All posts by Fred Siegel

Fred Siegel is a senior fellow of the Manhattan Institute's Center for State and Local Leadership, a City Journal contributing editor, and an expert on market-friendly public-policy solutions for urban governance. For many years he made his intellectual home at the Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art in New York City. Before joining the faculty of Cooper Union, Mr. Siegel was a visiting professor of modern American history at the University of Paris. A former fellow at The Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, he is currently scholar-in-residence at Saint Francis College in Brooklyn.

After Many Woeful Failures, the Colleges Avoid Change

The students at Mizzou and Yale caught in twin episodes of contrived campus racial hysteria have been described as narcissists and self-indulgent brats catered to by their parents who told them how special they were and expecting the same judgment from college. Handed what they understand as the attitudinal keys to the kingdom, they’re enraged when challenged.

The two highlights are probably 1) the would-be Maoist Missouri media studies professor calling for “the muscle” to shut down coverage of a protest by a young journalist invoking the First Amendment and 2) the Yale student shrieking “who the fuck hired you” at a professor so foolish as to suggest that the subject of culturally appropriate Halloween costumes for Yale’s overgrown brats was in part a matter of free speech. Like President Obama insisting he “can’t wait” for Congress before overriding the Constitution to impose himself through executive authority, “the snowflake totalitarians” insist that its fears need to be propitiated forthwith. Fortunately, both incidents were caught on camera and have gone viral on YouTube.

These young people in America’s increasingly hierarchical society expect to be obeyed. Treated as important customers by their colleges, their faculty and staff assume the customer is always right. What makes their effluvia different from those of the 1960s student protesters is that the context has changed. Then as now, students, short on experience, are often unable to distinguish between considered political perspectives and their emotion-laden ideologies.

But in the 1960s the faculty still had a few conservatives and a fair number of old-line liberals scarred by McCarthyism and firmly wedded to freedom of speech. But 45 years later academic self-selection has produced faculties and over-staffed administrations that devolve from protestors of 1970.  The student protestors are an expression of what academia has been producing over these past decades.

In recent years, academia has done so much to discredit itself that we might have expected calls for reform to be ringing from the halls of Congress. “Federal spending,” notes The Journal, “on loans and grants, on an inflation-adjusted basis, has jumped more than 50% over the past decade to $134 billion last year, and total federal student-loan debt has hit $1.2 trillion.”

On the presidential campaign trail, Hillary Clinton has spoken for new and better subsidies and perhaps even some student debt forgiveness at a time when the national debt has doubled in the past seven years. On the GOP side, Marco Rubio referred in passing, during Tuesday’s Republican debate, to delivering commodified higher education more efficiently. And to be sure, former Indiana Governor and now Purdue University president Mitch Daniels has talked on unbundling the services purportedly provided by higher education so that they can be delivered more efficiently. There are proposals for Contractor model in which “The core business function of the contractor-college would be assembly and quality control rather than running an institution and hiring faculty or holding classes.”

But given the endless scandals and massive failures, there’s been strikingly little political outcry. That’s in part because the average lawmaker has twelve institution of higher learning in his or her district. These institutions are often in close touch with local elected officials who are well aware of how many jobs the colleges account for. Nationally, counting only the four-year operations, colleges are the sixth largest industry in America. They employ 3.6 million people, more than one of every 40 workers in the U.S.

“Higher” education has become a very big business and its size and economic influence has been expressed in its political clout. “Colleges and universities,” explained The Journal, “have become one of the most effective lobbying forces in Washington, employing more lobbyists last year than any other industries except drug manufacturing and technology.” Last year colleges and universities deployed more than a thousand lobbyists at a cost of 73 million dollars. The upshot is that from George Bush the first to Barack Obama’s attempts to rank schools based on supposed outcomes, every effort at accountability has been beaten back.

In the event that reform comes to academia, it will be borne on the wings of competition. On the matter of free speech, the University of Chicago has recently distinguished itself with a strong embrace of traditional notions of free speech. Other colleges like Hillsdale in Michigan, which takes no federal money has made a name for itself by teaching about the genius of the Founding Fathers. If academia is to dig itself out of the hole it’s put itself in to, it will be because many more colleges decide to opt out of the suicidal spiral all too visible at Missouri and Yale.

Postmodernism Comes to CUNY

It’s easy to mock the sheer silliness of postmodernism. But the pretensions of our present-day sophists, who traffic in knowingness as opposed to knowledge, have wormed their way off campus and into American life. No evidence, no logic is required to take a position on any issue since everything is merely about story telling backed by force. Previously accepted, if vigorously debated truths, give off the appearance of dissolution after being flooded by the rhetorical tides of postmodernism.

Indeed, the aim of the so-called progressives and postmodernists is not to pursue truth, as that was once understood in academia, but to pursue “social change” by – in the words of the self-reinvented Malcolm X– “any means necessary.”

Now the postmodern narrative of perpetual white racism spreads into post-campus life.

Rachel Dolezal, a white woman passing as black, constructed a narrative in which she was the victim of racist harassment. But the incidents she described had merely been part of her imagined life. Sean King, one of the leaders of Black Lives Matter, similarly appears to be a white guy passing as black.

Like Dolezal, he claims to be the victim of an anti-black hate crime for which no evidence exists, and he recently accused a black police chief of being an “Uncle Tom.” King, recently hired as a columnist by the New York Daily News, is adept at redefining words, so police brutality becomes a synonym for broken-windows policing.

A white Georgetown student, seeing himself victimized at gunpoint by an African-American, insisted that as someone endowed with white privilege, he deserved to be mugged. Chaya Babu, while taking part in a writers’ workshop with recent college graduates was frightened not by an armed robber but “by his gun.”  She saw herself as a victim of the police. For their part, the workshop group she says identified with the Black robber more than with the police, who “assault and kill black people with what looks like reckless abandon and impunity.”

The narrative is its own evidence; no facts are provided or even suggested. In Babu’s bizarre essay on the robbery, displaced African-Americans, uprooted from their neighborhoods by “the monster of gentrification,” are forced to seek revenge. The story is imagined, since Babu is a newcomer and unaware that most of those neighborhoods were never black.

White self-loathing has now been incorporated into part of CUNY’s makeup. Britta Wheeler, daughter of an academic who taught in Nebraska, defines herself as “a sociologist and a visual, life/art, performance artist.” She seems to have internalized the resentment of her bohemian parents toward their Midwestern surroundings. Wheeler claims to be performing as a character named Belinda Powell, though from the videos she has posted on the internet, it’s hard to tell where Wheeler ends and Powell begins.

Professor Wheeler has performed as a “squanderer” in Times Square, an area populated by comic-book characters cadging money from tourists who like to have a photo taken with Spiderman, Superman, Batman or one of desnudas, naked buxom Latino women with bras and panties painted on. In that setting it’s hard to imagine that anyone who saw her “performance” regarded it as a parody, since like postmodernism it’s hard to spoof what’s already a take-off.

Perhaps that why Wheeler who teaches ethnography at CUNY’s Stella and Charles Guttmann Community College, which was created thanks to a donation from a wealthy white family, has turned to performing her song of ritual self-abnegation, “I’m White and That’s not Right” for an appreciative – virtually all white– audience that had been asked to sing along.

Wheeler/Powell comes out in all white dress that appears too small for her, holding a ukulele and first offers the onlookers gluten-free cupcakes that she has personally baked and announces cloyingly, “I made my dress too.” She sings:

 I know it ain’t right but I’m white

White privilege is a matter of fact

Don’t expect much from me cause I’m free of respectability

I’m ashamed of how some people act

I’m trying to change that

Her “performance” was greeted with cheers and whoops. Wheeler/Powell has also posted online photos of herself posing as a suburban blonde having her nails done in a lounge chair– all in the name of academic advancement.  Among her academic achievements is a short video entitled, “Gonna Change the World One Smile at a Time.”

In the postmodern academy, performance often refers not to academic achievement but rather to acting out the gestures of white penance.

In On the Genealogy of Morals, Nietzsche, much beloved by postmodernists, anticipated their folly. Referring to “the men of resentment,” he wrote:

 “When would they achieve the ultimate, subtlest, most sublime triumph of revenge? Undoubtedly if they succeeded in poisoning the consciences of the fortunate with their own misery, with all misery, so that one day the fortunate began to be ashamed of their good fortune and perhaps said one to another: ‘it is disgraceful to be fortunate: there is too much misery!’ But no greater or more calamitous misunderstanding is possible than for the happy, well-constituted, powerful in soul and body, to begin to doubt their right to happiness in this fashion.”

Based on Babu and Wheeler, resentful post-modernists “ashamed of their good fortune” are eager to act out doubts about “their right to happiness.”


Scott Walker made himself into a presidential candidate with his victory over the minions of Madison, Wisconsin. Despite the howling demonstrations inside and outside the state capital building, Walker succeeded in passing ACT 10.  It stripped the public sector unions of their most powerful organizing tool — the dues check-off, by which unions fees were automatically deducted from paychecks.

Walker has also benefited from a marked improved in the states job climate since he became governor in 2011. He ought to be reaping the political rewards of that success. But, he isn’t resting on his laurels. Walker has ambitious plans to revamp the University of Wisconsin higher education system. But opposition to his college reforms have helped push his state approval ratings into a skid.

The University of Wisconsin system tries to educate 181,000 students at 13 community colleges and 13 four-year universities including the famed University of Wisconsin in Madison. Its annual budget comes to 5.6 billion dollars. The system was shaken in 2013 with a report of a massive slush fund system that rose from a quarter billion to over a billion dollars, according to different estimates. Part of the surplus/slush money came from 5.5% annual tuition increases over the six prior years.

Republican State Representative Steve Nass, chair of the Assembly Colleges and Universities Committee,called system officials “educational crooks” and “con artists.” The system president Kevin Reilly was forced to resign. Walker called initially for a tuition freeze but that then began to talk of reforms to reshape the entire system. It seemed like an opportunity to revamp the self-serving academics and administrators who are at the very heart of the Wisconsin Democratic Party.

In February of this years, Walker proposed changes for the 2015-17 budget which would free the university system and its 35,000 employees from direct state government control.  The university system would become a semi-autonomous public authority. Walker would reduce direct state aid by 150 million a year, he argued, in return for this new system which would give the colleges and universities the flexibility to reform themselves. “If they were able to get out from underneath the thumb of statue bureaucracy, they could be very effective in saving money for the UW System,” argued Governor Walker.

Walker, referring to the reform, which curtailed collective bargain rights for state employees, called the plan an “Act 10 for the UW System.”

Walker notes that at a salary $144,000 a year, he receives less compensation than 407 University of Wisconsin system employees.  Moreover he suggested that he hoped to see additional teaching hours for full-time faculty, a reduction in the number of administrators and an enhanced relationship with local business for the two-year colleges.

Politically, Walker’s plan to freeze tuition and get more output from underworked and overpaid academics seemed appealing. But he’s met considerable opposition from Republican state representatives who don’t think the colleges are capable of reforming themselves. Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester), insisted “that autonomy doesn’t make sense because regents don’t want to make changes and they could use their new authority to dramatically increase tuition.”

Walker’s plan isn’t dead yet but it’s on life support.  Prominent Republicans suggest that he will have to compromise and reduce planned cuts to higher education to win final budget approval. It’s not clear how the outcome will effect Walker’s presidential plans. He’s supposed to formally announce his candidacy in July after the state budget has been achieved. A hard-fought victory could sap his strength at home.

Fred Siegel is the author of Revolt Against the Masses, just reissued in an updated paperback edition.

How Our Campuses Came to Reject Free Speech

berkeley free speech.jpg

John Dewey said the job of education was to free students from the intellectual captivity imposed by “village truths,” the groupthink version of reality they had grown up with. But the irony now is that liberalism, once created in opposition to small-town traditionalism, has generated its own all-encompassing “village truths” creating conformism on today’s campus.

Students are now subject to a curriculum watered down by political correctness. So it comes as news to even well-read young people that there once was an anti-Communism and anti-Stalinism of the left in America. It was a tradition upheld by people like the literary critic and Yiddishist Irving Howe and the historian Eugene Genovese. But Howe’s and Genovese’s anti-Stalinism made them objects of enmity for the anti-anti-Communists of the New Left, who have dominated academia for the past three decades. The New Left aped the Communists by shutting down all campus debate, and in so doing, laid the groundwork for political correctness.

Continue reading How Our Campuses Came to Reject Free Speech

Frank Macchiarola, an Extraordinary Man


People reading Frank
Macchiarola’s obituary today will, no doubt, be struck at the variety of his
achievements. Frank, who wrote for this site,  was widely regarded as the
most successful New York Schools Chancellor, but he was also a success as a
Law School Dean, Chair of Charter Commissions, CEO of the NYC Partnership and
President of St Francis College.  I had worked with Frank in a few of
these roles.  But it was only after I became Scholar in Residence at St.
Francis that I saw the full dimensions of his extraordinary persona.

Slowly walking
through the halls of St Francis with Frank, a school of nearly 3,000 students
was itself an experience to remember.  I say slowly because every few
steps a student would stop Frank to speak with him. After a warm greeting, the
student would tell their college president what was new in their student
lives.  And like the best of the old time ward politicians – Frank who was
a member of the Thomas Jefferson Democratic Club in Brooklyn – knew each by
name and situation.

When Frank and I had
lunch it was smack in the middle of the student cafeteria where he ate
regularly.  And there as he and I talked about subjects such as the
over-financialization of the national economy, the fiscal misgovernance of New
York and the role of religion in enhancing democracy, we always paused when a
student came by. Frank would first tell the student what we were talking about –
suggesting that it was a topic he needed to pay attention to – then he would
listen to their concerns. 

Some would come by to
tell him that they had improved in their grades in an area where Frank had told
them they needed to pick up the pace. Others would lay out an ongoing problem.
He was warm but firm sometimes telling the student that they simply weren’t
working hard enough. This was in loco parentis in its very best
form.   Listening, I was struck not only by how much he knew about
each student but even more by his ability to connect with the student through
the problem at hand. In talking to him, the students, as they told me, realized
that he had really listened to them in their previous conversations. 

His father was a sanitation
worker who placed a high value on education. Frank attended St Francis as an
undergraduate before he went on to a law degree and a PhD. in Political Science
at Colombia.  What he wanted for today’s students, he told me, was the
same kind of personal attention he had received as young student in the early
1960s. Frank’s intelligence, warmth and concern suffuse the halls of St
Francis. The successes of the St Francis students he has nurtured will be an
important part of his legacy.

150 Years of Contempt for Free Markets

Alan S. Kahan has cast new light on an ongoing conflict with origins in classical antiquity if not earlier. Kahan’s Mind vs. Money: The War Between Intellectuals and Capitalism is a learned and engaging account of the tension between the amorality of the marketplace and the moralism of would-be priestly authorities. Until the Enlightenment, merchants were forced to bow before the courtly classes of the aristocracy, which staffed the military, and the clergy, which surveilled the public morality of the peasantry. But the Enlightenment, in challenging the authority of the aristocracy and the priesthood, opened up space for unbowed commerce, and hence the merchant middle class, to thrive. There are those, once largely on the right, today largely on the left, who have never forgiven the Enlightenment for this sin against the would-be guardians of morality.
The book’s central themes were laid out in 1834 by the German poet Heinrich Heine. Heine, who had nothing but contempt for American money-making, spoke of the United States as “that big pig-pen of freedom/Inhabited by boors living in equality.” Heine’s romantic ambitions yearned to transcend mere material freedom. He saw the intellectuals as the basis for the new aristocracy of virtue. “It is no longer a matter of destroying the old church,” he explained, “but rather building a new one, and far from wanting to annihilate the clergy, today we want to make ourselves priests.” But while Heine hoped a clerisy would remake the world he also saw an abyss ahead. “A drama will be performed in Germany,” he prophesied, “in contrast with which the French Revolution will seem a mere peaceful idyll.”

Continue reading 150 Years of Contempt for Free Markets

Is College Education Too Narrow?

In trying to explain why even the best of students have sometimes received an exceedingly narrow education, former Congresswoman Heather Wilson touches on the issue of academic self interest. “Perhaps,” she writes, “faculty members are themselves more narrowly specialized because of pressure to publish original work in ever more obscure journals.” It’s a good point that has an even wider ambit than she suggests. Once upon a time, the now quaint notion of preparing students to be citizens served as a counterweight to curricular self-dealing. Preparing students to be citizens meant that you needed to provide a range of broad based courses as a foundation for participation in the adult world. You needed required courses in American history, literature and institutions. But when an interest in citizenship was increasingly supplanted by mere attitudinizing, an important constraint on the faculties was affected. Supplied with a myriad of reasons ranging from globalization to multiculturalism they could slip the harness of being forced to teach the once crucial survey courses. Instead they could put their energies into what they were really interested in, their areas of specialty, that is to say themselves. The upshot was that a humdrum course on American literature could be replaced by classes on Foucauldian readings of American literature or narratives of third-world liberation. On campus everyone could be happy. Good students could pride themselves on their ability to decipher difficult arguments while broadening their geographic horizons. And faculty could use the classes to either coast or embellish their specialized arguments.
For a long time the faculty failure of accountability was safely ensconced behind the worthy rhetoric of academic freedom. But Ms. Wilson’s Washington Post op-ed is fortunately part of a trend challenging the claim of academia to disinterested virtue.

Trying To Answer Paul Berman

On June 4th of this year Paul Berman published an extraordinary 28,000 word New Republic essay on contemporary Islamic philosopher Tariq Ramadan of Oxford University and his liberal apologists, Ian Buruma and Timothy Garton Ash, who write for the New York Review of Books. Berman’s essay was criticized by some for being too long, too meticulous, for being too concerned with ironing out any misunderstanding that might be wrung from his words. But the just published tepid reply by Scottish Malise Ruthven, a Scottish historian of Islam, for August 13th issue of the New York Review of Books suggests that, for now, Berman’s tack has cornered his would be critics.

Ruthven finds the US denial of a visa for Ramadan to teach at Notre Dame in 2004 inexplicable. The only mark against Ramadan, says Ruthven, is that he once donated money to a Palestinian charity later put on a terrorist watch list. This is disingenuous. Here’s Berman on some of Ramadan’s history:

As early as 1993, at the age of thirty-two, he campaigned in Geneva to cancel an impending production of Voltaire’s play Muhammad, or Fanaticism. The production was canceled, and a star was born – though Ramadan has argued that, on the contrary, he had nothing to do with canceling the play, and to say otherwise is a “pure lie.” Not every battle has gone his way. He taught at the college of Saussure, where his colleagues were disturbed by his arguments in favor of Islamic biology over Darwin. This time, too, Ramadan shaped the debate to his own specifications by insisting that he never wanted to suppress the existing biology curriculum – merely to complement it with an additional point of view. A helpful creationist proposal. But the Darwinians, unlike the Voltaireans, were in no rush to yield.

Continue reading Trying To Answer Paul Berman

“Liberal” Professorial Apologists For Radical Islam

Ian Buruma and Timothy Garton Ash are two of the leading critics of Ayan Hirsi Ali whom they deride as an “enlightenment fundamentalist” for her defense of free speech in the face of violent Islamic intimidation. They are also two of the leading apologists for the sophisticated Islamism of Tariq Ramadan, the grandson and intellectual heir of his grand-father Hasan al-Banna the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood from which flows Al Qaeda and other variants of Sunni salafism.

Buruma, Garton Ash, and Ramadan all have something in common – they are all university professors. Garton Ash is, inappropriately enough, the Isaiah Berlin Professorial Fellow at St Anthony’s College, Ramadan is his colleague at St Anthony’s while Buruma is the Henry R. Luce Professor of Democracy, Human Rights, and Journalism at Bard College. Free speech as evidenced by Buruma’s book on the murder of Hirsi Ali colleague Theo Van Gogh is evidently not a “human right” worth defending if it offends Muslims.

Fortunately Paul Berman, a writer in residence at NYU, has taken all three to the wood shed, in an extraordinary 28,000-word New Republic essay. Ramadan, Berman shows, is an expert at double speak. In a New York Times article in which Buruma served, unwittingly or not as Ramadan’s publicist, the Islamist theorist explained how his grandfather an admirer of the Falange and Mussolini , supported a politics entirely compatible with parliamentary democracy. Buruma’s response was to lie with silence. But then again, as Buruma explained it “we agree on most issues.”

Ramadan is at his best when he can prepare an elaborate explanation for why Islamist and liberal values are compatible. But when facing then French Interior Minister Nicholas Sarkozy, he stumbled when forced to respond on the spot. Sarkozy asked Tariq Ramadan if he agreed with his brother Hani Ramadan who had argued in line with Islamic law, that adulterous woman should be stoned to death. Asked to agree or disagree with his brother Tariq Ramadan said he favored a “moratorium” on such stoning. What was stunning about this exchange is that in the current intellectual climate established by multiculturalism, it was Sarkozy who was seen as regressive, even racist, for having forced the issue.

The parallels here with the Soviet apologists of the 1930s and 40s are striking. Then as now the argument is that Communists and liberals/Islamists and liberals are all in favor of human rights, they just have a somewhat different understanding of what they mean. Then to point out the differences was denounced as red-baiting, today it’s decried as racist. In the words of the Yiddish proverb, “A half truth is a whole lie.” Expect Buruma and his friends to reply to Berman’s direct hit.