Category Archives: Essays

Crime But No Punishment at Middlebury?

Two weeks have passed since a student mob shouted down visiting lecturer Charles Murray at Middlebury College, injured a professor, and jumped up and down on Murray’s car. But college President Laurie Patton still hasn’t acted to deal with any of the perpetrators. The action necessary was laid out clearly and forcefully by Rod Dreher in the American Conservative: “Middlebury College is on trial now. Its administration will either forthrightly defend liberal democratic norms, or it will capitulate. There is no middle ground. “

The normal and disappointing college procedure in cases like this is to wait several weeks, issue a vague statement on free speech and a mild and nonspecific penalty that lets the issue slide. The announcement is customarily issued quietly around 5 p.m. Friday of a long holiday weekend. We note that Good Friday and Easter are coming up.

Possible Criminal Charges

In fact, before Murray rose and tried to speak, Bob Burger, a college VP and head of PR for Middlebury, did announce penalties—including suspension–for shouting down a speaker, but video shows he did so in an amused way, as noted by Peter Wood, president of the National Association of Scholars, writing in the Federalist. Burger omitted one point from Middlebury’s rules that would soon seem applicable: “Disruption may also result in arrest and criminal charges such as disorderly conduct or trespass.”

Related: Middlebury Will Either Defend Democratic Norms or Capitulate

By the time Murray arrived on campus, Middlebury was in an explosive state. Disdain rose to hatred. Much of that atmosphere was the work of 450 Middlebury alumni who asked that the speaker be disallowed, and some 70 professors who protested the lecture and called Murray a “discredited ideologue paid by the American Enterprise Institute to promote public policies targeting people of color, women and the poor.”

This was an unusually tawdry account of Murray’s long career, including his 2012 book on the collapse of much white American culture, Coming Apart, which might have explained the rise of Donald Trump to Middlebury students had they read some of the book or listened to Murray’s speech instead of shutting it down.

“Both groups cued the anger of undergrads, few of whom had read Murray or even heard of The Bell Curve. Laurie Patton, president of Middlebury, under pressure to endorse free speech while identifying with the crowd’s anti-Murray emotions, accomplished both goals in much the same way that Lee Bollinger did when Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad spoke at Columbia University in 2007. Bollinger introduced the leader and excoriated him for “exhibit[ing] all the signs of a petty and cruel dictator.”

Patton said of Murray in her introduction:” I would regret it terribly if my presence here today, which is an expression of support I give to all students who are genuinely seeking to engage in a very tough public sphere, is read to be something which it is not: an endorsement of Mr. Murray’s research and writings. I will state here that I profoundly disagree with many of Mr. Murray’s views.” Though Patton had put out an advance statement on free expression, Peter Wood pointed out that her 6-minute introduction of Murray contained no clear mention of the need for free speech.

Related: Charles Murray on Why He Was Silenced at Middlebury

As Wood observed, Patton positioned herself almost identically to how Chancellor Nicholas Dirks at UC Berkeley had positioned himself before the Milo Yiannopoulos event and riot, emphasizing his extreme dislike of the speaker’s views and his temperate allegiance to free speech.

The anger and hatred by alumni and some faculty may have affected students who apparently knew little or nothing about Murray, beyond the awareness that liberals in good standing are expected to detest him. Many of the protesters dismissed the speaker as “anti-gay,” perhaps because it fit the rhyme scheme of a popular left-wing chant, though Murray has not written anything anti-gay and has come out for same-sex marriage.

What ‘The Bell Curve’ Said

Peter Wood offered this brief account of the argument in “The Bell Curve”:

*The book has very little to say about race. But it argues that a considerable portion of intelligence—40 to 80 percent—is heritable; and it also argues that intelligence tests are generally reliable. Those ideas irritate people who have a deep investment in three beliefs: extreme human plasticity; the social origins of inequality; and the possibility of engineering our institutions to create complete social justice.

*Murray’s 1994 argument that intelligence is mostly fixed at birth runs afoul of the hope or the belief that children who have significant intellectual deficits can overcome them with the right kinds of teaching.

*Murray’s argument can be interpreted to mean that social and economic inequality are rooted mostly in biological inheritance—though Murray never says this, and to the contrary has often argued for social changes that have nothing to do with biological inheritance.

*Murray is broadly on the side of pragmatic steps to ameliorate social ills and is skeptical of utopian proposals.

Related: The Bubble at Middlebury

*Murray has written many books since “The Bell Curve,” but for many on the left, it is still 1994, and they still have not read the original book, let alone Murray’s more recent work, including his 2012 best-seller “Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010.” Any familiarity with that book—a sustained lament for “The Selective Collapse of American Community,” as he titles one chapter—would render it impossible to sustain the cartoon image of Murray as a racist bigot who wants to keep in place the inequities of American life. Murray has ably answered these kinds of attacks before, not that any of his opponents truly care about the accuracy of their accusations.

*It testifies to the shallowness of elite liberal arts education today—and not just Middlebury—that significant numbers of students and faculty members can repeat the old slurs against Murray. And not just repeat them, but intoxicate themselves with hatred towards a man whose ideas they know only third- or fourth-hand through individuals who have a strong ideological motive to distort them.

The welcome-and-disparage maneuver is not enough, President Patton. Uphold standards and deal with the perps.

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.”

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

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).

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

There Is No Campus Rape Epidemic, But a Lot of Media Malpractice

By KC Johnson and Stuart Taylor Jr.

This is an excerpt from the new book, The Campus Rape Frenzy, the
Attack on Due Process at America’s Universities by KC Johnson and Stuart Taylor Jr.


The New York Times’ coverage of alleged sexual assault on college campuses “seems of a piece with the leftist bias I noticed within the Times newsroom regarding climate change, gay marriage, abortion, affirmative action, labor, and other hot-button issues.”

Tom Jolly, New York Times sports editor, confessed in February 2008 that he regretted aspects of his paper’s much-criticized coverage of the Duke lacrosse case.  He vowed to do better. “Knowledge gained by hindsight has informed our approach to other stories since then,” said Jolly, who later became an associate managing editor.

But The Times did not do better. Its handling of recent campus sexual assault cases has been pervaded by the same biases that drove its Duke lacrosse coverage. The paper has continued to unquestioningly accept alleged victims’ stories while omitting evidence that might harm their credibility. Like almost all other mainstream media, the Times also has glossed over how university procedures stack the deck against accused students.

With the Times setting the tone, the mainstream media have presented a misleading picture of almost every aspect of the campus sexual assault problem. The coverage has had three critical flaws. The first is the “believe-the-survivor” dogma, which presumes the guilt of accused students—a sentiment that Harvard Law School professor Jeannie Suk Gersen has identified as a “near-religious teaching.”

Related: Ten Campus Rapes—or Were They?

Second, most journalists have embraced without skepticism or context surveys purporting to show that 20 percent of female college students are sexually assaulted—thereby portraying campuses as awash in an unprecedented wave of violent crime.  Third, most media coverage of alleged sexual assault on college campuses fails to report in any meaningful way (if at all) the actual procedures that colleges employ in sexual assault cases.

Richard Pérez-Peña, a veteran reporter who joined The Times in 1992, wrote most of its stories on alleged campus sexual assault between January 2012 and December 2014. He debuted on the beat with a long article suggesting that Yale quarterback Patrick Witt was a liar and a rapist. Pérez-Peña implied that Witt and Yale’s officials had misled the public when they said that Witt had withdrawn from the Rhodes Scholarship competition because of a conflict between the Yale-Harvard game and his scheduled interview. The real reason for Witt’s withdrawal, Pérez-Peña asserted, was a mysterious sexual misconduct allegation.

Even if true, this information would hardly have been worthy of aggressive treatment by the nation’s most powerful newspaper. In addition, the reporter relied on an undisclosed number of anonymous sources. Indeed, he never figured out who Witt’s accuser was. He never learned what the accuser alleged Witt had done.  (Neither did Witt.)

The New York Times’ coverage of alleged sexual assault on college campuses “seems of a piece with the leftist bias I noticed within the Times newsroom regarding climate change, gay marriage, abortion, affirmative action, labor, and other hot-button issues.”

He insinuated that Yale had suspended Witt. (In fact, Witt was finishing his senior thesis off campus while preparing for the NFL draft.) In his article, Pérez-Peña never described the “informal complaint” process that Yale used against Witt, a process that denied him any right to present evidence of his innocence. Witt, like all students accused under the “informal” process since 2011, was found guilty and given a reprimand.

The Yale Daily News almost immediately raised doubts about the article, citing contemporaneous emails from Witt that conflicted with Pérez-Peña’s account. Shortly thereafter, several people outside the traditional media, including one of us (KC Johnson), raised questions about Pérez-Peña’s work. The cheeky sports website Deadspin published a comprehensive takedown of Pérez-Peña’s timeline. Worth editor-in- chief Richard Bradley, writing on his personal blog, Shots in the Dark, concluded that “The Times—and, yes, Richard Pérez-Peña—owe Patrick Witt an apology. Then Pérez-Peña and the editor who green-lighted this story should be fired.”

Related: Education Dept. Rules on Campus Rape Called Illegal

Pérez-Peña was not fired. But the problems with his work spurred The Times’ public editor, Arthur Brisbane, to do the reporting that Pérez-Peña should have done. Brisbane spoke to Witt’s agent, uncovered emails Pérez-Peña hadn’t found and described Yale’s “informal” complaint process. “Maybe you just can’t publish this story, not with the facts known now,” Brisbane concluded because “when something as serious as a person’s reputation is at stake, it’s not enough to rely on anonymous sourcing, effectively saying ‘trust us.’”

Such criticism appears to have had little or no effect inside The Times newsroom. Indeed, in a November 4, 2014, tweet, Times reporter Vivian Yee (@VivianHYee) defended Pérez-Peña’s work, gloating that despite the public editor’s devastating criticism, “for the record, there was no ‘retraction’ on our story” about Witt. Meanwhile, Yale’s actions, compounded by Times errors, “nearly ruined my life,” Witt wrote in November 2014.

Most of Pérez-Peña’s nearly 20 articles (a few with joint bylines) on campus sexual assault allegations exhibited the same problems as his Witt coverage. In an October 2012 piece, he uncritically presented Angie Epifano’s “wrenching account” of her supposed mistreatment by Amherst. Pérez-Peña made no effort to contact either the student Epifano accused of rape or the Amherst employees she portrayed as uncaring. In what was billed as a straight news article, the reporter celebrated Amherst President Biddy Martin’s adoption of draconian disciplinary procedures—the same procedures that paved the way for Amherst’s expulsion of Michael Cheng. In another article, Pérez-Peña gushed that “it may be that no college leader in the country was as well prepared to face this controversy than [sic] Biddy Martin.”

In a March 2013 article, Pérez-Peña wrote inaccurately that the 2011 Dear Colleague letter issued by the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights “did not markedly change   interpretation of the law; instead, it reminded colleges of obligations that many of them had ignored, and signaled that there was a new seriousness in Washington about enforcing them.”   Hours later, an editor seems to have noticed the error, and the first clause quoted above was changed to say that “[t]he letter [did] change the interpretation of parts of the law.” But with the rest of the sentence unaltered, the new version was an absurd assertion that OCR had “reminded” colleges of nonexistent “obligations” that they had previously “ignored.”

Related: The “Jackie” Interview in the UVA Fake Rape

In 2014, an article by Pérez-Peña and Kate Taylor asserted that “there is scant evidence that sexual assault is more or less prevalent than in the past”—a claim contradicted by the Bureau of Justice Statistics data concluding that sexual assault rates had plunged since 1996. FBI crime statistics show a similar pattern.

The spring and summer of 2014 also featured two in-depth pieces on alleged campus sexual assault by Times investigative journalist Walt Bogdanich, a three-time Pulitzer Prize winner and acclaimed investigative reporter. Unlike Pérez-Peña’s articles, Bogdanich’s two articles presented cases in which the allegations were plausible. The acknowledged conduct in both cases was deeply disturbing, and the accused students were extremely unsympathetic. But still, both pieces omitted critical evidence.

Bogdanich’s comments in a 2015 interview may help explain why. Discussing his approach to campus sexual assault allegations, he remarked that investigative reporters like him “get upset …  when we see powerful people unfairly taking advantage of the less powerful.” But in the typical campus context (if not in one and perhaps both of Bogdanich’s cases), the accused student is more often the party treated unfairly by “powerful people.” Bogdanich’s emotionalism and the apparent presumption of guilt in cases involving campus sexual assault accusations served his readers poorly.

Bogdanich’s first showcase article was a 5,200-word front-pager in April 2014. I left the clear impression that Jameis Winston—the Heisman Trophy–winning, NFL first draft choice, former Florida State University quarterback—had raped a fellow first-year student named Erica Kinsman. Whether or not a rapist, Winston was a singularly unappealing character—“an embarrassment in a lot of ways to the university,” as former FSU coach Bobby Bowden put it. He seemed a perfect fit for the media narrative of coddled star athletes raping fellow students and getting away with it. Perhaps it was for this reason that in almost all of the paper’s more than 20 articles about the case, Bogdanich and other Times reporters omitted virtually all the evidence that cast doubt on the alleged victim’s credibility.

Shortly into his magnum opus, Bogdanich implied that Kinsman had been drugged. She claimed that someone at a bar had given her a drink, apparently spiked with a date-rape drug, which caused her to black out. He did not mention that two toxicology reports had shown no trace of any known drug in her system.

Bogdanich added, “After partially blacking out…she found herself in an apartment with a man on top of her, sexually assaulting her.” That portrayal and Kinsman’s various suggestions to police to the same effect was contradicted not only by other witnesses but also, later, by Kinsman’s own December 2014 testimony admitting that she went voluntarily with Winston into his bedroom.

Kinsman’s initial recorded phone report (through a friend) to campus police was that after leaving an off-campus bar, she had been hit on the back of the head, blacked out, and found herself being raped by a stranger. Yet a medical exam detected no sign of a blow to the head. Kinsman never repeated the claim. The Times never mentioned it and therefore did not explore how the accuser changed her story.

Finally, Winston’s lawyers had alleged that Kinsman’s aunt (also her first lawyer) introduced an ugly racial element to the case when she said in a phone call that Kinsman (who is white) would never voluntarily sleep with a “black boy.” The aunt never responded to an email from one of us asking whether she had made such a remark. The possibility of racial bias in the accuser’s family has never been mentioned in the Times.

The   two  most  plausible  views  of the encounter    are  that  after Kinsman went voluntarily into Winston’s bedroom, (1) she made it clear at some point that she did not consent to sex but he proceeded anyway or (2) she consented to sex and never clearly withdrew her consent but later alleged rape because she felt she had been badly treated by Winston during the  encounter—as she clearly was, according to his version of events (for example, he let his roommate enter the room while he was in bed with Kinsman before taking her into the bathroom to have sex on the hard  floor).

The evidence in the case remains ambiguous, and Kinsman’s shifting stories significantly undermine her credibility. State Attorney William Meggs concluded that the evidence did not show probable guilt. Former Florida Supreme Court Justice Major Harding, who presided over FSU’s two-day disciplinary hearing, cited conflicts between Kinsman’s testimony and other, undisputed evidence, to reach the same conclusion.

One of us (Stuart Taylor) exposed The Times’ mistreatment of Winston at length in February 2015, in Real Clear Sports. An official Times response stressed that the point of the Bogdanich article had been to critique shoddy work on the case by Tallahassee police. But The Times did not challenge any of the exposé’s factual assertions. None of this record prevented the Pulitzer Prize Board from naming Bogdanich in April 2015 as a finalist, for “stories exposing preferential police treatment for Florida State University football players who are accused of sexual assault and other criminal offenses.”

In his next piece for The Times, this one focusing on Hobart and William Smith (HWS), a small school in upstate New York, Bogdanich displayed a similarly one-sided approach. According to Bogdanich, at a party in September 2013, a first-year student called “Anna” had had sex with several football players in a row. Bogdanich’s work clearly conveyed the impression that this was a rape because Anna had been incapacitated by alcohol. But neither the police nor an HWS disciplinary hearing found sufficient evidence to make that determination, even (in the latter case) under the low standard of proof decreed by OCR. Bogdanich waved away these findings by claiming, again, that the police work had been shoddy. He also asserted that at HWS, the absence of “the usual courtroom checks and balances” had been unfair to the accuser.

On top of such claims, Bogdanich committed acts of careless journalism. He did not explore (until after The Finger Lakes Times had reported) the accuser’s refusal, on the advice of her lawyer, to give police access to her rape kit, which hampered their investigation. Bogdanich appears not even to have attempted to speak with the accused students or their lawyers. Worse, he glossed over the refusal of the accuser’s only corroborating witness to testify in the HWS disciplinary process. The reporter wrote that this critical witness “stands by his account, according to Anna.”

“According to Anna”? A careful reporter would have asked the witness himself, whom Bogdanich quoted on other points. The Finger Lakes Times reported claims by both the district attorney and HWS’s president that Bogdanich had taken out of context material from the college disciplinary board’s hearing transcript. If these assertions were unfair, The New   York Times could have disproved them by posting the transcript on its website. It did not do so.

The New York Times’ coverage of alleged sexual assault on college campuses “seems of a piece with the leftist bias I noticed within The Times newsroom regarding climate change, gay marriage, abortion, affirmative action, labor, and other hot-button issues,” former Times editor Tom Kuntz told us via email. Kuntz, a self-described libertarian, had worked for the newspaper since 1987 but left in early 2016, in part because he no longer felt comfortable with its generally slanted coverage and lack of balance.

“This bias can no longer be chalked up as simply a function of too many lefty reporters and editors in the newsroom,” Kuntz added. “The Times has geared it survival strategy to preaching to the liberal converted. Although no one in authority at The Times says so explicitly in public, you can read between the lines of such statements as the October 2015 announcement by CEO Mark Thompson. He said that The Times plans to ‘double the number of [its] most loyal readers,’ and ‘double its digital revenue,’ by 2020, by catering to those who most reliably part with money for Times content.”

A company statement quoted by Kuntz said The Times planned to develop loyal readers “increasingly from younger demographics and international audiences”—groups with predominantly liberal views. Indeed, said Kuntz, “I noticed in many corporate strategy briefings over recent years that The Times seems to care little about bringing conservative readers into the fold. In PowerPoint presentations and the like, competitors listed as ones that mattered were liberal outfits like the Huffington Post and the Guardian—not conservative outlets, with the exception of The Wall Street Journal. The Drudge Report, Fox News, and the Daily Mail, for example, were ignored despite their enormous audiences.”

This corporate strategy was consistent with a much-noted 2014 newsroom innovation study led by Arthur Gregg Sulzberger, son and possible successor of the current publisher, according to Kuntz. The junior Sulzberger soon became senior editor for strategy (before rising even further in the company), and his “first task,” according to Executive Editor Dean Baquet’s memo about   the appointment, was “to help the newsroom’s leaders and [editorial page editor] Andy Rosenthal build a joint newsroom-editorial page audience development operation that can pull all the levers and build readership.”

Related: FIRE Makes the OCR Back Down

Another longtime and respected Times journalist with whom we spoke has a very different view of the newspaper’s motivations. This insider says that “the notion that there is a decision to feed red meat to the liberal base is just nonsense. It’s horseshit. We write a lot about climate change, and we do it with a point of view that accepts the scientific consensus and ‘liberal’ worldview. Is that an attempt to attract eyeballs by throwing red meat to liberal readers or is it coverage of something important we and our readers care about? We write a lot about police violence, Black Lives Matter, and the post-Ferguson law enforcement environment. We write a lot about women’s issues such as access to abortion and contraception. You can argue with the coverage if you like, but it’s complete nonsense to think there’s a sudden strategy to drive digital readership on campus sex issues by throwing out liberal swill to drive up pageviews.

“There’s a complicated and fair discussion you could have about bias, conscious and unconscious in what we do,” The Times journalist continued. “On campus rape, I think you can argue both that it’s a hugely important issue we need to address and that our coverage has tended to disproportionately reflect the ‘liberal’ world view of feminist activists, and that it has been slow to adequately address the rights of accused males. That’s a worthy discussion. But seeing some kind of cabal to crank out liberal catnip to get clicks reflects a complete failure to understand how this place works.”

Whether the reason is groupthink or a strategy of firing up the newspaper’s liberal base, The Times’ coverage of alleged sexual assault on college campuses has represented a journalistic failure—and a particularly troubling one, given the paper’s earlier failure on this issue in the Duke lacrosse case.

All available materials from cases mentioned in this book are posted on here.

KC Johnson, professor of history at Brooklyn College and the CUNY Graduate Center, covers higher education matters for Minding the Campus. Stuart Taylor Jr., a National Journal contributing editor, was the co-author with KC Johnson of Until Proven Innocent, the classic study of the Duke Lacrosse hoax.

Was Fordham Right to Ban a Pro-Palestinian Club?

Fordham University did what no other university administration has done to date. It rejected a student request, which had been accepted by the student government, giving official club status to Students for Justice in Palestine.

Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) has well over 100 chapters on U.S. campuses. SJP has led campus efforts, greatly intensified since the 2005 launch of the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement, to teach college students that Israel should be treated as a pariah state, on the order of apartheid-era South Africa.

Related: Does Free Speech Matter at UVA?

Chapters operate independently, but I know of none that does not support BDS, and I would, therefore, be nauseated if a chapter were to spring up on my own campus. I have written over fifty pieces that explain, among other things, how BDS disingenuously calls itself a nonviolent movement, even though it cheers on violence, too often crosses the line into overt anti-Semitism, and, most relevant to college campuses, effaces the line between activist propagandizing and scholarship within the academic wing of BDS. When Fordham Dean of Students Keith Eldredge says that the goals of SJP “run contrary to the mission and values of the University,” I’m with him.

So why do I oppose Fordham’s decision to reject SJP?

If the facts asserted by Fordham’s critics are true—Fordham has not quibbled with them–Fordham has lent credence to the largely delusional proposition that there is, as BDS proponents often assert, a “Palestine exception to free speech.” In fact, pro-Palestinian and anti-Israeli speakers are ubiquitous on college campuses, but if you were looking for a textbook case of a “Palestine exception,” Fordham has provided it and thereby hurt the fight against BDS.

The review process for forming the club dragged on for over a year while campus officials, among other things, consulted Jewish faculty members, ensured that the Jewish Student Organization had a chance to weigh in, and seriously entertained the possibility that, merely by conferring official club status on SJP, Fordham might run afoul of governor Andrew Cuomo’s executive order directing state agencies not to do business with BDS-supporting organizations.

Related: How Soft Censorship Works at College

Having denied SJP, Fordham then ran a series of posthoc justifications up the flagpole, at least some of which alarmed such advocates of free speech and academic freedom as FIRE, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, and the National Coalition against Censorship. Fordham claimed that SJP was polarizing, that its “sole purpose was advocating political goals of a specific group,” that it directed itself “against a particular country” and, most plausibly, as I said, that SJP’s goals contradict the mission of the university.

Finally, and this new justification was the main emphasis of Fordham’s most recent statement, “Chapters [of SJP] have engaged in behavior,” such as disrupting speakers, “on other college campuses that would violate this University’s code of conduct.” Unfortunately, Fordham’s dilatory response to SJP’s request for club status, and the scattered rationalizations that followed Fordham’s decision raise the suspicion that Fordham engaged in viewpoint discrimination.

Fordham is a private university, and so it’s possible, though by no means guaranteed, that it can get away with viewpoint discrimination. But First Amendment jurisprudence would probably be on SJP’s side if Fordham were a public institution. In Rosenberger v. Rector and Visitors of UVA (1995), which concerned the denial of subsidies for publications that “primarily [promote] or [manifest] a particular belie[f] in or about a deity or an ultimate reality,” the Supreme Court ruled against the University of Virginia.

The “government may not regulate speech based on its substantive content or the message it conveys,” the Court explained, and “when the government targets not subject matter, but particular views, the violation of the First Amendment is all the more blatant.” In Healey v. James (1972), the Court ruled that Central Connecticut State College, facing a climate considerably more charged than the climate Fordham faces today, could not deny Student for a Democratic Society (SDS) club status merely because the national SDS organization had engaged in materially and substantively disruptive activities.

Related: Donald Downs on the Return of Campus Censorship

To repeat, Fordham is not an arm of the government, so its actions do not raise the kinds of First Amendment concerns that the actions of public universities raise. However, both of the cases I reference offer reasons for protecting speech especially zealously on our campuses. In Healey, the court says that “the college classroom, with its surrounding environs, is peculiarly the ‘marketplace of ideas.’” In Rosenberger, the Court says that the danger of chilling thought and expression is “especially real in the University setting, where the State acts against a background and tradition of thought and experiment that is at the center of our intellectual and philosophic tradition.”

That is, the Supreme Court has suggested on more than one occasion that colleges should be more, not less, concerned than other institutions with the rights protected by the First Amendment. It would be a shame if Fordham, which in its own mission and policy statements repeatedly, if not consistently, stresses its dedication to freedom of thought and speech, its tolerance of dissent, and its dedication to academic freedom, were to look at the Supreme Court’s staunch defense of freedom at our public universities and say: “we’re private and demand less!”

Related: Feminist Censored from Censorship Panel

Let me end by returning to Fordham’s best argument, that its very mission of supporting freedom of inquiry compels it to reject bodies like SJP, which in its dedication to academic boycotts and its seeming desire to turn universities into propaganda arms of BDS, contravenes that mission. Must a college and university, which surely considers its mission relevant to its hiring and programming decisions, confer club status, and thereby money and privileges, on a group that will make fulfilling that mission more difficult?

I think that the answer is yes. Colleges and universities that choose to adopt the standards of academic freedom have adopted a version of the view that the unexamined life is not worth living, a view distinguished from other views by its built-in insistence on testing itself. A Socratic university does not fulfill its mission by funding the purchase of books by Plato but not by the anti-Socratic Nietzsche, or by providing meeting space for skeptics but not for believers. The Socratic university fulfills its mission, instead, by fostering a conversation in which all views, including the university’s own, are scrutinized. I have sympathy for students who are not very attached to the First Amendment.

After all, when they look around them, there is not that much evidence that the truth emerges from a marketplace of ideas. But I have less sympathy for universities, which have every opportunity to make a case for the satisfactions of a life guided by reason, yet seem to have so little confidence that students might come to agree that such a life has more appeal than consuming propaganda at a rally. I have no illusions, as a long-time teacher, that it is easy to educate students in this way, but to fail to do so is to fail in the most important respect. Fordham’s move against the SJP reflects not confidence in its mission, but a profound lack of confidence in it.

The Declining Market for PhDs

One had to wonder how long the perverse job market in the humanities would last. Here is a sign that academics may finally be getting the message that they need to respect the law of supply and demand.

It’s a story of a recent report by the American Historical Association showing the trend in annual tenure-track job openings in history and annual doctorates awarded in the field. While my own field of English committed the unconscionable blunder of producing more PhDs last year than the year before, even as the job market shrank once again, history actually produced fewer PhDs. The number of teaching jobs for 2014-15 slipped 2.6 percent from the previous year, which was no surprise given that we have seen three successive years of decline before that.  But history also produced 3.1 percent fewer doctorates–a sensible belt-tightening that acknowledges the realities of lower enrollments, fewer majors, and less funding.

Related: The Tribes that Hire the PhDs

My own field of English hasn’t learned the lesson. PhDs in “letters” (mostly English, but including Classics) went up 2.45 percent. Once again, the research departments produced many more doctorates than there were tenure-track jobs.  When we add in all the PhDs from previous years who are still scrambling for regular teaching posts, it’s like Highway 95 outside Washington DC reduced to two lanes and cars backed up for 10 miles.

It’s not as if this is a new situation.  In English, the job market has ranged from tight to microscopic ever since the mid-1970s. We had a huge hiring wave for a decade starting in the mid-60s when the Baby Boomers swarmed undergraduate classrooms and forced colleges to grab anyone with a few years of graduate school (not even a doctorate yet) just to handle the workload of teaching all of those new students. New and large universities opened such as UC-Riverside and UC-Irvine.  Tenure for many of these young professors came as soon as they filed their dissertations and got a few articles out to scholarly quarterlies for review.  For the faculty in the humanities, it was indeed a Golden Age.

There were enough resources for everyone, but all that growth produced a different kind of competition: prestige. Just having a job didn’t mean much, as it does today. Everybody had one.  But where you worked made all the difference. Most people might regard teaching Wordsworth to community college kids in Queens is just as noble and important as teaching him to kids at Columbia. But among the professorate, for all their egalitarian talk, the ladder of value had many rungs.

I heard it all the time when, as a lecturer and an assistant professor, I tagged along with a few senior professors to dinner and listened to them talk about what was happening at Harvard and Hopkins: who was leaving where, which department was rising, and which falling. It was insider news, but more than just gossip. People understood it as professional awareness.  You displayed your competence and savvy by knowing what was going on and who was doing it.

But as the Nineties wore on and the economic condition of the humanities steadily slipped, curiosity over this famous scholar’s travels and that renowned department’s controversies sounded ever more like celebrity chatter. As more people struggled to find jobs, graduate programs looked less like training centers for the professorate and more like preservers of status.

Related: Humanities, Pretty Much Dead, Are Mostly a Hunt for Racism and Sexism

If you have a graduate program, your department can lay claim to research prestige.  That was one effect of the great expansion of the late-Sixties and early-70s.  Unless you were at one of the very few super-selective colleges such as Dartmouth and Amherst, you needed to be in a research university if you wanted to have full respect by the profession. Having graduate students meant that you were on the cutting edge of theory and scholarship. If you were just at a college teaching undergraduates, you were stuck in the more or less humdrum routine of introducing youths to Shakespeare and Homer.

That’s the real draw of having graduate students. They enhance the professor’s standing. And that’s why the production of more PhDs than there are jobs continues. It serves those who already have jobs. And those fortunate few are entirely unaccountable for their decision to keep those graduate programs well-populated with students. If they have cultivated graduate students for six years, but those students fail to get jobs, it has no effect on the professors. They can keep doing what they are doing until the end of their career.

The slight turn downward in the production of history PhDs is a good sign (so long as the downturn in jobs continues). The rest of the humanities, English included, should pay attention.

Will Georgetown Remain a Catholic University?

While Georgetown University leaders may have said a silent prayer last week for the repose of the soul of one of its most distinguished alums, the best-selling author, William Peter Blatty, it is unlikely that most were mourning his passing. Blatty, the author of The Exorcist, had been making life difficult for Georgetown for more than a decade after he became convinced that the university had abandoned its Catholic mission.  In fact, concluding that his alma mater “takes pride in insulting the Church and offending the faithful,” Blatty filed a Canon Law petition with the Vatican in 2013 asking that Georgetown University be denied the right to call itself Catholic.

A Jesuit at Every Table

Calling Georgetown a “Potemkin Village,” Blatty once declared, “Georgetown is the leader of a pack of schools that are failing to live up to their Catholic identity.”  Blatty was especially critical of what he saw as Georgetown’s hypocrisy: “At alumni dinners, they will make sure there is a Jesuit in a collar at every table, like the floral arrangement.”

Blatty’s 200-page papal petition contained more than 480 footnotes, 99 appendices, and 124 witness statements.  It also included a commissioned 120-page institutional audit of Georgetown.  According to Manuel A. Miranda, who served as Blatty’s counsel, “We have documented 23 years of scandals and dissidence—more than 100 scandals in the most recent years alone.”  The petition asked Pope Francis to require that Georgetown implement Ex Corde Ecclesiae, the 1990 papal document requiring all Catholic colleges to teach “in communion” with the Church.  The goal of Blatty’s petition had been to revoke Georgetown’s right to call itself Catholic unless it complies with Church teachings.

Georgetown is not alone. Defiant from the earliest days of the release of Ex Corde Ecclesiae, most Catholic college presidents refused to implement the papal document. When it was first released by Pope St. John Paul, Notre Dame’s then-president, Fr. Edward Malloy, along with Fr. Donald Monan, then-chancellor of Boston College, published an article in America magazine calling the document “positively dangerous.”  The faculty senate at Notre Dame voted unanimously for the guidelines to be ignored.

With the exception of a few Catholic colleges and universities (like my own academic home, Franciscan University of Steubenville), most of the 230 Catholic colleges and universities have strayed far from their Catholic roots.  This all began in 1967, when Catholic college leaders gathered in Land O’Lakes, Wisconsin to create a manifesto that declared their “true autonomy and academic freedom in the face of authority of whatever kind, lay or clerical.” Since that time, most Catholic college presidents have ignored attempts by their presiding bishops to bring their schools into communion with the Church.

Workshops on Trans-Health

Ignoring Catholic doctrine on human sexuality and life issues, some faculty members at Georgetown have promoted legislation to provide access to same-sex marriage and to expand reproductive rights. The New York Times lauded Georgetown for its “gay-friendly” campus. Each October Georgetown hosts a 40-day celebration of GLBTQ issues.

The theme for 2016 was “Honoring Our Histories” and focused on legislative pathways to securing rights across the decades for trans and gender nonconforming people; the intersections between faith, sexuality, and disability; stories of coming out and coming together; and journey of transitioning through the constructions of gender.” With workshops like “Trans-Health in the Military,” and “Queer in the Capital,” Georgetown has been long been a leader in lobbying for same-sex marriage and other GLBTQ rights.

An important part of OUTober is Georgetown’s “I AM” Campaign that encourages students, faculty and staff to discuss was I AM” means to them.  Posting videos online Georgetown faculty and staff proudly described their appreciation for Georgetown University’s acceptance of their same-sex marriages and relationships.  This year, several gay and lesbian faculty members spoke about their pride in being part of the GLBTQ community at Georgetown.

‘Not Just Tolerated’

In one of the online videos, Samuel Aronson, Assistant Dean of Georgetown’s School of Foreign Service, said that for him, the “I AM” campaign means that at Georgetown he is “not just tolerated” as a gay man who is “happily married.” Rather, Dean Aronson says that at Georgetown, “we love you not despite who you love, or your gender expression, but because of who you love.”

Beyond lobbying for same-sex marriage, and transgender rights, some at Georgetown have encouraged undergraduate students to help expand abortion rights as a social justice issue. Collaborating with the dissident Catholics for Choice, Law Students for Reproductive Justice, a student law school organization on several Catholic campuses, aims to produce a new generation of abortion advocates to help “train and mobilize law students and new lawyers across the country to foster legal expertise and support for the realization of reproductive justice.”

As recently as 2015, the LSRJ website listed chapters of  Law Students for Reproductive Justice at Georgetown University as well as DePaul, Fordham Law; Loyola, Los Angeles; Loyola Chicago; Santa Clara University; Seattle University; St. Louis University; Detroit Mercy; University of San Diego; University of San Francisco, as well as Loyola, New Orleans and Boston College.   And, although several of these chapters were deleted from the new LSRJ website, the Cardinal Newman Society (an orthodox Catholic higher education resource organization) maintains that there remain 13 active LSRJ chapters on Catholic campuses.

Working with Planned Parenthood

Law Students for Reproductive Justice is still listed among other law student organizations on the Georgetown University law school website, but now there is a disclaimer that the organization “is not funded by the university.” The University attempted to suggest that was also so in 2015—even though public meeting notices on campus listed LSRJ activities as being held on campus at the Tower Green, and in various rooms in McDonough Hall—the main Law School building.

Georgetown’s LSRJ chapter past president was Sandra Fluke who gained fame by publicly criticizing Catholic colleges and other Catholic institutions for their unwillingness to support “reproductive health” for women by paying for contraceptive care—including abortifacients.

Blatty was concerned about the ways undergraduates were being socialized at Georgetown. The Cardinal Newman Society has documented several connections between Planned Parenthood and Georgetown University involving faculty and undergraduate student internship opportunities.

Signs of Life at Georgetown

Blatty was joined in his concerns about Georgetown’s Catholic identity in 2012 by Donald Cardinal Wuerl, the presiding bishop of the Washington DC Diocese, when he denounced the University’s decision to invite Kathleen Sebelius, the pro-choice Catholic Secretary of Health and Human Service, and the creator of the controversial contraception mandate, to be the Commencement Speaker. An editorial published in the Catholic Standard, the official Archdiocesan newspaper representing the Cardinal, concluded that “Georgetown has undergone a secularization due in no small part to the fact that much of its leadership and faculty find their inspiration in sources other than the Gospel…they reflect the values of the secular culture of our age.”  

The fact that the Law Students for Reproductive Justice felt the need to change its name and hide its chapters can be viewed as a positive development for Catholic identity at all Catholic colleges and universities. At Georgetown, the student group “Hoyas for Choice” appears to have been encouraged to change its name to “H*yas for Choice.” But, what is even more encouraging is that the campus pro-abortion culture itself may be beginning to change. In a recent op-ed in The Georgetown Voice entitled “H*pocrites for Choice a self-described “liberal feminist Catholic” criticized H*yas for Choice because “they are hypocrites…they must admit that the Catholic Church now has some, although very negligible domain over their lives.”

H*yas for Choice

Complaining about the growing pro-life culture on campus, bloggers at H*yas for Choice believe their pro-abortion group has been unfairly marginalized:

While we receive no funding to promote students’ right to bodily autonomy, Georgetown University Right to Life receives a large budget from the school each year that enables them to fund their efforts to force their own values about behavior and what forms of health care acceptable onto all students’ bodies.

While there has been little change in the faculty culture at Georgetown, the student pro-life culture continues to emerge as the pro-life generation comes of age. While pro-life messages on campus have been vandalized by pro-choice advocates, the fact that pro-life messages have been allowed at all on the campus is a positive development.

Georgetown University will be well represented at the Annual March for Life in Washington DC this week. And, although few faculty will join them, they cannot help but be moved by the growing activism of a growing and vibrant pro-life student campus culture. William Peter Blatty would be proud of these student-led developments at Georgetown.

How Non-Judgmentalism Undermines Education

Non-judgmentalism has emerged as one of the core values of higher education. Today’s college students have been educated to perceive their sense of personal security with being affirmed and not judged. Many advocates of safe spaces claim that not being judged is one of the main virtues of their institution.

One website advertising “20 Great Value Colleges with Safe Spaces” gives pride of place to Colorado Mesa University’s Safe Space Program. It “emphasizes the importance of creating non-judgmental and non-biased space for students to have an open platform about any prejudicial concerns they may be experiencing.” In other words, one of the major things they want to feel safe from is judgment.

The fact that not being judged is now perceived as a positive virtue that enhances the learning experience of students is a problem for anyone who takes seriously the ethos of a liberal university education. The discrediting and loss of human judgment, which has been historically linked to the making of moral and political choices and intellectual development is now estranging the university from humanist values and critical reflection.

The Fear of True Tolerance

Although non-judgmentalism is represented as an enlightened and liberal attitude towards the world, it is nothing of the sort. The unreflected judgments arrived at through stereotyping are merely manifestations of conformism and prejudice. But the valuation of non-judgmentalism possesses no inherent positive ethical qualities. The reluctance to judge may be a symptom of disinterest or even moral cowardice. Nowadays it is often brought about by a reluctance to offend or to confront difficult and embarrassing questions. Consequently, once a student signals that she is “uncomfortable” with a particular line of discussion, a sensitive teacher is expected to change the subject.

Campus advocates of non-judgmentalism have developed an entire vocabulary of euphemisms to avoid being unambiguous, clear and blunt in its statements. Terms like “inappropriate,” problematic,” “unwelcome” or “uncomfortable” self-consciously avoid making a moral judgment.

From a liberal humanist perspective, judgment is not simply an acceptable response to other people’s beliefs and behavior: it is a public duty. It is the act of judgment that a dialogue is established between an individual and others. Drawing on Kant’s Critique of Judgment, the philosopher Hannah Arendt writes, in Between Past and Future, of an “enlarged way of thinking, which as judgment knows how to transcend its own individual limitations.” According to current conventional prejudice, the act of judging confines the imagination and encourages narrow-mindedness. In fact, as Arendt contends, judging plays a central role in disclosing to individuals the nature of their public world: “judging is one, if not the most,

According to current conventional prejudice, the act of judging confines the imagination and encourages narrow-mindedness. In fact, as Arendt contends, judging plays a central role in disclosing to individuals the nature of their public world: “judging is one, if not the most, important activity in which this sharing-the-world-with-others comes to pass.” Judgment does not simply mean the dismissal of another person’s belief: ‘the power of judgment rests on a potential agreement with others.” This is one compelling reason why a democratic public sphere depends on judgment.

Non-Judgmentalism Undermines Education

The capacity and the willingness to judge is central to the vocation of an academic Indeed academic judgment lies at the heart of the university. The testing of ideas, the questioning of colleagues’ views and the pursuit of intellectual clarity require the freedom to judge. The very idea of academic freedom is underpinned by the recognition that the exercise of judgment can have no limits without compromising scholarship and its vocation. Within the context of an academic relationship students and faculty must be prepared to have their ideas and views judged by others. Attempts to evade judgment or to limit its exercise in an academic environment can only compromise the quality of higher education.

Why has the creative public act of judgment become culturally devalued? To some extent the devaluation of the act of judgment is influenced by intellectual currents that are both skeptical of knowledge claims and argue that everyone’s views ought to be respected. Such relativist currents often denounce people with strong views as “essentialists” and “fundamentalists.” A more important source for the devaluation of judgment is the influence of the belief that people lack the resilience to deal with criticism. This belief is widely advocated by so-called parenting experts and teachers of children in their early years of schooling. School teachers are trained to avoid explicit criticism of their pupils and to practice techniques that validate members of the classroom.

Such sentiments are based on the premise that perceives people as lacking the capacity to engage with disappointment and criticism. The sentiment that “criticism is violence’” has gained significant influence on campuses and amongst the cultural elites. Judgment is often portrayed as a form of psychic violence, especially if applied to children: the sociologist Richard Sennett echoes this sentiment when he writes of the “devastating implications of rendering judgment on someone’s future.”

Far too many educators confuse an act of judgment with an assault on an individual’s well-being. Yet the exercise of judgment is not directed towards demeaning an individual’s identity but towards assessing an individual’s ideas. Its aims to transcend the personal. In contrast, the ethos of non-judgmentalism perceives the act of judgment as directed at an individual’s identity and assumes that everything is personal. Its self-centered failure to distinguish the personal from non-personal concerns bears all the hallmarks of cultural narcissism.

Paradoxically, the association of judgmentalism with intolerant narrow-mindedness is the very opposite of reality. It is the advocates of non-judgmentalism who regard those who question their views as violators of their safe space and who are wary of engaging with views other than their own. Since respecting and validating each other’s views is a foundational principle governing interaction in a safe space it becomes difficult to seriously question and criticize. And institutions that seek to protect their members from the offense caused by the exercise of judgment have lost sight of the meaning of higher education.

The Dangerous Rise of ‘The New Civics’

The following are excerpts from a report released January 10 by the National Association of Scholars (NAS) on MAKING CITIZENS: HOW AMERICAN UNIVERSITIES TEACH CIVICS. The full report includes case studies at the University of Colorado (Boulder), Colorado State University, University of Northern Colorado and the University of Wyoming.                                                                                   

National Findings: Traditional civic literacy is in deep decay in America. The New Civics, a movement devoted to progressive activism, has taken over civics education. “Service-learning” and “civic engagement” are the most common labels this movement uses, but it also calls itself global civics, deliberative democracy, and intercultural learning. The New Civics movement is national, and it extends far beyond the universities. The New Civics redefines “civic activity” as “progressive activism.” The New Civics redefines “civic activity” as channeling government funds toward progressive nonprofits. The New Civics has worked to divert government funds to progressive causes since its founding in the 1960s.

The New Civics redefines “volunteerism” as labor for progressive organizations and administration of the welfare state. The new measures to require “civic engagement” will make this volunteerism compulsory.  The New Civics replaces traditional liberal arts education with vocational training for community activists. The New Civics shifts authority within the university from the faculty to administrators, especially in offices of civic engagement, diversity, and sustainability, as well as among student affairs professionals. The New Civics also shifts the emphasis of a university education from curricula, drafted by faculty, to “co-curricular activities,” run by non-academic administrators. The New Civics movement aims to take over the entire university. The New Civics advocates want to make “civic engagement” part of every class, every tenure decision, and every extracurricular activity.

By Peter Wood, NAS President

What is most new about the New Civics is that while it claims the name of civics, it is really a form of anti-civics. Civics in the traditional American sense meant learning about how our republic governs itself.

The New Civics has very little to say about most of these matters. It focuses overwhelmingly on turning students into “activists.” Its largest preoccupation is getting students to engage in coordinated social action. Sometimes this involves political protest, but most commonly it involves volunteering for projects that promote progressive causes. Whatever one might think of these activities in their own right, they are a considerable distance away from what Americans used to mean by the word “civics.”

In issuing this report, the National Association of Scholars joins the growing number of critics who believe that some version of traditional civics needs to be restored to American education. This is a non-partisan concern. For America to function as a self-governing republic, Americans must possess a basic understanding of their government. That was one of the original purposes of public education and it has been the lodestar of higher education in our nation from the beginning.

The New Civics has diverted us from this basic obligation.

While many observers have expressed alarm about the disappearance of traditional civics education, very few have noticed that a primary cause of this disappearance has been the rise of the New Civics. This new mode of “civic” training is actively hostile to traditional civics, which it regards as a system of instruction that fosters loyalty to ideas and practices that are fundamentally unjust. The New Civics, claiming the mantle of the “social justice” movement, aims to sweep aside those old ideas and practices and replace them with something better.

Complications: New Civics has appropriated the name of an older subject, but not the content of that subject or its basic orientation to the world. Instead of trying to prepare students for adult participation in the self-governance of the nation, the New Civics tries to prepare students to become social and political activists who are grounded in broad antagonism towards America’s founding principles and its republican ethos.

But a casual observer of New Civics programs might well miss both the activist orientation and the antagonism. That’s for two reasons. First, the New Civics includes a great deal that is superficially wholesome. Second, the advocates of New Civics have adopted a camouflage vocabulary consisting of pleasant-sounding and often traditional terms. Taking these in turn:

Superficial wholesomeness. When New Civics advocates urge college students to volunteer to assist the elderly, to help the poor, to clean up litter, or to assist at pet shelters, the activities themselves really are wholesome. Why call this superficial? The elderly, the poor, the environment, and abandoned pets—to mention only a few of the good objects of student volunteering—truly do benefit from these efforts. The volunteering itself is not necessarily superficial or misguided. But, again, context matters. In the context of New Civics, student volunteering is not just calling on students to exercise their altruistic muscles. It is, rather, a way of drawing students into a system that combines some questionable beliefs with long-term commitments.

These seemingly innocent forms of volunteering, as organized by the patrons of New Civics, are considerably less “voluntary” than they often appear—especially since more and more colleges are turning such “volunteer” work into a graduation requirement. Some students even call them “voluntyranny,” given the heavy hand of the organizers in coercing students to participate. They submerge the individual into a collectivity. They ripen the students for more aggressive forms of community organization. And often they turn the students themselves into fledgling community organizers.

Camouflage vocabulary. The world of New Civics is rife with familiar words used in non-familiar ways. Democracy and civic engagement in New Civic-speak do not mean what they mean in ordinary English.

A Dictionary of Deception. This is exemplified in a catchphrase used by Syracuse University’s civic program: “Citizen isn’t just something you are. Citizen is something you do.” The idea is that students aren’t getting a full education just by reading books, listening to lectures, writing papers, speaking in class, debating with each other, and participating in the social life of the college community. They must also “learn by doing.” Another phrase for this is that students should “apply their academic learning” or “practice” it in the real world. “Active” always means “active in progressive political campaigns.”

The “aware” student is up to date with the progressive party line and knows the current list of oppressions that need to be righted. The “aware” student knows the true meaning of words: “academic freedom,” for example, is really “a hegemonic discourse that perpetuates the structural inequalities of white male power.” “Awareness” requires politically correct purchases and social interactions—reusable water bottles, fair-trade coffee, a diffident approach to pronouns—but it does not require active participation in a campaign of political advocacy.

Civic Learning: “Civic learning” is learning how to be properly civically engaged; civic learning, in other words, teaches students the content of progressives’ political beliefs, how to propagandize for them, and the means by which to enforce them on other people via the administrative state. New Civics advocates are trying to make progressive propaganda required for college students by calling “civic learning” an “essential learning outcome.” Civic learning is supposed to become “pervasive”—inescapable political education.

Loyalty to and Enthusiastic Participation In A Social Justice Cause: “Commitment” is an enthusiastic form of being “active.” It signals a student’s readiness to make a career as a progressive advocate in a “community organization,” university administration, or the government. It also signals to progressives entrusted to hire new personnel that a student is a trustworthy employee.

Tactics to Increase the Power of the Radical Left, Following the Strictures of Saul Alinsky: “Community organization” as a process refers to the Machiavellian tactics used by radical Saul Alinsky to forward radical leftist goals. New Civics advocates use community organization tactics against the university itself, as they try to seize control of its administration and budget; they also train students to act as community organizers in the outside world. “Community organization” as a noun refers to a group founded by Alinskyite progressives, with Alinskyite aims. Community organization signifies the most intelligent and dangerous component of the progressive coalition.

Consensus, a Loudly Shouted Progressive Opinion, Verified by Denying Disbelievers the Chance to Speak: Consensus means that everyone agrees. Progressives achieve the illusion of consensus by shouting their opinions, asserting that anyone who disagrees with them is evil, and preventing opponents from speaking—sometimes by denying them administrative permission to speak on a campus, sometimes literally by shouting them down

Critique, Dismantling Belief in the Traditions of Western Civilization and American Culture: To be critical, or to engage in critique, is to attack an established belief on the grounds that it is self-evidently a hypocritical prejudice established by the powerful to reinforce their rule, and believed by poor dupes clinging to their false consciousness. “Critical thought” sees through the deceptive appearance of freedom, justice, and happiness in American life and reveals the underlying structures of oppression—sexism, racism, class dominance, and so on. “Critique” works to dismantle these oppressive structures. “Critical thought” and “critique” is also meant to reinforce the ruling progressive prejudices of the universities; it is never to take these prejudices as their object.

Deliberative Democracy, Thoughtful, Rational Discussion of Political Issues That Ends Up With Progressive Conclusions: Deliberative democracy is a concept that political theorists have drawn from Jürgen Habermas’ theory of communicative rationality. While formally about the procedures of democratic decision-making, it aligns with the idea of a transcendental, quasi-Marxist Truth, toward which rational decision-making inevitably leads. New Civics advocates in Rhetoric/Communications and Political Science departments frequently use “deliberative democracy” classes and centers as a way to forward progressive goals.

Progressive Policies Achieved by Arbitrary Rule And/Or The Threat Of Violence: New Civics advocates use “democracy” to mean “radical social and economic goals, corresponding to beliefs that range from John Dewey to Karl Marx.” They also use “democratic” to mean “disassembling all forms of law and procedure, whether in government, the university administration, or the classroom.” A democratic political decision overrides the law to achieve a progressive political goal; a democratic student rally intimidates a university administration into providing more money for a campus New Civics organization; a democratic class replaces a professor’s informed discussion with a student’s incoherent exposition of his unfounded opinion. A democracy in power issues arbitrary edicts to enforce progressive dogma and calls it freedom.

Lectures by Progressive Activists, Intended to Harangue Dissidents Into Silence: In “dialogue,” or “conversation,” students are supposed to listen carefully to a grievance speaker, usually a professional activist, and if possible echo what the speaker has to say. The dialogue is never between individuals, but between representatives of a race, a religion, a nationality, and so on. The structure of dialogue thus dehumanizes all participants by making them nothing more than mouthpieces for a group “identity.”

Diversity, Propaganda and Hiring Quotas in Favor of the Progressive Grievance Coalition: The Supreme Court used “diversity” as a rationale for sustaining the legality of quotas for racial minorities in higher education admissions, first in Regents of the University of California v. Bakke (1978) and then in Grutter v. Bollinger (2003). New Civics advocates use “democracy” to mean “radical social and economic goals, corresponding to beliefs that range from John Dewey to Karl Marx.”

Disaffection from American Citizenship in Favor of a Notional Membership in a Non-Existent Global State: “Global citizenship” is a way to combine civic engagement, study abroad, and disaffection from primary loyalty to and love of America. A global citizen favors progressive policies at home and abroad and is in favor of constraining the exercise of American power in the interest of American citizens. A global citizen is a contradiction in terms since he is loyal to a hypothetical abstraction, and not to an actual cives—a particular state with a particular history. A global citizen seeks to impose rule by an international bureaucratic elite upon the American government, and the beliefs of an international alliance of progressive nongovernmental organization upon the American people.

Putatively Non-Hierarchical Progressive Community Organizations: The “grassroots” have democratic authenticity—they’re not professional politicians claiming to speak for the people, and they aren’t made to conform to any sort of hierarchical authority. Real grassroots— citizens coming together to lobby legislators—is intrinsic to the American political system, but when progressives claim to speak for the grassroots, and they mean a drive funded by George Soros and organized by paid activists.  These activists declare that “consensus” has been reached by “the people” outside the formal structures of representative democracy. Since “consensus” is achieved by shouting down moderates, compromisers, and gentle souls, genuine progressive grassroots organizations make unaccountable ideological fanaticism the source of decision-making. See Black Lives Matter.

Interdependence: “Interdependence” universalizes the language of needs and rights, and therefore justifies the expansion of the progressive state to extend to every aspect of life.

The Idea That Every Component of the Progressive Left Must Support All Other Components of the Progressive Left: “Intersectionality” is a way to align progressives’ competing narratives of oppression and victimhood by making every purported victim of oppression support every other purported victim of oppression.

Pervasiveness, Making New Civics Inescapable at the University: The New Civics seeks to insert progressive advocacy into every aspect of higher education, inside and outside the college. A Crucible Moment summons higher education institutions to make civic learning “pervasive” rather than “peripheral.” “Pervasiveness” justifies the extension of progressive propaganda and advocacy by student affairs staff and other academic bureaucrats into residential life and “co-curricular activities”—everything students do voluntarily outside of class. It also justifies the insertion of progressive advocacy into every class, as well as making progressive activism a hiring and tenure requirement for faculty and staff.

“Pervasiveness” justifies the extension of progressive propaganda and advocacy by student affairs staff and other academic bureaucrats into residential life and “co-curricular activities”—everything students do voluntarily outside of class.

Service-Learning, Free Student Labor for Progressive Organizations: “Service-learning” was invented in the 1960s by radicals as a way to use university resources to forward radical political goals. It aims to propagandize students (“raise their consciousness”), to use their labor and tuition money to support progressive organizations, and to train them for careers as progressive activists. It draws on educational theories from John Dewey, Paulo Freire, and Mao’s China. Since the 1980s, “service-learning” has used the name “civic engagement” to provide a “civic” rationale for progressive political advocacy. Civic engagement, global learning, and so on, all are forms of service-learning.

Social Justice, Progressive Policies Justified by the Putative Sufferings of Designated Victim Groups: Social justice aims to redress putative wrongs suffered by designated victim groups. Unlike real justice, which seeks to deliver individuals the rights guaranteed to them by written law or established custom, social justice aims to provide arbitrary goods to collectivities of people defined by equally arbitrary identities. Social justice uses the language of law and justice to justify state redistribution of jobs and property to whomever progressives think deserve them

Service-learning aims to propagandize students (“raise their consciousness”), to use their labor and tuition money to support progressive organizations, and to train them for careers as progressive activists.

“Reciprocal” is a sign that progressive organizations have seized control of university funds.

21st Century Skills, Digital Media Skills Used to Forward the Progressive Agenda: The ability to use social media and graphic design for progressive propaganda and organization. The emphasis on “skills” generally argues that universities don’t need to teach any body of knowledge; the particular emphasis on “twenty-first-century skills” further argues that universities don’t need to teach anything discovered before the year 2000. Recent college graduates use “twenty-first-century skills” as an argument that they should be employed despite knowing nothing and having no work experience.

These definitions we have sketched voice our distrust of the New Civics movement. Its declarations about its aims and its avowals about its methods can seldom be taken at face value. This isn’t a minor point. Civics in a well-governed republic has to be grounded on clear speaking and transparency. A movement that goes to elaborate lengths to present a false front to the public is not properly civics at all, no matter what it calls itself.

We began this study in the hope of finding out how far the New Civics had succeeded in becoming part of American colleges and universities. We came to a mixed answer. New Civics is present to some degree at almost all colleges and universities, but it is much more fully developed and institutionalized at some than it is at others. In our study, the University of Colorado at Boulder stands as our example of a university where New Civics has become dominant. But even at universities where New Civics has not attained such prominence, it is a force to be reckoned with.

A movement that goes to elaborate lengths to present a false front to the public is not properly civics at all, no matter what it calls itself.

The word “civics” suggests that students will learn about the structures and functions of government in a classroom. Some do, but a major finding of our study is that there has been a shift of gravity within universities. New Civics finds its most congenial campus home in the offices devoted to student activities, such as the dean or vice president for students, the office of residence life, and the centers for service-learning. Nearly every campus also has some faculty advocates for New Civics, but the movement did not grow out of the interests and wishes of mainstream faculty members. A partial exception to this is schools of education, where many faculty members are fond of New Civics conceits.

The positioning of New Civics in student services has a variety of implications.

First, it means the initiative is directly under the control of central administration, which can appoint staff and allocate budget without worrying about faculty opinion or “shared governance.” Programs like this can become signature initiatives for college presidents, and few within the university, including boards of trustees, have any independent basis to examine whatever claims a college president makes on behalf of New Civics programs. In a word, such programs are unaccountable.

Second, the positioning of New Civics as parallel to the college’s actual curriculum frees advocates to make extravagant claims about its contributions to students’ general education. New Civics is full of hyperbole about what it accomplishes, and even so, it vaunts itself as deserving an even larger role in “transforming” students. Its goal is to be everywhere, in all the classes, and in that sense to subordinate the teaching faculty to the staff who run the student services programs.

Third, the New Civics placement in student services tends to blur the line between academic and extra-curricular. New Civics advocates may hold adjunct appointments on the faculty. Frequently they push for academic credit for various forms of student volunteering. In general, they treat the extra-curricular as “co-curricular,” which is rhetorical inflation.

New Civics is about seizing power in society, and the place nearest at hand is the university itself. New Civics mandarins are ambitious, and what starts in student services doesn’t stay there.

Why Millennials Are So Fragile

I have stopped counting the number of times that an academic colleague reminds me that “undergraduates are not what they used to be.” In private conversations, a significant minority of academic teachers have raised the concern that the age-old distinction between school children and university students was fast losing its meaning.

Back in 2003, Neil Howe and William Strauss, the authors of the study Millennials Go to College, advanced the thesis that this generation is far less mature and resilient than previous ones. They noted that the millennial generation is far more “closely tied to their parents” than the students that preceded them, and they also insist on a “secure and regulated environment.”

Howe and Strauss concluded that as a result, students today find it difficult to flourish in the relatively unstructured environment of higher education. The assessment that the millennials find it more troublesome to make the transition to independent living on campuses than previous generations is widely held by educators on both sides of the Atlantic.

A report last September from Britain’s Higher Education Policy Institute said that the normal experiences of university life now constitute serious challenges to the well-being of the current cohort of students. It noted that “students are vulnerable” because in most cases they are living away from home for the first time. It also pointed to the new challenges they faced such as “a different method of learning” and “living with people they have never met before.”

Related: Should Colleges Coddle the Whiners?

One of the most significant and yet rarely analyzed developments in campus culture has been its infantilization.  Eric Posner, a leading legal scholar at the University of Chicago, declared that “students today are more like children than adults and need protection.” Posner contends that today’s university students are not ready for independence and require the moral guidance of their institutions.

In England, a group educators have criticized universities for treating their new students as if they were young adults. Sir Anthony Seldon, now head of Buckingham University, stated that ‘there is a belief among Vice Chancellors that young people are adults and can fend for themselves, but “18-year-olds today are a lot less robust and worldly wise.”

Most accounts of the unprecedented emotional fragility of university undergraduates claim that this development is the outcome of the expansion of student numbers. They suggest that many of these students come from diverse non-traditional backgrounds and lack the confidence and financial security of their more privileged predecessors. Catherine McAteer, the head of University College London’s student psychological services observed that the reason why a growing number of students require mental health support is because “students are now coming to university” who previously “would not have come.”

Some argue that first-generation students –undergraduates whose parents did not attend university – face unique problems attempting to fit into an alien, high-pressure environment. It is also asserted that since a significant proportion of first-generation students come from minority and socially deprived backgrounds they face a unique problem of adjusting to the traditional white middle- class campus environment.

Related: The New Age of Orthodoxy Overtakes the Campus

The principal problem faced by first-generation students is that their parents had little cultural capital to hand on to them and were, therefore, less prepared for university life than their more comfortably off peers. But unlike today, the problems they faced was not portrayed in psychological terms but in the language of culture and socio-economic deprivation.

Unfortunately, when first-generation students arrive on campus today, they are often treated as if they are likely to possess some emotional deficits. In the U.S. it is common for universities to organize special programs for integrating first-generation students. Diversity officers dealing with the first-generation often operate under the theory that this group faces a unique problem of being torn between family and university. They frequently contend that first-generation students suffer from guilt for leaving their family behind. The upshot of these theories is the belief that first-generation students need special dedicated psychological support.

Regrettably, the focus on psychology distracts attention from more constructive ways of preparing students from disadvantaged backgrounds to deal with the pressures of academic learning. The provision of academic support to help students gain intellectual confidence is probably the most useful way of helping students to make their way in the university.

Perversely the provision of psychological support as the default solution for helping first-generation students is likely to intensify their quest for validation. Instead of developing their power of resilience it may well heighten their sense of vulnerability. What universities need to do is not to cultivate the insecure identity of first-generation students but to provide them with the intellectual resources that will help them to gain confidence in their ability to achieve.

Related: Millennials Not Ready for the Job Market

In any case, it is far from evident if the link between emotional fragility and a student’s non-traditional background explains very much. Students from well-to-do backgrounds are no less likely than their poorer peers to talk the language of trauma and psychological distress. Indeed some of the most privileged campuses– Oxford, Cambridge, Yale, Berkeley, Oberlin – have been in the forefront of campaigns that focus attention to the emotional harms suffered by students from a variety of alleged causes.

The reason why the current generation appears to behave differently from their predecessor has little to do with their socio-economic background. Rather the sense of emotional fragility expressed by some undergraduates is the outcome of the prevailing ethos of socialization that treats young people as children.

The socialization of young people has become increasingly reliant on therapeutic techniques that have the perverse effect of encouraging children and youth to interpret existential problems as psychological ones. The concern with children’s emotions has fostered a climate where many young people are continually educated to understand the challenges they face through the language of mental health. Not surprisingly, they often feel find it difficult to acquire the habit of independence and make the transition to forms of behavior associated with the exercise of autonomy.

The complex emotional tensions that are integral to the process of growing up are now discussed as stressful events with which children and young people cannot be expected to cope. Yet is through dealing with such emotional upheavals that young people learn to manage risks and gain an understanding of their strengths and weaknesses. Instead of being encouraged to acquire an aspiration for independence, many youngsters are subject to influences that promote childish behavior. The infantilization of young people is the unintended outcome of parenting practices that rely on levels of support and supervision that are more suitable for much younger children.

The relations of dependence that are nurtured through these practices serve to prolong adolescence to the point that many young people in their 20s do not perceive themselves as adults. Whereas in the past infantilization was classically associated with the phenomenon of maternal overprotection, today the prolongation of adolescence is culturally sanctioned. In the case of universities, it is institutionally enforced.

Socialization through validation

The erosion of the line that divides secondary from higher education is a trend that contradicts the ethos of academic teaching and the vocation associated with it. In theory, the ideals associated with the university remain widely affirmed, but in practice, they are often tested by the introduction of conventions that were formerly confined to secondary education. The adoption of paternalistic practices and the wider tendency towards the infantilization of campus life can in part be understood as an outcome of the difficulties that society has encountered in the socialization of young people.

For some time now it has been evident that parents and schools have been struggling with the transmission of values and rules of behavior to young people. In part, this problem was caused by the lack confidence of older generations in the values into which it was socialized. More broadly, Western society has become estranged from the values that used to inspire it in the past and found it difficult to provide its adult members with a compelling narrative for socialization.

The hesitant and defensive manner with which the task of socialization is pursued has created a demand for new ways of influencing children. The growing remission of child protection and the widening of the territory for parenting activities can be interpreted as an attempt to develop new methods for guiding children.

Lack of clarity about the transmission of values has led to a search for alternatives. The adoption of the practices of behavior management serves as one influential approach towards solving the problem of socialization.  These psychological techniques of expert-directed behavior management have had an important influence on childrearing. From this standpoint, the role of parents is not so much to transmit values but to validate the feelings, attitudes and accomplishment of their children.

Though parents still do their best to transmit their beliefs and ideals to their children, there is a perceptible shift from instilling values to the provision of validation. Affirming children and raising their self-esteem is a project that is actively promoted by parents as well as schools. This emphasis on validation has run in tandem with the custom of a risk-averse regime of child-rearing. Social psychologist Jonathan Haidt has described this form of childrearing as that of “fearful parenting.” He claims that since the 1980s, children have been “protected as fragile,” which has the perverse consequence of undermining their capacity for resilience.

As I noted in my study, Paranoid Parenting, the (unintended) consequence of this regime of parenting has been to limit opportunities for the cultivation of independence and to extend the phase of dependence of young people on adult society. The extension of the phase of dependence is reinforced by the considerable difficulties that society has in providing young people with a persuasive account of what it means to be an adult. Instead of encouraging new undergraduates to embark on a life of independent study, universities have adopted a paternalistic ethos that treats them as biologically mature children. In this way, they have helped create a campus culture that discourages young people from embarking on the path to adulthood.

Ruined by the Beach Boys and Other Title IX Disasters

In the latest expansion of the intent of Title IX, a University of Kentucky Professor drew punishment this month, partly, he says, because he was found to have engaged in “sexual misconduct” by singing a Beach Boys song at a university gathering in China last year. The professor, Buck Ryan, who directs the University’s Scripps Howard First Amendment Center, claimed in an op-ed published in the Lexington Herald Leader  that “under Administrative Regulation 6:1, Discrimination and Harassment, University of Kentucky’s Title IX coordinator ruled that the song, “California Girls,” with names of Chinese universities and cities inserted for the event,  included ‘language of a sexual nature’ and was offensive.”

Although there were no student complaints—essentially no victims—the professor who has three decades of college teaching experience, was refused due process—as is the case for most accused males in Title IX cases—and has been stripped of a prestigious award worth thousands of dollars.

A heavily redacted letter, released by the university, says that no charge of having sexual relations is involved in the case against Ryan, but leaves the impression that Ryan did something major. On December 20, an op-ed in the Louisville Courier-Journal by University PR man Jay Blanton said the Beach Boys song was not the key factor in the case and that Ryan had engaged in “inappropriate touching” and “language of a sexual nature.” Still, no formal hearing, no clearly stated charges and no on-the-record complaining witnesses, but a heavy financial loss and damage to Ryan’s reputation.

Related: The Title IX Mess: Will It Be Reformed?

In comments to the university senate Monday, Ryan said, “UK has weaponized its Title IX office and made the legal office its enforcer. It’s time the faculty stands up to the bully.” Ryan added that the Chinese students at the event, none of whom were contacted by the university, “found the charges against me mortifying and wanted to defend me. They were looking to clear their names, too.”

Since its passage in 1972, Title IX has been expanded from its original intent to end discrimination on the basis of sex in schools that receive federal funding, to include regulations promulgated in the name of preventing a hostile environment for women—broadly defined as “any unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature.” Today, any unwelcome comment to a female student from a male student, faculty or staff member is grounds for a Title IX investigation—with Title IX coordinators empowered to act as police, judge and jury in allegations of sexual harassment ranging from offensive speech to claims of rape.

Harvard canceled the men’s soccer team season because team members sent emails to each other rating women on their physical attractiveness. Columbia University followed suit by canceling the wrestling season after “misogynistic and homophobic” text messages were found to have been sent by members of the team.

This was never the intent of Title IX.  While Presidents Reagan and Bush enforced the original intent of Title IX, the overreach of the law began in 1996 with an ominous “Dear Colleague” letter sent from President Clinton’s Education Secretary to all college and university administrators.  Warning that colleges that did not ‘equalize the participation’ of males and females in athletics, would lose federal funding, the Clinton administration mandated that if the schools could not produce enough female athletes, they would have to cut male athletes—and male athletic programs—until the participation rates of both sexes were exactly the same.

That was just the beginning. While the George W. Bush administration did not expand Title IX, it did nothing to curb the abuses. And, once the Obama administration took power, the Title IX industry that had been created was so confident in its ability to manipulate gender politics on campuses throughout the country, that a whole new set of “Dear Colleague” letters began to arrive on campus in 2011. Enlisting the U. S. Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights to handle all complaints in very specific ways, the “Dear Colleague” letters required colleges to be responsible for harassment and assault that occurs off-campus as well as on-campus.

Related: How the Feds Use Orwell to Apply Title IX

The Obama administration also allowed a lower standard of evidence to “prove” the guilt of the accused. A “preponderance of evidence” standard replaced a “guilt beyond a reasonable doubt” standard.  And, as in the University of Kentucky case, there are no protections for the academic freedom of professors and the free expression of any male student, professor or staff member on or off campus.  There is no right to due process no right to an attorney for the accused—and sometimes, no appeal process allowed.

President Obama’s overreach has caused an explosion of cases. Even Brett Sokolow, who in 2014 as director of the Association of Title IX Administrators, acknowledged in a newsletter to members that in their efforts to enforce Title IX, “they are running afoul of Title IX.”  Claiming that colleges are getting it “completely wrong,” Sokolow advised campuses that “every drunken sexual hook up is not a punishable offense.”

Sokolow knows that colleges and universities have implemented Title IX so poorly that the Office of Civil Rights is currently investigating more than 200 institutions following complaints that the colleges and universities have mishandled sexual misconduct cases.  In just the past few months, lawsuits were filed by students claiming “unfair treatment” at Albany Medical College, the College of St. Benedict and St. John’s University, Shenandoah University, the University Cincinnati and the University of Maryland.

This follows high-profile lawsuits at Occidental College, Columbia University and the University of Tennessee.  Several of these lawsuits have been successful in vindicating the male student, and actually holding college administrators accountable.  Earlier this year, an Ohio federal judge allowed an Ohio State University student’s due process claims to survive a motion to dismiss, holding that the campus Title IX training at the Ohio State University may have “biased Title IX panel members,” allowing the plaintiff to proceed against OSU’s Title IX Coordinator.

Related: Title IX Tramples Free Speech and Fairness, So Now What?

In October, the Office for Civil Rights found that Wesley College in Delaware violated the Title IX rights of a male student who was accused of sexual assault—citing unfair treatment.  And, a  federal appeals court revived a lawsuit by a Columbia University male student who alleged that the university had subjected him to sex discrimination during its investigation of a sexual assault report against him.

For the unjustly accused, the ability to bring these lawsuits are themselves a victory because they reveal that colleges and universities have not been complying with their own procedures.  In most cases, accused students are not given due process – they are denied a chance to respond to allegations, they are not informed of their options for resolving the complaints, they are not given copies of the incident report or other evidence against them before the hearing, they are not allowed to call witnesses on their behalf, and they are often denied legal representation.

Last year in a case at the University of  California, San Diego, Superior Court Judge Joel M. Pressman found that the accused student was impermissibly prevented from fully confronting and cross-examining his accuser and that there was insufficient evident to back the university’s findings that the male student had forced the accuser into sexual activity without her consent. Ordering UC San Diego to drop its finding against the male student, the judge quipped that “When I finished reading all the briefs in this case, my comment was Where’s the kangaroo?”

These campus tribunals are indeed kangaroo courts. A forthcoming book (January 24) The Campus Rape Frenzy, by K C Johnson and Stuart Taylor, draws upon data from two dozen of the hundreds of cases since 2010 in which innocent students have been branded as sex criminals and expelled or otherwise punished by their colleges.  It shows why all of us are harmed when universities abandon the pursuit of the truth—and “accommodate the passions of the mob.”

For those of us who are concerned about free speech and equal protection for all students, the selection of Education Secretary, Betsy DeVos is encouraging.  But, Secretary DeVos will be battling an entrenched anti-male campus culture and the Chronicle of Higher Education has already published a warning that: “Trump Administration May Back Away from Title IX, but Campuses Won’t.”

Taking on the sexual assault industry that has been built up on the backs of innocent male students will be difficult, but President-elect Trump—no stranger to false allegations himself—has already shown a willingness to speak for those who have been silenced.

Bias Response Teams—Not Gone Yet

At Emory University, when someone had the nerve to write “Trump 2016” in chalk on some sidewalks and steps, a wave of “fear” struck the campus, according to the university president. He made it clear that “Trump’s platform and his values undermine Emory’s values of diversity and inclusivity.” He also said that any student found guilty of chalking up that dreaded name would “go through the conduct violation process.”

Welcome to the new hyper- bias. On the modern campus, it’s an inflatable concept that can include a recommendation to vote Republican.

We were once told to worry about hate crimes–a recognized legal category. Then the focus turned to hate speech and microaggressions–not crimes, really, but at least plausibly offensive incidents. Now we are told to guard against ambiguous and seemingly innocuous incidents, such as a trio of Wisconsin students who dressed as the three blind mice for Halloween and were accused of mocking the disabled.

Related: Watch out for Bias Team

Buoyed by the belief that the university exists to protect them from words that upset them, students and even professors now fight against unwanted speech with righteous fervor. “Bias” has evolved into a quasi-religious concept that lurks in the hearts of unsuspecting students–like a demonic force–that must be exorcized by the Orthodox priests of the liberal academic order.

Who are the inquisitors of this order? Enter the “Bias Response Team,” or, in some cases, the “Bias Awareness Response Team.” They walk the halls of the modern university, monitoring speech, reviewing anonymous complaints at closed-door hearings, painting scarlet Bs on people’s foreheads. The free exchange of ideas–a principle that was once sacred to the very idea of the university–has been replaced by the new sacred principle of the safe space.

They’ve even developed a cute acronym for these inquisitions. BRT’s or BART’s have become a standard part of the vast academic administrative apparatus. More than one hundred U.S. campuses have some version of it on campus. In some cases, they’re dubbed BIRT’s or even BERT’s or BHERT’s. (The ‘H’ stands for hate.) But, alas, a committee by any other name smells just as Orwellian.

Related: How Soft Censorship Works at College 

One thing these diversely acronymized bias response teams have in common is a kind of air of self-evident righteousness. A belief that words ought to be closely policed. There is a sense of moral urgency and faith that precludes all questioning. Don’t you believe in tolerance, openness, and inclusiveness? How dare you speak of stifling speech!

Nevertheless, some universities have begun to break faith. While these kinds of anti-bias teams remain prevalent, more than one campus has disbanded BART concerned that the constant fear of being reported to the university administration as a “biased person” by anyone who happens not to like what you say in the classroom could, maybe, possibly–there is a chance–lead to a stifling of free speech.

The University of Northern Colorado announced that it would terminate BART back in September with the president, Kay Norton, explaining that the bias team had “sometimes made people feel we were telling them what they should and should not say.” What she didn’t detail in the statement were the hundreds of posters the bias team had put up around campus warning students not to use controversial terms or phrases such as “illegal immigrant” or “all lives matter.”

Even worse, two professors received visits from the school’s bias response team after they asked students to consider an opposing viewpoint as part of a class assignment. Some students in their classes had complained that the assignment constituted bias. In August, officials at the University of Iowa put their plans to launch a bias team on hold, citing the controversy at Northern Colorado.

In an essay in The New Republic, professors Jeffrey Snyder and Amna Khalid of Carleton College cataloged a long list of troubling incidents involving bias response teams. They included professors being pressured to resign, students dragged in for questioning and punishment, and episode after episode of students anonymously reporting “bias” when a professor or student simply said or did something they didn’t like. The result of all this has been to exalt the status of the tattletale, and to give one self-entitled student power to threaten and silence, by proxy, any person who crosses his will. The BART became a weapon for the brat.

Little wonder that even many conventionally liberal academics have begun to join conservatives to say enough is enough.

Ironically, none of these universities appear at all interested in taking steps to correct the most glaring bias of all–the hiring bias against conservative and Republican-voting faculty candidates. According to one study, only 14% of U.S. professors identify as Republican. The ratio is even more skewed at the nation’s most elite institutions. In 2012, for example, 96% of Ivy League faculty political donations went to Obama. (Mitt Romney, presumably, divided the remaining 4% with Jill Stein.)

The humanities and social sciences, where political issues are more likely to emerge in class discussion than in sciences or technical disciplines, are laughably bereft of diversity. Only 2% of American English professors identify as Republican. Two percent! Among social scientists, there are three times as many self-identified Marxists as there are Republicans–a figure so ridiculous it caused even The New York Times’ Nick Kristof to cry foul.

It’s a shame these anti-bias teams were not conceived to look into university hiring practices. And it’s no wonder students get confused and begin to think they are victims of bias whenever they encounter a differing political opinion. They go nearly all the way through college without ever hearing one.

Can We Save Public Universities?

There was a time not so long ago when elite public institutions, such as the University of California (Berkeley), the University of Michigan, and the University of Wisconsin, more than held their own against competition from Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Stanford, and other elite private institutions.

Berkeley’s reputation for academic excellence in the 1950s and 60s was unsurpassed; indeed, in the mid-1960s many experts considered Berkeley to be the finest university in the world.  Flagship universities in Michigan, Wisconsin, Illinois, Minnesota, North Carolina, and Virginia earned high rankings.

Related: How Our Universities Are Failing Us

Few private institutions could match the range of outstanding research programs offered at flagship state institutions, particularly in expensive fields like the sciences and engineering. Admission to these institutions was widely pursued by out-of-state students willing to pay premium tuition.   With enrollments in excess of 25,000 and in some cases 40,000 students, these institutions dwarfed the privates in scale but delivered a great deal of educational “bang for the buck.”  Degrees from Berkeley, Michigan, and Wisconsin were judged as equivalent to those from the top private institutions.

Today the situation is greatly changed. There is not a single public institution listed among the top 19 schools in the 2016 rankings by U.S. News & World Report. Berkeley ranked 20th, while Virginia and UCLA came in tied at 24 with Michigan at 29 and the University of North Carolina (Chapel Hill) at 30. What happened over the last four or five decades to reverse the momentum in higher education from public to private institutions?

Christopher Newfield outlines what he thinks is the answer in his very interesting, carefully researched, but ultimately misguided book, The Great Mistake: How We Wrecked Public Universities and How We Can Fix Them. Newfield, a professor of literature and American Studies at the University of California at Santa Barbara, argues that we have engaged in a multi-decade campaign to “privatize” public universities by withdrawing public funding and replacing it with higher tuition funded by student debt.

He does not mean that public universities have been privatized in a literal sense but that they are increasingly expected to run like businesses delivering services to customers.  From this point of view, universities mostly deliver private benefits and thus they should be paid for with private funds – primarily student tuition – and less and less by legislative appropriations.

Related: The 12 Reasons College Costs Keep Rising

A central casualty in this process has been the belief that universities deliver public benefits to society sufficient to justify large public investments. Newfield argues that public universities deliver all kinds of public benefits in addition to private benefits, such as technological innovations and scientific advances, medical breakthroughs, better overall health of the population, social literacy and tolerance, mobility, and rising living standards.

Such public benefits used to be taken for granted as recently as the 1960s and 1970s when politicians and the public at large generally agreed that the social returns from higher education justified substantial investments in public universities.  Over the last several decades, he argues, that public vision gave way to what he calls a privatized vision of higher education.

Newfield tracks the collapse of this public vision by the steady decline over recent decades in legislative appropriations to support public universities.  The figures he reports suggests that while this process may have begun in the 1980s it has accelerated in the past decade or so in just about every state in the union. Between 2008 and 2015, state appropriations for higher education declined by an average of close to 20 percent across the country, and by more than 25 percent in at least 15 states.

There were only three states – Alaska, North Dakota, and Wyoming – where appropriations actually increased.  Obviously, this had much to do with the financial crisis and the slow recovery from it, but Newfield suggests that in reducing appropriations state legislatures took advantage in these years of the process of privatization that began decades earlier.

Public universities have responded by raising student tuition to cover costs, though Newfield points out that there exists no one-to-one relationship between declining appropriations and rising tuition. Indeed, in recent decades public universities have raised tuition much faster than legislatures have cut appropriations, and public institutions have raised tuition in tandem with private colleges and universities.  Between 1980 and 2012, college tuition and fees increased more than ten-fold in nominal terms and 4 or 5 times in inflation-adjusted terms.

College tuition and fees increased during this period at almost twice the rate of medical care, three times the pace of housing costs, and almost five times the rate of the Consumer Price Index – in other words, at rates that could not be sustained absent the availability of credit to finance the rising costs.  Thus student-loan debt has exploded in recent decades, growing from roughly $200 billion in the year 2000 to $800 billion in 2010 – and still growing thereafter.

Student loan debt now exceeds credit-card debt in the United States.  Over this period, family disposable income has grown by roughly 60 percent while the volume of outstanding student loans has grown nearly 10 times more rapidly – or by more than 500 percent.  These are staggering figures by any measure. Given the stagnation in family incomes in recent years, one wonders if those loans can ever be repaid.

What’s the answer? Newfield, in keeping with his thesis, thinks that we must first restore the idea that higher education is a public good deserving of substantial public investment. These more generous appropriations may require higher taxes, as Newfield acknowledges, but he points out that the costs for most taxpayers will be minimal and in any case easily affordable given in view of the savings most families will enjoy from the reduced expenses of college tuition and fees.

To give Newfield his due, he has written a serious book that backs up his thesis with an impressive array of fact and argument.  His book contains a great deal of current information on trends in student debt, tuition increases, and legislative appropriations for public education.  Whether or not readers agree with the overall thesis, they can at least agree that Newfield has made a good case for it, and for this reason has delivered a valuable book.

Many Americans for various reasons seem to long for the glory days of the 1950s and 1960s when, they believe, life was easier than today, families were more stable, good jobs more plentiful, and America was making steady progress year by year.   Some on the right look back to that era with nostalgia for the conservative social values that prevailed, while others on the left would like to recover the good manufacturing jobs and strong labor unions that were then influential in the economic life of the nation.

It seems that Newfield is of a similar mind about that era, except that he would like to restore the public confidence and financial support that public universities enjoyed during that period.   As with those other longings, Newfield’s is unrealistic and no longer attainable.   We have moved on, and we are not going back.

In the first place, that period (from roughly 1950 to 1966) was a unique era in American life.  The United States enjoyed rapid economic growth of between 4 and 6 percent per year, or something close to two or three times the rates of growth we have experienced over the past two decades.  Economic growth and progressive taxes swelled the coffers of state and federal governments. The “baby boom” created large families with parents and grandparents willing to invest in children and their education.

Related: How Reform Conservatives Can Help Higher Ed

With few competitors in the public sector and a growing population of students seeking admission, public universities had a claim on public resources that they had never before enjoyed.   Universities were, moreover, widely respected by the public for the quality of the education they provided and the seriousness with which university presidents, professors, and administrators seemed to go about their business.  These conditions have long since gone the way of the electric typewriter and the family station wagon.

In the heyday of public universities, state governments spent the bulk of their funds on just a few functions – primarily transportation, public safety and corrections, and higher education.   During this period, public universities had few competitors for state funds and, indeed, with their alumni well represented in the legislatures and the “baby boom” generation headed off to college, they were well positioned to lay claim to a rising share of state budgets.  Across the nation, somewhere close to 20 percent of state budgets flowed into the public universities at a time when public employee pensions, health care, and K-12 education were still minor items in state budgets.

That is no longer the case. Public universities now face an unfriendly political environment due to the expansion of state governmental functions since the 1960s.  States now have many functions and constituent groups that command more money and attention. According to a report by t682he National Association of State Budget Officers, Medicaid accounted for 26 percent and K-12 education another 20 percent of total state expenditures in 2014, proportions that have been expanding steadily for years.

A Scramble for Public Dollars

Thus, nearly half of all state expenditures are now allocated to two programs that did not command any state resources in the 1950s and 1960s. Several years ago voters in California approved a mandate requiring 40 percent of all state funds to be allocated to K-12 education. The well-connected advocates and interest groups that support these programs are unlikely to permit those shares to decline. Meanwhile, public employee pensions now command about 5 percent of state spending but, due to years of underfunding and deferred payments to the funds, some experts expect that share to grow to grow to perhaps 10 or 12 percent in the decades ahead.

By contrast, higher education now lays claim to just 10 percent of state expenditures, or roughly half the share allocated to this sector in the 1950s and1960s. In the scramble for public dollars, public universities must now contend with public-employee unions, court orders and referenda directing ever more public funds to K-12 education, and the lure of federal matching funds for Medicaid, welfare, and other federally subsidized programs.

Given political realities, they are unlikely to win many of these battles.  Indeed, it is not clear that they should. After all, the professors and administrators who complain about reduced public expenditures were generally among those calling for more state funding of the kinds of public programs that have drained resources from higher education.

In addition, public universities today must share public appropriations with an expanding complex of regional campuses and community colleges that barely existed in the 1950s and 1960s. The California legislature created an elaborate and expensive three-tiered system of research universities, regional universities, and community colleges in the early 1960s just as the University of California was reaching a pinnacle of influence and prestige.  Other states expanded in parallel ways. Michigan now supports 45 distinct institutions of higher learning, all in financial competition with the state’s two flagship public institutions. Wisconsin supports 26 such institutions, in addition to its flagship campus in Madison.

These second and third-tier institutions have representatives lobbying the legislatures and demanding their share of state higher-education dollars. In addition, more and more teachers at the lower-tier four-year universities and community colleges are leveraging their power by joining unions that bargain and lobby in their behalf.  Professors at elite institutions have so far resisted the pressures to unionize.

As Newfield acknowledges, public universities have not been on a starvation diet, mainly because they have been able to pass along rising costs to students and parents.  Most public universities have dramatically increased the number of courses in their catalogs and the number of centers, institutes, and programs that must be paid for.  The number of administrators employed on public campuses has exploded nearly as rapidly as student debt.

Between 1975 and 2011, the number of faculty at colleges and universities across the nation grew by just 23 percent, while the number of full-time administrators grew by 369 percent – or, put differently, colleges and universities hired 16 new administrators during this period for every new professor hired.   To the extent this is a problem – and there can be little doubt that it is a problem – it represents a self-inflicted wound. No one forced trustees and presidents to participate in a misallocation of resources on this scale.

Finally, is it really true that public universities confer a public benefit of the kind justifying expanded public support? That question deserves some real examination and debate. There can be little doubt that public universities, along with most private institutions as well, have evolved into hothouses for left-wing identity politics. Numerous studies have demonstrated that liberal and leftist professors outnumber conservatives by a ratio of between 10 and 20 to 1, and Democrats outnumber Republicans by a similar ratio.

That might be an acceptable situation in an environment where practitioners are guided by professional standards, but that is no longer the case on the American campus.  Large numbers of professors, administrators, and student advocates have been politicized to an unhealthy degree. If there is a “great mistake” in higher education, then it more accurately relates to the hyper-politicization of the contemporary campus.

When colleges and universities are mentioned in the press today, the story is likely  about a speaker who has been harassed or disinvited from campus, or students demonstrating for “safe spaces” on campus to insulate themselves from discordant opinions, or for more courses and programs on women, minority groups, the environment, and other causes associated with the political left. Judging by the statements of many faculty, administrators, and student representatives, they would like to criminalize or at least delegitimize the opinions of conservative and religious Americans, and in the process make certain that those views are never expressed on the campus.

Related: How Soft Censorship Works at College

This kind of thing has been going on now on leading campuses for three or four decades. Should anyone be surprised, then, when taxpayers and legislators ask why they should subsidize these politically one-sided institutions?  Universities – public and private – are increasingly viewed as partisan institutions, strongly attached to the Democratic Party and, therefore, no longer seen as enterprises that serve the public good. That may be unfortunate, as one might agree, but it is nevertheless the case.

Instead of restoring public subsidies to universities, as Newfield says we must, it makes more sense to move further in the direction of privatization by “voucherizing” the higher-education industry–providing vouchers at public expense for students to spend at the institutions of their choice. This would promote greater competition among campuses such that (hopefully) useless and redundant programs and employees would be eliminated out of the need to cut costs and respond to consumer demand.

The university sector is failing the society that supports it – of this, there can no longer be any doubt.  “Voucherizing” higher education would represent a radical step into the unknown, but we are fast reaching a point where radical steps are called for.

How a University Moved from Diversity to Indoctrination

Academe these days is full of code words.  Diversity is one of the most popular, and has increasingly become an article of faith at American colleges.  Its usefulness depends on ambiguity. While the public and media may believe it means openness to previously excluded students and studies, the reality is that “diversity” is a brazen attempt at thought control, rapidly moving toward the center of undergraduate education through the mechanism of General Education requirements.

At the University of Massachusetts Amherst, professors who want their courses approved for General Education diversity credit must meet new guidelines borrowed from the most ideological part of the university, the School of Education.  At UMass, as at many other universities, Social Justice Education (SJE) has for years been a key part of the School of Ed, offering not only a concentration but also a Master’s and a Ph.D.

Related: More Ed-School Social Justice Studies

The language of SJE makes clear that it is driven by narrow political aims, which pervade all aspects of the program.   With a constant emphasis on intervention and advocacy in schools and communities on behalf of social justice (never clearly defined), the SJE website makes plain its fundamental concerns, which include: “Prejudice and discrimination, the dynamics of power and privilege, and intersecting systems of oppression,” “Theories and practices of social change; resistance and empowerment; liberation and social justice movements,” and “Sociocultural and historical contexts for, and dynamics within and among the specific manifestations of oppression (adultism, religious oppression, ableism, classism, ethnocentrism, heterosexism, racism, sexism, transgender oppression) in educational and other social systems.”

In his book Diversity: The Invention of a Concept (2003), Peter Wood describes how “diversity arose as a countercultural critique of American society that depicted social relations as based on hierarchy and oppression of disprivileged groups.”  This “diversity ideology,” rooted in a Marxist view of America as a system of oppression, had been brewing for generations but only gained real traction in the 1980s.

“For it was then,” he writes, “that the Left, at last, found a combination of political leverage, economic opportunity and cultural advantage to institutionalize much of its anti-American program. Diversity was the key to that three-part success” (his emphasis).”

But until recently, the emphasis on diversity as the chosen path to “social justice” was not built into the university’s “social and cultural diversity” Gen Ed requirement. Now it is. And as I argue here, it is an exercise in compelled speech, unworthy of higher education, and unconstitutional in a public institution.

Related: Viewpoint Diversity

A fairly loose definition of what diversity courses should entail had existed for about three decades.  Designed to combat “ethnocentric stereotypes” and open students to the wider world of “pluralistic perspectives,” the old diversity requirements contained a single prescriptive phrase (my emphasis):

Courses satisfying this requirement shall reach beyond the perspectives of mainstream American culture and the Western tradition.

The old guidelines then shifted from shall to may:

They may focus on the peoples of Africa, Asia, Latin America, or the Middle East; the descendants of those peoples living in North America; other minorities in Western industrial societies; and Native Americans. Since a sensitivity to social and cultural diversity is advanced by an understanding of the dynamics of power in modern societies, courses that focus on the differential life experiences of women outside the mainstream of American culture, minorities outside the mainstream of American culture, and the poor also come within the scope of this requirement.

True, the phrase regarding “the dynamics of power,” hinting at the old Marxist framework with a touch of Foucault thrown in, seemed designed to predetermine the content of such courses to some extent. But the list of groups (women, minorities, and the poor) with “differential life experiences” was merely, as the last part of the above paragraph made clear, a possible focus–not a necessary one, and certainly nothing like the obligatory listing of numerous supposedly marginalized identities that abound today.

What, then, changed?  In the spring of 2016, faculty began to realize that the General Education Council had proposed a little-publicized new delineation of the required diversity courses. As before, undergraduates would be required to take two courses carrying the Diversity designation, one national, the other international, but the details had passed through an ideological transformation.

 Related: How Diversity Came to Mean Downgrade the West

Normally, significant changes to the curriculum would have to go through the Faculty Senate, but the Gen Ed Council had by-passed this step by claiming (when challenged) that the changes in the two required diversity courses involved “only language,” hence did not need Faculty Senate approval.

Most faculty, as usual, were busy with other things and did not react. Some people, however, were alarmed. Harvey Silverglate, civil liberties attorney and co-founder of FIRE (the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education) and I wrote a piece about the new requirement, pointing out the ways in which it went well beyond the existing guidelines.  We argued that not content with existing policies that restricted speech, the university was mounting an effort to compel certain kinds of speech and political attitudes in courses hoping to gain Gen Ed Council approval toward fulfilling the diversity requirement. As we wrote:

Using politically fashionable jargon, the three new gen-ed guidelines for diversity courses stipulate not merely, as before, geographic and cultural breadth but the specific attitudes and beliefs that must animate certain areas of teaching (or indoctrination, depending upon your point of view). Faculty members must embrace “knowledge, pluralistic perspectives and engagement beyond mainstream traditions,” by focusing on “unequal access to resources that derive from race and ethnicity, national origins, language, socioeconomic class, gender and sexual orientation, religion, age, and ability.”

The second mandated guideline encompasses “cultural, social and structural dynamics” that shape human experience and produce inequality, while the third specifies “exploration of self and others” so as to recognize inequalities and injustices. The clearly stated goal, not left to the imagination, is “to engage with others to create change toward social justice.”

This phrase encapsulates the shift from educating students to be able to think and analyze for themselves to the vastly different effort to indoctrinate students into administrators’ and professors’ belief system, which is assumed to be the only worthwhile, good and moral one from which, therefore, no one dares dissent.

All of this should cause concern at a public university that is bound by constitutional norms. The First Amendment’s protection of free speech has two aspects. The more widely known one prohibits the law from censoring officially disfavored and unpopular speech. But the other equally important and complementary aspect of this liberty enjoins the government from compelling speech and belief.

In a society where students have long been granted the right to refuse, for example, to recite a biblical passage or even the Pledge of Allegiance in public schools, college students are now required to genuflect before the banner of diversity, inclusion and social justice. It’s insufficient for students to refrain from uttering offensive or “wrong” words and ideas. They must increasingly be trained to mimic their professors and affirmatively utter the “right” ones.

Related: Universities Torn Between Truth-Seeking and Social justice

The new guidelines, in other words, explicitly spelled out a commitment to social justice, understood in a particular way, reflecting precisely the political vision already familiar to us from Social Justice Education programs, rooted in Left politics that have dominated academic circles for some time now.

But whereas these politics used to be confined to certain (mostly identity-based) academic programs, along with Schools of Ed and Social Work, the new requirements aim to subject the entire university and every student in it to current academic dogma. The revision names identity groups repeatedly, uses all the current code words, talks over and over again about inequality, marginalization, power dynamics, and the need to combat all these.

Hardly a minor revision, this is a complete delineation of the changes in academe in the past few decades.  At a time when the university persistently reiterates its commitment to social justice, diversity, inclusion, and equity, the undergraduate curriculum is undergoing Gleichschaltung, i.e., everything is being brought into alignment with the prevailing political orthodoxy.

A further chapter in this story of ideological policing unfolded in late 2016.  Not satisfied with the changes quietly incorporated into the Gen Ed diversity requirement earlier in 2016, the Gen Ed Council once again initiated a change that it evidently hoped most faculty would not notice.  This time, it proposed a third required diversity course, mandated for all incoming students, who apparently needed this training in identity politics in order to proceed with their education.

Members of the Gen Ed Council were explicitly told to give a copy of the new proposal only to those who requested it. Thus, barely a week before the item was to come up at a Faculty Senate meeting on November 10, faculty members not on the council began to hear about the new proposal.

This time, however, a number of faculty members noticed.  At the November 10th meeting of the Faculty Senate, about fifteen people rose to speak about the proposal, almost all of them first expressing their support for” diversity” before going on to criticize the new course in its particulars.  However, it was not the obvious politicization of the requirement that troubled them but rather the practical consequences for individual majors and courses. Some parts of the university objected that by adding a third diversity requirement other courses would be crowded out, as students would have less time and fewer credits available for other purposes.

Some faculty members objected that space for this new course was to be created by eliminating the requirement for an interdisciplinary course. Still, others were unhappy at the way in which their own courses on foreign cultures would be excluded by the new focus on power differentials, marginalization, and so on.  One professor, for example, objected that his course on medieval Japanese culture would no longer count for “diversity” credit, and argued that while it makes sense for the U.S. diversity requirement to stress race, class, and gender, the non-western courses should be held to a different standard. Another complained that his course on Kant, Marx, Weber, Nietzsche and Freud certainly should still be relevant for diversity credit, as it has been for thirty years.

A few people argued that the new requirement didn’t go far enough, since it assumed faculty and graduate students already knew how to teach to these concerns, whereas, it was argued, they would need special training in order to truly embrace the new anti-oppression pedagogy. No one, however, objected to the politicization of the curriculum in itself.

Most intriguing, however, was the apparently forgotten fact that the additional third diversity course proposal did not alter what had already become the obligatory language of diversity courses.  Yes, the new proposal requires that this course is taken by all incoming undergraduates, and it intensifies the politicized language somewhat, but it is not different in kind from the rewritten diversity guidelines quietly introduced last spring.

The real difference in kind, in other words, was already a fait accompli, the result of the shift that was set in place in the spring of 2016.  And by not having a discussion of the consequences of those changes last spring and just incorporating the new language de facto on the Gen Ed website, the Gen Ed Council had successfully precluded a critical discussion among the faculty of a substantive ideological shift.

People who complained in November 2016 because their old diversity courses would no longer count for diversity credits should have objected last spring, not six months later. But they were given no opportunity to do so.  Whereas blatant social justice courses could have been included in the past (nothing excluded them), the assumption that diversity means “social justice” in a very particular way (based upon identity politics and the division of the world into powerful and powerless) is now mandatory, as the new guidelines make clear.

Thus, the Gen Ed Council was successful in bypassing faculty input and imposing explicit School of Ed social justice perspectives upon the entire university. Harvey Silverglate and I were absolutely right to call attention to this as a new requirement for faculty obeisance to essentially political perspectives, quite different from the vaguer older guidelines – which presumably is precisely why some of our colleagues were so adamant about promoting this change, and hoped most faculty wouldn’t notice.

My criticisms of the new proposal (distributed in early November 2016 to the 70 colleagues in my department, none of whom commented to me about it, as well as to the Faculty Senate) included these points:

A.  The first three of the five aims listed in the proposal narrow the range of perspectives to be welcomed in such courses. The aims presuppose and also reinforce a particular political perspective that faculty must adopt if their courses are to be approved for Gen Ed diversity credit. The aims taken from the proposal are in italics, below. After each of these aims,  my own comments appear in brackets.

  1. Appreciate, value, and respect diverse social, cultural, and political perspectives. [This aim hints at a postmodernist relativism, one that has been the subject of much debate and is far from a generally accepted truth. In fact, however, the subsequent aims make clear that only particular political and cultural perspectives are sought. Viewpoint diversity is definitely not on the agenda.]
  2. Demonstrate an understanding of and critically analyze how the legacies of marginalization, prejudice, and discrimination impact current power relations and the life circumstances of people often marginalized by society because of race, ethnicity, language, religion, class, ability, sexuality, and gender. [Presupposes a particular view of the origins of marginalization, its continuing force, and the causes of social problems. This aim is rooted in current identity politics, which is often used as a shield or a bludgeon, depending on who is speaking to whom and with what objective.]
  3. Critically analyze their own perspectives and identities, develop an awareness of implicit biases, and understand how these perspectives and biases have been shaped by power relations within social and institutional contexts. [Is it only one’s own perspectives, identities, and biases that are to be critically examined, not those of others? Is it necessarily “power” relations – mentioned also in aim # 2–that explain everything? Again, this highly contentious perspective with its very specific conceptual framework is being presented as the necessarily correct one, to be reflected in these courses.]

B.  The academic year at Umass has already been reduced to 26 weeks of actual classes, 3-credit Gen Ed courses have become 4-credit courses without an increase in class time, and in many instances work requirements have decreased as professors adapt to students’ sense of what preparation (ever less) they are willing to do outside of class.

Students still need 120 credits to graduate with a Bachelor’s degree and, of these, two courses are already part of the new diversity requirement, circulated last spring and containing much the same language as the new proposal. This third required diversity course would mean that a total of 12 credits out of 120 (i.e., 10% of the students’ overall credit hours) will be devoted to “diversity” issues understood in the narrow way the proposal makes clear. This is a disservice to our students who have only a few precious years as undergraduates and entire worlds to explore.

C.  For those who specifically teach  foreign languages, literature, and cultures, the proposal tells us we must stress oppression, marginalization, and power relations as if studying other cultures and languages is of little value unless it is primarily about those issues.  This seems like an odd marginalization (to use that very term) of entire areas of expertise.

The themes named, while of interest, hardly tell us all we need to know about the world. Furthermore, they undermine the work that many of us do and that is not subsumed by these particular political preoccupations.  It is a serious redesigning of the university’s role and mission to impose such a narrow perspective on what is understood by “diversity.”  If “diversity” indeed now means a ceaseless focus on oppression, marginalization, and power, it is being used as a code word.

And it is demeaning to those of us who have labored long and hard to actually acquire some expertise in a “diverse” culture – and who see the study of cultures around the world as something other than an opportunity for political posturing. It is far harder to actually learn a foreign language and its cultural contexts than to acquire or pass on to students a few attitudes about particular groups (divided into such broad categories as the powerful and powerless), the very thing we supposedly were trying to overcome.

D. For those wishing to see where in the university these ideas are already institutionalized, the School of Education’s Social Justice Education agenda, which offer a concentration, a Master’s, and a Ph.D, provides a complete articulation of a political program using the precise language found in our new Gen Ed diversity proposals. Nationwide, in Schools of Education and in certain identity-based programs, these aims have predominated for some time. What is happening now, with the reconceptualization of the Gen Ed diversity requirement, is the spread of these avowed commitments to the entire university.

E.  The narrow perspective envisioned is made clear again on p. 5 of the proposal, which states as a goal: “Diminish the perpetuation of discrimination and oppression.” Hubris, or political passions, should not lead us to think that if we can just regulate the content of education thoroughly, we will bring about “social justice.”

I conclude that we hardly know what “social justice” is, let alone how it may best be attained. Indeed, the very term has been used in ways that might alarm today’s social justice warriors (if only they knew some history, such as that of the populist priest Father Coughlin, the anti-capitalist, anti-communist, anti-Semitic founder of the National Union for Social Justice in 1934 and of the paper Social Justice two years later, who became an apologist for Nazism and an Axis propagandist).  The entire history of the twentieth century, to stick just with recent times, tells us how dangerous a path the belief in the single-minded pursuit of “social justice” is.

Related: The Power of Buzzwords Like Dispositions and Social Justice

The university may have a social mission to enhance diversity, equity, and inclusion, even in the name of “social justice” (which Jonah Goldberg notes is currently merely a stand-in for “goodness”), but that is quite different from adopting these words as an educational mission.  In addition, these terms have by now become an orthodoxy, constantly reiterated by administrators whose numbers and dedication to these issues keep expanding while the quality of liberal arts education—and above all its “diversity” — has patently declined.

Even if the new required Gen Ed course does not get adopted, by not contesting the redefinition of “diversity” that is now an avowed goal, faculty have abdicated their responsibilities, contributing to the further debasement of higher education.

Times change; orthodoxies shift. The intentional embrace of political activism in education is a dangerous precedent. Has everyone forgotten the East German professors who were first obliged to adhere to Marxism-Leninism and then, when the Wall fell, were fired for having done so?

We should be wary of turning our courses into vehicles for propagandizing particular political views, however popular those views may be at this moment.

Do We need a Watchlist for Ideological Professors?

The Professor Watchlist, a site just two just two weeks old, has already touched off heated debate in and out of academe.  It is the brainchild of Charlie Kirk’s Turning Point USA, a politically conservative youth movement founded in 2012, and has the declared mission “to expose and document college professors who discriminate against conservative students, promote anti-American values, and advance leftist propaganda in the classroom.”

The Watchlist was immediately condemned as “pernicious and misguided” by Heterodox Academy (HXA), a non-aligned site but normally a de facto ally of conservatives in working to open up the dominant leftist culture of the campuses to more diverse viewpoints. The group’s executive committee said: We call on everyone who is concerned about the state of higher education to stop devising ways that members of an academic community can report or punish each other for classroom speech.

Some members disagreed, including Robert Mather, a social psychologist at the University of Central Oklahoma who wrote on the Psychology Today site that the HXA statement “is an example of being out of touch with conservative students and faculty. Conservative students and faculty have been marginalized in the ivory tower. I agree with the Heterodox Academy that such a watchlist does not facilitate collegial discourse.

Indeed, this watchlist is a response to events such as the bias response teams and trigger warnings that have covered many campuses and predominantly silenced conservative but not liberal discourse.

For conservative students, speaking in class already registers you on the informal watchlist in the predominantly liberal academy. For conservative professors, offering their perspective does the same. The idea of a watchlist is similar to the informal blacklisting that occurs for conservative faculty.”

Noelle McAffe, professor of philosophy at Emory helped set up a notably unfunny satirical website, Professor Redux, listing as similar radicals who should be on the conservative site as troubling: Socrates, Jefferson, Alan Turing, Gandhi and Jesus. Other wags submitted complaints about Indiana Jones, Professor Plum or other fictional academics.

The New York Times pointed out that Melissa Click and Julio Cesar Pino of Kent State are on the watchlist. She is the journalism teacher fired after calling for “some muscle” to prevent a student photographer from covering the University of Missouri protest. Professor Pino is listed as having “faced investigation by the FBI for connections to ISIS,” though the Cleveland Plain Dealer was unable to confirm that.

Pino has repeatedly denounced Israel. In 2014 he posted an “open letter” to “academic friends of Israel” that said they are “directly responsible for the murder of over 1,400 Palestinian children, women and elderly civilians.”

Charles Angeletti, a tenured professor at Metropolitan State University Denver, who rarely withholds his opinions from his classes is on the list. He pushed his students to recite a pledge that describes a racist, sexist, homophobic America: “I pledge allegiance to and wrap myself in the flag of the United States Against Anything Un-American and to the Republicans for which it stands, two nations, under Jesus, rich against poor, with curtailed liberty and justice for all except blacks, homosexuals, women who want abortions, Communists, welfare queens, treehuggers, feminazis, illegal immigrants, children of illegal immigrants, and you if you don’t watch your step…”

Also on the list are Mireille Miller-Young, an Associate Professor of Feminist Studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara. She was sentenced to three years’ probation after attacking a 16-year-old pro-life activist on campus.

Of course, except for the hard-core ideologues burrowed into the academy, there is no way to know from this skimpy Watchlist whether conservative opinions can be aired or good marks for conservative students can be achieved in these classes. Heterodox Academy has a point that we should be wary of inventing new ways to report and punish professors. On the other hand, knowing what you are likely to get in politicized classes is just basic consumer information.

How ‘Soft Censorship’ Works at College

These days, administrators at public universities must be very jealous of their counterparts at private institutions. As non-governmental actors, private college administrators can suppress any speech they don’t like – or, probably more to the point, that displeases their dissent-intolerant student constituents.

There is no better illustration of the extremes to which a university will go to suppress speech than the recent actions by DePaul University, a private institution. Two student groups had invited noted conservative Ben Shapiro to speak at an event they were sponsoring, “Trigger Warnings, Safe Spaces and Attacks on Free Speech.” The university, however, banned him from attending the event either as a speaker or as a member of the audience. Administrators claimed that the sponsoring groups had not properly registered Mr. Shapiro as a speaker and that the university was concerned with security issues.

Related: Feminist Censored from Censorship Panel

Public universities have the same incentives to ban speakers like Mr. Shapiro, but they have less leeway than their private counterparts. For example, the president of California State University, Los Angeles, giving in to student protestors, cancelled a scheduled speech by Mr. Shapiro just days before it was to take place. But Mr. Shapiro vowed to show up anyway. And appropriately using the First Amendment as a weapon, he threatened the university with a lawsuit.

Those tactics yielded the desired result: the president backed down and allowed the speech to go forward as planned.

Although public universities cannot suppress speech using heavy-handed tactics, they can use more subtle measures to chip away at free speech, as illustrated by my experience at Brooklyn College, a public institution where I teach.

In April 2015, I sponsored a talk at the college entitled “Free Speech and Social Criticism,” by prominent blogger Pamela Geller. A few hours after I publicized Ms. Geller’s upcoming event, the national communications director for the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) emailed the college president, the provost, and other campus officials asking if it was true that Brooklyn College was hosting “the nation’s leading Islamophobe.”

Related: A New Age of College Censorship

Apparently prompted by that email, the provost phoned my department chair at his home early (7:30 AM) the next day to discuss the event. There was no legitimate basis for that call. First, my department (earth science) had nothing to do with the event.  Second, the provost’s office has no administrative responsibilities over campus events of that sort. Further, had the provost been genuinely interested in information about the event, he should have called me, its sole sponsor.

Because there was no legitimate reason for it, I have to assume that the call was intended

to send a message. Emails from an influential lobbying group had apparently alarmed and displeased the administration. Calling my boss was a means of conveying that displeasure to me in the hope of getting me to modify my plans. Simply put, the provost became the conduit by which political pressure from CAIR to back off the event was transferred to me.

Related: Harmless College Jokes Punished at Civility Seminar

In a similar example of soft censorship, a college vice president telephoned the speaker I had lined up to open the Geller event. (That speaker teaches at Kingsborough Community College, which, like Brooklyn College, is a branch of the City University of New York.) He asked if she would care to discuss her role in the event. That call to a speaker at my event was also wholly unjustified: First Amendment case law forbids administrators at publicly funded universities from involving themselves in the content of events sponsored by their faculty or students, who are free to choose themes and presenters as they see fit.

At a minimum, these telephone calls from upper-echelon administrators were chilling to free speech and open communication on campus.  Would faculty be eager to participate in provocative or politically incorrect events if their participation generated investigative calls from provosts and vice presidents? That kind of pressure can easily chill speech. Some faculty – especially untenured ones – would avoid sponsoring or participating in controversial talks in order to avoid the ire of – and possible retribution from – their administrative superiors. Even I will think twice before doing so again.

I get it: college administrators hate controversy and use small acts of suppression – soft censorship – to help them avoid it. But speech suppression, even when subtle, is still antithetical to a core mission of a university – fostering unfettered debate. An open discussion of the largely hidden practice of soft censorship may help preserve that core mission.