Oberlin College because of the cultural “disrespect” shown by serving General Tso’s Chicken with steamed instead of fried rice, I was asked by a well-educated friend, “how did academia come to this sorry pass?”

Obscure but Powerful

It was, I replied, a long story but suggested that she read the British philosopher Roger Scruton’s Fools Frauds and Firebrands: Thinkers of the New Left.” It’s an engaging update of Scruton’s 1985 politically incorrect book that got Scruton ejected from English academia. The figures Scruton discusses, such as George Lukacs, Louis Althusser, Michel Foucault and Slavo Zizek, “may seem like obscure intellectuals to the man in the street but they are still dominant on the humanities curriculum,” he explains. Humanities students have to swallow a whole load of what Scruton describes as their “nonsense machine.”

“The postmodern campus aggrievement industry,” notes Arthur Milikh, writing in City Journal, aims to introduce a new standard of wisdom: judging the highest achievements of human knowledge by the unreasoned, spontaneous feelings of uncultivated minds.

Intellectuals as Saviors

In order to chart the growth of “the aggrievement industry,” Scruton twines together two strands of twaddle: Western– that is cultural– Marxism, and the intellectual and psychological derangements of its practitioners. Western Marxism can be best understood as the class struggle without the proletariat. It retains the passionate hatred of the bourgeoisie but like Lenin puts forth intellectuals as the saviors of mankind.

Capitalism Deforms the Psyche

Lukacs claimed, “The entire human psyche is so deformed by capitalism” that “it is not possible to be human in bourgeois society…. The “bourgeoisie possesses only the semblance of a human existence.”  Anticipating the black nationalists who insisted whites couldn’t understand black culture and the apologist for Palestinian terrorism Edward Said, who claimed Arab and Islamic culture was beyond the ken of Westerners, Lukacs instructed that Soviet culture was entirely opaque to the bourgeois intellect.

The challenge was never met.

A Lone Persecuted Voice

Scruton first encountered the writing of Louis Althusser on “aleatory Marxism” when he was visiting France during the ectopic revolution of the May 1968 events.  Althusser, a professor at the prestigious École Normale Supérieure in Paris depicted himself “as a lone persecuted voice.”  It was but one of his bizarre impostures.  Althusser, who was in and out of mental institutions for his entire life, depicted his time in a German P.O.W camp as one of the few times he experienced freedom.  Althusser, a Communist Party member who invited his many students to join him in the supposed solitude of his persecution, found the site of totalitarianism in neither Stalin’s Russia nor Mao’s China, but rather in “that most frightful, appalling and horrifying of all the ideological state apparatuses . . . namely, the family.”

Few readers other than those looking to be initiates into this occult version of academic Gnosticism can escape from the “dense fog of” Althusser’s “portentous verbiage.” But in 1980 at age 62, Althusser ceased spreading smog directly when he strangled his wife and largely got away with it by pleading professorial incapacitation.  But his work was carried on by his students, who produced Slavo Zizek, the current reigning champion of academic incantation who predictably fabricates one or two books a year.

Disregard Majorities

Zizek, speaking for the line of argument from Lukacs to Althusser that has infested our campuses, explained, “Revolutionary politics is not a matter of opinions but of the truth on behalf of which one often is compelled to disregard the opinion of the majority and to impose the revolutionary will against it.”  Revolutionary will has no need for evidence and argumentation. Nor, Zizek explains, is there any need for ordinary bourgeois logic. You can simultaneously argue, through what he calls paraconsistent logic born of the dialectic, for X and not X.

Speaking at the 2012 Occupy Wall Street protests Zizek, in defiance of conventional evidence, insisted that the United State was more repressive than the government of mainland China, which jails dissenters and their lawyers. “[In] 2011, the Chinese government prohibited on TV and films and in novels all stories that contain alternate reality or time travel,” Zizek noted. “This is a good sign for China; it means that people still dream about alternatives, so you have to prohibit this dream. Here, we don’t think of prohibition, because the ruling system has even oppressed our capacity to dream. Look at the movies that we see all the time. It’s easy to imagine the end of the world. An asteroid destroying all life and so on. But you cannot imagine the end of capitalism.”  In another words, the absence of prohibitions proves the presence of repression.

Neglect of Palpable Facts

At the turn of the twentieth century, the democratic socialist Eduard Bernstein explained presciently, once you go in for an “almost incredible neglect of the most palpable facts,” you end up soon enough at “a truly miraculous belief in the creative power of force.” Zizek, one of the most popular speakers on American campuses, is the fulfillment of Bernstein’s prediction.

“We seem,” says Zizek, “to need Lenin’s insights more than ever…because it is only by throwing off our attachment to liberal democracy that we can become effectively anti-capitalist.” “The ultimate and defining experience of the twentieth century,” he explains, “was the direct experience of the Real as distinct from everyday social reality – the Real, in its extreme violence, is the price to be paid for peeling off the deceiving layers of reality.”  Hence Lenin’s greatness.

In The Leninist Freedom, he cheerfully noted Lenin’s response to Menshevik defenders of democracy in 1920: ‘Of course, gentlemen, you have the right to publish this critique – but, then, gentlemen, be so kind as to allow us to line you up against the wall and shoot you!’ Now that’s direct action for you.  Direct action as in the numerous campus protests of the past year allows for the authenticity of action impossible when ordinary procedures are invoked.

The Sokol Hoax

What’s puzzling is why such a wide variety of protests has recently broken out across American campuses.  Postmodernism seemed to have been beaten back in the early 21st century. The embarrassment of the Sokal hoax (the pomo magazine Social Text printed as genuine a spoof claiming to deconstruct gravity); the revelations that two of the key influences on postmodernism, the philosopher Martin Heidegger and the literary critic Paul de Man, were deeply implicated in European fascism; and the defection of literary critics suggested that postmodernism was on the rocks or at the very least had become old hat.

But while pomo might have become old hat, the selective process whereby the radicals of the 60s had become the college administrators of recent years was part of a development whereby a narrowing number of novitiates were looking to take their vows for the priesthood of the humanities. For many years, students of moderate or conservative views and those perhaps looking for a more promising path to the future chose other careers. But the radicalized rump was energized by the Ferguson protests and motivated by the sense that the dwindling days of the Obama years impelled the need for immediate action.  The upshot has been the return of S.W.I.N.E’s hijinks as academia or at least an increasingly cartoonish section of the humanities seems determined to discredit itself.


Fred Siegel is a Scholar in Residence at St Francis College, Brooklyn, and a contributing editor to Manhattan Institute’s City Journal.

Social Psychology, a Field with Only 8 Conservatives

Just how much viewpoint diversity do we have in social psychology? In 2011, nobody knew, so I asked 30 of my friends in the field to name a conservative. They came up with several names, but only one suspect admitted, under gentle interrogation, to being right of center.

A few months later I gave a talk at the annual convention of the Society for Personality and Social Psychology in which I pointed out the field’s political imbalance and why this was a threat to the quality of our research.

I asked the thousand-or-so people in the audience to declare their politics with a show of hands, and I estimated that roughly 80% self-identified as “liberal or left of center,” 2% (I counted exactly 20 hands) identified as “centrist or moderate,” 1% (12 hands) identified as libertarian, and, rounding to the nearest integer, zero percent (3 hands) identified as “conservative or right of center.” That gives us a left-right ratio of 266 to one. I didn’t think the real ratio was that high; I knew that some conservatives in the audience were probably afraid to raise their hands.

Some of my colleagues questioned the validity of such a simple and public method, but Yoel Inbar and Yoris Lammers conducted a more thorough and anonymous survey of the SPSP email list later that year, and they too found a very lopsided political ratio: 85% of the 291 respondents self-identified as liberal overall, and only 6% identified as conservative.

That gives us our first good estimate of the left-right ratio in social psychology: fourteen to one. It’s a much more valid method than my “show of hands” (which was intended as a rhetorical device, not a real study). But still, we need more data, and we need to try more ways of asking the questions.

A new data set has come in. Bill von Hippel and David Buss surveyed the membership of the Society for Experimental Social Psychology. That’s a professional society composed of the most active researchers in the field who are at least five years post-PhD. It’s very selective – you must be nominated by a current member and approved by a committee before you can join. Von Hippel and Buss sent a web survey to the 900 members of SESP and got a response rate of 37% (335 responses). So this is a good sample of the mid-level and senior people (average age 51) who produce most of the research in social psychology.

Von Hippel and Buss were surveying the members’ views about evolution to try to understand the reasons why many social psychologists distrust or dislike evolutionary psychology. At the end of the survey, they happened to include a very good set of measures of political identity. Not just self-descriptions, but also whom the person voted for in the 2012 US Presidential election. And they asked nine questions about politically valenced policy questions, such as “Do you support gun control?” “Do you support gay marriage?” and “Do you support a woman’s right to get an abortion?”

In a demonstration of the new openness and transparency that is spreading in social psychology, Von Hippel and Buss sent their raw data file and a summary report to all the members of SESP, to thank us for our participation in the survey. They noted that their preliminary analysis showed a massive leftward tilt in the field – only four had voted for Romney. I then emailed them and asked if I could write up further analyses of the political questions and post them at HeterodoxAcademy. They generously said yes, and then went ahead and made all the relevant files available to the world at the Open Science Framework (you can download them all here).

So here are the results, on the political distribution only. (Von Hippel and Buss will publish a very interesting paper on their main findings about evolution and morality in a few months). There are three ways we can graph the data, based on three ways that participants revealed their political orientation.

1) Self descriptions of political identity: 36 to one.

2) Presidential voting: 76 to one.

3) Views on political issues: 314 to one.

This excerpt from Heterodox Academy, “New Study Indicates Existence of Eight Conservative Social Psychologists” is printed with permission.


 

Jonathan Haidt is a social psychologist at NYU’s Stern School of Business and author of “The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion

Worst College President of 2015—Who Wins the Sheldon?

We are reviving the Sheldon award for worst college president of the year. It is named for the late Sheldon Hackney, who presided over many college disasters, including Penn’s water buffalo controversy and the theft of a complete edition of the University of Pennsylvania student newspaper that included a column criticizing affirmative action. The thieves were not reprimanded or otherwise punished but the campus cop who caught them was—a nice touch.

Here are the four finalists for 2015:

Tim Wolfe, University of Missouri, 4th runner up: Wolfe couldn’t seem to cope with racial protests based on three reported racist remarks and a swastika drawn on a campus wall in feces. Wolfe fumbled the issue for months without taking any action. Then a black graduate student went on a hunger strike, the football team refused to play, and politicians demanded action. At an emergency meeting, on the brink of tears, he quit, saying he hoped his departure would alleviate the pain on campus. “This university is in pain right now … and it needs healing,” President Tim Wolfe said in the university-approved language of feelings. Then he quit, saying his departure might help alleviate the pain.

Related: Campus Turmoil Begins In High School

Michael Lovell, Marquette, 3th runner up: A student who opposed gay marriage attempted to discuss the issue in a philosophy class, but the graduate student who taught the class refused to allow it. She said that the gay marriage issue had been settled and that class discussion of it would hurt the feelings of gays. John McAdams, a Marquette professor and conservative gadfly, wrote about the incident on his blog, which resulted in hostile mail and reported death threats to the graduate student. McAdams was suspended (though Marquette quibbles about the word), forbidden to set foot on campus, and still remains suspended more than a year later. In discussing the case, President Lovell has talked generally about disrespect and harassment. What he hasn’t said is why the Catholic position on gay marriage can’t be discussed in class on a Catholic campus.

Teresa Sullivan, University of Virginia, 2rd runner up: When Rolling Stone broke the story of the brutal (and bogus) rape at the university, Sullivan misjudged the impact and boarded a plane to Amsterdam for a conference three hours after the rape story lit up the Internet. Then, with no investigation or hearing, she suspended the allegedly offending fraternity and all other campus fraternities and sororities as well, extending the suspensions well past the time when the hoax started to unravel. She has issued no apology for the suspensions and offered no reimbursement for fraternity members forced to move into motels and hotels because of the suspensions. The activists and their allies who vandalized the accused frat drew no criticism from her or her administration. She imposed credible new rules for frats, but otherwise every move she made on this issue was wrong.

Janet Napolitano, Chancellor, University of California (Runner Up—If for any reason our winner can’t fulfill his duties as winner of the Sheldon, Ms. Napolitano, would wear the crown: Janet Napolitano, chancellor of the University of California, approved and issued a long list of statements that could no longer be uttered by university faculty because they are considered hurtful microaggressions. The list included, “America is the land of opportunity,” “America is a melting pot,” “There is only one race—the human race” and “I believe the most qualified person should get the job.”

Related: Too Many Hollow Men on Campus

Like most campus controversies these days, this one pitted free speech versus hurt feelings, a struggle that colleges typically resolve in favor of feelings (as long as those doing the feeling are non-Asian minorities, gays or women).

Napolitano’s effort to quell positive remarks about America was so strikingly risible that in a normal year she would have won the Sheldon award hands-down. But she had to settle for a silver medal because of what happened at Yale.

Peter Salovey, Yale: In the biggest collapse of the year, Yale President Salovey committed millions of dollars to appease racial protesters with a basket of goodies likely to enlarge the stature of the “diversity” movement on campus and its drive for mandatory courses in race and ethnicity. Those goodies included five years of conferences on race and diversity, four new minority professorships and a doubling of budgets of the four student minority centers that Yale probably shouldn’t have at all unless it wants to keep furthering separatism—one each for Blacks, Latinos, Native Americans and Asian- Americans.

Salovey managed to produce a major victory for protesters complaining about strikingly weak and vague issues (a teacher’s opinion that Yale shouldn’t have told students what Halloween costumes to avoid, a feeling of racial discomfort among some blacks on campus, and a false report that a black student had been turned away from a fraternity party).

Related: North Korea Has Taken Over the Modern Campus

When a group of protesters confronted Professor Nicholas Christakis, husband of Erika Christakis who wrote the controversial costume memo, one student is heard saying, “Walk away. He doesn’t deserve to be listened to.” When Nicholas started to explain himself, a student yells, “Be quiet!” and then proceeds to lecture him. When Nicholas calmly and politely says, “I disagree,” the protestor explodes, screaming, “Why the fuck did you accept the position?! Who the fuck hired you?! You should step down!” Then, finally, “You’re disgusting!” Had the protester been a white male, he likely would have been expelled or suspended. But the perp was a black female. So no action.

The trigger for the protests was also peculiar. For a large number of students to go berserk over a mild and non-racist email dissenting from a Yale instruction on Halloween costumes was remarkable and Salovey might have politely said so.

As Peter Schuck said on this site, “University officials like us bear some responsibility for the aggressive, obsessive ethnic emphasis practiced on our campus. Through some mixture of cowardice, complaisance, and genuine conviction, we cater to the sensibilities of the most outspoken, politicized students by donning a kind of “kick me” sign. In this atmosphere of identity politics, students have strong incentives to dramatize their wounds as proof of the authenticity of a larger, more heroic social agenda….”

Missing from Salovey’s performance was any sense of authority. When the protestors demonized Erika Christakis for her costume memo, and when protesters cursed and threatened her husband, Nicholas (“We know where you live”), Salovey didn’t seem to notice or care. He declined to fire the husband-wife pair, as protesters demanded, but made no effort to keep them when Nicholas went on leave and Erika quit teaching at Yale because, she said, the university lacks civil dialogue.

Worst of all, the transformation of universities from actual places of learning to institutions primarily obsessed with race and identity has advanced mightily through Yale’s defeat. For demonstrating weak leadership and incomprehension at an elite university, the Sheldon goes to Peter Salovey.


John Leo is the Editor of Minding the Campus

How Your Tax Money Promotes Grievances

Oregon State University is launching a series of “social justice retreats” to “promote  a campus dialogue about race and racism.”

Translation: the university is sponsoring therapized programs to makes non-whites more aware of micro-aggression, more separatist and how aggrieved they ought to be at the hands of whites. There are also programs to render whites guilty about “white privilege.”  And the beauty of these programs, from the cultural left point of view, is that they will be paid for out of tax money.

Retreats, from one day to a weekend long, are being offered in Racial Aikido, Multiracial Aikido (a touch of Asian mystery here), Examining White Identity in a Multicultural World, and Examining White Identity for Faculty and Staff.

Promotional material for the program says, “Racial Aikido seeks to empower students of color at predominantly White institutions (PWIs) using the principles of aikido to recognize, respond, and replenish. Originally created at the University of Vermont, Racial Aikido acknowledges that people of color may be ill prepared to deal with issues of race and racism as it affects them personally.

Racial Aikido promotes tools for people of color to maintain a positive self-image and be able to respond to overt and covert racism. By the conclusion of the retreat, you will have a better understanding of White privilege, in-group and internalized oppression, identity development models, and be more self-aware of your multiple identities.

Multiracial Aikido is a one-day experience grounded in the principles of the Racial Aikido retreat. By the end of the experience, you will have a better understanding of your multiracial identities, explore the role of physical appearance, family, and build community with other students and staff at OSU.

The Examining White Identity (EWI) retreat focuses on White identity development, White privilege, and oppression in both personal and institutional contexts, while introducing strategies to dismantle oppressive systems.”

American institutions once worked to integrate immigrants and other outsiders into the mainstream Now many do their best to discredit the mainstream and work hard to encourage grievances and separatism.

Campus Turmoil Begins in High School

A month before the Yale Halloween meltdown, I had a bizarre and illuminating experience at an elite private high school on the West Coast. I’ll call it Centerville High. I gave a version of a talk that you can see here, on Coddle U. vs. Strengthen U. (In an amazing coincidence, I first gave that talk at Yale a few weeks earlier).

The entire student body — around 450 students, from grades 9-12 — was in the auditorium. There was plenty of laughter at all the right spots, and a lot of applause at the end, so I thought the talk was well received.

But then the discussion began, and it was the most unremittingly hostile questioning I’ve ever had. I don’t mind when people ask hard or critical questions, but I was surprised that I had misread the audience so thoroughly. My talk had little to do with gender, but the second question was “So you think rape is OK?”

Related: A Targeted Teacher at Yale Quits

Like most of the questions, it was backed up by a sea of finger snaps — the sort you can hear in the infamous Yale video, where a student screams at Prof. Christakis to “be quiet” and tells him that he is “disgusting.” I had never heard the snapping before. When it happens in a large auditorium it is disconcerting. It makes you feel that you are facing an angry and unified mob — a feeling I have never had in 25 years of teaching and public speaking.

After the first dozen questions I noticed that not a single questioner was male. I began to search the sea of hands asking to be called on and I did find one boy, who asked a question that indicated that he too was critical of my talk. But other than him, the 200 or so boys in the audience sat silently.

After the Q&A, I got a half-standing ovation: almost all of the boys in the room stood up to cheer. And after the crowd broke up, a line of boys came up to me to thank me and shake my hand. Not a single girl came up to me afterward.

After my main lecture, the next session involved 60 students who had signed up for further discussion with me. We moved to a large classroom. The last thing I wanted to do was to continue the same fruitless arguing for another 75 minutes, so I decided to take control of the session and reframe the discussion. Here is what happened next:

Me: What kind of intellectual climate do you want here at Centerville? Would you rather have option A: a school where people with views you find offensive keep their mouths shut, or B: a school where everyone feels that they can speak up in class discussions?

Audience: All hands go up for B.

Me: OK, let’s see if you have that. When there is a class discussion about gender issues, do you feel free to speak up and say what you are thinking? Or do you feel that you are walking on eggshells and you must heavily censor yourself? Just the girls in the class, raise your hand if you feel you can speak up? [About 70% said they feel free, vs about 10% who said eggshells.] Now just the boys? [About 80% said eggshells; nobody said they feel free.]

Me: Now let’s try it for race. When a topic related to race comes up in class, do you feel free to speak up and say what you are thinking, or do you feel that you are walking on eggshells and you must heavily censor yourself? Just the non-white students? The group was around 30% non-white, mostly South and East Asians, and some African Americans. A majority said they felt free to speak, although a large minority said eggshells. Now just the white students? [A large majority said eggshells]

Me: Now let’s try it for politics. How many of you would say you are on the right politically, or that you are conservative or Republican? [6 hands went up, out of 60 students]. Just you folks, when politically charged topics come up, can you speak freely? [Only one hand went up, but that student clarified that everyone gets mad at him when he speaks up, but he does it anyway. The other 5 said eggshells.] How many of you are on the left, liberal, or democrat? [Most hands go up] Can you speak freely, or is it eggshells? [Almost all said they can speak freely.]

Me: So let me get this straight. You were unanimous in saying that you want your school to be a place where people feel free to speak up, even if you strongly dislike their views. But you don’t have such a school. In fact, you have exactly the sort of “tolerance” that Herbert Marcuse advocated [which I had discussed in my lecture, and which you can read about here]. You have a school in which only people in the preferred groups get to speak, and everyone else is afraid. What are you going to do about this? Let’s talk.

Related: Too Many Hollow Men on Campus

After that, the conversation was extremely civil and constructive. The boys took part just as much as the girls. We talked about what Centerville could do to improve its climate, and I said that the most important single step would be to make viewpoint diversity a priority. On the entire faculty, there was not a single teacher that was known to be conservative or Republican. So if these teenagers are coming into political consciousness inside of a “moral matrix” that is uniformly leftist, there will always be anger directed at those who disrupt that consensus.

That night, after I gave a different talk to an adult audience, there was a reception at which I spoke with some of the parents. Several came up to me to tell me that their sons had told them about the day’s events. The boys finally had a way to express and explain their feelings of discouragement. Their parents were angry to learn about how their sons were being treated and…there’s no other word for it, bullied into submission by the girls.*

Centerville High is not alone. Last summer I had a conversation with some boys who attend one of the nation’s top prep schools in New England. They reported the same thing: as white males, they are constantly on eggshells, afraid to speak up on any remotely controversial topic lest they be sent to the “equality police” (that was their term for the multicultural center). I probed to see if their fear extended beyond the classroom. I asked them what they would do if there was a new student at their school, from, say Yemen. Would they feel free to ask the student questions about his or her country? No, they said, it’s too risky, a question could be perceived as offensive.

You might think that this is some sort of justice — white males have enjoyed positions of privilege for centuries, and now they are getting a taste of their own medicine. But these are children. And remember that most students who are in a victim group for one topic are in the “oppressor” group for another. So everyone is on eggshells sometimes; all students at Centerville High learn to engage with books, ideas, and people using the twin habits of defensive self-censorship and vindictive protectiveness.

And then… they go off to college and learn new ways to gain status by expressing collective anger at those who disagree. They curse professors and spit on visiting speakers at Yale. They shut down newspapers at Wesleyan. They torment a dean who was trying to help them at Claremont McKenna. They threaten and torment fellow students at Dartmouth. And in all cases, they demand that adults in power DO SOMETHING to punish those whose words and views offend them. Their high schools have thoroughly socialized them into what sociologists call victimhood culture, which weakens students by turning them into “moral dependents” who cannot deal with problems on their own. They must get adult authorities to validate their victim status.

So they issue ultimatums to college presidents, and, as we saw at Yale, the college presidents meet their deadlines, give them much of what they demanded, commit their schools to an ever tighter embrace of victimhood culture, and say nothing to criticize the bullying, threats, and intimidation tactics that have created a culture of intense fear for anyone who might even consider questioning the prevailing moral matrix. What do you suppose a conversation about race or gender will look like in any Yale classroom ten years from now? Who will dare to challenge the orthodox narrative imposed by victimhood culture? The “Next Yale” that activists are demanding will make today’s Centerville High look like Plato’s Academy by comparison.

The only hope for Centerville High — and for Yale — is to disrupt their repressively uniform moral matrices to make room for dissenting views. High schools and colleges that lack viewpoint diversity should make it their top priority. Race and gender diversity matter too, but if those goals are pursued in the ways that student activists are currently demanding, then political orthodoxy is likely to intensify. Schools that value freedom of thought should therefore actively seek out non-leftist faculty, and they should explicitly include viewpoint diversity and political diversity in all statements about diversity and discrimination. Parents and students who value freedom of thought should take viewpoint diversity into account when applying to colleges. Alumni should take it into account before writing any more checks.

The Yale problem refers to an unfortunate feedback loop: Once you allow victimhood culture to spread on your campus, you can expect ever more anger from students representing victim groups, coupled with demands for a deeper institutional commitment to victimhood culture, which leads inexorably to more anger, more demands, and more commitment. But the Yale problem didn’t start at Yale. It started in high school. As long as many of our elite prep schools are turning out students who have only known eggshells and anger, whose social cognition is limited to a single dimension of victims and victimizers, and who demand safe spaces and trigger warnings, it’s hard to imagine how any university can open students’ minds and prepare them to converse respectfully with people who don’t share their values. Especially when there are no adults around who don’t share their values.

This article is reprinted with permission from Heterodox Academy.


Jonathan Haidt is a social psychologist and Professor of Ethical Leadership at New York University’s Stern School of Business.

The University as Nursery

One of the implications of the shift of pressure against free speech from left-wing faculty and administrators to undergraduates is that the ideological framework of liberal bias doesn’t quite apply.  Yes, we have language of “racism” and “sexism,” along with demands that relics of US history that fail the PC test be torn down.  But the political thrust doesn’t gibe with talk about safe spaces and microaggressions.  That’s an idiom of therapy, not politics (even while it is used as a tool of power).

One prominent critic of higher education discerned the difference at work way back in May 1992 in a commentary in TLS.  The title was “The Nursery-School Campus,” and the author was Camille Paglia.  Here is the relevant passage:

By the early 1970s, American universities had become top-heavy with full-time administrators who took to speaking of the campus as a “community,” which faculty soon discovered was governed by invisible codes of acceptable speech, opinions, and behavior. . . . Many of the students, neglected by their prosperous, professional parents, are pathetically grateful for these attentions. Such coddling has led, in my view, to the outrageous speech codes, which are designed to shield students from the realities of life.  The campus is now not an arena of ideas but a nursery school where adulthood can be postponed. Faculty who are committed to the great principle of free speech are therefore at war with paternalistic administrators in league with misguided parents. 

Paglia gets right at what stands out in the protests today: not the political content, but the childish demands.  Grownups listen to them march, chant and think that it all looks more like a tantrum than a revolution.

This is not a trivial point, or a dismissive one.  We should take the brattiness seriously, but see it as a result we have created, not a starting point to which we should respond.  Paglia locates the evolution in the hiring back in the 1970s of higher-Ed administrators who had no teaching duties and no academic research background—in other words, bureaucrats.  They were hired to manage the swelling population of Baby Boomers flooding the colleges and requiring more and more investment in the overall college experience (and less focus on coursework).

Hence the emphasis on “community.”  It’s a word nearly all my colleagues, even the most liberal ones, wouldn’t use to describe their classrooms. But administrators loved it, especially those most invested in attracting and keeping female and minority students.  The term sounds warm and welcoming, especially, the administrators assumed, to youths whose parents never went to college and who might feel out of place.  The message was simple: “We shall take care of you—we care about you.”

But the old story of paternalistic dreams played out once again.  To create utopia, the social engineers had to order and regulate the conduct of the inhabitants.  The “codes” arrived, the underside of community organizing.  I’ve seen it happen repeatedly.  The people most fired with goodness and concern are the first to act—and overreact—against disrupters.  It’s not enough to maintain liberal principles of free speech and freedom of association and rights of conscience.  Those are formal rules that don’t have any positive content.  They don’t tell people what the True and the Good are.  They allow people the space to form their own conceptions of the True and the Good.  With that freedom, unless everyone arrives at the same ones, the community foundations crack and tumble.

When the campus engineers say, “We need to build a stronger sense of community,” then, what they really mean is, “We need to suppress the dissenters in the room, across the campus, throughout the discipline.”  People who oppose affirmative action, revere the classics, vote Republican, oppose abortion . . . they spoil the local culture. They make others feel bad.  How smooth and positive might our school and our department be if they were gone.

You see how the bureaucracy prospers in this set-up, whether it fails in its aims or achieves them.  To create a community in academia, you need a lot more than professors. You also need a legion of counselors, diversity officers, and various “campus life” personnel.  And when the inevitable frictions arise, such as disputes over admissions policies and student-faculty relations, you need more administrators, including lawyers to draft new speech and conduct codes. And when THOSE cause more collisions between a student religious group and anti-discrimination policies, then you need more officers to handle infractions and . . . . That’s how bureaucracy works: the more it stumbles, the bigger it gets.  And it justifies itself in the right and proper name of “community,” which is to say, student well-being.

As long as those efforts were confined to administrators, “community-building” practices were usually contained to passive-aggressive forms of advocacy and policing.  Officials generally knew not to step over the line into outright censorship or harassment.  They knew that bad publicity and upright alumni and donors wouldn’t like it.

But now that the safe-and-secure, racism-free, sexism-free, homophobia-free community-building vision has been adopted by the undergraduates, those constraints are gone.  Sophomores don’t care about bad press. They don’t listen to donors and alumni. They can demand and occupy and march all they want, and nobody will tell them “Stop!” They have lots of time on their hands—after all, they study only 14 hours a week—and they have solid peer pressure backing them up, which means a lot more to them than the authority of the faculty and president and deans.  We are, indeed, in the nursery-school campus. The difference is that the day-care providers don’t know how to say “No.”

The Liberal Arts Can’t Fix Higher Education

For the past two autumns the two leading academic reform organizations, the National Association of Scholars (NAS) and the American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA), have held events offering high praise to the liberal arts as a means to improve students’ writing and to provide them with the classical culture that Mathew Arnold calls sweetness and light.

On September 30, 2014. NAS held a screening of Andrew Rossi’s CNN documentary Ivory Tower, which is about students’ inability to afford tuition in light of their poor record of achievement and poor job opportunities.  Following the screening, Professor Andrew Delbanco, who is featured in the film, together with his colleague Roosevelt Montas, Director of the Center for the Core Curriculum and Associate Dean of Academic Affairs at Columbia, spoke about the need to refocus American higher education so that all Americans get a liberal arts education.

This year, at its ATHENA roundtable, ACTA featured an impressive array of speakers, three of whom–ACTA’s president Anne Neal, education researcher Richard Arum, and popular  historian David McCullough—also advocated expansion of liberal arts, English, and history departments to strengthen students’ competencies, especially with respect to writing and history.

I disagree: The liberal arts cannot fix higher education. First, the American professoriate, including the liberal arts faculty, is not interested in teaching liberal arts.  In the late 1930s Robert Maynard Hutchins, president of the University of Chicago, argued, as do Delbanco and Montas,  that liberal arts should be the universal foundation for undergraduate education.  Hutchins reorganized the undergraduate program at Chicago along those lines, but Hutchins’s reforms foundered on the rocks of the German research university model, which Daniel Coit Gilman had introduced at Johns Hopkins in 1876 and which Chicago had adopted from its inception.

Today’s professoriate is specialized, research-oriented, politically correct, and narrowly focused.  In contrast, good liberal arts instruction is broad and integrates flashes of insight with competency building.  The cadre of faculty necessary to do a first-rate job of teaching liberal arts to American students hardly exists. Moreover, it is as likely to exist in departments outside the liberal arts as within it.

Second, the majority of students has no interest in and lacks the ability to benefit from liberal arts.  Charles Murray has written that only about 16 percent of the population has the IQ to benefit from college. According to the New York City Board of Education, 35 percent of 2015 New York City public high school graduates are college ready, but the college at which I work, which rejects half its applicants, accepts students with SAT scores of 1,000,  the 50th percentile.

In part because there has been a belief among progressive educationists that development of cognitive skills like writing and the multiplication tables is unimportant to basic education, high school preparation has been deficient. As well, political correctness influences the content of history courses at both the high school and college levels; further, English departments, which specialize in literature, often do not see teaching writing as part of their educational mission.

In their Academically Adrift Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa find that nearly half of all sophomores show no gain in their scores on the College Learning Assessment, an innovative measure of critical thinking, reasoning, and writing ability.  Nevertheless, in the 2015 ACTA panel Arum claimed that the same liberal arts departments that have failed to nurture students’ skills are the ones best equipped to address the skills gaps.

Via email, I suggested to Professors Delbanco and Montas that many of my students, who come from low socioeconomic status, inner city backgrounds, have not benefited from my college’s liberal arts requirements.  Despite fourteen years of education, the business student I quote lacks practical skills.  She will pay a penalty in the job market.

Professor Montas’s response was this:

[T]his student would most decidedly benefit from a rigorous liberal arts education…. I understand a liberal education as aimed at developing a student’s full humanity: the humanity of the welder as well as the humanity of the lawyer.  The aim of the liberal arts is not that you excel in the liberal arts, but that you excel as a human being in whatever individual form that takes.

The unconstrained vision of liberal arts as all things to all students, including students who lack ability and motivation, ignores costs. Students who cannot benefit will lose years of their lives and will spend tens of thousands of dollars—as will taxpayers–for pursuits in which they are not interested and from which they will not benefit. They will in the end fail to find the kind of jobs they seek.


Mitchell Langbert is an associate professor of business at Brooklyn College.  

Too Many Hollow Men on Campus

Commentators are mocking the antics of ersatz college students, calling them “snowflakes,” “crybullies,” and the “pink guard,” the latter indicating their intellectual and moral kinship to Mao’s red guard. But where does responsibility for all the silliness lie? With the administrators.

Consider the words of three university presidents, whose attitudes appear to be ubiquitous. In resigning his presidency, Timothy Wolfe, of the University of Missouri, said, “We need to use my resignation – please, please – use this resignation to heal, not to hate; and let’s move forward together for a brighter tomorrow.” Where leadership was required to make it perfectly clear that the university is not a habitat for melodramatic play-acting, Wolfe instead validates the actors by begging them not to hate and then leaves the scene.

Related: How PC Corrupted the Colleges President

Peter Salovey, of Yale University, stated, “I see the pain that certain kinds of costumes cause some students on our campus, and I think we want to create a campus environment where everyone feels welcomed and valued, and that kind of pain should be not a typical experience.” Pain engendered by a costume at Yale!

At Amherst College, President Biddy Martin stated, “I could not be sadder about the pain that many of our students are feeling or more determined to meet their demand for change.” Pain again – very touching!

Although disturbing, this behavior is not new. In Closing of the American Mind, Alan Bloom, while describing the campus madness of a half a century ago, wrote:

The professors, the repositories of our best traditions and highest intellectual aspirations, were fawning over what was nothing better than a rabble; publicly confessing their guilt and apologizing for not having understood the most important moral issues, the proper response to which they were learning from the mob; expressing their willingness to change the university’s goals and the content of what they taught.

Related: The Long Shadow of the Sixties

One could argue that the behavior of the pusillanimous university officials back in the 1960s was worse than that of their spineless brethren of today. Indeed, the administrative class of the 1960s began the destruction of the university as a place of serious learning.

A mere handful of years following appeasement of the mob, the universities had impoverished their course offerings with pabulum so that students would be amused instead of educated (science not escaping unscathed). Whereas the appeasers of the 1960s made a conscious decision to reject civilization, their betrayal has bequeathed us faculty and administrators who possess only marginal contact with civilization. They can fawn and crawl more easily because they know of nothing to defend.

Lest the defense of civilization seem a grandiose mission for education, hear Will Durant:

“Man differs from the beast only by education, which may be defined as the technique of transmitting civilization…its language and knowledge, its morals and manners, its technology and arts – must be handed down to the young, as the very instrument through which they are turned from animals into men.

The question for the leaders of our educational establishment is simple: Do you desire men or beasts? No doubt, they will run from the question and try to hide behind twaddle like diversity and inclusiveness. But in the enduring words of Joe Louis, “They can run but they can’t hide.” Just as Billy Conn lying flat in the ring validated Louis’ hypothesis, the mayhem on today’s campuses demonstrates the culpability of university leaders in the flattening of what was once higher education

Geniuses the Young Don’t Read

And what of the civilization that is being eradicated, the one that has given us Plato, Aristotle, Sophocles, Augustine, Dante, Shakespeare, Copernicus, Galileo, Newton, Locke, Voltaire, Hume, Kant, Gauss, Michelangelo, Bach, Mozart, Dostoevsky, Cervantes, and Einstein? Any decent undergraduate education will at minimum, introduce the student to the work of all twenty. What kind of men would in deference to the demands of a mob, deprive the younger generation contact with the genius of mankind?

They are the kind Hannah Arendt chastised in “The Crisis in Education,” when she wrote, “In education this responsibility for the world takes the form of authority…. Authority has been discarded by the adults, and this can mean only one thing: that the adults refuse to assume responsibility for the world into which they have brought the children.”

Although often lost in the din of narcissism and cowardice, there is still outstanding faculty on our campuses, even at Yale, home to historian Donald Kagan and political philosopher Steven Smith. One can view Kagan’s course, “Introduction to Ancient Greek History,” and Smith’s course, “Introduction to Political Philosophy,” on YouTube. Both courses exhibit what is best in the university. Kagan discusses the strengths and weaknesses of Athenian democracy, and how the loss of moral fiber, contributed to the Athenian defeat at Chaeronea – an invaluable lesson for potential future leaders.

Smith brilliantly weaves the story of political philosophy from ancient Greece to American democracy. What a repast: Plato, Aristotle, Machiavelli, Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau, and Tocqueville. At the conclusion, Smith addresses the situation today: “How can we begin a comprehensive reeducation of today’s political science? The only answer–and the best answer I can give you today–is simply to read old books. These are our best teachers in a world where real teachers are in short supply.”

If the Yale administration were truly concerned with the welfare of its students, a superb course of action would be to require them to read old books and take Smith’s course. No doubt, this is too much to ask from a university whose Liberal Arts Education webpage boasts, “There is no specific class you have to take at Yale…Yale is one of the only universities in the country that lets you try out your classes before you register. The first ten days of each semester are known as ‘Shopping Period.’” Should it be surprising that recent videos from Yale look more like shopping malls on Black Friday than an institution for the transmission of civilization?

In the end, we are left with a core question: Fundamentally, what kind of people are these who debase our universities and let civilization be trampled under the feet of the mob?  We turn to T. S. Eliot, who has written their song:

We are the hollow men
We are the stuffed men
Leaning together
Headpiece filled with straw. Alas!
Our dried voices, when
We whisper together
Are quiet and meaningless
As wind in dry grass
Or rats’ feet over broken glass
In our dry cellar

Groveling at Emory and Oberlin

Demands by student protesters at Emory University here, include extending student evaluations of faculty to include a tallying up of microaggressions each teacher has made and a stipulation that Emory “shall not protect the privilege of students to vocalize hate speech.”

Power Line blog said:

“Emory’s provost, Claire E. Sterk, and the dean of campus life, Ajay Nair, responded on December 4 with a long and typically bureaucratic letter (not available online—a faculty member shared it with me) that essentially says, ‘We’ll cave where we can.’ And as for the demand that students be censored for thought crime expressed on YikYak, Sterk and Nair write:

‘Through a partnership between Information Technology Services and the University Senate, a task force will be created to examine the feasibility of a geofence covering the zip codes for Emory University, including Oxford College. Dean Nair took no chances, though, writing in the campus paper a few days ago that the student protests are ‘illuminating the path to progress.’

Get ready for a first-class grovel.

At Oberlin, student demands include this language: “Oberlin College and Conservatory is an unethical institution…. Along the same lines stated by UNC Chapel Hill students in their 2015 document, ‘A Collective Response to Anti-Blackness,’ you include Black and other students of color in the institution and mark them with the words ‘equity, inclusion and diversity,’ when in fact this institution functions on the premises of imperialism, white supremacy, capitalism, ableism, and a cissexist heteropatriarchy.” — Oberlin College’s ABUSUA (Black Student Union) Institutional Demands

A spokesperson for Oberlin seemed to punt as well as accede to the overwrought demands in the traditional feckless manner: He said the college is 18 months into a strategic planning process. “And it has been clear from the start that inclusion and diversity will be a primary focus. However, it won’t be complete until March.”

Three Men Unfairly Branded as Campus Rapists

This past weekend, Fox News ran a special report about how colleges and universities across the country are handling sexual assault. The documentary (in which I appeared) ran counter to the prevailing narrative that schools are hotbeds of sexual assault where accusers aren’t taken seriously.

The report, hosted by Martha MacCallum, follows the stories of three men accused of sexual assault and the way they were branded as rapists despite evidence to the contrary in a culture that says we should believe all accusations regardless of merit.

“We’ve long heard that government is best kept out of the bedroom, but as it turns out, in colleges across the nation, government is insisting that it be referee in life’s most intimate moments,” MacCallum says at the beginning of the report. ”

Case One—uh-oh, a Piece of Gum. MacCallum detailed the story of an accused student at Occidental College, whose face was hidden on camera and who was referred to as John Doe. John Doe and his accuser, referred to as Jane Doe, had both been drinking. They were separated at one point but exchanged phone numbers and began texting. John invited Jane back to his dorm and she found her way back, but not before vomiting in a hallway.

She returned to John’s dorm and the two had sex. The next day, they discussed the situation for several hours and decided to just be friends. Jane would eventually speak about her misgivings over the evening to the school’s sexual assault advocate, who appears to have convinced her she had been raped. Jane filed a report with police, who determined that both students were drunk but neither was raped. Jane then went to administrators at Occidental, who initially agreed with the police.

Related: U. of Michigan Screws Up in ‘Rape’ Case

Occidental would then review the case and reverse its position without any new evidence. Suddenly, John was found responsible for sexual assault and expelled. One of the major pieces of “evidence” used to determine his guilt was the claim that he had given Jane a piece of gum when she went back to his room.

“Because I had given her a piece of gum I somehow should have known she was – ‘incapacitated’ was the word [Occidental] used,” John told Fox News. “I don’t even remember giving her a piece of gum.”

Asking for gum prior to an intimate situation is commonplace. Using that as evidence that John should have known she was too drunk (and not merely concerned she had bad breath, say, from eating a garlicky dinner) would turn a lot of consensual encounters into sexual assault.

The documentary also discusses how we got to the point where college administrators are adjudicating felony sexual assault. It all started with a letter from the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights. That letter was not subject to congressional approval or a proper review, yet it placed financial burdens on colleges to devote time and resources to creating pseudo-courts.

MacCallum talked to Russlyn Ali, the woman who wrote the “Dear Colleague” letter, and asked her if it was just a guidance document or whether it had “teeth.” Ali contradicted herself from one sentence to the next.

Related: The Odd Sexual Accounting at Yale

“If colleges and universities don’t comply with the nation’s civil rights law, their federal funding can be withheld,” Ali said. “The guidance though, was exactly, Martha, as you indicated, it was guidance.”

But the letter altered the civil rights law to force colleges to adjudicate these crimes or risk losing federal funding. Ali can’t have it both ways.

Case 2—Columbia’s Mattress Girl. The report also walked through two other cases of accused students — Paul Nungesser of Columbia University and Corey Mock of the University of Tennessee-Chattanooga.

Nungesser was accused by Emma Sulkowicz, who became famous after dragging her mattress around campus in protest of the school not expelling Nungesser. Columbia found him “not responsible” for brutally raping her. Her friends also tried to accuse him of various sexual misconducts (an ex-girlfriend said he pressured her into sex during their relationship, another woman said he kissed her at a party without her consent and a man said Nungesser tried to grope him one night). He was found not responsible for the claim from his ex-girlfriend and the male student. He was found responsible for the nonconsensual kiss but that decision was overtur\ed on appeal.

Related: Did Mattress Girl Lie?

Police also questioned him about Sulkowicz’s claims but didn’t pursue an investigation.

MacCallum spoke to Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., who has been one of the leading advocates for campus sexual assault policies. MacCallum asked Gillibrand what she thought of the multiple investigations into Sulkowicz’s claims and the multiple findings that he was not responsible.

“I believe Emma,” Gillibrand said.

That’s a frightening thought. Nungesser produced Facebook messages showing Sulkowicz continued to talk to him — at times even lovingly — after he allegedly raped her. This was not a woman who was indebted to him as a wife or girlfriend. The two weren’t hanging out regularly after that, as Nungesser had moved on. A few months after the encounter, Nungesser sent Sulkowicz a birthday greeting. Sulkowicz replied the next morning: “I love you Paul.”

Yet months later, she was accusing him of rape and gained international fame for doing so. Meanwhile, Nungesser — innocent from multiple investigations — would be branded a rapist and subjected to death threats and isolated on campus.

Nungesser is suing Columbia for its complicity in Sulkowicz’s art project, which was set up to intimidate her fellow classmate.

Related: Amherst: No Pretense of Fairness

Case 3—A Tennessee Judge Appalled. The final story detailed by MacCallum involved Corey Mock. He was expelled after a sexual encounter with a fellow student, but a judge overturned the college’s decision because the burden of proof was unfairly placed on Mock. Mock was found responsible by his college in part because he couldn’t provide evidence that he had obtained consent. Essentially he was forced to prove an assault didn’t occur rather than having his accuser, Molly Morris, prove the assault did occur.

A female state judge found the university “improperly shifted the burden of proof and imposed an untenable standard upon Mr. Mock to disprove the accusation.”

Despite this victory, Mock will forever live with the accusation. Despite being found repeatedly not responsible, Nungesser continues to be branded a rapist. And despite text messages suggesting consensual sex, John Doe was still expelled and still struggling to get past the accusation.

MacCallum said the federal government and colleges are treating due process rights as “a pesky nuisance,” and suggested we make absolutely sure we understand the problem we’re trying to solve.

Related: Ten Campus Rapes, or Were They?  

She reminded viewers that women can misremember, misinterpret, lie, seek revenge and feel regretful — “not because they’re women, but because they’re human beings.”

“Most of us have sisters or daughters, and we want to make sure they’re safe, but we also have brothers and we have sons,” MacCallum said. “Advocates say: ‘We’ve got to think of the victim. We’ve got to do more for the victim.’ And they are absolutely right. We do have to think of the victim. That’s why in every case the first question should always be: Who is the victim?”

Because with every accusation, there is a victim. It might be the accuser, but it might be the falsely accused. It could be both students, who each made a poor decision. Colleges are currently — at the direction of the federal government — implementing procedures that make false accusations far more likely and more acceptable. Accusers are to be “believed” or else the school will face a federal investigation. Couple that with policies stating no accuser can be punished for coming forward, and schools are creating a recipe for abuse.The truth, above all else, should be the desired result in such cases. Sadly, colleges have every incentive right now to ignore the truth and find accused students responsible in the name of politics.

Reprinted with permission from the Washington Examiner.