The Office of Civil Rights Is Still Out of Control

As it left office last year, Barack Obama’s administration made one final move in its crusade against campus due process: it requested a massive increase—$30.7 million, or 28.7 percent—in funding for the Office for Civil Rights (OCR). The previous year, at a time when discretionary federal spending was barely rising, the office had received a 7 percent increase.

The Trump “skinny budget” contained an overall cut for the Department of Education, but included no specifics about OCR (or any other Education Department office). Based on its performance of the last six years in higher education, OCR deserves a dramatic reduction in its funding—rather than the huge boost it desires.

The Obama-era request envisions OCR hiring 157 new staff investigators. (OCR had asked for 200 new employees in fiscal year 2016 and received funding that allowed around 50 additional hires.) At a time of limited hiring by the federal government, why would OCR have demanded such a massive personnel increase?

A clue came in a recent article from BuzzFeed’s Tyler Kingkade. Over the past six years, Obama OCR heads Russlynn Ali and Catherine Lhamon—joined by grassroots accusers’ rights organizations such as Know Your IX—encouraged campus accusers to file Title IX complaints against their institutions.

These filings served multiple purposes for Lhamon and Ali. First, each Title IX complaint would give OCR jurisdiction to investigate individual universities, at which point the federal government could impose a “voluntary” resolution letter on the affected institution. These letters lock into place procedures for that school, even if the Trump administration eventually withdraws the Dear Colleague letter.

Second, Title IX complaints provided an opportunity for the Obama administration to stoke the public frenzy around the purported campus rape epidemic. In a highly unusual move, OCR publicized the identities of schools under investigation. This approach pressured the affected institutions to settle quickly while also leaving the impression that many of the nation’s elite institutions were indifferent to the large number of rapists in their midst.

Finally, the complaints provided a rationale for ever more frantic demands for more funding from Congress. As the 2016 budget justification explained, complaints addressing “sexual violence” were “both more complex and more high profile,” and “inadequate staffing” led to intolerable delays in handling the questions.

The resulting surge from a couple of dozen to hundreds of Title IX complaints against colleges and universities might have provided more than enough work for OCR. But, incredibly (and without announcing the shift publicly), Lhamon seized even more authority. According to Kingkade, who would have had no reason to misstate the claim (indeed, his reporting has consistently defended the accusers’ rights cause), Lhamon “expanded all Title IX sexual violence investigations to become institution-wide, so investigators reviewed all cases at a school rather than just the cases that sparked federal complaints.”

To translate: on her way out the door, Lhamon wanted to hire nearly 200 permanent employees, who would work under a true believer (Harvard’s ex-Title IX coordinator), because she had decided OCR would investigate not merely the complaints it received but thousands of other cases, even though no accuser had filed a Title IX complaint about any of these individual cases. On this matter, as on virtually all OCR-related matters during the Obama years, no sign of congressional oversight existed.

It would be difficult to imagine a more wasteful use of federal funds. Reducing OCR’s budget would help to bring the rogue office back under congressional oversight, and likely would force the new OCR head to (at the very least) temper Lhamon’s investigatory zeal.

The new administration will need to make key decisions not only on OCR’s funding level. Trump’s Education Department continues to enforce the flawed 2011 and 2014 guidance for sexual assault cases, which required colleges to use a preponderance of the evidence standard, discouraged cross-examination, instituted double-jeopardy regimes allowing accusers to appeal not-guilty findings, and urged subordinating public university students’ constitutional rights to due process to OCR’s interpretation of Title IX.

The slowness with which Trump has filled executive appointments has maximized the power of Obama holdovers. This situation is especially problematic with OCR, whose current head of enforcement, former Harvard Title IX director Mia Karvonides, dropped into her civil service position a mere three days before Trump was sworn in as president. Karvondes’ rushed appointment leaves the impression that the outgoing administration intended to maintain the unfair Obama rules regardless of what Trump did. Every day that passes without Trump staffers in OCR allows Karvonides to implement her agenda unchecked.

Finally, the Jeff Sessions-led Justice Department must decide to whether to defend Obama’s OCR overreach. The key lawsuit challenging the 2011 Dear Colleague letter—a case from the University of Virginia, which remains pending—was coordinated by FIRE, and filed by lawyer Justin Dillon. The UVA adjudicator, a retired judge, admitted that “there were signs” that the accuser “may have been capable of effective consent,” but nonetheless found the student guilty, in a case that she deemed “very close” and “very difficult.”

The most recent filing in the case came around a month before Obama left office. The Justice Department urged dismissing the student’s complaint on grounds that OCR policies are, basically, set in stone. Since UVA “knows” that “OCR considers the preponderance of the evidence standard to be the only standard consistent” with Title IX, the university would have no choice but to maintain its unfair procedures under threat of punishment from federal bureaucrats—even if a federal court overturned the Dear Colleague letter. Sessions used the excuse of a pending legal fight to reverse Obama’s era Title IX guidance designed to protect transgender teens. Will he defend the Dear Colleague letter, which actually harms accused students?

Moving beyond the Obama-era’s OCR abuses will take years. But Congress exercising the power of the purse is a needed first step in the process.

Paycheck Unfairness Under Cover of Diversity

The College and University Professional Association for Human Resources (CUPA-HR) has just published an extensive research report on pay and representation of racial and ethnic minorities in higher education administrative positions that ought to be a bombshell, documenting as it does widespread pay discrimination on the basis of race. The devotion to “diversity” that pervades higher education, however, prevents the report’s authors as well as Inside Higher Ed, which published a long review of it, from seeing this discrimination for what it is.

“The good news for minority administrators,” the report states, is that “minority administrators as a whole are paid equitably in relation to their non-minority (White) colleagues. In other words, minority pay matches non-minority pay dollar for dollar. What’s more, this salary parity has remained fairly steady for the past 15 years.”

According to CUPA-HR director of research Jacqueline Bichsel “Higher education has been really progressive in maintaining that equal pay,” she told Inside Higher Ed. “We were pleasantly surprised to find that.” Since equal pay for university administrators has been constant for the past 15 years, I find it odd that the research director for the professional association of those administrators would be “surprised” (whether pleasantly or not) to find it, which suggests that she expected the administrators who hired those administrators to discriminate.

Actually, they do discriminate, although neither CUPA-HR nor Inside Higher Ed call it that. As noted above, the report found that minority administrators “as a whole” are paid equitably in relation to whites. But in two of the four regions of the country, the Midwest and Northeast, minority administrators are actually paid more. “It appears that in regions where there are fewer minorities in administrative positions,” the report concludes, “there may be a special effort to attract and retain them.” In the quaint and original language of the report, both of those regions “exceed pay equity” for minorities.

Another CUPA-HR report on pay gaps by gender, published last month, similarly found that, although in general women earned less than men in similar positions, “in positions where women are less represented, they tend to be paid more.” Often much more. Women chief facilities officers, for example, “earn 17% more than their male counterparts.” The report concludes that “this may indicate that …  higher ed institutions recognize the need to recruit and retain women in key leadership positions.”

Neither the CUPA-HR authors nor Inside Higher Ed recognize that paying some administrators more than equitably on the basis of race or sex means paying others less than equitably, i.e., discriminating against them.

Unfortunately, by now it is no longer surprising that devotees of “diversity” turn a blind eye to the racial discrimination necessary to produce it. That discrimination has been defended — successfully, so far — by the arguments that it is necessary and essential to provide a good education, i.e., that it is not, in Justice Powell’s often quoted words from Bakke, “[p]referring members of any one group for no reason other than race or ethnic origin” since that would be “discrimination for its own sake,” and that “the Constitution forbids.”

But why is it necessary or essential for university administrators to be “diverse”? Precisely how is any student’s education enhanced when a chief facilities officer is female or a vice president for finance is black? What, in short, justifies paying female and black administrators more simply because they are in fields or regions where they are “underrepresented”? There may well be few Muslim chief facilities officers. If so, is that a problem? If not, why not?

With regard to hiring administrators, diversiphiles have forgotten their own justifications for diversity, perhaps because they never really believed them. Certainly, Justice Powell’s admonition is nowhere to be found in Inside Higher Ed’s article, linked above.

“Look only at the trend line showing the slowly climbing percentage of higher education administrative positions held by minority leaders,” that article begins, “and it appears colleges and universities are inching toward a day when their leaders reflect the diversity of their student bodies.” It claims that appearance, however, is misleading because “a substantial representation gap exists between the percentage of minority administrators and the makeup of the country.

Further, the ethnic and racial makeup of administrators isn’t changing fast enough to keep up with broader demographic shifts — the line showing the percentage of minority higher education leaders is not growing closer to lines that show the country’s minority population or the percentage of minority college graduates.”

For CUPA-HR as well as Inside Higher Ed, “diversity” means nothing more than “equitable” representation. “Despite decades of diversity initiatives, ”its report states, “the gap in minority representation for leadership positions remains persistent.” Although it found pay equity — and, as we have seen, minority pay that was more than equitable— it remained deeply troubled by “the large and growing gap between the U.S. minority and higher education administrator populations.”

As applied throughout higher education and articulated explicitly here, the emphasis on terms like underrepresentation and representation gap and reflect reveal that “diversity” means preferring blacks, ethnic minorities, and occasionally women for no reason other than race, ethnicity, or sex.

Another Speaker Shut Down by College Students

Add Jordan Peterson to the list of professors shut down as visiting speakers by angry university students.

Since last fall, Peterson, a professor of psychology at the University of Toronto, has enraged many people by refusing to use the growing vocabulary of pronouns preferred by transgender people. On Friday night at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, Peterson was set to serve on a four-person panel to discuss the use of these pronouns, but three of the people dropped off the panel and a student mob shut down the event featuring Peterson alone. “It’s like being pecked to death by a bunch of ducks,” Peterson said later.

On Saturday night, Peterson spoke without incident at the University of Western Ontario. At McMaster, Peterson sent people to guard the fire alarms, which are often activated to stop lectures that displease students.

Margaret Wente wrote in the National Post, “They argue that the very idea of two genders is a restrictive system that cruelly discriminates against many. They demand the right to construct their own reality as they see fit. Some want to be known (singularly) as “they.” Others think “they” isn’t the right fit either and prefer to choose from an ever-expanding list of made-up pronouns such as “xu,” “hir,” “ze,” and so on. Conrad Black, the founder of the National Post, wrote on the pronouns issue:

 “Every legally competent individual has a perfect and absolute right to declare their sex, but not to create a new legal status and legally require the use of a new vocabulary for those in flux between the only two sexes we have, mercilessly binary though their finite number may be. The individuals in that condition may change their registered sex each day if they wish, but not treat anyone who declines to address them in terms that debunk the gender-binary world as guilty of a hate crime, punishable by imposable fines.”

Peterson has posted 500 videos on YouTube, many or most of them criticizing Bill C-16, legislation to amend the Canadian Human Rights Act by adding gender identity and gender expression to the list of prohibited grounds of discrimination. Peterson said, “If what I put up on YouTube objecting to an unpassed piece of legislation is enough to cost me my career, then I can tell you that the university’s days are done.”

At Western Ontario, the university forced the group sponsoring Peterson to pay the $1200 security fee. Marc Mercer, president of the Society for Academic Freedom and Scholarship, says Western Ontario is responsible for providing security during University of Toronto professor Jordan Peterson’s sold-out Saturday lecture.

“If there are security fees to be paid for a campus group that is sponsoring an event, (they) should be assumed by the university as part of the mission to promote discussion and dialogue,” said Mercer, a London-born philosophy professor at Saint Mary’s University in Halifax.

Duke Reports a Sexual Assault Rate 5 X as High as Our Most Dangerous City

Over the last few years, we have become all but immune to what, under any other circumstances, would be a fantastic claim—that one in five female undergraduates will be victims of sexual assault. This rate would translate to several hundreds of thousands of violent crime victims (with almost all of the incidents unnoticed) annually, and, as Emily Yoffe has pointed out, implies that about the same percentage of female college students are sexually assaulted as women in the Congo where rape was used as a war crime in the nation’s civil war.

Even within this environment of pie-in-the-sky statistics, a recent survey from Duke stands out. According to the survey, 40 percent of Duke’s female undergraduates (and 10 percent of Duke’s male undergraduates) describe themselves as victims of sexual assault. This data would mean that each year, a female undergraduate at Duke is 5.5 times more likely to be a victim of violent crime than a resident of St. Louis, which FBI statistics listed as the nation’s most dangerous city in 2016. And yet, incredibly, parents still spend around $280,000 to send their daughters into this den of crime for four years.

But 88% of Women Feel Safe

As always occurs with these surveys, the internal data renders them highly unreliable. But in this case, the internal data suggests a survey at war with itself. A few examples:

The survey indicates that 88 percent of female undergraduates say they feel safe on campus. So—at a minimum—28 percent of Duke female undergraduates say they feel safe at a school where they experienced sexual assault. Similarly, 74 percent of female undergraduates consider sexual assault a big problem on campus—meaning that at a minimum, 52 percent of female undergraduates feel “safe” on a campus where they think sexual assault is a “big problem.”

The most startling rate of self-described sexual assault victims comes among lesbian and bisexual female undergraduates, 59 percent of whom say they were sexually assaulted while at Duke. And yet, according to a later table, zero female undergraduates list a female as the perpetrator of their assault. Even assuming that every bisexual student surveyed said she was assaulted by a man, this figure would suggest that a significant portion of Duke lesbians are having some type of sexual contact with men (nearly all of whom, it appears, then turned out to have been sex criminals). Could anyone take such data seriously?

If true, these figures would suggest a violent crime epidemic not merely for Duke but for the city of Durham. Significant percentages of the alleged sexual assaults occurred in a category described as “off-campus/local,” thus falling within the jurisdiction of the Durham, rather than the Duke, Police Department. Yet no signs exist of the Durham Police paying more attention to this purported crime wave in their midst, or that the Duke leadership has asked them to do so.

‘Fundamentally Unfair” to Men

At heart of the issue is the extraordinarily broad definition of sexual assault—a term with a common cultural and legal understanding—used in surveys like the Duke one. The survey lumps together being “touched or grabbed” in an unwanted way (61 percent of the self-described victims) with sexual assault by force or threat (22 percent of the alleged victims) as if the severity of the offenses were the same. Even the survey takers appear to recognize the folly of this approach; 41 percent of self-described female sexual assault victims describe the experience of being sexually assaulted as not very upsetting—or not upsetting at all. The university’s response? Asking whether this figure indicated “a need for broadly disseminated programming on the impact of sexual misconduct.” Duke already has increased “the number of staff providing counseling and support services and conducting investigations.”

Perhaps the saddest item from the survey: 57 percent feel that students accused of sexual assault are treated fairly. They’re responding to a system in which Duke has had two negative judicial decisions, the most recent of which featured Judge Orlando Hudson characterizing the Duke procedures as “fundamentally unfair.” There is, of course, no reason to believe that most students have any idea just how unfairly Duke treats students accused of sexual assault.

Are 3-Year Bachelors Programs Worth It?

Three-year bachelor’s degrees are back in the news mostly because colleges and universities are coming under heavy pressure to make higher education more affordable.

Last month New York University, one of the most expensive schools, launched its “NYU Accelerate,” which officials called “a new program that outlines pathways to make it easier for some students to graduate in less than four years.” Some 20 percent of NYU students are already on the three-year plan.

Three-year bachelor’s programs are far from new.  Harvard created one in the early 1900’s.  Bates College has run a continuous three-year bachelor’s program since the 1960’s But the question lingers, is the apparent resurgence of three-year BA degree programs part of the solution or a symptom of an intractable problem?

True, three-year degree BA programs attempt to reduce the average time to graduation with various institutional reforms that make fast-track education more feasible. But institutions may well discover that their three-year degree programs, however well-intended, will barely touch the underlying constraints that hinder many students from staying in college and graduating in a timely fashion.

Tantalizing Payoffs

The potential payoffs of three-year bachelor’s programs are tantalizing. Less time to a degree means students and families would pay less tuition, fees, and other costs of attendance.  In turn, colleges’ total spending per student would be substantially reduced, allowing institutions to educate more students for a given amount of spending on teachers, staff, administrators, and so on.

What’s more, such productivity gains would also enable states and the federal government to advance long-held educational policy agendas, focused primarily on producing more college graduates while lessening cost pressures on government-sponsored financial aid programs.

Daniel J. Hurley and Thomas L. Harnisch concluded in a 2012 report by the American Association of State Colleges and Universities (AASCU) that such programs “can help students by lowering opportunity costs, reducing tuition costs, encouraging better utilization of high school, expediting the path to graduate school, and providing a predictable, structured degree program.” While the theoretical benefits of the three-year solution are widely touted, most accounts of the trend are anecdotal, and actual economic data on the trend is scarce.

Since 2009, when the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities started tracking the trend, roughly two dozen of its members had launched three-year degree tracks. Also, many public universities have created or plan to launch three-year programs, including the University of California system, the University of Wisconsin campuses, and the University of Texas.

Consider Wisconsin. The Wisconsin Legislative Fiscal Bureau estimated that a student at the Madison campus would save more than $6,400 graduating in three years instead of four.

The AASCU study cites the University of Houston-Victoria’s Degree in Three, which “can save students $1,400 on tuition.”  At the University of North Carolina Greensboro (UNCG), students   in its accelerated program “can realize up to $9,000 in tuition savings.”

At the University of California, officials suggest that its accelerated bachelor’s program will enhance system-wide efficiency. If 5 percent to 10 percent of students to graduate just one term earlier, that alone would open scarce admissions slots to an additional 2,000 to 4,000 students.

Who’s graduation problem?      

But for three-year degree programs to realize these promised efficiencies and savings, students actually have to graduate in – surprise, surprise – three years.  According to the most recent full-cohort data from the National Center for Education Statistics, just 41 percent undergraduates who began college in 2007-08, earned a bachelor’s degree in four years or less; 45.9 percent took up to 10 years to graduate; and 13.1 percent took 10 years or more to complete a bachelor’s degree.

Those are just averages.  The actual time it takes individuals to earn a bachelor’s degree depends on various demographic, economic, and individual characteristics.

For example, parent income plays an outsized role on one’s ability to complete college in a timely fashion, according to data provided by the 2008-2012 Baccalaureate and Beyond Longitudinal Study.  Fully 63 percent of students whose parents were among the top fifth of income earners graduated in four years or less. By contrast, just 34 percent of students from families in the middle-income tier graduated within four years.

Total financial aid from all private and public sources is also a prominent predictor of the time students take to graduate. More than 65 percent of students receiving aid totaling  $17,800 or higher earned degrees in four years, while just a third of students receiving $10,399 or less in total financial aid graduated in four years.

Research has also shown that timely graduation depends a lot on one’s intensity of attendance.  Stopping college for a single term just once can add significantly to the time one takes to complete a bachelor’s degree and stopping more than once vastly reduces the chances of earning a degree at all.

It should come as no surprise, then, that the college-completion problem in the United States rarely applies to top-tier schools and the students who attend such schools.  Most all the determinants of timely completion of a bachelor’s degree are in ample supply at colleges with big endowments and wealthier students.

Given the extraordinarily large student subsidies at wealthy institutions and their ability to meet most if not all student financial need, students at top-tier schools have little financial incentive to accelerate their time at college.  Of course, that’s unless students want to enter the job market after three years instead of four years, but few such students are so financially strapped that early entry into the labor market seems desirable.

In fact, for students at top-tier schools, absorbing the opportunity costs of remaining in school can lead to substantial economic returns in the long run with the added social capital that comes from a traditional college experience.

Red Herring?

That picture is far different for less advantaged students at schools with modest endowments and far lower student subsidies. Clearly, the three-year solution would be of great benefit to students who now take more than four years to complete a bachelor’s degree.  But if too many students have a hard time graduating in four or five years now, then what’s the magic bullet that helps them graduate in even less time?

Indeed, the very reasons poorer students stop going to school or take five years or longer to finish school are often related to financial pressures and the ever-pressing opportunity costs of staying in school.

For many financially strapped students, it seems rational to drop college for a relatively good-paying job now — that doesn’t require a four-year-degree — instead of adding onto personal debt by staying in school.  Although such students are statistically likely to earn far more over a lifetime having the four-year degree than not having it, an individual student can never take that probable outcome for granted.

“For populations that most need to increase college success—such as older adults, lower-income and minority students—the three-year degree can be arguably construed as largely a nonstarter due to financial realities, college preparation issues and family obligations,” write Hurley and Harnisch.

So a three-year bachelor’s program might sound like found money.  But don’t look to this particular non-innovation innovation as a meaningful answer to making college more affordable to the very students who can least afford it.  For many students, institutions’ touting of accelerated bachelor’s degrees as a solution to the affordability problem amounts to little more than the marketing hype.

That’s why the Washington Square News, NYU’s student newspaper, called the university’s newly minted three-year bachelor’s program not a program at all, but “a gimmicky slap in the face,” by putting a fancy label on efforts students already are making to graduate in less than four years.

Noting that some 20 percent of cash-strapped undergrads already have maneuvered in the system to graduate early, the paper’s editorial board said, “the proposal is taking an unfortunate reality of NYU’s unaffordability crisis and passing it off as a solution.”

Intimidated Faculty Find a New Way to Capitulate

Last week’s campus irritant,  a story in the Wall Street Journal, “Faculty’s New Focus: Don’t Offend,” claimed that an increasing number of professors are changing the contents of their syllabi.

The story exposes the advent of bias response teams and undergraduates demanding a supportive, untroubled campus experience, along with the Obama Administration’s “Dear Colleague” letters on sexual matters, has intimidated teachers and made them self-protective. They don’t want to provoke a student complaint about an assigned book that has the n-word or a scene of sexual violence or even humor.

The Lens of Grievance

Although the story doesn’t explain further, we can say that it won’t matter if the complaint is groundless or absurd. The fact is that the offended student is a hypersensitive, self-dramatizing adolescent who, apart from his personal issues, has been keyed up by other professors and administrators who see the world through the lens of grievance.  Even if the professor is entirely cleared of any wrongdoing, who wants the aggravation? With the Federal government involved, the process can go on for weeks or months. The administrators, too, aren’t there to support their teacher colleagues. They’re there to protect the institution.

Professors know this. They know, also, that once the procedural gears of a complaint start turning, their colleagues and admiring students will be of little help. Many of them won’t want to get involved, and those who do will be frustrated by the question: How? When a group of principled professors approaches the dean about halting a ridiculous persecution, all the dean has to say is, “I know, I know, but the Office of Civil Rights in the U.S. Department of Education makes us take every one of those complaints VERY seriously. My hands are tied.”

A Rational and Smooth Exit

And so, says The Journal, professors are taking the rational and smooth way out. They are removing materials from a class that might offend racial, sexual, and other politically correct scruples. A film teacher in the story admits that he has pulled Birth of a Nation, The Bank Dick, and Tootsie from his courses. The first film is white supremacist propaganda, the second, with W. C. Fields, pokes fun at blandness, and the third trades in “gender stereotypes.” (I won’t comment on the more serious problem with Tootsie, namely, that it is one of those insufferably cute ’80s films that should be shelved forever.)

The academic objection to this revision is obvious, but such capitulations to political correctness have been happening so often and for so long that it is hard to get exercised over them anymore. The history of higher education for the last half-century clearly says that it wasn’t going to take long for the ideals of higher education to give way to this rising demand that offense never transpire.

I sense in my colleagues, liberal and conservatives both, a certain fatalism about the whole thing. Many liberals regret the hypersensitivity that pressures them to delete Huck Finn and the operas of Wagner. They know that the absence of D. W. Griffith’s epic from a course in the history of film distorts the actual history of film. They realize, too, that sensitivity is an anti-intellectual condition, and that they would prefer to examine racist elements from the past, not pretend that they didn’t exist.

Offended by “The Bank Dick”

But all those hesitations don’t alter what they believe is a juggernaut that smashes anything that gets in the way. Is it really worth standing up and risking a two-month headache when all you have to do in your week on 1930s Hollywood comedy is drop The Bank Dick and insert It Happened One Night? This is the smart way to run an academic career, especially when you find that academia has numerous apologists for the sensitivity regime such as the professor of educational leadership who tells the Wall Street Journal:

There’s a tremendous amount of research in higher education showing different experiences for people by race, gender or sexual orientation or religion…. [These students] need a place to go to get support and report issues they are having.

The vagueness of the language–“different experiences,” “report issues”–is deliberate, and it has the effect of making professors uncertain. A professor not only has to choose his words because of their truth, that is, on the grounds of their correspondence to the object under discussion. He also must consider their impact on the students — not on the students as a whole, but on each group identity represented in the chairs throughout the room.

It’s a recipe for guardedness. The more the rules operate by insinuation, the less free and open is the classroom. The more sensitive the students are (and encouraged to report any discomfort they undergo), the more circumspect the teachers will be.

The days of the strong mentor and the teacher who is powerful and engaging enough to inspire disciples and alter students’ lives are numbered.

The Bubble at Middlebury

Photo: The Rutland Herald

I’m surprised there hasn’t been more outrage about the somewhat violent silencing of Charles Murray at Middlebury.

I feel more than a little threatened by the fact that a political scientist was actually injured in the line of duty. I thought I had prudently chosen a profession where that just couldn’t happen. As C. C. Pecknold points out, these demonstrations are a kind of ritualized playacting of the privileged, those who think they are somehow reenacting the idealism of the Sixties. The script today is that the threat to our country is now anti-gay white nationalism, and Murray’s work has to be made to fit that script.

But Murray, of course, is a libertarian who refused to support the nationalist Trump. And he’s all about letting people live as they please so long as they productively take responsibility for themselves and their own. Murray often distinguishes, following Hayek, being libertarian and being conservative.

Consider that Murray came to Middlebury to talk about his book Coming Apart as one way of understanding the outcome of our recent election. Well, let me be courageous enough to say I’ve deployed parts of that book in my classes for that very purpose. It contains a lot of outstanding sociology, most of which is both pathbreaking and not really very controversial.

Murray’s least controversial observation, in my view, is that sophisticated and highly productive Americans now inhabit an increasingly impervious bubble. They live in their own zip codes, have their own schools, have developed their own set of values, have seceded from the various civic experiences (such as military service and socioeconomically diverse public schools) that used to bring diverse Americans together, and relate to those not of their kind in a distant, condescending, and manipulative manner.  Our elite colleges — despite their official commitment to diversity — are pretty much all part of the bubble.

Related: Middlebury Will Either Defend Democratic Norms or Capitulate

And Middlebury students and faculty could have benefited from Murray’s incisive yet lighthearted description of all their bubble’s distinctive prejudices. They could have gotten more than a bit ironic about themselves. There’s little in Murray’s description of the complacency of the privileged few that wouldn’t benefit Sanders voters as much as or more than it would Trump enthusiasts. It might help Clinton supporters even more in seeing why ordinary Americans, including “skilled labor,” thought of their candidate as lacking in real virtue and indifferent to their struggles.

Who can deny that the basic experiences of ordinary life for Trump voters and Clinton voters are now so different that it makes sense to talk of two alternative realities or bubbles? And that each bubble can be incisively criticized from the perspective of the other. And that each bubble is so protective that Americans are in some way less ironic than ever about their class-based limitations. It’s hard to admit that ours is not so much a middle-class country any longer.

Murray observes that our meritocracy based on productivity typically talks Sixties liberationism and social justice and might even join in demonstrations and other forms of activism in college. But its members’ actual ways of living after college are pretty bourgeois. They develop the habits of highly effective people, including child-centered marriage and assiduous health-and-safety regimens.

There really is a lot to admire in the way they live, even if they’re weak in connecting their privileges to civic responsibilities and living in the whole truth about who each of us is. Their education serves them well on one front, but not on others. Murray also notices that the habits of worthwhile work and healthy living are disappearing from the bottom 50 percent of Americans. He’s right on that. He’s wrong, I think, that they can be restored to middle-class responsibility through the removal of welfare dependency.

The problem is much more complicated than that. It has to do, in part, with the real disappearance of jobs that provide the secure wherewithal to live with dignified relational responsibility and that provide the satisfaction that comes with worthwhile work well done. There might have been a great debate at Middlebury between Bernie supporters and libertarians over that issue, an issue over which reasonable people can disagree. And that debate might have allowed the bubble men and women at Middlebury really to think as citizens about what’s best for all Americans.

Related: Charles Murray on Why He Was Silenced at Middlebury

All in all, Middlebury seems unreasonably resistant to the kind of liberal education that comes with questioning one’s own cherished opinions and forms of pride or self-esteem. That comes with curbing anger through really reading with an open mind the serious and well-intentioned books of those not of their kind. Let me add: I don’t deny that the students’ idealism is a real, if misguided, attempt to find meaning on campus in the only way that seems available. It’s just that they’re ending up reinforcing rather than disrupting or even popping their bubble.

As William Deresiewicz wrote in The American Scholar: “Unlike the campus protesters of the 1960s, today’s student activists are not expressing countercultural views. They are expressing the exact views of the culture in which they find themselves (a reason that administrators prove so ready to accede to their demands). If you want to find the counterculture on today’s elite college campuses, you need to look for the conservative students.”

Reprinted with permission from National Review’s Online blog, The Corner

Middlebury Will Either Defend Democratic Norms or Capitulate

Below is an excerpt from an article by Rod Dreher in The American Conservative on Middlebury students shouting down and harassing visiting speaker Charles Murray:

Middlebury College is on trial now. Its administration will either forthrightly defend liberal democratic norms, or it will capitulate. There is no middle ground. … These little Maoists studying at elite colleges and universities like Middlebury are on the fast track to move into the American ruling class. You see what they will do to dissenters. They must be resisted — and resisted strongly.

If Middlebury and institutions like it do not believe in their mission enough to defend it against barbarians like that student mob — and defend it enough to expel the worst of them, without apology or appeal — then it deserves contempt and shunning by all people — left, right, and center — who believe in education, who believe in the free exchange of ideas on campus, and indeed, who believe in civilization.”

Charles Murray on Why He Was Silenced at Middlebury

A few months ago, AEI’s student group at Middlebury College invited me to speak on the themes of Coming Apart and how they relate to the recent presidential election. Professor Allison Stanger of the Political Science Department agreed to serve as moderator of the Q&A and to ask the first three questions herself.

About a week before the event, plans for protests began to emerge, encouraged by several faculty members. Their logic was that since I am a racist, a white supremacist, a white nationalist, a pseudoscientist whose work has been discredited, a sexist, a eugenicist, and (this is a new one) anti-gay, I did not deserve a platform for my hate speech, and hence it was appropriate to keep me from speaking.

Middlebury College.

Last Wednesday, the day before the lecture was to occur, I got an email from Bill Burger, Vice President for Communications at Middlebury. The size and potential ferocity of the planned protests had escalated. We agreed to meet at the Middlebury Inn an hour before the lecture so that we could go over a contingency plan: In the event that the protesters in the lecture hall did not cease and desist after a reasonable period, Professor Stanger and I would repair to a room near the lecture hall where a video studio had been set up that would enable us to live-stream the lecture and take questions via Twitter.

Here’s how it played out.

The lecture hall was at capacity, somewhere around 400. There were lots of signs with lots of slogans (see the list of allegations above), liberally sprinkled with the f-word. A brave member of the AEI student group, Ivan Valladares, gave an eloquent description of what the group was about. Middlebury’s president, Laurie Patton, gave a statement about the importance of free speech even though she disagrees with much of my work. A second brave member of the AEI club, Alexander Khan, introduced me. All this was accompanied by occasional catcalls and outbursts, but not enough to keep the speakers from getting through their material. Then I went onstage, got halfway through my first sentence, and the uproar began.

First came a shouted recitation in unison of what I am told is a piece by James Baldwin. I couldn’t follow the words. That took a few minutes. Then came the chanting. The protesters had prepared several couplets that they chanted in rotations—“hey, hey, ho, ho, white supremacy has to go,” and the like.

It was very loud and stayed loud. It’s hard for me to estimate, but perhaps half the audience were protesters and half had come to hear the lecture.
I stood at the podium. I didn’t make any attempt to speak—no point in it—but I did make eye contact with students. I remember one in particular, from whom I couldn’t look away for a long time. She reminded me of my daughter Anna (Middlebury ’07) — partly physically, but also in her sweet earnestness. She looked at me reproachfully and a little defiantly, her mouth moving in whatever the current chant was. I’m probably projecting, but I imagined her to be a student who wasn’t particularly political but had learned that this guy Murray was truly evil. So she found herself in the unfamiliar position of activist, not really enjoying it, but doing her civic duty.

The others…. Wow. Some were just having a snarky good time as college undergrads have been known to do, dancing in the aisle to the rhythm of the chants. But many looked like they had come straight out of casting for a film of brownshirt rallies. In some cases, I can only describe their eyes as crazed and their expressions as snarls. Melodramatic, I know. But that’s what they looked like.

This went on for about twenty minutes. My mindset at that point was to wait them out if it took until midnight (which, I was later to realize, probably wouldn’t have been long enough). But finally, Bill Burger came on stage and decided, correctly, that the people who had come to hear the lecture deserved a chance to do so. Professor Stanger and I were led out of the hall to the improvised studio.

I started to give an abbreviated version of my standard Coming Apart lecture, speaking into the camera. Then there was the sound of shouting outside, followed by loud banging on the wall of the building. Professor Stanger and I were equipped with lavalier microphones, which are highly directional. The cameraman-cum-sound-technician indicated that we could continue to speak and the noise from outside would not drown us out. Then a fire alarm went off, which was harder to compete with. And so it went through the lecture and during my back and forth conversation with Professor Stanger—a conversation so interesting that minutes sometimes went by while I debated some point with her and completely forgot about the din. But the din never stopped.

We finished around 6:45 and prepared to leave the building to attend a campus dinner with a dozen students and some faculty members. Allison, Bill, and I (by this point I saw both of them as dear friends and still do) were accompanied by two large and capable security guards. (As I write, I still don’t have their names. My gratitude to them is profound.) We walked out the door and into the middle of a mob. I have read that they numbered about twenty. It seemed like a lot more than that to me, maybe fifty or so, but I was not in a position to get a good count. I registered that several of them were wearing ski masks. That was disquieting.

What would have happened after that I don’t know, but I do recall thinking that being on the ground was a really bad idea, and I should try really hard to avoid that. Unlike Allison, I wasn’t actually hurt at all.
I had expected that they would shout expletives at us but no more. So I was nonplussed when I realized that a big man with a sign was standing right in front of us and wasn’t going to let us pass. I instinctively thought we’ll go around him. But that wasn’t possible. We’d just get blocked by the others who were joining him. So we walked straight into him, one of our security guys pushed him aside, and that’s the way it went from then on: Allison and Bill each holding one of my elbows, the three of us plowing ahead, the security guys clearing our way, and lots of pushing and shoving from all sides.

I didn’t see it happen, but someone grabbed Allison’s hair just as someone else shoved her from another direction, damaging muscles, tendons, and fascia in her neck. I was stumbling because of the shoving. If it hadn’t been for Allison and Bill keeping hold of me and the security guards pulling people off me, I would have been pushed to the ground. That much is sure. What would have happened after that I don’t know, but I do recall thinking that being on the ground was a really bad idea, and I should try really hard to avoid that. Unlike Allison, I wasn’t actually hurt at all.

The three of us got to the car, with the security guards keeping protesters away while we closed and locked the doors. Then we found that the evening wasn’t over. So many protesters surrounded the car, banging on the sides and the windows and rocking the car, climbing onto the hood, that Bill had to inch forward lest he run over them. At the time, I wouldn’t have objected. Bill must have a longer time horizon than I do.
Much of the meaning of the Middlebury affair depends on what Middlebury does next.

Extricating ourselves took a few blocks and several minutes. When we had done so and were finally satisfied that no cars were tailing us, we drove to the dinner venue. Allison and I went in and started chatting with the gathered students and faculty members. Suddenly Bill reappeared and said abruptly, “We’re leaving. Now.” The protesters had discovered where the dinner was being held and were on their way. So it was the three of us in the car again.

Long story short, we ended up at a lovely restaurant several miles out of Middlebury, where our dinner companions eventually rejoined us. I had many interesting conversations with students and faculty over the course of the pleasant evening that followed. In the silver-lining category, the original venue was on campus and would have provided us with all the iced tea we could drink. The lovely restaurant had a full bar.

* * *

Much of the meaning of the Middlebury affair depends on what Middlebury does next. So far, Middlebury’s stance has been exemplary. The administration agreed to host the event. President Patton did not cancel it even after a major protest became inevitable. She appeared at the event, further signaling Middlebury’s commitment to academic freedom. The administration arranged an ingenious Plan B that enabled me to present my ideas and discuss them with Professor Stanger even though the crowd had prevented me from speaking in the lecture hall. I wish that every college in the country had the backbone and determination that Middlebury exhibited.

Both Bill Burger, who made the initial remarks in the lecture hall, and President Patton spelled out Middlebury’s code of conduct and warned that violations could have consequences up to and including expulsion. Those warnings were ignored wholesale. Now what?

I sympathize with the difficulty of President Patton’s task. We’re talking about violations that involve a few hundred students, ranging from ones that call for a serious tutelary response (e.g., for the sweetly earnest young woman) to ones calling for permanent expulsion (for the students who participated in the mob as we exited), to criminal prosecution (at the very least, for those who injured Professor Stanger). The evidence will range from excellent to ambiguous to none. I will urge only that the inability to appropriately punish all of the guilty must not prevent appropriate punishment in cases where the evidence is clear.

Absent an adequate disciplinary response, I fear that the Middlebury episode could become an inflection point. In the twenty-three years since The Bell Curve was published, I have had considerable experience with campus protests. Until last Thursday, all of the ones involving me have been as carefully scripted as kabuki: The college administration meets with the organizers of the protest and ground rules are agreed upon. The protesters have so many minutes to do such and such. It is agreed that after the allotted time, they will leave or desist. These negotiated agreements have always worked. At least a couple of dozen times, I have been able to give my lecture to an attentive (or at least quiet) audience despite an organized protest.

If this becomes the new normal, the number of colleges willing to let themselves in for an experience like Middlebury’s will plunge to near zero. Academia is already largely sequestered in an ideological bubble, but at least it’s translucent. That bubble will become opaque.

Middlebury tried to negotiate such an agreement with the protesters, but, for the first time in my experience, the protesters would not accept any time limits. If this becomes the new normal, the number of colleges willing to let themselves in for an experience like Middlebury’s will plunge to near zero. Academia is already largely sequestered in an ideological bubble, but at least it’s translucent. That bubble will become opaque.

Worse yet, the intellectual thugs will take over many campuses. In the mid-1990s, I could count on students who had wanted to listen to start yelling at the protesters after a certain point, “Sit down and shut up, we want to hear what he has to say.” That kind of pushback had an effect. It reminded the protesters that they were a minority. I am assured by people at Middlebury that their protesters are a minority as well. But they are a minority that has intimidated the majority. The people in the audience who wanted to hear me speak were completely cowed. That cannot be allowed to stand. A campus where a majority of students are fearful to speak openly because they know a minority will jump on them is no longer an intellectually free campus in any meaningful sense.

A college’s faculty is the obvious resource for keeping the bubble translucent and the intellectual thugs from taking over. A faculty that is overwhelmingly on the side of free intellectual exchange, stipulating only that it is conducted with logic, evidence, and civility, can easily lead each new freshman class to understand that’s how academia operates. If faculty members routinely condemn intellectual thuggery, the majority of students who also oppose it will feel entitled to say “sit down and shut up, we want to hear what he has to say” when protesters try to shut down intellectual exchange.

That leads me to two critical questions for which I have no empirical answers: What is the percentage of tenured faculty on American campuses who are still unambiguously on the side of free intellectual exchange? What is the percentage of them who are willing to express that position openly? I am confident that the answer to the first question is still far greater than fifty percent. But what about the answer to the second question? My reading of events on campuses over the last few years is that a minority of faculty are cowing a majority in the same way that a minority of students are cowing the majority.
The people in the audience who wanted to hear me speak were completely cowed. That cannot be allowed to stand.

I’m sure the pattern differs by geography and type of institution. But my impression is that the problem at elite colleges and universities is extremely widespread. In such colleges, events such as the Middlebury episode will further empower the minorities and make the majorities still more timorous.

That’s why the penalties imposed on the protesters need to be many and severe if last Thursday is not to become an inflection point. But let’s be realistic: The pressure to refrain from suspending and expelling large numbers of students will be intense. Parents will bombard the administration with explanations of why their little darlings are special people whose hearts were in the right place. Faculty and media on the left will urge that no one inside the lecture hall is penalized because shouting down awful people like me is morally appropriate. The administration has to recognize that severe sanctions will make the college less attractive to many prospective applicants.

My best guess is that Middlebury’s response will fall short of what I think is needed: A forceful statement to students that breaking the code of conduct is too costly to repeat. But even the response I prefer won’t generalize. A tough response will be met with widespread criticism. Students in other colleges will have no good reason to think their administration will follow Middlebury’s example.

And so I’m pessimistic. I say that realizing that I am probably the most unqualified person to analyze the larger meanings of last week’s events at Middlebury. It will take some time for me to be dispassionate. If you promise to bear that in mind, I will say what I’m thinking and rely on you to discount it appropriately: What happened last Thursday has the potential to be a disaster for American liberal education.

Printed with permission from the American Enterprise Institute where this essay was originally published.

Can Sociology be Saved?

While the American Sociological Association continues to congratulate itself for a rising number of bachelor’s degrees in sociology, traditional sociology seems to matter less than ever before. Apart from the recent and brilliant Strangers in Their Own land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right by Arlie Russell Hochschild, not many sociologists have a good grasp of what’s happening in society today.

The Vote for Trump

And few, other than Hochschild, seem to have any idea of how to explain what motivated union members, women, minorities and the working poor to help elect President Donald Trump. In a series of articles about the 2016 election, published by the ASA, sociologists erroneously blamed racism, hyper-masculinity, Islamophobia, and xenophobia, for the attraction to President Donald Trump.

The increases in sociology undergraduate majors has more to do with student fascination with criminology and criminal justice concentrations within the sociology major than it does with traditional sociology. Realizing that the traditional discipline no longer attracted undergraduates, many sociology departments became savvy marketers promising potential criminology students that they would be studying subjects like serial killers, gangs, school shootings, family violence and substance abuse.  For example, one Texas university sociology website posts “true-crime” photos of the Columbine school shooters, and Jeffrey Dahmer, the infamous cannibalistic serial murderer, to draw students to their criminology courses.

The CSI Effect

Even the ASA attributes a kind of “CSI-effect” for the increase in criminal justice concentrations in sociology and laments that part-time adjunct faculty who work in forensics, law enforcement, corrections, and juvenile justice are more likely to teach these undergraduate “sociology” students than traditionally trained PhD-level sociologists.

In fact, the ASA was so concerned about the loss of traditional sociology that the organization commissioned a study in 2011 which acknowledged that increasing numbers of sociology departments fear losing majors as the number of criminology and criminal justice students continue to increase while those who major in sociology without this concentration have dramatically declined.

The Profession Decomposes

The splintering off from traditional sociology was predicted decades ago by the late great sociologist, Irving Louis Horowitz, in his book, The Decomposition of Sociology.  Horowitz decried the “separation of the substance” of sociology into its elements, and claimed that the breakdown has caused “the decay of sociology as a field of study.”  Pointing out that sociology had dissolved into its parts: criminology, urban studies, demography, policy analysis, social history, decision theory, and hospital and medical administration, Horowitz charged that all sociology has been left with is “pure theory: sections of itself on Marxism, feminism and Third Worldism.” For Horowitz, sociology had become “a strident interest group, a husk instead of a professional society.”

The Discontent of Politicization

The politicization of the discipline has created “a repository of discontent,” he wrote, that is no longer a science of society, but rather a gathering of individuals who have special agendas, from GLBTQ rights to radical feminism and liberation theology.  The consequence of the influx of ideologists and special interests has been the outflow of scientists of those for whom the study of society is an empirical discipline, serving at most, those policy planners interested in piecemeal reform.

Horowitz writes, “Sociology has seen the departure of urbanologists, social planners, demographers, criminologists, penologists, hospital administrators, international development specialists—in short, the entire range of scholars for whom social science is linked to public policy.” Today, in criminology, sociologists play a minor role, eclipsed by the expertise of police officers, forensics experts, legal and paralegal personnel. As Horowitz warned, “sociology is now reduced to barking from the sidelines with such shrill treatises as Against Criminology.”

There was a time when sociology was willing to provide verifiable facts on social phenomenon—even if the data did not support the claims of the advocacy community. But, because so much sociological research is now agenda-driven, many of our statistics are suspect.  Helping to maintain the false narrative that one-in-five women on college campuses are victims of sexual assault, some sociologists have been complicit in promoting a moral panic on campus.

Despite the false narrative that college campuses have become unsafe places for women, a recent study by the Bureau of Justice Statistics has revealed that the rate of rape and other sexual assault on college campuses has actually declined from 9.2 per 1,000 college students in 1997 to 4.4 per 1,000 in 2013.  Far from being a site of violence, the data indicates that female college students are safer from sexual assault while in college than at any other time in their lives.

Didn’t Fit the Narrative

Yet, much of sociology seems to have missed these data because they do not fit the narrative of a hypermasculinized culture that victimizes women. Even the highly respected sociologist Barbara Risman, a former President of Sociologists for Women and Society, has added to that false narrative on the contributors to sexual violence on college campuses. Risman claims to have begun her commitment to ending gender inequality when she experienced sexual discrimination at her own bat mitzvah in 1968—a time when only boys were allowed to read from the Torah.

In a recent article published by the American Sociological Association entitled, “How to Do Sociology in the Trump Era,” Risman suggests that sociologists need to “focus on the culture…get our ideas, research and evidence out there…bring our work beyond the New York Times.” The only problem is that people have seen some of their sociological “research and evidence” and they know that much of it is false.

Many of us have learned that some sociological research studies are “more equal than others.” Just ask sociologists, Mark Regnerus of the University of Texas at Austin, and Paul Sullins of Catholic University—both of whom have used sophisticated statistical modeling and non-partisan national data sets to study the effects of same-sex parenting on children, and both have been vilified because of their politically incorrect findings.

Regnerus found that children raised in households where at least one parent had had a same-sex relationship reported higher rates of unhappiness and relationship instability. And in a study that used data from the nonpartisan National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health to track children raised by same-sex couples over a period of 13 years, Sullins found that those raised in same-sex homes were at over twice the risk of depression than those raised by heterosexual parents.

Misstating Data for a Cause

The children raised in same-sex households were also more likely to experience obesity, “imbalanced closeness,” and child abuse. Worse, the difference between traditional and same-sex homes was even more marked when it came to considering suicide: 7 percent of young adults raised in traditional families reported having suicidal thoughts compared with 37 percent of same-sex homes.

Defining down the Regnerus and Sullins data, the ASA filed an amicus curiae brief with the Supreme Court in 2015 in the same-sex marriage cases that were then pending before the court. In the brief, the ASA maintained that there is a “social-science consensus that children raised by same-sex parents fare just as well as children raised by different-sex parents.” Referring specifically to the data presented by Regnerus and Sullins, the ASA claimed in the brief that the negative research findings by Regnerus and Sullins has been “mischaracterized” by same-sex marriage opponents, and concluded that “we should not exclude children living with same-sex parents from the additional stability and economic security that marriage can provide.”

Randall Collins, the President of the ASA in 2010-2011, once lamented that sociology has “lost all coherence as a discipline; we are breaking up into a conglomerate of specialties, each going its own way and with none too high regard for each other.” With more than 50 different sections, the ASA itself has indeed splintered into interest and advocacy groups. Sometimes even the sections themselves have had to split over theoretical or methodological disagreements over contested terrain. There are now two separate sections devoted to sexuality: one is called the Sociology of Sexualities, and the other is the section on Sex and Gender. There is talk of a further split as the transgendered have become concerned about marginalization by the other two.

Sociology Lost its Way

Some of the sections are devoted to esoteric topics.  For example, the section on Body and Embodiment is devoted to encouraging and enhancing theory, research teaching on human and non-human bodies, morphology, human reproduction, anatomy, body fluids and other similar topics.  A prize-winning paper in that section a few years ago was titled: “Sometimes I think I might say too much: Dark Secrets and the Performance of Inflammatory Bowel Disease.”

Irving Louis Horowitz knew in 1994 that sociology had lost its way—but his book offered a way out.  He knew that sociology could offer a common language of discourse, logic and method, but he also knew that a positive outcome for sociology required what he called “a double-edged struggle: against the political barbarians at the gate and against the professional savages who have already gotten inside.”  He knew that the price of success would be high, but the cost of failure—to sociology as well as to society itself —makes the effort an absolute necessity.

Anne Hendershott is a professor of sociology and Director of the Veritas Center for Ethics in Public Life at Franciscan University of Steubenville, Ohio.  She is the author of Status Envy: The Politics of Catholic Higher Education (Transaction Books).

Another Breakthrough in Feminist Mathematics

I have written many pieces over the years about the massive attempt to enroll more women in STEM fields, noting in one essay here that “Readers of the higher education press and literature may be forgiven for supposing that there is more research on why there are not more women in STEM fields than there is actual research in the STEM fields themselves.” Now comes a new book, Inventing the Mathematician: Gender, Race and Our Cultural Understanding of Mathematics (State University of New York Press), by Sara N. Hottinger, interim dean of arts and humanities and a professor of women’s and gender studies at Keene State College, suggesting that the problem may not be with women but with math.

In a revealing, just published interview with Hottinger, “Hidden Figures: Women’s studies meets mathematics in a new book arguing for a more inclusive cultural notion of numeracy,” Inside Higher Ed notes that her book’s “ultimate goal is to deconstruct our individual and cultural ideas about math — then build them back up again in a more inclusive fashion.”

Here are some highlights of that interview in which Prof. Hottinger mounts a vigorous challenge to conventional understandings of women and math. I have numbered these selected nuggets to facilitate later discussion of them.

  1. During my senior year of college, I did an independent study on psychoanalytic theorist and philosopher Jacques Lacan and ended up writing my final paper on the connections between mathematical topology and Lacanian theory. I wrote my women’s studies senior thesis on feminist pedagogies in the mathematics classroom and the ways in which feminist approaches to the teaching of math allowed marginalized students to understand and work with mathematical knowledge in innovative new ways.
  2. … the content of any science is profoundly constrained by the language within which its discourses are formulated; and mainstream Western physical science has, since Galileo, been formulated in the language of mathematics. But whose mathematics? The question is a fundamental one, for, as Aronowitz has observed, “neither logic nor mathematics escapes the ‘contamination’ of the social.” And as feminist thinkers have repeatedly pointed out, in the present culture this contamination is overwhelmingly capitalist, patriarchal and militaristic.
  3. I continued this work in my doctoral dissertation, where I made the epistemological argument that mathematical ways of knowing are shaped within communities…. And, now, in this book, I consider the cultural construction of mathematical subjectivity and argue that mathematics plays a significant role in the construction of normative Western subjectivity and in the constitution of the West itself.
  4. … recently, feminist and poststructuralist critiques have demystified the substantive content of mainstream Western scientific practice, revealing the ideology of domination concealed behind the façade of “objectivity.”
  5. In much the same way that feminist education scholars have shown, via discourse analysis, the incompatibility between femininity and mathematical achievement, both Walker and Stinson show the complex ways successful black mathematics students must accommodate, reconfigure or resist the discursive construction of a normative white, masculine mathematical subjectivity.
  6. The teaching of science and mathematics must be purged of its authoritarian and elitist characteristics, and the content of these subjects enriched by incorporating the insights of the feminist, queer, multiculturalist and ecological critiques.
  7. Because mathematics is understood to be the ultimate manifestation of the human ability to reason, mathematical achievement is a clear marker in the construction of an ideal subjectivity. If these multiple associations — between reason, masculinity, subjectivity and mathematics — are teased apart, we can better understand why mathematical subjectivity and the ability to succeed in mathematics is so difficult to achieve for those in marginalized groups. For example, if mathematical subjectivity and the ability to reason is constructed within Western culture as masculine, then women will continue to find it difficult to see themselves as mathematical subjects. Women will have to choose between being good mathematicians or being “proper” women.
  8. See Ginzberg (1989), Cope-Kasten (1989), Nye (1990) and Plumwood (1993b) for lucid feminist critiques of conventional (masculinist) mathematical logic.

I suspect Minding The Campus has few readers who will be persuaded by this deconstructionist argument. Indeed, many readers may find it disconcertingly familiar while others will suspect I’m perpetrating some sort of hoax.

Right on both counts!

Paragraphs 1, 3, 5, and 7 are, as I claimed, from Prof. Hottinger’s interview with Inside Higher Ed. But paragraphs 2, 4, 6, and 8 are quoted from NYU Physicist Alan Sokal’s famous 1996 hoax published in Social Text, “Transgressing the Boundaries: Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity,” which claimed that “physical ‘reality’ … is at bottom a social and linguistic construct.”

Sokal’s “Ridicule Didn’t Work,” James Piereson and Naomi Schaefer Riley wrote recently in the Weekly Standard. “The trends that Sokal spoofed remain trendy in academic liberal arts. “‘You might have thought that humanities scholars, and particularly those working in subfields of cultural studies, would have been mortified with embarrassment, like a pretentious man who got caught mistaking his son’s finger-paintings for Jackson Pollock originals,’ says intellectual historian Wilfred McClay. ‘But they weren’t much embarrassed, and those fields have not suffered noticeably.’” In fact, their influence is even greater than before, “because highly ideological fields such as gender and race studies have broken out of the academic hothouse and into the mainstream of American life and politics.”

Thus what Sokal spoofed remains true of much of contemporary social science, especially cultural studies attempting to deconstruct, reconstruct, or otherwise transform our understanding or race, gender, sex, etc.: it’s often hard to tell the parodies from the real thing.

False Rape Reports in Sacred Heart

Last week featured a rarity—the filing of criminal charges against a campus sexual assault accuser. Ashe Schow has a full write-up of the case, which originated when a Sacred Heart University student named Nikki Yovino accused two of the university’s football players of sexually assaulting her.

An affidavit prepared by the local police indicated that the football players were suspended, and thus presumably found guilty. (Sacred Heart has disputed the extent of the students’ punishment.) But Yovino later admitted to police that she made it all up, seeking to engender sympathy from another male student she wanted to date. As Schow points out, this motivation resembles the Jackie case at UVA.

What most struck me, however, was the defense offered by a university spokesperson: “Whenever there is any kind of incident at Sacred Heart University, we go to great lengths to ensure due process for all parties involved. The way that this particular case is playing out certainly demonstrates the validity of our procedures.” [emphasis added] Again, this was a case in which Sacred Heart’s procedures led to the punishments of students who were falsely accused.

Though Sacred Heart promises a “fair process,” nothing in its procedures suggests fairness. The university begins by announcing its dedication to “providing information and resources to the Sacred Heart University community about the risks and myths that contribute to sexual misconduct.” What these “myths” are the procedures don’t reveal, and a Sacred Heart spokesperson did not respond to a request for the information.

The university also uses an affirmative consent policy, which effectively requires accused students to prove their innocence. “Consent,” at Sacred Heart, “cannot be inferred from the absence of a ‘no’; a clear ‘yes,’ verbal or otherwise, is necessary.” The procedures are silent on how “otherwise” can yield a “clear ‘yes,’” and despite a claim to the contrary, other sections of the guidelines outline a policy in which anything short of an ability to prove a verbal “yes” is likely to yield a guilty finding.

The university considers “persons who are intoxicated” while having sex to be victims since they are “lacking the physical and/or mental ability to make informed and rational decisions or judgments.” The policies don’t explain what happens when both students are intoxicated.

Once a charge is filed, the Title IX coordinator, rather than an independent party, investigates. If the coordinator concludes it’s more likely than not that the accused student is guilty, he goes before a hearing panel of two administrators and one professor. This panel hears “the facts of the case from both parties”—but the accused student has no right to cross-examination, no right to call witnesses, and no right to full legal representation.

These procedures are no worse than those employed at many universities, though they also give the lie to the spokesperson’s claim that the institution goes “to great lengths to ensure due process for all parties involved.” But Sacred Heart’s sexual assault procedure has a clause I’ve seen at no other school.

“An allegation that is both intentionally false and malicious,” Sacred Heart explains, “may [emphasis added] be a violation of the Sacred Heart University Student Conduct Code.”

Consider this provision for a moment. A false rape allegation, in and of itself, is not a violation of Sacred Heart’s code—the allegation must be “intentionally” false. (The code provides no description of the distinction between a false and an intentionally false claim.) But even an “intentionally false” claim isn’t a violation—the claim must also be “malicious.” (The code provides no description of the distinction between an intentionally false and an intentionally false/malicious claim.)

But even then—even if Sacred Heart has encountered a sexual assault claim that’s both “intentionally false” and “malicious”—the accuser only “may” be guilty of a code violation. So under certain (unspecified) circumstances, a Sacred Heart student who filed an intentionally false and malicious sexual assault claim against a fellow student still didn’t violate the university’s disciplinary code. It seems that Nikki Yovino found the perfect university to attend.

Panic Over Sex Assault ‘Crime Wave’ Overtakes Yale

In a 2012 resolution agreement with the Office for Civil Rights, Yale became the nation’s only university required to document all sexual assault allegations on campus. The reports, prepared by Yale deputy provost Stephanie Spangler, are generally bare-bones (and became even more so last year after Spangler announced she’d decided to supply less information about some unresolved complaints) but nonetheless provide a peak into the deeply unhealthy atmosphere—at least at elite campuses—regarding the investigation and adjudication of sexual assault complaints. The most recent of the Spangler Reports, which covers events in the last six months of 2016, has now appeared.

Minding the Campus has covered each of the previous Spangler reports, which have included such items as:

As always, Spangler notes that the university “uses a more expansive definition of sexual assault” than does either Connecticut state law or the federal government (through Clery Act requirements). The university has never offered an explanation as to why it does so. The current report, which discusses allegations filed between July and December 2016, adds a vague assertion that it “assigns complaints to general categories such as ‘sexual assault’ . . . that encompass broad ranges of behavior”—but, again, why sexual assault should “encompass broad ranges of behavior” beyond the common legal or cultural understanding of the term remains a mystery.

Fueling the Panic

The Spangler reports always have had the feel of existing to feed the frenzy (while appeasing OCR and justifying Yale’s sprawling Title IX bureaucracy) more than providing accurate information, but the current report seems to go overboard on this matter. It portrays a campus in the midst of a terrifying wave of violent crime—or, more likely, in the midst of a moral panic.

There were 81 reports of some type of sexual harassment at Yale in the last six months of 2016. Spangler seems almost giddy at the news, since “we have noted a sustained increase in the number of complaints brought to the university’s attention in the three reporting periods following” the AAU survey from 2015 (which, using deeply flawed methodology, suggested the nation’s preeminent campuses were hotbeds of felonies).

Spangler never pauses to consider whether this surge of reporting might be fueled by a panicked campus atmosphere to which she, and the Yale administration, have contributed. Instead, she believes that her previous reports—which indicated that a typical female undergraduate at Yale had a greater chance of being a victim of violent crime than a resident of Detroit, which FBI statistics have identified as the nation’s most dangerous city—have shown an insufficiently low number of campus crime victims. The university, she declares, therefore needs to “identify and address barriers to reporting” of sexual assault at Yale. What those barriers could be, given the frenzied atmosphere on campus in recent years, Spangler does not reveal.

Responding to the Yale Crime Wave

Spangler promised only two specific steps to take to meet this campus crime wave. The first is almost comical. “We are,” Spangler writes, “working to shed more light on Yale’s procedures through the creation of additional ‘hypothetical case scenarios’ that address a broad range of behaviors and are tailored to local campus communities.” The existing version of these scenarios was (deservedly) mocked by Cathy Young; and, in any case, they don’t shed light on its procedures—as Yale demonstrated when it didn’t follow them in the Jack Montague case, a point raised in his lawsuit against the university.

The second, however, raises grave academic freedom concerns. Interns in the Title IX Office, Spangler explains, have developed a program to address “patterns of academic and social life particular to the graduate and professional schools.” This program “has been offered in numerous departments.” Yet “academic” issues at the level of academic “departments” are supposed to be the purview of the faculty—not student interns responsible to a Title IX bureaucrat. Yet not only has this initiative not aroused any academic freedom concerns, according to Spangler “demand is high” for future workshops. Faculty, instead, appear to have bowed to the inevitable, as this jargon-laden sentence implies: “Schools and departments across the campus continue to introduce initiatives aimed at identifying and impacting factors that influence local culture.”

Despite the top-line assertion of 81 complaints of sexual harassment, Yale’s disciplinary tribunal, the UWC, handled only one case of sexual assault involving undergraduate students during this six-month period. (The student, unsurprisingly given the guilt-presuming procedures, was found guilty.) One case remains pending, and another withdrew instead of bothering going through the UWC.

New Developments

The current Spangler report departs from its predecessors in five interesting ways. First: several faculty members faced serious allegations, and therefore got a taste of the procedures to which their students have been subjected for years. One was found not guilty of sexual assault, but guilty of violating the school’s policy regarding teacher-student relations. A second is still facing the same charge, with two others currently under investigation on this policy. A fifth was found guilty of sexual harassment—in a case initiated not by any students, but by a Title IX “coordinator.” The professor was suspended for a semester, and prohibited from having any leadership positions or advising any students for five years. And the Title IX office is investigating two other professors for making “inappropriate comments.”

Second: the report features several cases in which students filed complaints not to have another student expelled, but solely to receive an academic accommodation (such as a delay on an exam or paper) from the Title IX office. And some of the allegations were remarkably broad. In two instances, for example, the student complained that another student “paid unwanted attention” to her. By that definition of sexual harassment, any student asking another out for a date would be risking a sexual harassment complaint. The ability of students to game the system by filing complaints to get accommodations is present in all Title IX matters, especially at elite schools.

Third: there appear to have been two cases in which a male filed a complaint against a female. It’s not clear whether there were sexual assault or harassment cases. It’s not clear whether they involved undergraduate or graduate students, or what their disposition was. But it is a trend worth watching.

Fourth: in the last few Spangler reports, a disturbing pattern emerged of Title IX coordinators—rather than accusers—filing sexual assault complaints against Yale undergraduate students. These moves came despite severe restrictions in the Yale guidelines regarding the filing of these complaints. One of the victims of this process was Jack Montague—and after his lawsuit brought attention to the matter, the restrictions vanished. But so too, at least for this reporting period, did the filing of charges against male undergraduate students by the Title IX office. Did the administration instruct the office to lay low on the matter until the Montague suit is resolved?

Fifth: seven sexual assault allegations by undergraduate students received no description from Spangler at all—yet they counted toward her top-line total of 81 cases, helping to fuel the campus panic. Previous Spangler reports would describe this kind of case, which often involved a claim by a student that a second student (whose identity she didn’t know) was sexually assaulted by a third student (whose identity she also didn’t know). Providing this type of information, of course, demonstrated the absurdity of the allegation. So, beginning with her last report, Spangler dropped it.

She wouldn’t want to provide inconvenient facts that might undermine the narrative.

Punishing College Sports Teams

NYU social psychologist Jonathan Haidt argues we are witnessing an internal war over what in fact is a university’s core sacred value: is it truth?  Or social justice? If it is the search for truth, free speech is essential. If it’s social justice, then the rising campus yen for censorship and silencing one’s opponents can be rationalized. So the academy is rapidly becoming the most dangerous place to speak in America.

Consider for example just one new phenomenon: the decision by college administrators to punish sports teams for the lewd speech of some individual members. Progressive elites once fought and destroyed sanctions on obscenity in the wider culture, re-defining naked dancing, along with visual and written pornography, as protected speech.

Yet Harvard’s entire men’s soccer team season was canceled last November because the men wrote a “scouting report” containing racy comments about the female soccer members, evaluating their sexual attractiveness. Men who did not speak were punished along with those who did, in order to create a new culture of peer pressure to punish those who spoke lewdly about women. At least at Harvard, there was some semblance that the “report” was an unofficial team tradition.

Just a week or so later, Columbia University suspended an entire male wrestling team because some members sent lewd and racist offensive group message texts to one another. It suspended the team, not after an investigation of the team’s involvement but before, banning them from participating in at least one meet, before ultimately deciding only to discipline those who had actually participated in the group messaging. (It does appear those merely receiving the message may also have been punished).

Whether complaining in crude language Columbia women are too unwilling to sleep with athletes subjects one to the same disciplinary procedures as speaking of some African-Americans as “nigs” was unfortunately not made clear by the university, at least according to media reports. Racist comments are clearly more serious than off-color ones, many of which are merely examples of randy young males being themselves.

Columbia’s wrestling coach, Zach Tanelli, said in a statement: “Not only do we demand that the harmful and offensive language end; we want Columbia wrestling to be a part of the solution toward cultural competency and systemic change.”

In a context in which women are encouraged to explore their sexuality loudly and openly and to accept no judgment, the current message colleges are sending students is not so much that civilization requires self-discipline with regard to sex as that male sexuality is uniquely deserving of punishment because it grosses out young women.

The persistent ethically incoherent attacks on masculinity, and the sense of unfairness in the application of freedom of sexual expression, are bound to continue to alienate young men from a culture of achievement—one of the academy’s and the culture’s biggest diversity problem–men who don’t work.

Punishing private communications as if they were public acts (including hacked private conversations) and punishing whole teams rather than the individuals, refusing to name exactly what expressions of sexual interest are now forbidden, punishing sexual expressions heard by almost every teenager on television and over the internet every day, –all these are extraordinary violations of norms of due process, creating a sexual culture that does not so much point male to female in a culture of civilized courtship as uniquely disparage male sexuality for not being female.

And here’s the really strange thing: students are demanding it, applauding it protesting for adult regulation of their student lives on the grounds that exposure to ideas that disturb them is a mental health hazard.

Harvard’s women athletes after initially brushing it off eventually signed a joint letter reported they are “appalled that female athletes who are told to feel empowered and proud of their abilities are so regularly reduced to a physical appearance.”

“We are going to punish people who make lewd comments about women,” Mariel Klein, president of Harvard Crimson approvingly told ESPN.

Even the team suspension did not satisfy the lust for punishing such terrible offenders: “Certainly possible…it’s very possible that…this practice would fall under sexual harassment so the Title IX office will be investigating that and that would include individual player,” Klein told ESPN.

Once legitimate concerns about sexual harassment or rape are now being channeled into disciplining private expressions of sexual interest (or concerns about women’s lack of interest) from male students—and with enough intensity that it overrides ordinary concerns about the due process rights.  Social justice trumps individual justice.

This is an extraordinary regression by elites. Group punishment is the hallmark of traditional societies because it is quite effective. (Families were once punished for the transgression of any individual member in order to force the group to discipline its own members). It took a profound commitment that justice requires punishing the wrongdoer, not related friends and relatives, to override the obvious utility of group punishment.

Amherst College recently punished sports team members both as a group and as individuals too for online comments. The whole cross-country team was forced to forego two meets, with individuals separately punished by the loss of three meets or more—up to the total loss of eligibility for the rest of their enrollment in the school.

Why this regression to ancient means of social control?  Are students so much more fragile today than they were 5 years ago 10 years, 15 years ago?

Some believe that is true. One real possibility is that rates of mental illness are rising. A wave of new data indicate that college mental health centers are receiving a new influx of requests for help from students.  At Boston University for example, “Behavioral Medicine clinicians report that the number of students in crisis coming in for help has increased sharply—from 647 in the 2014–2015 academic year to 906 last year.”

A 2014 Penn State study found anxiety has surpassed depression as the leading mental health issue college students report. The American College Health Association’s 2015 National College Health Assessment survey reported that almost 16 % of college students had been diagnosed with or treated for anxiety. Almost 22 percent said anxiety in the last 12 months and almost 22 percent said anxiety had cost them a grade on an exam or project, or lead them to receive an incomplete or drop a course, up from about 18 percent in 2008.

Some blame helicopter parenting. Others look to social media.

“We have all become less able to tolerate ambiguity and the unknown due to the incredible technological advances we have seen,” says Carrie Landa, director of Behavioral Medicine at Student Health Services. “Immediacy is sometimes the antidote to anxiety: having to wait for anything—a text, an exam grade, ‘How am I going to do?’—all create anticipatory anxiety. Unfortunately, there are many things in life that aren’t quickly resolved and waiting is necessary.”

Technology is clearly playing a role in blurring the line between public and private, and in making students feel vulnerable to criticism. Rates of young people’s mental health generally are not showing sharp increases. A review of mental health among adolescents and young adults between 2000 and 2012 published in the Journal of Adolescent Health concluded, “Mental health indicators changed little, except for a decrease in unhealthy methods of weight loss.”

If general increases in mental illness were responsible for the flooding increase in request for counseling services, we should see some increase at least in students entering college with mental health issues. Instead, a 2015 study of college students found that while the growth in the number of students seeking services at counseling centers (plus 30 percent) was more than five times the rate of increase in enrollment, “prevalence rates for prior mental health treatment have remained quite stable over the past five years,” albeit at high levels. “Although these rates are high and should be of concern, the stability of these indices suggest that the rates of prior treatment are not changing and therefore unlikely to be the cause of the increased demand for services.”

Instability in family life, economic problems, a sexual culture where young people experience frequent romantic loss (a risk factor for depression especially for women), reduced religious participation and a declining sense of a common culture may all contribute to relatively high rates of mental illness among young culture.

But something specific is happening on college campuses that is driving a huge increase of request by students for mental health services.

Haidt has pointed to a paper by scholars Bradley Campbell and Jason Manning describing how a culture of dignity is “now giving way to a new culture of victimhood, in which people are encouraged to respond to even the slightest unintentional offense, as in honor culture. But they must not obtain redress on their own; they must appeal for help to powerful others or administrative bodies, to whom they must make the case that they have been victimized.” The existence of the increasingly varied administrative bodies designed to resolve interpersonal conflicts is part of what creates this culture.

Frank Furedi, a sociologist at the University of Kent, UK, also identifies a massive cultural shift on campus as the culprit. But unlike Haidt he sees the academy adopting a broader elite parental cultural value of “safety” as one of its highest moral ideals. “During recent decades, the parenting culture dominant in Western societies has found it increasingly difficult to encourage young people to take risks and develop the practices associated with independence and freedom. ….[T]he reversion to a paternalistic regime of higher education is underpinned by the prevailing mood in which safety has been transformed into a moral value.”

“We have all become less able to tolerate ambiguity and the unknown due to the incredible technological advances we have seen,” says Carrie Landa, director of Boston University’s Behavioral Medicine at Student Health Services. “Immediacy is sometimes the antidote to anxiety: having to wait for anything—a text, an exam grade, ‘How am I going to do?’—all create anticipatory anxiety. Unfortunately, there are many things in life that aren’t quickly resolved and waiting is necessary.”

Technology is clearly playing a role in blurring the line between public and private, and in making students feel vulnerable to criticism (if you take away porn and mean comments, the internet would shrink in sheer volume).

Rates of young people’s mental health generally are not showing sharp increases. A review of mental health among adolescents and young adults between 2000 and 2012 published in the Journal of Adolescent Health concluded, “Mental health indicators changed little, except for a decrease in unhealthy methods of weight loss.” A study of self-reported health among adolescents in 32 Western countries found that youngsters. in the United States (like most other countries) were no more likely to report problems in 2010 than 2002.

Thus the helicopter parenting of minor children has led to the infantilization of young adults who are presumed to be able neither to endure nor to resolve disagreements prompted by emotional conflicts. It is a strange and potent combination of a culture of learned helplessness, where students are persistently directed both to experience troubling speech and other interpersonal interactions as intensely, painfully disabling, and therefore to seek the assistance of authority figures from counselors to administrators to protect themselves from emotional pain they cannot handle on their own.

So powerful does being offended by offensive speech make students feel that they (or occasionally their professor) manufacture offensive speech hoaxes in order to trigger a satisfying response to their concerns from those in power.  (This College Fix list from 2014 predates the latest wave from anti-Trump hoaxers purporting to represent his followers’ views, for example, here.)

Campus life is producing and reinforcing students who feel exceptionally helpless, easily hurt, who rely on angry accusations and tearful breakdowns to motivate adult authorities to help them, without whom they are helpless to achieve. Surely many or most of these students will recover their capacity to cope when they enter a world where authority figures do not so richly encourage their learned emotional helplessness.

Why Won’t the Media Review the Campus Rape Book?

Campus Rape Frenzy, the new book by KC Johnson and Stuart Taylor. Jr. deals with the gross unfairness and lack of due process for males accused of sexual assault on campus. It has been reviewed by The Wall St. Journal, National Review, The Daily Caller, American Conservative, Real Clear Politics and Campus Reform. Notice any trend in that list? Yes, they are all conservative outlets.

So far we haven’t noticed any mainstream or liberal outlet reviewing the book, though it’s possible that we or Google have missed one or two. MTC didn’t expect The New York Times to review it since The Times rarely reviews conservative books. In this case, the book demonstrates that in one case after another The Times produced slovenly, misleading and inaccurate reporting on the subject as it did in the Duke lacrosse fake rape case. But all, or almost all, other outlets boycotted the book too? Under pressure from campus feminists and liberal orthodoxy, our press corps, like our universities are signing on to massive dishonesty.

Here is an anonymous online commenter making a similar point:

“I’m trying this on for size for why I avoided the book. The book is simply too depressing and discouraging. We have gotten to the point that, under powerful pressure from the Federal government and others, most of our universities, supposedly the bedrock of our intellectual life and important repositories of our knowledge of the past, have created systems that are massively unfair and inconsistent with our historic principles of justice.

The average person dares not question this massive apparatus without the high risk of personal or professional woe and possibly destruction. The underlying source of this is the power of the state, which has taken a well-intentioned statute and turned it into a weapon of political and cultural destruction. This has happened in plain sight. Our politics, our media, our educational leaders and so far our courts have proved to be timorous and so far ineffective counterweights to this power. I already know this. It’s discouraging to drag myself through it again.”

Can America Survive Its Elites?

In his posthumously published The End of the Experiment, the great social scientist Stanley Rothman makes a pessimistic– and cogent– argument that our recent history is building up to the end of the American experiment in self-government. Rothman sees our national nadir as reflecting long-term, likely terminal elite dysfunction stemming from the impact of the New Left in the 1960s. For Rothman, based on surveys and his analysis, the thinking of the new left has replaced classical liberalism among America’s young, including Herbert Marcuse’s dictum that the silencing of the opposition is necessary for the triumph of progressive ideas.

A Nation Based on Values

American greatness came out of a set of ideas from the Founders and 19th-century intellectuals building a national identity, ideas not based on the static ethnic European loyalties America broke free of, but rather on shared principles celebrating an individual rather than a collective agency. As Ben Wattenberg put it in 1991, the Founders’ vision eventually created the first universal nation, one based on values rather than blood.

Our ultimately successful battles against slavery at home and fascism and communism abroad depended on shared American values and identity rather than the subnational tribal loyalties of Europe, or for that matter the Old South. Those shared values enabled individual Americans to take risks for our nation, including standing up to fascist and Communist adversaries.

The Founders understood the fragility of the American republic, based as it was on values. America’s legitimacy rests on elite and mass acceptance of Calvinist values, success through work, love of God more than self, American nationalism trumping tribalism, integrity in public and private interactions, and restraining individual passions. These accorded with institutions the Founders fashioned, chief among them a limited, constitutional government accountable to citizens.

Teaching the Constitution

Those institutions, in turn, depend on secondary institutions like schools and universities. As Frederick M. Hess documents in The Same Thing Over and Over, after the American Revolution, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Rush, and others pushed for widespread schooling to teach national heritage and support for the Constitution, a unique document restraining government. Though early American “public” schools were often associated with and located in churches, they taught support for the Republic in ways transcending sectarian boundaries. This mission was also supported by our colleges and universities, which had deep religious and patriotic roots emphasizing self-sacrifice at the service of God and nation, as shown by such works as C. John Sommerville’s The Decline of the Secular University, and James Piereson’s “The American University: Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow” within my co-edited book, The Politically Correct University.

Relatedly, in The End of Equality neoliberal Mickey Kaus points out that for men, compulsory military service in the first half of the 20th century privileged national over ethnic, regional, and class loyalties. Elitists such as Prescott Bush and Joseph P. Kennedy pulled strings to get their sons in combat. Elite universities had a substantial military presence. No matter one’s station, military service created an American identity.

Support for Founding Values Faded

Transcending tribal boundaries is essential to good governance in electoral democracies, forcing politicians to base appeals on their achievements for all citizens rather than narrow group affinities as “one of us.” This narrative fits the political model of influential political scientist V.O. Key. In The Responsible Electorate, published posthumously in 1966, Key declared “voters are not fools”: significant numbers of “switchers” change their votes from election to election to hold incumbent politicians accountable for their performance in office.

Sadly, as Rothman shows, through the 20th century, support for the founding values fell away, first among university intellectuals. Progressive intellectuals embraced “expressive individualism and collectivist liberalism,” having suffered “a loss of faith in the efficacy and legitimacy of the political system, as well as…in the values of Western culture.” They sought to replace the American Republic with rule by unelected and unaccountable technocrats of their tribe. Intellectuals embraced values antithetical to personal responsibility, privileging identities based not on achievement, but on ethnicity and eventually gender identity.

America–Hollywood’s Villain

Initially, these ideological and cultural movements remained largely within the confines of the Ivory Tower. By the late 1960s, however, New Left elites began to work their way from academia through cultural, media, and educational institutions, seeking and gradually attaining power. As Rothman shows, these “these radical adults had a greater need for power and a greater fear of power. They were also more narcissistic.”  Accordingly, they sought and obtained power, over the long term taking over the leading educational, media, and cultural institutions.

As Rothman shows systematically, by the late 20th Century both high-school civics texts and Hollywood films moved from (perhaps overly) positive views of American institutions, to accentuate the negative, with ever more disparaging views on the military, patriotism, the traditional family, organized religion and America’s performance on the world stage. From 1975 on, America and its leaders were the conventional villains in movies and on TV. The colleges and universities led the way on these cultural and ideological changes. While the campus furor of the 1960s faded, a cultural anti-Americanism is now hardwired into the ivory tower and subsidiary institutions.

Evasive Academics

Over time, journalists, entertainers and educators took their cues from intellectuals in a thousand ways great and small, from skewering conservative institutions like the military, marriage, and organized religion to avoiding mention of the horrendous failures of central planning during the entire 2016 election involving a prominent socialist. Also, leading professional academic organizations continue to conduct conferences on income inequality without including a single presentation exploring the greatest statistical correlate of income inequality– the rise in single-parent families. Indeed, anyone making such a presentation would have difficulty earning tenure, as the experience of Daniel Patrick Moynihan indicates.

Expressive individualism and an end of patriotism meant that post-1960s elites did not see the American republic as worthy of individual sacrifice. Over the past half century, American elites have avoided military service, with its dangers and distasteful contact across class lines. As Frank Bruni writes in The New York Times, only four veterans now attend Yale: One studies at Princeton, and Harvard refused to provide data. Along with Ivy League pedigrees and a penchant for crony capitalism, a key Clinton/Trump commonality is having no family in the military. In the various wars on terror, American elites have no skin in the game nor empathy for those they send to fight, and thus no penchant for success rather than the appearance of success.

Generally, American politics now models itself on university politics. Elites fail to address obvious causal relationships. Instead, they stress group identity, judging others by whether they belong to our tribes, not whether they do their jobs. Nor do they embrace American exceptionalism in any way shape or form; thus when President Trump, like President Obama before him, fails to find a difference between traditional American foreign policy and the murderous records of Vladimir Putin and his more openly Soviet predecessors, America’s media and academia are unable to point out the silliness. This is indeed a post-truth word.

The demise of truth, and with it accountability, may well mark the end of the American experiment, leading us to ponder what comes next.

The Campus Left Discovers Free Speech

The data are beginning to bear out the popular theory that free speech on campus is in steady decline.

A study commissioned by the William F. Buckley Center at Yale found that 51% of college students favor speech codes to regulate speech for both faculty and students. Relatedly, a Pew poll found that a full 40% of American millennials feel that the government should be able to take measures preventing speech that is offensive to minority groups.

It is against this backdrop that pockets of the left have found a reason to fight for free speech—to resist conservative efforts to ban “whiteness,” and “white privilege” studies and other classes likely to produce group resentment. An example is the now-dead HB 2120, a bill by two Arizona Republicans calling for the prohibition of any curricular activities that promote resentment of particular groups, or in any way “advocate solidarity or isolation based on ethnicity, race, religion, gender, or social class.” The catalysts were events like the University of Arizona’s annual “privilege walk” and a course called “Whiteness and Race Theory.” The bill, in essence, sought to rein in those courses and campus events that use diversity as a cudgel in today’s culture wars.

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

What seems to distinguish it from other recent reform efforts being undertaken by a handful of states is its active identification of unscrupulous, if not outright discriminatory, academic programming. Advocating group solidarity or isolation could conceivably be said to violate standards of inclusive excellence or cross-cultural dialogue, two mainstays of the progressive administration of higher education. Within that rhetorical framework is the rationale for many state legislators who feel that such concepts militate against free and open discourse by marginalizing certain viewpoints and establishing protected classes of students.

The states that have modeled their reforms on statements like the University of Chicago’s Stone Report and the draft legislation proposed by the Goldwater Institute have, quite rightly, identified speech as a negative liberty, not to be infringed upon by arbitrary and exasperatingly fluid terms of discourse. Thus, these legislative efforts have taken aim at such things as “safe spaces,” speaker dis-invitations, and active, repeated disruptions of those exercising the right of speech. The reasons are clear. As Tennessee’s Student Free Speech Protection Act plainly states, “In recent years, state institutions of higher education have abdicated their responsibility to uphold free speech principles.”

However, Arizona’s HB 2120 seems to be ironically somewhat congenial to a culture in which students are deterred from taking political chances or saying virtually anything that could be construed as a personal affront or an inducement to emotional discomfort. Despite its placement athwart the identity studies paradigm, the bill could still be said to validate a commitment to the creation of a safe and inclusive learning environment. Such thinking is not wholly irregular. It simply applies the idea that speech which targets individuals for their membership in a particular identity group is divisive and thereby subject to regulation.

Related: How Soft Censorship Works at College

What connects the two competing legislative tasks is an acknowledgment that the rancor and division on campuses can be perpetuated rather than mitigated by diversity regimes that are sustained by narratives of victimization. Likewise, they both presuppose a correlation between the campus’s multicultural ethos and the student’s manufactured right to be protected from certain forms of speech. The logic of this fundamental freedom has been inverted and exploited, and the notion that First Amendment protections can be circumscribed for identitarian reasons has become intuitive.

And so, HB 2120 might, in fact, be interpreted as taking aim more broadly at institutionalized political activism. As such, it has its detractors, many of whom have unfurled the banner of free speech. Criticisms of Arizona’s bill, not unpredictably, are consistent with those of speech protection acts elsewhere, and they are not necessarily wrong. They are just late and unevenly applied.

Consider, for example, the AAUP’s Academe Blog, which, while opposing the Goldwater Institute’s model, expresses concern that “it uses legislation rather than persuasion to accomplish its goals.” Similarly, its response to Tennessee’s bill claims an attack on free speech and complains that the legislation “imposes bizarre and burdensome regulations that administrators will struggle to understand and implement.” While the AAUP has been fairly consistent in its skepticism of federal and state intervention into the affairs of higher education, a more overtly partisan campus constituency might make the false distinction between the legislative efforts in question and things like Title IX-related “Dear Colleague” letters.

Related: Donald Downs on the Return of Campus Censorship

Thus, the responses to HB 2120 are instructive. While local and somewhat obscure, the bill has garnered the attention of some students and faculty who are aghast at the prospect of any challenges to their role as arbiters of protected speech.

An opinion piece in the Daily Wildcat, the University of Arizona’s student newspaper, is titled “HB2120: The Next Step in Ending Education as we Know it.”

Indeed, education as we have come to know it is a social justice crusade, interested as much in promoting a left-wing, globalist counter-culture as it is discovering truth through inquiry. That this model might be imperiled by such legislation is surely something that more than a few observers could live with, for better or for worse.

Nevertheless, the inscription of censorship within this curricular model seems lost on those inured to its orthodoxies. A columnist for the State Press at Arizona State University argues without irony that the bill targets both “diversity and individuality.” That view is reinforced by LaDawn Haglund, associate professor of Justice and Social Inquiry at ASU, who claims the bill “ignore[s] the very foundation of American society.”

The outrage is not confined, however, to the state of Arizona. A columnist for the Indiana Daily Student finds the bill “sickening” and urges readers to “come together as a nation and realize that freedoms of speech and expression trump anyone’s feelings.” That theme was echoed on my campus, where the student newspaper devoted two editorials to the topic. One wrote that “There should never be a reason to silence other individuals to push a political agenda,” while another, also relating symptoms of physical illness, complained that “we are being strangled by more rules and regulation that are simply unnecessary.”

Amen to all that. If the idea of speech deregulation catches on, perhaps we can add to the list “free speech zones” as well as those codes discouraging the utterance of such verbal haymakers as “ugly,” “you guys,” “illegal alien,” and, you guessed it, “political correctness.”

Unfortunately, students take many cues from the social justice reprogramming they are now vigorously defending. Lee Bebout, an English professor at Arizona State who teaches a course on whiteness, is afraid of “nonexperts” making decisions over what can and cannot be taught on today’s campus.

The criticism is a fair one, but when it comes to the type of courses targeted by HB 2120, we are all experts. Critical race theory suffuses nearly all of the disciplines within the humanities and, most nefariously, general education classes that can be taught as anything, by anyone. Given the ideological makeup of today’s professoriate, one need not wonder why those courses tend to be more James Baldwin than James Burnham.

The grave threat to free speech did not begin with HB 2120 or sundry speech protection acts. The Berkeley riots are just the most recent illustration, but that behavior is enabled by a culture that safeguards against many forms of speech that administrators are all too eager to label “hateful.” It is a baldly political move, and the theory of inclusiveness has been weaponized to cleanse campuses of politically unorthodox thought.

Examples are not hard to find, but interested students might look to Title IX inquisitions against Northwestern feminist professor Laura Kipnis or of Kentucky journalism professor Buck Ryan, who was disciplined for singing “California Girls” in front of female students on a trip abroad. Bias Response Teams have materialized as a way to enforce administrative speech codes, and conservative student organizations can be bullied and harassed while merely attempting to conduct their business.

It would seem that in the case of HB 2120 and similar bills materializing elsewhere, what students have found most frightening is not that speech can be constrained, but that it might not always be constrained by their progressive ideological handlers.

On the campus, free speech is selective, and it is afforded proportionately to students on the basis of their level of grievance. Peter Wood, in The Architecture of Intellectual Freedom, refers to this phenomenon as compensatory privilege, and it would seem that in the age of Trump, Diversicrats are digging in their heels.

I am in no position to comment on the merits of legislation aimed at restricting university curricula. As a matter of principle, I am generally opposed to it. It is not, after all, a partisan issue. Both Joe Cohn of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education and Katherine Timpf at National Review have argued cogently against HB 2120 for the damage it would do to academic freedom. This places reasonably concerned parties in good company.

However, anyone experiencing end-of-days deliria over the bill might do well to consider how it is that we arrived at this point. The multicultural program demands obeisance to its dogmas, even at the expense of thought and, yes, free speech. It has led to the still-isolated legislative efforts that students are now so threatened by, even as they sit idly in the face of vandalism, hate-crime hoaxes, and mindless hysteria.

The suppression of speech on college campuses is very real, it is menacing, and it continues unabated. To those just joining the chorus against its excesses, welcome to the club.

Don’t Kill the National Endowment for the Humanities

The National Endowment for the Humanities is again in the news as a possible casualty of the new administration’s effort to cut costs. Conservatives should fight for the agency.

Conservatives worry that humanities scholars have turned away from enduring questions to embrace political fads. But under Bruce Cole’s administration, from 2001 to 2009, the NEH established the Enduring Questions program. Consider this description of the program’s concerns: “enduring questions persist across historical eras, regions, and world cultures . . . . They transcend time and place but are also relevant to our lives today. Enduring questions have more than one plausible or compelling answer, allow for dialogue across generations, and inspire genuine intellectual pluralism.”

The program, inaugurated in 2008, lasted through this year and supported courses that brought such questions, and great texts that consider them, to the attention of students. I detail my own participation in the program here. What’s not to like?

In 2002, under Cole, the NEH launched the We the People initiative in direct response to a concern Cole shares with many conservatives, that Americans know too little about their history and the principles of the Founding. As Cole explains, The initiative “support[ed] scholarship on American history and culture . . . which help[ed] spread and deepen public understanding of founding principles and their ramifications.” The We the People initiative also helped “teachers improve their subject matter knowledge” and to “preserve archives.” The program lasted until 2012.

The NEH has inspired some extraordinary and valuable work, along with some silly stuff, across multiple administrations. There is no question that the NEH has, on average, moderated the excesses of the academic humanities. The Cole administration, in particular, shows that an NEH chairman moved by love of the humanities, not partisan zeal, can do great things.

You Will Attend Purdue’s ‘Safe Zone’ Training Session

On January 18, the academic leadership of Purdue University received a letter from Mark Smith, dean of the graduate school. It said:

On behalf of the Diversity Leadership Team, I’d like to invite you to attend a special safe zone training session …  arranged exclusively for deans, associate deans, and department heads.

This, you must understand, was not an invitation but a disguised summons. Diversity enthusiasts like Smith stress on our overwhelmingly liberal campuses that faculties need lots of training amid non-minorities to protect gays, women and ethnic and racial minorities. 

We hope all (or at least most) of our faculty will become safe zone certified in the near future, which would be a quantum leap for our campus on the diversity metric scale.  Many thanks in advance for your support and participation.

What does safe zone certification mean? It sounds ominous, and it is.

Related: How a University Moved from Diversity to Indoctrination

Safe Spaces are of course designated places on campus where identity groups and their allies cluster to avoid supposed stereotyping, marginalization, and persecution. LGBT Safe Zone certification goes much farther, involving indoctrination sessions, where correct principles are announced, not debated, semi-coerced faculty pledges to act as “allies,” then displaying rainbow badges on office doors or in classrooms to signal support.

Are identity groups at Purdue in such peril that high campus officials need to sign a contract and be formally designated, after three hours of training in diversity principles, as safe zone certified? There’s very little real discrimination left on campus of the kind that LGBT activists want to quell; except for the rare kook, pretty much everyone opposes the kind of intolerance and homophobia presented as threats. Even sympathetic faculties think such diversity training sessions are a silly waste of time. Yet they are also career essentials.

This veiled coercion should offend liberals – but doesn’t. It should terrify anyone unwilling to profess full allegiance and faith to the diversity catechism.

What’s disconcerting, or should be, Purdue is one of the saner colleges and universities around, with a big STEM element, and run by the able president, Mitch Daniels. We are not talking about Wesleyan or Bard. Purdue is a land-grant university in the state that gave the nation Dan Quayle and Mike Pence. It’s a long way from Vermont or the Left Coast. And what’s going on at Purdue is also going on — often far more aggressively — at hundreds of colleges and universities nationwide. With American Federation of Teachers endorsement, the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) is pushing safe zones in middle- and high-schools nationwide.

Purdue explains in its promotional flyer that “the purpose of the Safe Zone program is to challenge homophobia, transphobia, cisgenderism, and heterosexism by encouraging welcoming and inclusive environments for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Intersex, Queer or Questioning, Asexual, and Ally.” using language almost identical to hundreds of other programs. (Intersex and Asexual are recent Purdue additions.) As the flyer puts it,

Upon completion of the workshop, attendees can choose to become a Safe Zone member by completing a contract expressing their commitment to supporting diversity and inclusion.

A loyalty oath to the diversity movement is being sought here. The parallels to the McCarthy era loyalty oaths are striking. There’s more:

Additionally, Safe Zone members display a placard in a visible location such as a door to an office or residence hall that identifies them [and] dedicated safe spaces on campus for LGBTQ people to connect with allies in the community.

At schools nationwide, then, a placard or rainbow-colored sticker appears on an office door so the kids will know a professor’s office or classroom office is a “safe zone” occupied by an “ally.” Whole hallways in august universities are now so decorated. Don’t these badges stigmatize non-stickered faculty?

Moreover, when a graduate dean writes such a letter to fellow deans and department heads across this 38,000- student university, who signs ups and who doesn’t will be noted, however obliquely. Who gets Safe Zone certified, that too: who obeys and who does not, who answers the call. When Smith calls the advent of safe zones a quantum leap for our campus on the diversity metric scale, he signals to deans and department heads that diversity is the right and proper metric, the sacred creed of the modern university. Put up your rainbow sticker or suffer the consequences.

The word ally utterly misses the mark of education. It re-purposes college life and degrades it. Safe Zones encourage instructors whose expertise is in literature or social science to dive into private spheres that might best be left to other authorities such as family, or if need be, psychologists. Instructors have a task to perform: cerebral, ethical and aesthetic. As allies, they turn into life coaches or voyeurs.

Laity assumes that after the good laugh, higher education will get a grip. But the summonses and the autos-da-fé are destined to go on. The campus Diversity Machine operates with religious zeal, and it hates heretics. Federal regulations, state and federal money, tuition payments and student loans, and prevailing moral sentiments are its batteries.

The outlay and opportunity cost are vast. The debasing process to get your rainbow sticker requires personnel, offices, training sessions, facilities, and centers. This apparatus not only crowds out academic learning. It mixes a large number of single-interest ideologues with serious scholars, leading to institutional confusion and turmoil.

Don’t forget that Purdue is a public institution. Safe Zone indoctrination sessions, ally contracts, and rainbow stickers are your government at work. But federal safe-space directives to public and private colleges and universities alike try to make sure that no one is left behind. Legislatures and taxpayers, tuitions and endowments, bear the burden. So do society and culture.

The Downgrading of American History

A little more than a decade ago, I commented on the “re-visioning” of American history—the transformation of “traditional” sub-disciplines such as U.S. political, diplomatic, or military history to have them focus on the themes of race, class, and gender (and, now, ethnicity) that have come to dominate the field. A more recent development, documented by a 2016 ACTA report, has been the elimination of any required courses in U.S. history—even of the “re-visioned” variety. Only 23 of the nation’s 76 leading colleges and universities have such a requirement for History majors.

ACTA’s report is important not merely because of its impressive collection of hard-to-gather data, but because it has led some university History departments to publicly explain why they believe it’s fine for a U.S. university to graduate a History major who hasn’t taken a single course in U.S. history.

According to George Washington’s History Department, the elimination of a U.S. history requirement was purely market-driven—the number of majors had declined, and the department decided that eliminating a U.S. requirement would attract majors. Yet the department kept a far more onerous requirement (a pre-1750 course).

And a comment last month from the department’s director of undergraduate studies—“American history is so dominant at GW that it’s almost unnecessary to tell students that they have to take it. It’s what our students overwhelmingly do”— contradicted the suggestion that the unpopularity of U.S. history explained the decision to eliminate the requirement.

If George Washington’s seemingly illogical explanation for its removal of the U.S. history requirement, the response of the Duke History Department provided a clearer rationale for the problem the ACTA report exposed. Professor Bruce Hall, director of undergraduate studies in Duke’s History Department, asserted that “our goal is to have our students to develop the kind of critical skills that we think are really important for them”—implying that the actual content of History courses is irrelevant to Duke history professors.

Of course, the vast majority of History courses at Duke (or any other university) consist not of the instructor spending dozens of hours talking about “skills,” but of the professor providing information about the past. The “skills” emphasis (a favorite of the AAC&U, among others) provides a way to divert the public’s attention from what actually is being taught in university classrooms.

In the event, a Ph.D. student in the Duke program, Jessica Malitoris, gave the game away, indicating her “worry about the politics of privileging American history.” (Malitoris’ Duke profile affiliates her with the institution’s gender, sexuality, and feminist studies program.) Hall appeared to agree: “We don’t try to communicate an American ideological notion about citizenship—that’s not our goal.”

At least Malitoris was candid in why the department might have eliminated the requirement for U.S. history. (How that line would work with Duke donors, on the other hand, is a different question.) Hall’s remark, meanwhile, is difficult to square with his department’s own mission statement, which proclaims that “we study history for instrumental reasons, to redress the pervasive ‘history deficit’ in political discourse and policy formation.”

(The department’s website doesn’t indicate the nationality of its majors, but it seems safe to assume that the majority, and probably the overwhelming majority, are U.S. citizens, linking the department’s concern with “the pervasive ‘history deficit’ in political discourse and policy formation” to U.S. history.) And Duke University’s own mission statement, as articulated by the Board of Trustees, speaks of providing students with “a sense of the obligations and rewards of citizenship” that Hall appeared to disparage.

Only pressure from trustees is likely to achieve any kind of progress on this issue. As the responses of the Duke and George Washington departments illustrated, and as ACTA’s study documented, it appears that a majority of History professors nationally now believe that it’s OK for a university to graduate History majors who have never taken a course in U.S. history.

Why Can’t a Woman Be More Like a Trans?

The dislocation of reality continues apace, helped by academics who think renaming things can induce the physical world to alter its course.  On the Women’s Studies List, which has existed for more than 25 years and has over 5,000 subscribers, yet another acrimonious discussion recently unfolded about who is excluding whom.

Turns out some trans feminists don’t understand why some women don’t embrace their new label of “cisgender.”  As one post helpfully explained: why should anyone object? “Cisgender” merely means “non-transgender.”  Those objecting are seen as determined to conform to the dominant society. Evidently, margins and centers still exist, but their occupants are to change places. A reversal of privilege, as Katharine Burdekin, the British feminist writer of speculative fiction, characterized many revolutions.  She warned that such a reversal in the case of gender might get no nearer to producing a better society than the old male privilege did, and might possibly be worse.

Related: Rigid Campus Feminism—Is It Forever?

Today, for all the academic talk of “diversity”—written into all levels and aspects of American universities, with growing numbers of administrators and officers designated to oversee it—a new and rigid orthodoxy is upon us.  This was adumbrated a few years ago when Women’s Studies Programs underwent a sea change, renaming themselves with some variation of Women, Gender, and Sexuality (WGS) Studies. Not surprisingly, the change accompanied the ever greater emphasis on queer theory, transgender studies, masculinity (as in the currently popular term “toxic masculinity”), and other overarching interpretations of the world according to new dogma.

Not that this is new.  When I was in Women’s Studies in the 1980s and early 90s, a certain apologetic tone had already spread among heterosexuals, and major quarrels over the meaning and place of lesbian identity had gone on since the 1970s.  But in those medieval times, male and female were still understood to refer to biological realities (sex), while masculine and feminine were the social roles (gender) to be dismantled.  Over the years, however, the antagonism toward heterosex increased, promoted by ever-looser definitions of “sexual harassment” and ever more exaggerated claims of the unrelenting injuries done to women by the white heteronormative patriarchy of the United States. This is what has led us to “microaggressions,” “safe spaces,” and “trigger warnings.”

Some retrograde heterosexual women objected to the redefining of heterosexuality as craven conformity or Stockholm syndrome – though not many within the feminist cadres that quickly multiplied in the university world.  Interestingly, women who thought biology was pertinent found unlikely allies among radical feminists, who, while promoting lesbianism, believed profoundly that male/female differences existed and, indeed, explained much about the horrors of life: wars, violence, “rape culture,” ceaseless sexual harassment, pornography, environmental degradation, and the numerous other problems that were laid at the door of the capitalist/ imperialist/western patriarchy.

Related: Transgender and the Transformation of Civil Rights

These radical feminists were highly critical of the sudden vogue for transsexualism. They did not believe that a man’s claim to feel, or to have always felt, that he was really female compensated for a lifetime of male privilege and magically turned him into a woman.  Janice Raymond, for example, in her 1979 book The Transsexual Empire: The Making of the She Male, argued that transsexuals believed so profoundly in gender roles (the very thing feminists were supposedly combatting) that they were willing to mutilate their bodies in order to live out the other role.

Decades later, the debate continues, but some things have definitely changed. Those who dare make criticisms of the transsexual phenomenon are now labeled TERFs [Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminists], clearly intended as a slur. The proper attitude is obligatory acceptance of each new sexual redefinition and the new regulations (such as Obama’s bathroom edict) that accompany it.

By now even formerly all-female schools such as Smith College are accepting applications from individuals who “identify as female,” regardless of what sex they were “assigned at birth.” As Smith’s FAQ on the subject explains:

Are trans women eligible for admission to Smith?

Applicants who were assigned male at birth but identify as women are eligible for admission.

Are trans men eligible for admission?

Smith does not accept applications from men. Those assigned female at birth but who now identify as male are not eligible for admission.

Under this newly clarified policy, what is required of applicants to be considered for admission?

Smith’s policy is one of self-identification. To be considered for admission, applicants must select ‘female’ on the Common Application.

These phrases reveal how far the new identity game has gone.  It is not those undergoing “sex reassignment surgery” who are exempted from the horrors of sexual dimorphism.  Rather, all infants, even the vast majority born with no sexual anomalies, are now supposed to have been “assigned” a sex at birth, just as they were “assigned” bipedalism so they could adapt to a world of sidewalks and staircases….

Sexual dimorphism is passé. Yet, at the same time, quite paradoxically, it is everywhere affirmed and corrective measures are required to overcome the arbitrary categories imposed by the patriarchy—a rather circular argument once one disconnects it from biology.  Forget that sexual dimorphism is, in fact, universal, found in all cultures and in most of the animal world – of which we are a part.  The existence of some anomalies (e.g., intersexed individuals, or babies with chromosomal or other variations) does not alter this.

Five Sexes, Or Is That Too Few?

As Richard Dawkins once said, in criticizing Anne Fausto-Sterling’s argument (much lauded in feminist circles) that there are five sexes, the existence of dawn and dusk does not cast doubt on the reality of day and night. Regardless of what we call them, day and night are natural phenomena explained by something outside of ourselves.  If primary sexual characteristics are socially imposed, shouldn’t The Vagina Monologues be banned for being exclusionary?

Surprise! That is, in fact, happening (e.g., at Mount Holyoke College, which in 2015 canceled its tradition of annual performances of the play). Not, of course, because men are objecting that they don’t get equal time to celebrate their genitals.  The problem, it seems, is that the play offers a narrow and reductionist view of what it means to be a woman, and thereby excludes transgender women who don’t have vaginas.

But some reprobate events go on, such as the Women’s March on Washington, in which hundreds of thousands of women participated wearing pink “pussyhats,” and evidently believing they had pussies.   Leaving aside the various hysterical speakers at the March, a notable presence who merits more attention than she has received was Donna Hylton, a black activist and prison reformer. She always brings up the years she spent in prison (27, to be precise) as if this bolsters her credentials as a member of an oppressed minority group. But she fails to mention what she was imprisoned for:  participating in the kidnapping, rape, torture (for more than two weeks), and murder of an elderly white man in 1985.

One of the better-known organizers of the Women’s March is an unapologetic promoter of hate. Linda Sarsour, a Muslim supporter of Sharia law, wrote on Twitter that critics of Islam such as Brigitte Gabriel and Ayaan Hirsi Ali are “asking 4 an a$$ whippin’’ [sic] and “I wish I could take their vaginas away—they don’t deserve to be women.”  She obviously hasn’t grasped the current orthodoxy by which anyone can “identify as” a woman–and vaginas have nothing to do with it. For her part, Ayaan Hirsi Ali criticized the March and wondered why hundreds of thousands of women do not mobilize in the U.S. to protest the actual sexual enslavement of girls in various Muslim countries, along with the reality of female genital mutilation, honor killings, and other assaults on basic human rights.

But in the happy world of American academe, categories of sexual and gender identity just grow and grow, and acronyms along with them. Today we have not only the labels, but courses and administrators devoted to LGBTQIA (the A, for asexual, is merely the latest accretion). In recent years, the proliferation of identities has gotten completely out of control and the game is openly played in hiring and even in the exercise of free speech–who is entitled to teach, to speak, to pose challenges, and who had better shut up if lacking the requisite identity.

And this political brow-beating isn’t changed by the vogue for “intersectionality”—the study of the interactions of multiple oppressed identities, which has allowed the politicization of academic life to continue unabated. Today, laying claim to an oppressed identity (and there are many beyond race) automatically justifies the demand for capitulation and redress.  In our book Professing Feminism (1994), Noretta Koertge and I labeled this unseemly competition “the oppression sweepstakes.”  At my university, a recent survey designed to gauge how welcoming campus life is of diversity included a page on which people could identify their sex. About ten categories were provided from which to choose.

Of late, even anti-biology feminist Judith Butler is having second thoughts about the matter of sexual identity.  Decades ago, she famously insisted that gender — by which she meant sexual identity — is pure “performativity” or “performance” (confusingly, she used both terms). There is no preexisting subject, she said; no “I” before discourse.  But the trans fad has caused her to reconsider.  In a 2014 interview, she confessed that in her 1990 book Gender Trouble she did not think “well enough about trans issues.”

When it comes to the authenticity of trans identity, she no longer doubts the reality of the subject or insists that discourse creates people who “perform” gender. She never intended to suggest that gender is a fiction or that a person’s sense of gender was “unreal.”  Instead, she now sees she should have paid more attention “to what people feel, how the primary experience of the body is registered, and the quite urgent and legitimate demand to have those aspects of sex recognized and supported.”  Note again the conflation of sex and gender.

Butler, in other words, has had to alter her line a bit, to stay in step with current orthodoxies. She certainly does not want to say that trans people are into the “performativity” of the sex they want to be or claim they really are – though she had no problem saying that about most people born male and female.

So quickly do redefinitions of reality become entrenched these days that the British Medical Association was recently reported to have sent out directives to doctors to use the term “pregnant people”—rather than “expectant mothers”—so as to avoid offending trans folks. The BMA also suggested adopting the language of “assigned male or female” rather than “biologically male or female.”

Alas, reality is not that malleable. Females give birth, males do not, in all mammals, regardless of what the individual mammal may do.  I can’t believe I’m saying this, but there it is. Such is the state of weirdness these days in academic feminism, and elsewhere.

Enough of the College-for-Everyone Agenda

Every so often, someone in the higher ed establishment does a bit of cheerleading for the team –proclaim that college degrees are so beneficial that the country should try to put far more young people through college.

The most venerable such effort is a report that the College Board puts out every three years entitled College Pays. Here is the most recent in the series. The formula is the same every time: point to the fact that on average, people who have finished college earn more than people who haven’t, then call the difference between those averages the “college earnings premium” and imply that the causal factor is having gotten that degree.

Related: Gary Becker Is Wrong to Say College is Still a Good Investment

In addition to those higher average earnings, we’re also told that college education creates huge benefits for society: better health and longevity, more steady employment, higher rates of voting and civic engagement, among other social goods. In this view, college isn’t just a private benefit that confers increased earnings on graduates, but a public good that makes the whole nation better off.

Writing in The Chronicle of Higher Education, Philip Trostel, a professor at the University of Maine at Orono, has just reprised that number. He argues here that getting a college degree is “practically a windfall-profit investment for most” Americans and that the benefits of college go “way beyond the earnings premium.”

Close to ‘Fake News’

Trostel starts with the supposed lifetime earnings premium, which he calculates at $1,383,000, before adding that the premium is probably going to increase since it always has. Therefore, even if a student paid “full sticker price at an elite college,” getting that great earnings boost would still make it “a great investment.”

That claim is very close to “fake news.” Assuming it’s true that on average individuals who have college degrees earn significantly more than individuals do without them, it doesn’t follow that any person in the latter group will necessarily gain a large earnings boost just by virtue of earning a degree. After all, the types of people who are drawn to higher education are different from the types who aren’t. They tend to be more talented and ambitious.

Furthermore, the earnings data this comparison relies upon are necessarily drawn from the past. The problem is that at many schools, a college education just isn’t what it used to be. Standards have declined for both admission and academic performance. Students today don’t have to work as hard and many apparently derive little or no intellectual benefit from their years in college.

Going forward, there is no reason to assume that the “college premium” will be nearly as large as it was in the past. Financial firms know to advertise that “past performance is no guarantee of future performance” and a college economics professor ought to know to be similarly cautious.

What About Side Benefits?

Besides, there is plenty of evidence that large numbers of recent college graduates, far from earning more, are working in the same kinds of jobs as people who have only high school educations, and they are struggling to pay off their college loans.

As this paper published by the Center for College Affordability and Productivity explains, the labor market has become saturated with workers who have college credentials (but often not the skills that are in demand) and many are underemployed. And a recent study done by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York finds that for the last two decades, around one-third of college graduates have wound up working in jobs that do not call for any higher education.

If the claimed earnings gain is for many students just a mirage, what about those other social benefits? True, they correlate with college completion, but that does not mean college completion will cause them. Again, the two populations tend to have different characteristics. Those who are inclined toward post-secondary education are on the whole more inclined to have healthier lifestyles and more social attributes than those who are not.

Think of it this way – even if you could focus on a guy who barely graduated from high school and loves to drink and smoke, and lure into college and manage to get him through to a degree, is that likely to change his behavior? Probably not. (Nor will he probably have learned as much of value to himself and society in college compared with what he’d have done while working in the real world.)

Does College Improve Behavior?

Just as it’s a mistake to think that having a college degree causes higher earnings, it is also a mistake to think that having a college degree causes people to behave in more desirable ways.

Finally, as Frederic Bastiat taught, good economists look for unseen effects as well as those that are easily seen. There is a large cost to college other than the obvious financial one, namely the fact that so many students pick up terribly mistaken ideas in college. It’s primarily on college campuses that young people become imbued with such progressive notions as social justice, white privilege, sustainability, intersectionality, anti-capitalism, institutional racism, microaggressions and more.

On many campuses, intellectually weaker students can get through by taking lots of “experience learning” courses which simultaneously build up their GPA (since an A is almost guaranteed as long as you say politically correct things in your “reflection papers”) and make them believe that social problems are caused by freedom and can only be solved through government activism. (The recent report from the National Association of Scholars, Making Citizens, is extremely valuable for making that point.)

Spending our limited resources to under-educate young people so they’ll support leftist causes and candidates is doubly damaging.

An Expensive Credential

Trostel laments that “access to college education may well continue to be compromised, which makes not just the potential students who are deterred, but all of us worse off.” The trouble with his view is that the students who might be deterred – and in recent years the percentage of high school graduates who go on to college has declined somewhat – are overwhelmingly going to be the academically marginal and disengaged students for whom college is just an expensive credential.

America’s sharp students are in high demand and can easily obtain the loans, grants, and scholarships they need for college and post-graduate studies. If more students who don’t have their ability decide that some other kind of education or training after high school is better for them, that is no cause for concern.

We can’t pull ourselves up by the bootstraps by promoting the “college for everyone” agenda, but by trying we waste resources and diminish the college learning experience.

A Woman Assaulted by the Thugs at Berkeley

“Katrina “(no last name listed) an attractive young woman who seems to be in her twenties, appears in a YouTube video, “I was assaulted at the UC Berkeley Anti-Milo Riot.” She and her husband arrived at the site of the scheduled speech early (around 5:30 for the 8 p.m. event) prepared for violence (both were wearing Kevlar vests) but nothing marked them as Trump or Milo fans—her politics are “more on the left,” she says. The police were already inside the building, behind closed doors, making no apparent effort to maintain order, though they had already given an order for the early arrivers to disperse.

By that time, Katrina says, the protesters had already started fires, one in the middle of the road, another by pulling down the generator that provided light, setting it afire.  If her time frame is correct, it meant that Berkeley police apparently had time to call for reinforcements to control an already ugly scene. As the crowd grew, she and her husband both suffered concussions, she by falling hard trying to climb over two barricades to escape the crowd, he by being beaten with a heavy metal rod while lying helpless on the ground. She says she was separated from him and thought he was dead. He spent the whole next day at a hospital, fearing permanent liver damage but, Katrina says, it was “only” two broken ribs (wielded heavily enough that the Kevlar was apparently not much protection).

After she was pepper sprayed (the video shows another woman in a Trump cap being pepper-sprayed in the face from a distance of about two feet, as she was talking to a TV reporter) Katrina and another woman appealed to the police to let them into the building to wash the spray from their eyes, but the police wouldn’t open the door and wouldn’t come out.

The Berkeley police have a more benign explanation for their behavior. They said some police were on the scene, firing paintballs at violent people to mark them for future arrest. Staying in the closed building, where no violence was going on is harder to explain, but a police spokeswoman said their appearance before the crowd would have escalated things, and that to start arresting people, would have required “up to three” police officers for each arrest. No explanation for why police didn’t bring a paddy wagon—if Katrina and her husband were wearing protective vests, violence could not have come as a total surprise.     Berkeley Chancellor Nichols Dirks should be asked why campus cops or outside security forces weren’t there as well.

Katrina was interviewed in the video by Stefan Molyneux, 50, a Canadian pro-Trump blogger affiliated with Freedomain/freedomainradio.com/I, which appears to be a sort of anarcho-libertarian site, heavy on philosophy and theory.  Molyneux sympathized with Katrina,” venturing the opinion that the violence “reveals a lot about the left.” Katrina said it appeared that maybe 300 people in the crowd were violent, not the estimated 100 or 150.

Other police forces need to gear up a bit better than Berkeley’s did wherever Milo speaks or the hard left makes early threats. (Berkeley too—Milo wants to return to deliver his speech.) The signs accompanying protests are not mild issue-oriented ones anymore. Now they say, “Be Ungovernable,” and “This Is War.”

The Flaws of New York’s Free-College Plan

Lots of applause greeted Governor Andrew Cuomo’s January 3rd announcement, with Senator Bernie Sanders at his side, that New York’s City and State Universities would be “free” for all New Yorkers from families earning $125,000 a year or less.

The Excelsior program, as it is known, billed as the first in the nation, has been widely accepted as a long overdue measure to allow New York’s deserving middle- and lower-income high-school graduates to attend college, and as an antidote to the alarming rise of student debt. But there are problems in the program’s fine print and even the prospect of some undesirable consequences.

Related: Federal Aid Drives up College Costs

At its unveiling, Governor Cuomo said the Excelsior program would enable more than 940,000 New Yorkers to attend college tuition-free.  That figure was determined by simply calculating the number of college-age children among the 80 percent of New York households earning $125,000 or less (not all of whom will necessarily go to college or attend public institutions in the state).

But if all of those eligible students did take advantage of the offer, at current CUNY/SUNY tuition levels of about $7,000 per year, Excelsior scholarships could cost the state as much as $6.5 billion annually.  Yet, clarifying details offered subsequently pegged the number of students that would initially be impacted by the program as a mere 83,000, and the cost to the state just a mere $163 million. Even these curtailed estimates don’t add up; annual tuition for 83,000 CUNY/SUNY students amounts to $581 million.

The explanation for these wildly inconsistent figures is that the Excelsior program is not really a generous universal college-scholarship program for all but the richest New Yorkers, but a modest “topping-off” of already existing state and federal financial-aid programs.  New York’s longstanding Tuition Assistance Program (TAP) already disburses up to $1.1 billion to over 300,000 students.  And federal Pell Grant and other direct aid programs (i.e. excluding student loans) send millions of dollars more to eligible NewYork collegians.

Related: We Have Too Many Colleges So Cut College Spending

Notwithstanding its misleading advertising, what’s wrong with a program that makes college more affordable for New Yorkers?  If the goal is to get more low-income New Yorkers to go to one of the state’s public colleges, we have two problems.  First, the Excelsior program (like most other “free college” proposals) won’t cover the full financial burden incurred by the receiving campuses. The full annual operating cost (i.e. excluding the cost of personnel fringe benefits and debt service on facilities) at CUNY (City University of New York) or SUNY (State University of New York) now runs between $12,000 and $18,000 per student. And that is even with their reliance on an army of low-paid “adjunct” faculty and monstrously large classes.  Since the Cuomo administration (like its Republican and Democratic predecessors) has strenuously resisted increasing CUNY/SUNY appropriations in the face of prior enrollment increases, it is highly unlikely that it is prepared to pay for the extra costs imposed by newly enrolled Excelsior students, causing further erosion in the quality of CUNY/SUNY undergraduate instruction.

On top of that, there is a strong likelihood that many New York high-school graduates attracted to CUNY and SUNY by Excelsior scholarships will be unprepared for college.  We have been there before.  Between 1969 and 1975, the City University, driven by the same ideological rationale offered for the Excelsior program, was both free and had “open admissions” (i.e. no barrier to admission based on high-school grades or standardized test scores).  The results were catastrophic: the CUNY colleges experienced an influx of students needing “remediation” (which didn’t really work), overcrowded classes, a demoralized faculty and plunging graduation rates.  Thus, if the Excelsior program aims to expand enrollment of low-income students beyond current levels, there is a strong likelihood that this experience will be repeated.

The governor and other Excelsior advocates might argue that free college needn’t mean open admissions.  But in that case there is very little evidence that the Excelsior program is needed.  The current New York State TAP program, supplemented by federal Pell grants, already underwrites the entire tuition of all truly poor students.  If, on the other hand, the main impact of Excelsior scholarships is to divert affluent, college-ready students away from private in-state colleges or out-of-state-institutions, it creates an unnecessary entitlement for the non-needy.

In the cold light of day, if the Excelsior program isn’t merely an exercise in liberal symbolism, it is either a colossal waste of money or an initiative that will seriously erode the quality of the state’s public universities – now that they have, after decades of difficulty, become much stronger institutions.  Since CUNY’s open admissions policy was ended in 2000, the academic quality of its campuses has improved dramatically and, despite increased tuition (necessitated by the state’s budgetary stinginess), their enrollment of qualified students has increased, along with their graduation rates.

SUNY, too, during this period, has grown in enrollment and quality.  If New York State has more money to devote to higher education, the most beneficial way of spending it would be to give it to CUNY and SUNY to improve undergraduate instruction at their woefully underfunded campuses.

What to Do When Angry Students Plan to Cancel a Speech

So the Chancellor of the University of California put out a defense of free speech when violent rioters  threatened to cancel a talk by a far-right agitator at Berkeley (see following item).  So the violent rioters overwhelmed the insufficient force of municipal and campus police and canceled the speech. Then what have we learned here? That high-minded statements unaccompanied by not enough law-and-order often do little or nothing for free speech.

What to do? The same thing we advise whenever this happens: don’t let the censors win. Be sure to invite the speaker back, even if it is the obnoxious Milo Yiannopolous, after negotiating enough local police and enough rent-a-cops to handle the feral young. This will make your commitment to free speech very clear.