Category Archives: Essays

Why I’m Leaving the Political Science Association

Looking forward to a lively annual conference of the American Political Science Association, due to start this week in San Francisco, I proposed a panel on “Viewpoint Diversity in Political Science.” After all, I thought, wasn’t the 2016 election a signal lesson in the continuing relevance of diverse viewpoints in the American body politic?

My submission featured four of the most prominent political scientists in the country who have written on the issue of political diversity in the field. They included Joshua Dunn, Professor and Chair of the Department of Political Science at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, whose co-authored 2016 book entitled Passing on the Right: Conservative Professors in the Progressive University has been a focus of the national discussion among academics interested in the issue; and April Kelly-Woessner, Professor of Political Science and Chair of the Department of Politics, Philosophy and Legal Studies at Elizabethtown College, whose co-authored 2011 book The Still Divided Academy: How Competing Visions of Power Politics and Diversity Complicate the Mission of Higher Education is the gold standard on how to promote respectful political dialogue on campus.

Quaint Notions of White Identity?

Now, granted, every major conference receives far more submissions than it can accept. Still, I was surprised when the panel was rejected. I assumed that it had been bested by superior panels submitted to the jointly-organized teaching and education sections of the conference. But when the official program came out, I could see that it was not. Instead, it was crowded out by APSA’s serious lack of political diversity.

A total of 11 full panels or roundtables were accepted in the teaching and education sections. Of these, 7 are on mainstream teaching topics. Another 4 were set aside for, shall we say, more politicized topics. One, entitled “Let’s Talk about Sex (and Gender and Sexuality)”, is on how to restructure the classroom around ideas of being “genderfluid, transgender, or gender nonconforming.” Another, on “Tolerance, Diversity, and Assessment” will focus on how to use administrative coercion to enforce various group identity agendas.

The third, called “Taking Advantage of Diversity,” will help scholars to understand why their quaint notions of cutting edge knowledge are merely expressions of white identity. Another, “Teaching Trump”, is composed of left-wing feminist scholars. Final score for political science education at this year’s APSA conference: left-wing approaches to diversity and difference: 4; conservative or classical liberal approaches: 0.

The Holy Trinity of Leftist Grievance

For good measure, I looked at the entire conference program to see whether the preponderance of panels on left-wing approaches to diversity in the teaching and education sections was to balance a lack of them elsewhere. I searched for panels on the holy trinity of identity politics: sexism/feminism, racism/white privilege, and sexual orientation/homo/transphobia. My best guess is that conference attendees will have a choice of 104 panels on these topics, in addition to the 4 in the teaching and learning sections. Just for laughs, I searched for panels on political, ideological, or viewpoint diversity. None.

There are, of course, special sections controlled by conservative or classical liberal groups at the APSA conference. But as for the sections that are open to all submissions, they essentially fall into two groups: strictly empirical work or normatively left-wing ideas. Am I the only one scratching my head?

I have worked with political scientists of an overwhelmingly left-wing bent for all of my career, so I know that there is nothing nefarious in this. Indeed, this is a key finding of  Dunn’s Passing on the Right. Sometimes, conservative commentators on the academy write as if there is a vast conspiracy operating on campus. There is not. Most of my left-wing colleagues in political science are reasonable and rational people who are aware of the importance of bringing a variety of political viewpoints into the classroom. When I asked the section organizer why our panel was rejected, she genuinely seemed not to remember – not indicative of an intentional censoring of non-left-wing issues – and added: “I agree it’s an important topic.”

So why the lack of balance? Despite the lip-service to the importance of viewpoint diversity, asking an APSA organizer committed to the advance of left-wing viewpoints to take one for the right is like asking a glutton to forego ice cream. There are no practical means to translate theory into practice. The eyes roll tiredly over proposals concerning viewpoint diversity but perk up excitedly at the sight of one, to cite another of the offerings at this year’s conference, “Disavowing Violence: Imperial Entitlements, From Burke to Trump (Fuck That Guy).”

Looniest End of the Academy

Indeed, for the looniest end of the left-wing academy, even the theory is hostile to viewpoint diversity. They view the academy as a special zone of (left-wing) Truth that must be protected against (right-wing) Falsehoods of the real world. Genuine pluralism, from this vantage, is a cover for privilege and oppression. Why import such falsehoods into the charmed realm of truth they have carved out with taxpayer’s money? Or more to the point, why go through the pain, inconvenience, and potential disapprobation of importing falsehoods?  I do not think the teaching and education section leaders of this year APSA were of that sort. But the system is heavily stacked against even a brief effort in the direction of idea pluralism. Why stick your neck out to accept a panel on political diversity at a political science conference when, to cite another of this year’s offerings, one can win kudos for accepting a panel entitled: “Pussies Grab Back: Feminism in the Wake of Trump”?

Much has been written about the general problem of a lack of political diversity in political science and its drift to the far left. The ratio of Democratic/left-of-center to Republican/right-of-center professors in political science is variously estimated at around 15 to 1 nationwide, not counting moderates and centrist independents. In my home state of Oregon, I believe the ratio is infinitely large because I do not know of a single Republican or conservative in our profession here (I am a swing voter and independent). APSA is not only indicative of this worsening problem but, and here is the issue, a key cause of it and thus, potentially, a fulcrum point for change.

It was not always this way. APSA was founded in 1903 to defend the ideal of impartial empirical inquiry. It’s constitution still declares that “the Association as such is nonpartisan. It will not support political parties or candidates. It will not commit its members on questions of public policy nor take positions not immediately concerned with its direct purpose” of academic inquiry. For years, it upheld those ideals. Remarkably, APSA and political science more generally survived the onslaught of illiberal radicalism, political correctness, and censorship of the 1960s, as John Gunnell of SUNY-Albany wrote in the association’s main journal in 2006. APSA presidents well after that era included prominent conservatives like Samuel Huntington of Harvard (1986-7) and James Q. Wilson of UCLA (1991-2).

The real problems arose when the graduate students of the 1960s and 1970s became tenured faculty and APSA executives. While political science and APSA were able to withstand an assault on academic freedom and viewpoint diversity from illiberal students, they had no means to defend themselves when those illiberal students became the governors. From the 2000s, a string of such far-left scholars came into office as APSA presidents: they included old-left scholars of class and socialism like Theda Skocpol of Harvard (served in 2002-3), Margaret Levi of Washington (served in 2004-5), and Ira Katznelson of Columbia (served in 2005-6); and “new-left” scholars of racial and gender grievance such as Dianne Pinderhughes of Notre Dame (2007-8), Rodney Hero of Berkeley (2014-15), and Jennifer Hochschild of Harvard (2015-16). There is of course nothing wrong with a variety of positions being represented in the APSA presidency. However, there was never any countervailing tendency. The moderate leftists who took the helm between the growing frequency of radicals could do nothing more than steady the ship before the next gale of fanaticism.

Under this new post-2000 leadership, APSA turned from being a fairly pluralistic and professional-oriented body into a shock force for the latest thought liberations of the left. This has been evident most clearly in the bevy of special task forces that have been commissioned. One of these, on “Inequality and American Democracy” published in 2004, deserves special attention because it was the point where APSA lost its credibility. The report claimed to have uncovered “profound threats” to American democracy as a result of inequality, which was reinforced by social programs that served mainly old white conservatives; indeed that political scientists had reached a “consensus” that such a threat existed. Again, it was not the radical leftism per se but the growing suggestion that only radical viewpoints were welcome or even recognized in the discipline that rankled.

A Little Diversity? No Thanks

One political scientist, Robert Weissberg of the University of Illinois-Urbana, was allowed a dissenting voice in a symposium on the report. He called the report a “professional embarrassment” for its hysterical claims of what he called “an AARP coup d’état.” Putting aside the possibility that “overeager interns absconded with APSA letterhead,” Weissberg warned that professional political scientists who adopted an “overheated radical egalitarian tone” of the report were not just, in his view, getting it wrong on American democracy. The bigger problem was what it said about the state of APSA. The obliviousness of the report’s authors to what a conservative, classical liberal or centrist would see as its “embedded totalitarianism” might have been at least acknowledged if the 14-member task force had included one or two non-leftists. “A little diversity, so to speak, would have saved considerable embarrassment.”

Yet such diversity was, as it was becoming clear in 2004, precisely what was on the wane at APSA. The new generation of political science faculty and APSA leaders no longer saw their role not as engendering an appreciation and curiosity about the pluralism of the American body politic and its institutions (as well as those abroad). Instead, APSA had become a key citadel to storm and capture: “Transforming a discipline’s intellectual center of gravity is not rocket science once the administrative apparatus is secure,” Weissberg wrote.

Today, APSA has become barely distinguishable from the Democratic Party and its far-left wing. Its web page runs a constant stream of anti-Trump or anti-Republican news. This year, it issued a statement supporting the anti-Trump “March for Science” held in DC in April and another against the Executive Order on a temporary ban for travelers from several Middle Eastern countries. It also felt the need to issue a Letter to Members after the 2016 election (there was no letter issued after the 2012 or 2008 elections) saying the election had “cast into sharp relief an array of issues” for political scientists. I used to think that’s what elections were supposed to do.

Of course, for political scientists for whom every professional endeavor is a pitched battle for social justice waged against the dark forces of tradition and privilege, the takeover of APSA is just another point on the road to total victory. But, like Saigon when the Vietcong arrived, they may find that others have abandoned the city, leaving them with nothing but a Pyrrhic Victory.

The “boat people” fleeing APSA now include me. As it happened, this year’s APSA was on the theme of political legitimacy, one of my major research areas. I proposed a methods workshop on measuring legitimacy along with another scholar who, like me, has spent a lot of time on data and measurement issues. It was accepted, but alas is now canceled as I have chosen not to attend. I will continue to research, teach, and engage policy-makers about legitimacy, but not at APSA.

Maybe this does not matter. As Weissberg noted: “Transforming the profession into scholarly agitprop is lamentable, but hardly catastrophic in the grand scheme of things. At worst, intellectual corruption will render APSA publicly irrelevant.”

But for that shrinking pool of political scientists for whom a vibrant and pluralistic professional association still matters, it may be time for a reckoning. So here is my challenge: make “political and viewpoint diversity” the theme for a future APSA annual conference. Recognizing the problem is the first step on the road to recovery.

What Damore’s Memo Taught Google

James Damore, the author of the ten-page “anti-diversity manifesto” that got him fired from Google, is not likely to fade to the level of a remote trivia question. That’s because Damore, a 28-year-old engineer, former chess champion, and researcher in computational biology at both Harvard and Princeton, sharply focused evidence and argument that shook the “diversity” procedures of Google and the tech world.

Damore criticized Google’s “diversity” initiatives aimed at spurring the company’s recruitment of non-Asian minorities and women. The most important of his transgressions was suggesting that “at least some of the male-female disparity in tech could be attributed to biological differences.” Remember, Damore’s research specialization was computational biology. He wasn’t speaking, or memo-ing, out of misogynist ignorance.

That most controversial part of his memo garnered a response from Karen Panetta, Dean of Engineering at Tufts University. Panetta attributed Damore’s views not to his knowledge of the data but to his “education.” He had attended elite universities where “the majority of faculty were trained mostly by men.” And, “if you can’t break that cycle, it persists.” That cycle isn’t just a problem at those elite programs Damore attended, but everywhere STEM is taught. “It is a universal problem. It’s not just industry, you have to remember; it’s connected to higher education. That’s where it grows.”

Training scientists and engineers to focus on the analysis of data rather than social justice and implicit bias is clearly problematic.

Gender disparities in STEM classrooms aren’t the only thing keeping SJWs “a-woke” at night. According to Rebecca Hill, STEM is also too white. In “STEM has a Diversity Problem,” she blames racial disparities on textbooks with too many pictures of white scientists. And in “Why Black Students Struggle in STEM Subjects,” Ebony O. McGee says black students underperform in math and science classes because their energy is spent performing whiteness—“talking ultra-proper English and pretending to go on vacations.” The answer, to the problem, she says, is to “minimize the fragility factors affecting” black students.

Such are the wonders of critical race theory.

Reducing racial and gender disparities in STEM, however, may require some uncomfortable trade-offs.  For years critics have warned that colleges balance the diversity books on the backs of Asian students. Remedying the racial and gender disparities in STEM will likely require more of the same.

Such suspicion isn’t unfounded. Just four days before Damore’s memo hit the wire, the Justice Department announced an investigation into a lawsuit sixty-four Asian activist groups filed against Harvard University. The suit alleges that Harvard’s admissions process favored social aptitude over academics in order to give white and non-Asian minority students an edge over Asian applicants.

Elite colleges have been flagged for this chicanery before. As City Journal’s Mark Pulliam noted in “Affirmative Action Antics,” UCLA instituted its own update of the Harvard Jewish quotas when black enrollment nosedived after Proposition 209 abolished racial preferences in California. When students and alumni ordered the school to fix its “diversity problem,” UCLA, like Harvard, bolstered its holistic review process, which admissions officials use to admit applicants with less-than-stellar SAT scores and GPAs. In principle “holistic” review means taking the whole of the student’s life into account, not just his academic record. In practice, holistic review means putting Asian students in a hole and clamping a lid on it.

If Dean Panetta’s thoughts are representative of the view from the Ivy Tower, the diversity regime intends to dig that hole a little deeper for Asian STEM students.

But as we saw at Harvard and UCLA, white men aren’t going to be the category primarily affected by the progressive approach to admissions. Asian American students earn thirty percent (a plurality) of all STEM degrees while accounting for only seven percent of all enrolled college students. Reducing the Asian percentage of students in science and engineering is the only practical way to “diversify” these fields. And it will have the side “benefit” of lowering academic standards, which are currently maintained by the ferocious competition among highly qualified applicants.

Can elite colleges get away with tipping the scales against Asian students? Quite possibly. Elite colleges have long discriminated against disfavored ethnic groups under the guise of promoting “diversity.” That’s exactly how Harvard maintained its “Gentleman’s Agreement” to limit Jewish enrollment, and it is exactly how the post-Bakke “diversity” regime has operated.

Because Asian American students are less likely to have well-connected, donor-class-parents, admissions officers can deal with them in bad faith without fear of reprisal. It also doesn’t help that Asian Americans’ history isn’t a fixed part of our civic memory. This makes us take allegations of bias less seriously or ignore them unjustly. We saw this when The New York Times omitted allegations of Asian discrimination from the lead of an article reporting the Justice Department’s inquiry into bias complaints.

The investigation into Harvard’s admission practices is a fresh chance to force a public debate on the “Asian Quotas.” A move against STEM programs would be good news for critics hoping to make clear that progressive policies require racial injustice. Such an investigation may also encourage Asian American parents and students to pick up the banner of civil rights.

We can expect a purge of dissenting faculty members, at least those not protected by tenure when the Diversity Inquisition comes to STEM. We can also expect the continuing effort to jerry-rig search committees and future faculty appointments in the sciences for female and non-Asian minority candidates, as the University of California already does. (Consider UC’s “President’s Postdoctoral Fellowship Program,” which despite the name is really a way of forcing science departments to hire under-qualified minority candidates.)

Such actions will be explained away with the same doublespeak Google CEO Sundar Pichai used to justify James Damore’s dismissal.

On the other hand, the game isn’t over. Damore, we should remember, is a chess champion. It is not unthinkable that he will outplay Google CEO Sundar Pichai and the whole army of diversiphile pawns. His sacrifice has once again drawn attention to how intellectually shallow and factually unsupported the entire diversity rationale really is. Racial healing and gender equity will never be built on a foundation of misrepresentation and willful ignorance. It’s now up to policymakers and civil rights groups to focus their attention on people like Tuft’s Dean Panetta, who believes that independent thinking such as Damore’s can be nipped in the bud by appointing the right kinds of people to faculty positions in STEM.

Far too many people in the sciences have thought they were immune to this ideological assault. They believed, and may still believe, that science and engineering are too important to be compromised b appointments made on the basis of gender and race. The real significance of l’affair Damore is simple: stop kneeling to the God of Diversity, or you will be Damored.

Diversity Overreach at American University

American University’s pervasive left-wing political climate has not prevented nasty racial incidents, but it sure has facilitated official overreaction antithetical to academia. AU is rapidly moving further than many other colleges and universities to enshrine ideological indoctrination into the curriculum in the name of diversity and inclusion.

Racist Incidents on AU’s Campus

The campus witnessed two dramatic racist events during the past academic year. A white student threw a banana at an African-American student in her dorm room and scribbled obscene graffiti on her door’s whiteboard. Later, during final exams, someone hung nooses with bananas marked with racist messages, including one attacking the African-American sorority of the new student body president, at three separate locations on campus, and vicious white supremacist attacks on her followed.

Both incidents were widely and laudably condemned by students, faculty, and administration alike in a positive exercise of free speech. The student who perpetrated the invasion of another student’s room was caught and disciplined by the university. AU has enlisted the FBI’s assistance and vowed to catch and to punish the other guilty parties.

But as those who follow campus news well know, racist or sexist events rarely end with punishment or a return to normality. They often trigger cries of “systemic” racism or sexism, curable only by reform programs, usually mandatory, to reshape the attitudes of all students.

Required Indoctrination Courses

Framed as courses designed to help students “transitioning into their first year of college,” two courses to be taught by diversity staff—not regular faculty– will focus heavily on ideological indoctrination. The themes of AUx2 emphasize the correct viewpoints on marginalization and victimization:

This is a bare-bones outline of one course:

Theme 1: Getting to Know Our Social Identities & Key Concepts

  • Identity Grid: Exploring Our Social Identities
  • Class Agreement: Supporting Respectful and Productive Dialogue
  • Bias Discrimination and Racial Formation
  • White Privilege vs. White Disenfranchisement

Theme 2: Intersections of Social Identity: Race in America

  • Code Switch Video Game About Multiracial Identity
  • Manifest Destiny and Native American Touch Points Group Presentations
  • Slavery’s Realities & Resonance Through Poetry
  • Allyship, Abolition, and Early Women’s Movement
  • Immigration, Exclusion and Shifting Definitions
  • Letter to Civil Rights Leader
  • The Complexity of Contemporary Identities

Theme 3: Letter to a Former Stranger

  • Research the Life & Stories of a Former Stranger
  • Informal Reading of Letters

AUx1 also contains four full weeks on promoting “A Culture of Inclusion” with topics such as “Diversity, Bias, and Privilege.”

The allocation of university resources for these required courses is considerable. According to AU’s website, there are 19 instructors, all staff rather than faculty, as well as an even greater number of peer leaders. The administration has also expanded with the addition of a director and program coordinator, as well as seven full or part-time staff people to assist AUx.

Expanding Indoctrination into Regular Classes

The university is now in the process of converting AUx into regular classes and beyond. The Senior Director for the Center for Diversity & Inclusion (CDI) has suggested “Allowing students’ participation in the seven-week Intergroup Dialogue program to serve as an alternative to another assignment/project or extra credit. I look forward to hearing the administration’s explanation to parents who pay phenomenal sums to send their kids to AU when they find out that a student managed to get out of a math assignment to attend a discussion group.

The two Intergroup Dialogue topics for Fall 2017 are “Islamophobia” and “Black Issues & Experiences on and off Campus.” There are also three segregated dialogue groups, creatively named as “intragroup dialogue” open only to “those who identify within Black/African diasporic communities” on three topics: “Immigration & Nationality,” “Stay Woke: A Dialogue on the themes of ‘Get Out’,” and “Whiteness & Anti-racism.”

“Allyship” refers to the proper role for heterosexual whites—secondary, passive and supportive of leadership. In plain language, it means doing as you’re told.

My guess is that an African-American student who questioned affirmative action would not be deemed “woke” even in his segregated safe space. In the AUx classes themselves, one cannot help but wonder if repeated challenges to the official dogma on “white privilege” or “allyship” might not harm the student’s grade in these mandatory diversity courses.

Beyond promoting Intergroup Dialogues in place of academic work, the Center for Diversity & Inclusion also encourages faculty to “incorporate CDI programs into their syllabus” by “Inviting Rainbow Speakers Bureau to host a panel in your class” or “Requesting a workshop/training or Diversity Peer Educator session.”

Not a bad way to get out of grading and teaching if you can stomach the agitprop.

Faculty Reaction

Faculty reaction to the initial AUx proposal was somewhat muted. Arts and Sciences Dean Peter Starr co-chaired the committee in charge of it, and Provost Scott Bass pushed it heavily, so people were none too keen on futilely challenging the people who determine their salaries or become identified as an opponent of diversity.  Nevertheless, faculty feedback included complaints about AUx inculcating a political viewpoint.

Despite ritualized requests for feedback, Starr made clear that he was uninterested in more than cosmetic changes. Here is the official short summary of changes made to AUx:

“AU Experience I & II: Course content is being developed for an online platform by faculty members with expertise in each area. Both courses will blend academic content and discussion methods, much the way traditional courses do. AUx2, in particular, now focuses on inclusion, with the explicit goal of creating a community of learners. The staffing of discussion leaders for AUx is a complex concern involving other campus initiatives such as the Reinventing the Student Experience (RiSE) project, and will likely be solved outside of this proposal. That said, all discussion leaders for AUx1 & AUx2 will be highly credentialed and complete training in advance of leading these courses.”

The above is an impressive example of managing to write a whole paragraph saying nothing. The short summary sent to the Faculty Senate notes, however, that “In addition to focusing on psycho-social development, AUx1 will include attention to academic freedom and freedom of speech.” The sole class on free speech remains heavily outweighed by the far greater number spent indoctrinating students on white privilege, bias, and exclusion.

The Faculty Senate approved the changes to the general education curriculum, including the AU experience, unanimously—not really surprising, as the faculty contains many promoters of this approach and is normally cowed by the administration anyway.

Never Enough, so the Cycle Repeats

Ironically, albeit utterly unsurprisingly, these changes were deemed wholly insufficient by student protesters who berated the administration and faculty alike at an administration-organized public meeting and during a student takeover of a Faculty Senate meeting. The response of both faculty and administration has been to double down.

During the Faculty Senate takeover, one student complained about the response of a fellow student on Facebook that included a photo of a noose. Provost Scott Bass took down the name of the offending student. Others demanded the immediate firing of faculty for racist comments and expulsion of students for racist actions.

The Faculty Senate immediately adopted a resolution calling for a permanent university commission on discrimination with a mandate to create a “cutting edge model of campus inclusivity” as well as creating a related Faculty Senate committee, which was immediately constituted by four volunteers. Apparently, this is on top of the Faculty Senate Ad-Hoc Committee on Diversity & Inclusion.

Fortunately, the university shortly thereafter adjourned for summer break but one imagines that AU’s cultural revolution will continue as the Fall Semester proceeds and the AUx curriculum goes into full swing.

Charlottesville—One Poison, Two Bottles

Alt-Right, Alt-Left, “both sides,” white supremacists, Antifa, CEO resignations:  America is having a moment. Tempers are flaring, and statues are falling. President Trump and the press are in an angry stand-off.

The death of a young woman, Heather Heyer,  in the midst of protests and counter-protests in Charlottesville, Virginia, and the injuries to 19 others at the hands of a driver who used his car to plow other cars into a crowd, reminded some of us of another shocking burst of violence: the May 4, 1970 Kent State shootings, when members of the National Guard opened fire on unarmed students, killing four. Protests against the Vietnam War, some of them violent, were a familiar part of the news during those years, but the wanton killing of protesters was new, and it changed things.

I don’t know that Heather Heyer’s death, apparently at the hands of a 20-year-old neo-Nazi, James Alex Fields, Jr., will have the long reverberations of Kent State, but the mainstream press is trying very hard to give the whole Charlottesville debacle that kind of watershed significance.

From the Cooper Union to Charlottesville

I’d like to pull back a little and consider some of the pieces, especially those that connect to higher education. The higher education connection isn’t incidental. Colleges and universities have often been the stages for those who seek to make large declarations about America, and especially about race.  Think of Lincoln’s Cooper Union speech in February 1860, in which he laid out his opposition to slavery as consonant with the ideals of the Founding Fathers.

The ghost of Lincoln is surely somewhere in the background of the Charlottesville riot. Richard Spencer and his white supremacist friends held their “Unite the Right” rally at Lee Park, on Saturday, August 12, ostensibly to protest the planned relocation of the large statue of Robert E. Lee. The struggle over slavery that led to the secession of eleven states, including Virginia, April 17, 1861, led to Lee’s fateful decision to turn down Lincoln’s offer of command of the Union Army in favor of serving the Confederacy. History has given Lee a generally kind assessment despite that decision. The esteem in which he is held by many who have no sympathy with the Southern cause rests on the way he met defeat. He spared the United States from what could have been decades of further hostility by counseling his supporters to lay down their arms.

What does a nation do with a figure of great historical importance who lent his weight to a bad cause? We are still, all these years later, wrestling with that question. It deserves a patient and thoughtful answer, but it has become entangled with demagoguery on both the right and the left.

The statue of Lee in Charlottesville was first seized as a symbol by the identitarian left, who made it an emblem of racial oppression. Spencer and his Alt-Right supporters then charged in, happy to endorse the conceit that Lee should stand for white privilege. The planned “Unite the Right” rally was meant to inflame the left and to summon counter-protesters. Violence was expected and welcomed on both sides—though to say that now invites the silly accusation that the term grants “moral equivalence.” No, it just registers the reality: both sides in this confrontation believe violence is a legitimate tool in pursuing their political ends.

UVA

On Friday night the Alt-Right protesters staged a torch-lit march on campus from the steps of the Rotunda across Thomas Jefferson’s “Academical Village,” the very center of the university. UVA president Teresa Sullivan understood the connections and put out a statement through the university’s newsletter, UVA Today, “In Aftermath of Violence, Sullivan Reflects On Challenging Weekend.”

In part, Sullivan said: “The University is about freedom of speech, but free speech is not the same as violence. We strongly condemn this kind of abhorrent and intimidating behavior whose purpose is only to create fear and cause divisions in the community.”

Indeed, free speech is not the same as violence, and my colleagues and I at the National Association of Scholars applaud the spirit of Sullivan’s statement.

How Higher Ed Contributed

The provocations of the Alt-Right protesters and the tragic consequences of their Saturday rally, however, cannot be wholly isolated from the stream of events in American higher education in the last few years. The Alt-Right didn’t spring out of thin air. Moreover, the use of mass intimidation wasn’t unknown on college campuses—including UVA. The deterioration of the ideal of free speech has been accelerating, and the feebleness of college authorities, when confronted with outrageous tactics by protesters, is now practically established as standard operating procedure.

UVA didn’t invite this compound catastrophe, but it wasn’t entirely an innocent on-looker either.

Charlottesville’s City Council voted 3-2 in February to move the equestrian statue of Robert E. Lee from the city’s central square. The Council’s vote followed a report last year from a Blue Ribbon Commission on Race, Memorials and Public Spaces. Voices of the UVA community played a significant part in the acrimonious debate over the statue. For example, the Richmond Times-Dispatch quoted UVA Religious Studies professor Jalane Schmidt, comparing President Trump’s refugee policy to defenders of the Lee statue as evidence of an “empathy gap.” The monument, in Schmidt’s view, “enshrined” in Charlottesville “leading white citizens’ contempt for black humanity.”

Schmidt’s opinions in this matter voice what has become a very familiar line of historical interpretation, one shared with a fair number of people in the UVA community. But for the sake of clarity, I’ll stick with Schmidt’s views in particular. Was putting a statue of Robert E. Lee in a public park really an act of “contempt for black humanity?” I suspect that an examination of the records of Charlottesville from 1919 to 1924 would not offer much evidence that a public display of “contempt” was part of the motive. A commodities trader named Paul McIntire commissioned the statue in 1917 from sculptor Henry Shrady, who died before finishing it. The job was completed by Leo Lentelli. McIntire purchased the site for Lee Park and donated the monument to both the City of Charlottesville and the University of Virginia.

History Lesson

Shrady was picked for the commission after America’s most eminent sculptor, Daniel Chester French, declined it but recommended Shrady, who was completing the massive monument to Grant in Washington, D.C. and had previously executed the equestrian statue of George Washington in Brooklyn.  Shrady’s successor on the Lee statue, Leo Lentelli, was born in Italy in 1879 and immigrated to the U.S. in 1903. Lentelli had numerous other public commissions including decorations for the San Francisco Public Library, the Sixteenth Street Bridge in Pittsburgh, and the Steinway Piano Building in New York City. He is best known for “The Savior with Sixteen Angels” at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York.

All these are details I’ve culled from a 1997 application to the National Register of Historic Places to register the Lee monument. It makes for interesting reading, not least because twenty years ago the thought that the Lee monument was an instrument of racial oppression seemed completely absent from anyone’s mind. Shrady, a native of New York who spent 19 years creating a monument honoring Ulysses S. Grant, and Lentelli, a twentieth-century immigrant from Italy who liked to sculpt angels, seem unlikely to have harbored nostalgia for the antebellum South or animus against “black humanity.”

Paul McIntire, the philanthropist who started out as a coffee trader, was a lover of art and music who lavished gifts on the University of Virginia, which he had attended for a single semester. He endowed a chair in fine arts and contributed the funds to create a Department of Music and Department of Art.  These acts, of course, do not preclude his being a closet racist who wanted a statue of Robert E. Lee to cast a shadow of contempt over the black residents of Charlottesville—but it is hard to see any evidence of that. When Professor Jalene Schmidt leveled that accusation against Charlottesville’s “leading white citizens,” she must have been thinking of someone else. Or was she making a wild surmise based on nothing but the projection of today’s intensified racial resentments onto the past?

Racial Reductionism

It is a tricky question to ask because those with a mind to do so can easily read into it a denial of the legal regime of racial discrimination of the Jim Crow South and the broader culture of racism. Recognizing the history of American racism without succumbing to the temptation to read racism into the fabric of everything seems to be a challenge for many Americans today. It is especially a challenge for many academics who are drawn to a kind of racial reductionism.

Who are these racial reductionists? Some of them are the self-styled denizens of the Alt-Right. And some are supporters of Black Lives Matter and kindred groups. For an extreme racial reductionist, think of Ta-Nehisi Coates, whose best-selling book, Between the World and Me, is a primer in how to blame white racism for anything and everything that a black American might find dissatisfying in life.

In Charlottesville last Saturday, we saw the collision of partisans of these two forms of reductionism.  There may well have been individuals among the protesters who held more complicated and historically nuanced views of America, but they were not driving the Alt-Right provocateurs or the counter-protesters, both of whom were in the grip of their oppositional manias. Racial reductionists are not necessarily violent and not necessarily apologists for violence. But both sides clearly have attracted thuggish followers. Antifa protesters carrying baseball bats and two-by-fours are not showing up to celebrate the legacy of Gandhi.

The Alt-Right is, to be sure, a pernicious reactionary movement. It has a tiny national following—perhaps not much more than a few thousand. Only a few hundred showed up in Charlottesville. But the movement has achieved massive news coverage by its theatrics and the eagerness of the media to play it up as a supposed reflection of President Trump’s base of support. The counter-protesters are also a pernicious reactionary movement who have seized a poisonous sideshow as somehow exemplifying part of the American mainstream.

The Poison Is Spreading

The Wall Street Journal has commendably called out the “deeper ailment” as “The Poison of Identity Politics.”

That poison is spreading. Spencer’s group plans rallies at Texas A&M and the University of Florida. But the leftist version of the poison has entered the bloodstream of American higher education and is to be found almost everywhere. Mark Lilla’s recent Wall Street Journal op-ed “The Liberal Crack-Up” is an excellent historical account of how the Democratic Party trapped itself in obsessions over grievance-based accounts of personal identity. What was lost, says Lilla, was “the hard and unglamorous task of persuading people very different from themselves to join a common effort.”

Protesting and counter-protesting are seldom tactics aimed at “persuading” anyone. They are aimed at displaying to a larger audience of supposed on-lookers the power of the protesters. It is the power to bring excited people together to shout and to act in unison, to threaten violence, and at times to commit it. The campus left has been very busy at enacting these kinds of theatrics over the last several years at Mizzou, Yale, Berkeley, Middlebury, Claremont McKenna, and Evergreen, to mention only the most prominent examples.

Which brings me back to the University of Virginia, which was a pioneer of sorts in the invention of the insta-riot as a form of political communication. On November 20, 2014, not long after Rolling Stone published its false story about a rape at the UVA Phi Kappa Psi fraternity house, five masked women and two men vandalized the building. This followed vociferous protests culminating in a “Take Back the Party: End Rape Now” rally, which drew hundreds of participants. President Sullivan then suspended all the fraternities until January 9, 2015. An imaginary crime elevated to an ardent belief turned UVA into a place where the victim mythology triumphed over any concern for the truth.

Surely that wasn’t lost on Richard Spencer when he went in search of a venue that would be susceptible to his provocations.

Jefferson’s University

Thus it may be worth taking a further look at what Sullivan said after this weekend’s tragic turn of events: “The University is about freedom of speech, but free speech is not the same as violence. We strongly condemn this kind of abhorrent and intimidating behavior whose purpose is only to create fear and cause divisions in the community.”

“The University is about freedom of speech” might sound right on first hearing, but it is not how Jefferson would have put it. Freedom of speech is a means to an end, but not the purpose of the university.  What is? Jefferson explains:

To form the statesmen, legislators and judges, on whom public prosperity and individual happiness are so much to depend; To expound the principles and structure of government, …and a sound spirit of legislation, which…shall leave us free to do whatever does not violate the equal rights of another; to harmonize and promote the interests of agriculture, manufactures and commerce…; to develop the reasoning faculties of our youth, enlarge their minds, cultivate their morals, and instill into them the precepts of virtue and order; to enlighten them with mathematical and physical sciences, which advance the arts and administer to the health, the subsistence and comforts of human life; and, generally, to form them to habits of reflection and correct action, rendering them examples of virtue to others and of happiness within themselves. These are the objects of that higher grade of education, the benefits and blessings of which the Legislature now propose to provide for the good and ornament of their country.

To accomplish these goals, freedom of speech is an important tool. Those who pick up the tool only to employ it as a club to beat others are, however, outside the bounds of the “academical” community.  Sullivan hasn’t been an especially good steward of that principle. Her condemning the Alt-Right for “abhorrent and intimidating behavior whose purpose is only to create fear and cause divisions in the community” is all to the good. But it would be helpful if she showed some glimmer of understanding that these nasty (and sometimes murderous) extremists are the mirror image of other nasty (and often violent) extremists on the other side.

A university is properly a place where there is no place for those who disdain the rule of law, the dictates of civility, and the need for peaceful argument. Inviting identity politics to take root and then complaining that the vine is bearing its predictable fruit is a failure of presidential leadership. And that’s true of all kinds of presidents.

Why Brilliant Girls Tend to Favor Non-STEM Careers

Do girls avoid STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) fields because of ongoing, widespread discrimination? Or do girls with the skill sets that would give them entrance to STEM fields prefer fields that involve working with people over fields that involve working with things?

(A note on the correct use of language. Women are justifiably offended when people, especially a man, refers to them as “girls.” I do not do that in this essay. The title of this essay is based on the fact that, as described below, it is skills and interests that develop as girls that lead girls who only later become adult women down different paths that contribute to adult women being less likely to work in STEM).

The go-to explanation for the gender gap in STEM is bias.  Old fashioned sexism, “implicit” (or unconscious) sexism, “obstacles,” stereotypes, and the like.

There are many problems with such explanations, including but not restricted to:

  1. Much of the “evidence” cited in support of discrimination does not actually demonstrate discrimination.  For example, some gender gaps in funding and in graduate admissions have been conclusively shown to result, not from discrimination, but from the fact that women disproportionately apply in more competitive fields.
  2. Some of the “evidence” is correlational (e.g., correlating beliefs with some gap), and is interpreted as causal, without any evidence of causality.
  3. Those making “gaps (do, probably do, likely do) reflect discrimination occurring right now” arguments rarely consider the vast literature identifying alternative explanations for such gaps.  Instead, they tell “compelling narratives” based on historical evidence of discrimination, anecdotes, and cherry-picked studies that actually do demonstrate bias, and they argue (or imply by omission) that those, and only those, studies apply to understanding the gap in question (as if large bodies of literature contesting either the generalizability or even validity of those studies, or putting forward strong evidence for alternative explanations, simply do not exist).

The purpose of this blog entry is not to evaluate whether discrimination against women and girls “exists,” because it surely does under some conditions and in some contexts.  Instead, the purpose is to explore two questions: Is it possible that something other than discrimination is the main source of gender gaps in STEM? And is it possible that scientists cherry-pick evidence to support narratives of bias?

Gender Differences in Interests

Things versus people.  Su et al (2009) performed a meta-analysis of studies including a total of over 500,000 people examining gender differences in interests.  Despite claims that gender differences are typically “small” (Hyde, 2005), Su et al found a gigantic gender difference in interests.  Women preferred working with people, whereas men preferred working with things, a preference that is detectable within the first two days of birth and among our close species relatives, rhesus monkeys!  To be sure, these differences were not absolute.  Not every man prefers working with things and not every woman prefers working with people.  But the effect size was d= .93, and even if you are not familiar with effect sizes, this would make it one of the largest effects in social psychology; it is gigantic.

JUST math skills versus math and verbal skills.  This same issue of differing interests was approached in a different way by Wang, Eccles, and Kenny (2013). Disclosure: Eccles was my dissertation advisor and long-term collaborator; I am pretty sure she identifies as a feminist, has long been committed to combating barriers to women, and is one of the most objective, balanced social scientists I have ever had the pleasure to know.

In a national study of over 1,000 high school students, they found that:

  1. 70 percent more girls than boys had strong math and verbal skills;
  2. Boys were more than twice as likely as girls to have strong math skills but not strong verbal skills;
  3. People (regardless of whether they were male or female) who had only strong math skills as students were more likely to be working in STEM fields at age 33 than were other students;
  4. People (regardless of whether they were male or female) with strong math and verbal skills as students were less likely to be working in STEM fields at age 33 than were those with only strong math skills.

Here are their conclusions, in their own words:

“Results revealed that mathematically capable individuals who also had high verbal skills were less likely to pursue STEM careers than were individuals who had high math skills but moderate verbal skills. One notable finding was that the group with high math and high verbal ability included more females than males…

Our study provides evidence that it is not lack of ability that causes females to pursue non-STEM careers, but rather the greater likelihood that females with high math ability also have high verbal ability and thus can consider a wider range of occupations than their male peers with high math ability, who are more likely to have moderate verbal ability.”

To be clear, neither Wang et al nor I am arguing this is the only reason for the gap in STEM; and neither Wang et al nor I have argued that there are no biases against girls and women. Nonetheless, it is also worth noting that the words “bias,” “discrimination,” and “obstacle(s)” do not appear anywhere in their article.  “Sexism” also appears nowhere in their text, though it does appear in one of their references.

The Numbers

The Council of Graduate Schools puts out regular reports, such as this one, that includes the gender distribution in various fields.

Lo and behold, there is no “pervasive evidence of” a gender gap in graduate enrollments, though there is a gap in some STEM fields. Completely consistent with the work by Su et al and by Wang et al, in nearly all fields that are about people, not only is there no gap disadvantaging women, there are actually more women than men! (Healtheducation, social and behavioral sciences, public administration, arts and humanities, and even biological sciences).  The same report found that, overall, across all fields, the “gap” is in the “wrong” direction: 57 percent of enrollees in graduate programs are women.

Even if there is discrimination against women in these fields, it is not preventing women from entering those fields in droves. (Indeed, the logic of “gap = discrimination”—a logic I have repeatedly rejected but which runs rampant throughout the social sciences and general public—would have us believe there is widespread discrimination against men in most fields now).

Furthermore, this pattern is completely consistent with the idea that girls and women have different interests (Su et al) and skills (Wang et al) that lead them to prefer non-STEM careers.

There Is Bias!

Surely girls and women have, historically, been discriminated against in such fields.  But discrimination in 1950 or 1970 does not constitute evidence of ongoing discrimination.  Furthermore, the evidence that girls and women prefer non-STEM fields is not an argument to avoid combating sexist discrimination where it can still be found.  Nonetheless, the list of social science victim2 groups is so long, that, most likely, almost all of us have been the target of discrimination or hostility at some point in our lives, rendering the question of whether some groups are more victimized than others muddier than it seems.

However equivocal the evidence for “bias” in the present may be an explanation for the gender gap in STEM fields, there is ample evidence of bias. Scientific bias! Social scientists clearly “prefer” bias explanations over other, deeply important, scientifically rigorous, social developmental evidence, such as that offered by Su et al and Wang et al.  This table reveals just how extreme this bias is:

The key entry here is the citation counts in the far right.  The Moss-Racusin study is, by conventional standards, the weakest of the studies.  Its sample size is a fraction of that of the others.  It studies a relatively minor situation (hiring lab managers).  It was a single study (Su et al is a meta-analysis of scores of studies; Williams and Ceci reported five separate studies).  In contrast to Wang et al, it only studied an event at a single time point; it did not follow people’s career trajectories.

This does not make Moss-Racusin et al a “bad” study; it is merely weaker on virtually all important scientific grounds than the others.  This is not to argue that the other studies are “perfect,” either; all studies have imperfections.  But by conventional scientific standards, Su et al’s meta-analysis, the replications in Williams and Ceci, the longitudinal Wang et al study, and the far larger sample sizes in all three mean that, on most scientific methodological standards, they are superior to the Moss-Racusin et al study.

And yet, look at the citation counts.  Others are citing the Moss-Racusin et al study out the wazoo. Now, Wang et al and Williams and Ceci came out later, so probably the most useful column is the last.  Since 2015, the weaker Moss-Racusin study has been cited 50% more often than the other three combined!  That means there are probably more papers citing the Moss-Racusin et al study and completely ignoring the other three than there are papers citing even one of the other three! What kind of “science” are we, that so many “scientists” can get away with so systematically ignoring relevant data in our scientific journals?

(Again, this does not make the Moss-Racusin study “bad.” The bias here reflects a far broader field problem, it does not constitute a weakness in the paper itself).

And that, gentle reader, is a gigantic scientific bias.  It might even be beyond bias. Some might call it an “obsession” with discrimination and bias so severe that it is blinding many in our field to major findings regarding gender differences that contribute to preferences for different types of fields.

If this analysis has any validity, the societal push to equalize gender distributions may be deeply dysfunctional, because it can succeed only by having the perverse effect of pushing people into fields they do not prefer. Of course, on moral grounds, we want to ensure that all people have equal opportunities to enter any particular career.  But if there are bona fide gender differences in preferences and interests, equal opportunities may never translate into equal outcomes.

Reprinted from Psychology Today, courtesy of Lee Jussim.

A White Sociologist and the Doctrine of the Black Insider

More than forty years ago, sociologist Robert Merton called attention to an emerging “Black Insider Doctrine” within sociology, the viewing of white sociologists as “outsiders,” incapable of understanding or conducting research on matters concerning blacks. Groups in conflict in 1972 wanted to make their own interpretation of reality the prevailing one. Over the years, as blacks began to participate fully in social institutions—including in the social sciences—attitudes changed as discrimination lessened and counter-ethnocentrism diminished.

But, did it? It is possible that the Doctrine of the Black Insider was always there just under the surface—only to reappear stronger than ever at places like Pomona College where last Spring, 128 (anonymous) “students, alumni and allies” of the Sociology Department published an open letter to the Pomona administration charging that hiring white sociologists who engage in “voyeuristic” research on the Black community can no longer be allowed.

Related: Can Sociology Be Saved?

The Pomona letter protested the scheduled arrival this fall of the white female sociologist, Alice Goffman, as a Visiting Professor in the Sociology Department. Goffman, who studies the impact of mass incarceration and policing in black communities, was hired over two black female applicants for the position. She is the granddaughter of Erving Goffman, one of the most influential sociologists of the 20th century. The letter writers are demanding the job offer to Goffman be rescinded—and given to one of the two black female sociologists who were finalists for the open faculty position. Claiming that “hiring white faculty who engage in voyeuristic, unethical research and who are not mindful of their positionality as outsiders to the communities they study, reinforces harmful narratives about people of color.”

Part of the reason for the angry response had to do with the controversial research methods Goffman employed for gathering the data for her book, On the Run: Fugitive Life in an American City—an ethnographic study in a poor black community in West Philadelphia. The book chronicles a six-year account of the lives, challenges, and most notably the continual interactions with police by those she called the “6th Street Boys.” Goffman rented an apartment and lived for several years in the poor predominantly black Philadelphia neighborhood. Becoming friends with the young men, Goffman allowed several of her research subjects to live with her in her apartment. Her sympathies were clearly with those in the community—as she attempted to expose what she called the “hidden practices of policing and surveillance” in the West Philadelphia community.

Cleared of Wrongdoing

While there were questions about her data collection methods, investigations by the American Sociological Association, and the University of Wisconsin, Madison—her current home institution—have cleared her of any wrongdoing in her research. But that has not stopped her Pomona critics from viewing her as an outsider who has “profited” by exploiting the Black community.

Demanding that Pomona rescind the offer of employment to Professor Goffman, the unidentified letter writers claim that the hire “boasts the framework that white women can theorize about and profit from black lives while giving no room for black academics to claim scholarship regarding their own lived experiences.”  The aggrieved group has decried the fact that Goffman was hired over two black finalists for the position—both of whom presented academic papers on “Intersectionality,” a concept that describes overlapping or intersecting social identities of race, class and gender—pointing to the systems of oppression, domination or discrimination.

Goffman’s arrival on the Pomona campus will surely cause even more divisions. In this, Pomona simply reflects a growing national polarization. In fact, last year’s national freshman class has the distinction of being “the most polarized cohort” in the 51-year history of UCLA’s Freshman Survey, the largest and longest running survey of American college students. Survey data collected from 137,456 first time, full-time students who entered 184 U. S. colleges and universities in the fall of 2016 revealed an all-time high of 41% of women who self-identify as “liberal or far left” with respect to political views. This is compared to only 28.9% of men—yielding the largest gender gap in self-reported liberalism to date.

Stormy Times for Campuses

The polarization is already being played out on many campuses—especially once race is factored into the equation. Even The New York Times has noticed the “stormy times” predicted for college campuses. Reporting on the consortium of Claremont colleges where angry disputes over identity politics and cultural appropriation have drawn national attention, the Times reported that even campuses that had “prided themselves on increased diversity in admissions are now wrestling with students who want more control over the institutions they attend.”

Last spring, a group of self-described “angry and annoyed” Latina students took over a dormitory wall devoted to free speech at Pitzer College (like Pomona, a member of the Claremont group). They wrote the message, “White Girl, Take Off Your Hoop Earrings!” to protest the appropriation of fashion “that belongs to the black and brown folks who created the culture…a culture that comes from a historical background of oppression and exclusion.”

Whether most white Pitzer College students will remove their gold hoops remains to be seen. For Merton, the critical measure of the success of counter-ethnocentrism occurs when the interpretation moves beyond the boundaries of the in-group to be embraced by outsiders. At the extreme, the converted outsider, validating himself as sensitive and understanding becomes even more zealous than the Insiders in adhering to the doctrine of the group with which he wants to identify.

As Merton says, “He then becomes more royalist than the king, more papist than the pope.” More black than those in the black community. Some white sociologists, so guilt-ridden after centuries of white racism, are prepared to identify so strongly with the black community that they begin to see racism where others do not see it—outdoing the claims of the group they would symbolically join—ready to surrender their hard-won expert knowledge if the Insider doctrine seems to require it.

As a converted outsider, Alice Goffman appears to see racism everywhere. In a long essay titled “The Trials of Alice Goffman,” for The New York Times, a reporter noted that “In Madison, we were picked up between appointments by an Uber driver in blue scrubs…Goffman turned to the driver, who was black, to ask—in the offhand way you might ask an Uber driver about his experiences with the company—What have your local experiences with racism been like?” Goffman told the Times reporter that at the airport security gates that morning, she “tried to exchange a look of solidarity” with a young man with brown skin who was being stopped by TSA agents but “he wouldn’t look at me.”

Pomona sociology students will have in Alice Goffman someone with great empathy for the black experience. She is someone who understands the black community as well as any ethnomethodologist could ever understand it. Having lived and loved the people living in the West Philadelphia community, Goffman knows what day-to-day life is like for those who live there. She never pretended to be a dispassionate social observer, and her allegiance is certainly to the community—not to the police.

But, it likely won’t be enough for those who continue to affirm the universal saliency of the ascribed status of race. For them, Alice Goffman is “inauthentic,” simply because she is white—writing in their anonymous protest letter that “Students need authentic mentors. The hiring of Alice Goffman has already, and will continue to discourage students of color, and especially women of color from entering the Sociology Department and academia for years to come.”

As our society becomes ever more polarized, so do contending claims to truth. The attacks on the intentions and the integrity of a young, idealistic sociologist like Alice Goffman do nothing but exacerbate collective insecurities—increasing mistrust and misunderstandings. Eventually, the Doctrine of the Black Insider will again diminish. But, in the meantime, college campuses need to prepare for some difficult days ahead.

Yes, Campus Indoctrination is Real

Robert Maranto and Mathew Woessner are not alone.  They are two political scientists who assure us that leftist domination of the faculty does not mean that college students are coming away from their campuses indoctrinated in progressive ideology.  Maranto and Woessner’s latest version of this argument was published in The Chronicle of Higher Education as “Why Conservative Fears of Campus Indoctrination Are Overblown.

Their basic point is that students are “not ideologically pliable.”  Their evidence for that comes from survey research that show “relatively minor” shifts in student political attitudes over four years, with “the typical student” becoming “slightly more progressive on social issues while becoming slightly more conservative on economic issues.”

I don’t doubt the integrity of their research or that of other social scientists who have gone looking for measurable evidence of such changes in student attitudes.  In fact, for several decades social scientists have been looking at this question and for the most part coming up with answers similar to that of Maranto and Woessner.

But they, like many others, are profoundly mistaken. Their conclusions follow their research, but that research inevitably focuses on certain kinds of data, which unfortunately do not get to the heart of the problem.

In their Chronicle article, Maranto and Woessner reference The Still Divided Academy, a book published in 2011, which includes an analysis of “Students’ Political Values” based on the 1999 North American Academic Study Survey (NAASS).  That eighteen-year-old data means something, but does it mean that today’s college students are barely touched by the forces of campus indoctrination?

Related: How a University Moved from Diversity to Indoctrination

In the 1999 survey, 45 percent of college students said they did not believe homosexuality is “an acceptable lifestyle.”  The survey did, however, pick up a shift of seven percentage points in favor of acceptance of homosexuality by the senior year:  a shift the authors interpreted as the students moving towards the views of their professors and administrators.  The NAASS study has not been repeated, but we do have the annual survey conducted by the Higher Education Research Institute (HERI)at UCLA, which includes some relevant data. The HERI survey of college freshmen in 2015, for example, found 81.1 percent of freshmen at all baccalaureate institutions endorsed gay marriage.

That dramatic shift, from 45 percent opposed to homosexuality “as a lifestyle” to more than 80 percent favoring gay marriage, tells us nothing about whether colleges indoctrinate students.  These were freshmen surveyed in 2015—mostly innocent about their professors’ attitudes.  But the shift testifies to the need for caution in relying on 1999 figures to decipher today’s trends.  It also testifies to the astonishingly rapid transformation of American youth during this period.

We don’t have very good grounds for thinking that college students today respond to the social and political cues of campus life in the way they did a generation ago.  In fact, the opposite.  The most recent HERI data from fall 2016 found “the fall 2016 entering cohort —  of first-time, full-time college students — has the distinction of being the most polarized in the 51-year history of the Freshman Survey.”  The year before, the HERI surveyors found that a third of the freshmen (33.5 percent) self-identified as liberal or “far left”—the highest percentage since 1973, the height of the Watergate scandal.

Related: Indoctrination in Writing Class

Anyone who has taught freshmen knows that their self-labeling is not necessarily the best indication of their political orientation.  The 2015 HERI data yielded some other clues about the leftward orientation of these freshmen.  A record 8.5 percent of these students said there was a very good chance they would participate in “student protests while in college,” i.e. they were ready to protest before they could possibly have any cause to do so.

HERI also found a record number (74.6 percent) of freshmen who said that “helping others in difficulty” was very important or essential to them.  An orientation towards helping others sounds very good in the abstract, but that figure might also signal the degree to which activism aimed at advancing progressive ideas of “social justice” had become a baseline social attitude for late Millennials entering college.

The HERI data is full of other material that suggests that today’s entering college students bring with them dramatically different attitudes than the freshmen of yesteryear.  Anyone interested in the sociology of college students will find it eye-opening.  But HERI doesn’t resolve the question of whether or how much four years of college education changes students’ political and social attitudes.

That question has actually been a research topic for many years, perhaps best codified by Ernest T. Pascarella and Patrick T. Terenzini in a series of massive volumes, How College Affects Students.  I have relied on Ernest T. Pascarella and Patrick T. Terenzini’s Volume 2:  A Third Decade of Research, published in 2005, but there is 2016 edition with new editors, How College Affects Students: 21st Century Evidence that Higher Education Works, Volume 3.  Pascarella and Terenzini, synthesizing the work of numerous other scholars, reach some interesting conclusions for students in the 1990s:

  • “Freshmen-to-senior year shifts in political identification were associated with the peer and faculty environments of the institutions attended.”
  • The shifts “were more than mere reflections of changes occurring in the larger society.”
  • The shifts were not simply “artifacts” of the attitudes students brought with them to college, and they couldn’t be explained as part of “normal, maturational processes.”

Related: An Update on the Mess at Bowdoin

As often happens when social science researchers roll up their sleeves and dig deep into a problem, these researchers discovered the obvious.  Of course, “peer and faculty environments” shape students.  If anyone continues to doubt that, I recommend What Does Bowdoin Teach?  How A Contemporary Liberal Arts College Shapes Students (2013), the top-to-bottom ethnography that my colleague Michael Toscano and I wrote about the “peer and faculty environment” at one of the nation’s top-rated liberal arts colleges.

What that study showed more than anything is that Bowdoin’s left-wing bias was all pervasive.  It wasn’t conveyed just by a few dozen hard-core leftist faculty members, though they did their part. It was embedded in the curriculum as a whole, residence life, extra-curricular activities, pronouncements from the college president, self-declared college crises, invited speakers, student awards, and more.  And just as important, that bias was made to seem normal by the absence or near absence of alternative views.  It doesn’t feel like “bias” if you are surrounded with people who all agree. The courses not offered, the professors not appointed, the speakers not invited, the student clubs that are not formed:  the nots are the real key to campus bias, especially because they are usually invisible to the students.

At one Bowdoin event, a student stood up and half-in-resentment, half-in-perplexity, challenged me:  “We have everything we could possibly want at Bowdoin.  What’s missing?”  He had absolutely no clue as to what ideas and opinions existed outside the “Bowdoin bubble.”

In such an environment, even those who call themselves dissenters tend to absorb the premises of the prevailing view.  They will quibble about details and typically fail to realize how much they have conformed to the campus Zeitgeist. At Bowdoin, we found “conservative” students who were wholly taken in by the premises of multiculturalism and diversity and perfectly supportive of efforts to muzzle free speech.

Rendering Much of the World Invisible

This is where Maranto and Woessner go most wrong.  “Indoctrination”—if that is the right word—is not mainly about the domination of academic fields by leftist professors.  That happens, and it is part of the problem.  But the larger problem is a campus culture that renders much of the world invisible.

That is not to say the college students today are blankly unaware that a great many Americans hold views at odds with their own.  They know Donald Trump was elected President and that many millions of Americans voted for him.  And progressive ideology provides a whole gallery of stock villains with which to picture the oppressors and those who are not yet “woke.”  The Alt-Right, the cis-gendered privileged, the one-percenters, and so on are the cartoons that take the place of any need to understand conservative ideas.

This doesn’t make every college student an incipient leftist.  Probably the most common political orientation among college students is a soft libertarianism that tolerates anything that doesn’t get in the way of the student’s preferred social activities.  These students have no fondness for the hard left radicals with their Bias Response Teams, Title IX tribunals, protests, and occupations, but neither do they have much interest in putting up a fight. The soft libertarians seldom give a thought about the longer-term consequences of the left’s initiatives, and they are entirely satisfied with the consumerist curriculum they have been offered.

To my way of thinking, this libertarian silent majority on campus has created the condition in which a radicalized minority can exert its tyranny. College administrators don’t worry about the leave-me-alone crowd.  But they are ever eager to placate Mattress Girl, Black Lives Matter, and the students who want to run Charles Murray into the Vermont forest.

So, pace Maranto and Woessner, no, conservative fears of campus indoctrination are not overblown. Sometimes conservatives over-simplify their case by focusing too much on the wild declarations of extremist professors or the exclusion of conservative faculty members.  But taken all in all, contemporary American higher education does indoctrinate students in progressive ideology.  And it does it so well that most of the graduates don’t even realize it.

CUNY’s Love Affair with Violent Radicals

The choice of Linda Sarsour, an Arab-American activist, as a commencement speaker at CUNY’s School of Public Health last Spring generated much-heated debate. Good. Speech and counter-speech shed welcome light on the views of controversial figures.

That Sarsour once advocated violence against a political opponent – stating that Ayaan Hirsi Ali needed an “ass-whipping” and didn’t deserve her vagina – raises questions about the value of Sarsour’s views, but not about the right of CUNY to choose anyone it wants to address its students. Indeed, CUNY’s choice of Sarsour illuminated CUNY’s odd infatuation with proponents of violence.

Served 16 Years

The Susan Rosenberg case provides one example. Rosenberg, a former member of the Weather Underground, served 16 years for explosives possession. She was also a suspect in the Brinks robbery, during which two policemen and a security guard were killed.  In 2002, following Rosenberg’s release from prison, CUNY’s John Jay College hired her as an adjunct professor.

After four semesters – and in the wake of objections by both the New York City and Rockland County chapters of the Police Emerald Society – CUNY did not renew her contract. In an attempt to get the decision reversed, the chair of the CUNY faculty senate published a letter in support of rehiring Rosenberg. She was not rehired, but that did not stop John Jay College from holding “a celebration of Susan Rosenberg” in 2011.

CUNY’s faculty senate chair was similarly sympathetic to another convicted felon, this time one of CUNY’s own. Mohamed Yousry, an adjunct lecturer at CUNY’s York College, was convicted in 2005 of providing material aid to terrorism and conspiring to deceive the government. Three days after Yousry’s 2006 sentencing on terrorism charges, the senate chair – in an apparent attempt to solicit a job for him – speculated in an email to a faculty senate chat room that Yousry might be looking for work as a teaching adjunct.

A Policeman Beaten

Yousry isn’t the only teacher at CUNY to engage in extreme behavior: three of the six people charged in the 2014 beating of policemen on the Brooklyn Bridge (Eric Linsker, Cindy Gorn, and Jarrod Shanahan) were teachers at CUNY. Of course, assaulting police officers pales in comparison to the crimes of Rosenberg and Yousry, but that act is consistent with the mindset that justifies violence in the service of political causes.

The actions of CUNY’s faculty union, the Professional Staff Congress (PSC) are particularly telling because they presumably reflect the sentiments of substantial numbers of faculty. (The leaders of the union, which represents roughly 19,000 faculty and staff, have repeatedly been re-elected since 2000.)

The PSC’s actions include:

  • Contributing $5,000 in 2000 to a committee dedicated to freeing Lori Berenson, an American who was convicted in Peru on terrorism charges.
  • Contributing to a defense fund in 2002 for Sami Al-Arian, who later pleaded guilty to contributing services to a terrorist organization.
  • Passing a resolution in 2007 calling for “freedom now for Mumia Abu-Jamal,” who was convicted in 1982 of the murder of a Philadelphia police officer. (Note that the union resolution calls for the immediate freedom of Abu-Jamal, not a retrial: those with a fixed world view don’t feel any need to support that view with evidence.)

15 Years for Aiding Al Qaeda

No one can say, based on existing information, whether the favorable attitude of CUNY faculty towards violent radicals affects the students. But the record of the following three CUNY graduates at least puts the question on the table. Farrooque Ahmed was sentenced in 2011 to 23 years in prison for his role in planning bombings in Washington D.C. Syed Hashmi was sentenced in 2010 to 15 years for attempting to supply military gear to Al Qaeda. Noelle Velentzas was arrested in 2015 for plotting to prepare an explosive device to be detonated in a jihadist-inspired terrorist attack in the United States. (Her trial is pending.) Is there another university that can boast such a record?

That CUNY faculty lean left is hardly surprising – that’s standard in the academic world. Leaning towards the violent left is, however, noteworthy. Let me be crystal clear. Although I believe education is best served by a politically diverse faculty body, I support the right of universities to hire and invite any speakers they want to address students. But I also believe in truth in advertising. The taxpayers who support CUNY and the parents who send their children to CUNY schools have a right to know about its faculty’s long record of support for violent radicals.

Here’s Why Public Colleges Could Face Defunding

Is America about to embark on the “mass defunding of public higher education”? Fredrik deBoer thinks it’s a real, horrifying possibility. In a Los Angeles Times op-ed and on his blog, he argues that the political basis for this defunding now exists.

The problem, according to the Pew Research Center, is that the list of truths self-evident to members of both political parties no longer includes the institutional value of higher education. On the question of whether colleges and universities have a positive or negative effect on the country, Pew found that Democrats had a favorable view of colleges by a wide margin, 72% to 19%, while Republicans had a negative view, 58% to 36%. Democrats’ support for higher education, always strong, has grown more pronounced since 2010. Only within the last year, however, have Republicans gone from favoring to opposing colleges and universities.

Identity-Politics Departments

This loss of bipartisan support constitutes a “crisis,” deBoer contends. Not only is America closely divided between two parties, but Republicans are especially powerful at the state level, where funding decisions about higher education are made. No, he doesn’t expect that the Republican governor and legislature of Wisconsin, for example, will shut down its flagship state university. But he does think that the Republican voters’ new consensus—higher education no longer merits deference or the benefit of the doubt—portends that states will start to close down identity-politics departments like Women’s Studies, and make taxpayer support contingent on enforcing “harsh restrictions on campus groups and how they can organize.”

DeBoer writes as an academic—he holds three degrees from three different public universities, and is Academic Assessment Manager at a fourth, Brooklyn College of the City University of New York—and as a leftist—another of his recent articles makes clear that he doesn’t want to regulate profit, but do away with it entirely.

Censoring Mainstream Views

Especially interesting, then, that he assigns a large share of the blame for public higher education’s crisis to the academic left. DeBoer “grew up believing that most professors live by” a “philosophy of non-coercion and intellectual pluralism.” The long list of recent incidents where campus activists have attempted to “censor completely mainstream views,” with the encouragement of some faculty and administrators and the acquiescence of others, has convinced him otherwise.

The professors and activists who used to insist that allegations of anti-conservative bias in academia were factually wrong, deBoer argues, have pivoted without pause or embarrassment to insisting that such anti-conservative bias is morally right. As a result, the “defenders of public universities” who “now mock the concept of public debate as a conservative shibboleth” have “created the conditions for the destruction” of these universities.

DeBoer’s opinion of this prospective destruction is particularly equivocal, which makes it particularly interesting. He certainly does not welcome the disaster he expects. The conservative movement incensed by campus radicalism “has one and only one remaining impulse,” he alleges, “which is to destroy its perceived enemies.”

Nevertheless, the victimhood studies associate professors and diversity office administrators will find the principal culprit for their coming unemployment in the mirror. There is, as the literary scholar John Erskine argued a century ago, a “moral obligation to be intelligent,” to “find out as far as possible whether a given action leads to a good or a bad end.” Accordingly, any system of ethics that excuses people from this duty is “vicious.” Erskine was restating the essence of Aristotle’s idea of prudence, practical wisdom, which called for pursuing moral outcomes by shrewdly assessing concrete situations.

Though he sympathizes with the campus activists’ social justice goals, deBoer also criticizes the willful blindness of educators who refuse to live in the world as it is. The fact that “public universities are chartered and funded as non-partisan institutions” makes the practical necessity to conciliate rather than anathematize one of the two major political parties into a moral imperative. Rather than confront this reality directly, however, the academic preference to strike poses of ironic indifference to it will, deBoer believes, “make it easier for reactionary power, every step of the way.”

Misinvesting in Higher Ed

Those who are reactionaries, or merely dubious about the social justice project, face a prudential question of their own: would the defunding of public higher education that deBoer fears lead to a good or a bad result? Several considerations deBoer does not consider argue in favor of it. Most importantly, there is a case to be made, one having nothing to do with academic politics, that we are over- and misinvesting in higher education, rather than under-investing. A bachelor’s degree used to set people apart in a way it no longer does.

Only 7.7% of American adults held one in 1960, compared to 33.4% in 2016. As economist Richard Vedder has repeatedly made clear, the growing ranks of bartenders, waiters, hairdressers, and letter carriers with undergraduate and graduate degrees argues that too many young people, not too few, are steered into the 120-credit-hour slog for that one credential. The resources, including public money and private time now squandered on that quest, would do more people more good if redirected to training programs that match the jobs actually attainable and emerging in the 21st century.

We’re also over-investing in higher education if too many college students receive degrees despite not learning anything in particular. In Academically Adrift (2011) Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa described precisely that situation: large numbers of recent college graduates are “failing to develop … higher order cognitive skills.” Specifically, 45% of the students Arum and Roksa studied were no better at critical thinking, complex reasoning, and written communication after two years of college than they were at freshman orientation, and 35% were no better after four years. This is a particular problem in large public institutions, where many students become “maze smart,” figuring out how to accumulate credit hours without really learning anything, and students and professors tacitly enter into a “mutual nonaggression pact,” exchanging good grades, easily earned, for students’ favorable evaluations of their instructors.

There is, in short, a strong case apart from anti-conservative bias for state legislatures to make far more skeptical, rigorous, and targeted funding decisions about post-secondary education. The political question all but cinches it. And the political question is not about exerting power or exacting revenge but affirming fairness. Non-coercion and intellectual pluralism really are valuable principles.

The fact that, with little optimism, deBoer appeals to self-preservation to get professors to respect these standards shows how contemptuously they are regarded in the academy. Elected officials who fail to uphold academic principles in the only language academics understand—by eliminating faculty lines and slashing budgets—will vindicate academia’s contempt for intellectual freedom, and for the taxpayers who subsidize higher education.

Are Teachers the Last Defense Against Artificial Intelligence?

On July 15/16, the Wall Street Journal had an ominous story on the advancing influence of a few technology companies on every aspect of our lives. The main focus fell on the extraordinary growth of Google, Amazon, Facebook, Apple, and Microsoft, a colossal quintet that makes the old days of the Robber Barons look minor league.

The opening point, however, notes technology’s revolutionary impact on the labor market. When driverless cars come along (currently, the most discussed example of automation and the workforce), we may see 300,000 jobs disappear every year, we read. Truck drivers, cabbies, delivery men, movers, driving teachers . . . millions of them will fall out of the workforce. When I mentioned to a friend the other day that the political/culture war ignited by the election of Donald Trump may get more violent as we approach the midterm elections, he shook his head and said, “That’s nothing compared to what’s going to happen when robots take over all the driving. All those men can’t do anything else, and they’re going to be hungry.”

This is one area where, for once, the humanities are safe. Any profession and job involving not just transportation, but also calculation, computing, unskilled factory labor, etc. will give way to automation. Voices of caution such as Nicholas Carr won’t slow the process. Robots don’t need health coverage and pensions, and they don’t join unions.

But the humanities presume human contact. The interaction of teacher and student involves much more than the transfer of information. The materials on the table are emotional and value-heavy. They touch profound joys and dark ambitions. It is hard to discuss the Grand Inquisitor or watch Lady Macbeth at night (“Yet who would have thought the old man to have had so much blood in him?”) without the human factor coloring the session.

Freudians speak of transference and counter-transference in the psychoanalytic method, and they play a part in meaningful humanities teaching, too. They can always go awry, for instance, when discipleship becomes so strong that the student never comes into his own, but we can’t get rid of them without turning the classroom into a non-humanistic zone.

And so, we can’t replace humanities teachers with automated instruction.

Everything I’ve said up to this point is true—except for the previous sentence. I just read about a new step in the evolution of humanities automation this morning. The University of Michigan is testing an “automated text-analysis tool” in large lower-level science classes, a program that lets teachers assign more writing and assumes much of the burden of feedback and guidance. Teachers don’t have to sit with students one-on-one and go over rough drafts, a process that can run all day and only reach 12 or so students. The program does it automatically as soon as students log on to it, examining writing sent to it and responding with corrections and suggestions.

Now, this is a science class, not a humanities class. Furthermore, the University of Michigan states that computers will not assign grades. The program is an advisory device, not an evaluative one. But anyone who believes that automated advising and grading are not coming soon to all the disciplines doesn’t understand college finances.

Freshman composition is a big problem in the eyes of administrators when it comes to labor productivity. I don’t mean the product of the labor, namely, an articulate sophomore, but the nature of the labor. The former is bad enough, as we can see when we ask teachers across the curriculum how well students write. But the latter is exasperating, too.

When the budget people visualize an instructor in Psychology 101 lecturing to 350 students and relying on three graduate teaching assistants to run once-a-week discussion sections and assigning grades with multiple-choice tests, they smile. But when they see a freshman comp instructor with a class of 25 students who write six five-page papers during the semester, they see a gross inefficiency. Paying an instructor to spend six hours every other week solely on grading 25 essays looks awfully expensive, especially when the psychology teacher can do the same job and cover 350 students.

Automation is a solution. What took the person six hours to do, the computer can do in a few minutes. If we can pay one composition instructor to teach a class of 200 students, lecturing to the group on general principles of strong writing, but using teaching-assistant robots to individualize the instruction, then we don’t have to pay five teachers to handle those students. One can envision a stressed-out dean rubbing his hands over the prospect.

It’s already happening in the scoring of standardized tests. I heard of it a few years ago while working for ETS on the GRE. The background was the pressure on schools and governments to bring accountability to student performance in writing, which colleges and businesses constantly deplore (No Child Left Behind, passed a few years earlier, emphasized testing in reading and math, but not writing.) Enrollments in remedial writing classes were going up, and so were the number of organizations hiring writing tutors for younger workers.

To assess writing and improve instruction accordingly was going to take a lot of money. The SAT added a writing component in 2006, for example, which meant some 1.6 million pieces of writing had to be read and scored each year. You can imagine the cost of paying temp workers to do so. The State of Illinois, in fact, dropped writing tests in 2005 to save $6 million.

With these burdens, institutions can’t help but spread computerized grading of writing throughout higher education. It doesn’t matter that current programs have their flaws. Enough of them will be ironed out to justify using the programs, especially when school officials see the savings.

And there is another benefit as well. It bears precisely on the humanistic nature of the humanities that I highlighted above. What we might take as an enticement — that is, the emotional and psychological nature of humanities teaching — administrators see as a risk. With relations between teachers and students becoming tenser, and with students growing more conscious of offense and discrimination, human-to-robot contact seems safer, too, not just cheaper. The more instruction and grading can be rationalized and dehumanized, especially in courses that touch upon delicate issues, the fewer complaints and allegations and lawsuits will occur.

One final consideration. It used to be the case that parents and students demanded small classes and lots of instructor attention. But from what I’ve seen and heard lately, grades and accreditation increasingly matter more than the human touch. Administrators and humanities colleagues at other campuses tell me that income and employment prospects are #1 in the minds of the “customers,” not an intense engagement with professors.

In fact, if they sense that teachers demand too much attention, at least in courses not directly related to their future careers, students drift away. Not many of them are going to object to having to conduct pedagogy through the screen in their dorm rooms at night rather than spending a half hour in a professor’s office in the middle of the day. Millennials prefer it that way.

An Anti-Koch Rampage at Wake Forest

Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, NC is a selective school with a faculty that has a considerable number of, to use Roger Kimball’s phrase, tenured radicals. Just about two hours to the east in Raleigh is Wake Tech Community College, a typically unpretentious school offering lots of “practical” education.

Recent events at the two schools shed some light on the difference between our prestigious four-year universities and utilitarian community colleges. The comparison is not flattering to the former.

The tale at Wake Forest begins with the hiring of Professor James Otteson as Executive Director of the BB&T Center for the Study of Capitalism. Otteson, a true scholar and proponent of classical liberalism had previously taught at Yeshiva, NYU, Georgetown, and the University of Alabama.

Aristotle’s word for ‘Flourishing’

Otteson’s interest in classical philosophy gave him the idea for a campus institute that would explore the idea of human happiness – what he’d eventually call the Eudaimonia Institute, borrowing Aristotle’s term for flourishing. The Institute would be interdisciplinary, drawing upon scholars in philosophy, economics, and political science to discuss the institutions that lead to human happiness.

No one raised the least objection to Otteson’s project until he announced that it had received a grant of $3.7 million from the Charles Koch Foundation. Suddenly, many faculty “progressives” who had seen nothing dangerous in the Eudaimonia Institute woke up to the terrible prospect of their lovely campus being polluted with money from the ‘evil’ Koch brothers. A faculty senate committee formed to “investigate” the donation promptly declared that the money must be rejected. As the Wall Street Journal reported, the committee insisted (yes, all in caps) that the university must “SEVER ALL CONNECTIONS TO THE CHARLES KOCH FOUNDATION.”

Another faculty senate committee then weighed in. It declared that if Wake Forest kept the Koch funds for the Eudaimonia Institute, its academic integrity, financial autonomy, and institutional governance would all be compromised. Petulantly, the committee wanted the administration to cancel a conference the Institute had already scheduled on campus. The anti-Koch rampage even went so far as to cause the business school to drop a course Otteson had taught for years as a requirement for graduation.

Faculty Hostility

Wake Forest did not decide to reject the $3.7 million, but the faculty senate in its implacable hostility has managed to paralyze the funds. They can’t be used without its approval, which won’t be forthcoming.

During the turmoil at his home campus, Professor Otteson was invited to give a lecture at Wake Tech. He spoke on the morality of the free market, on income inequality, and on justice – topics central to classical liberalism. How was his talk received?

Wake Tech economics professor Kelly Markson writes about that in this piece published by the James G. Martin Center. She was there and writes, “At my school, Professor Otteson received a warmer response. That’s partly because most if not all of those in attendance were unaware that Otteson was being censured at WFU, and went in without any preconceived ideas. There were no protests nor rioting for this Koch-funded speaker. Students attended with an open mind. The result? Otteson hit a home run.”

The students all listened politely and those who lined up to engage with Otteson in the Q and A session, asked sensible questions – and received sensible answers. Obviously, Otteson succeeded in doing at Wake Tech the thing that is most central to higher education: He got people to think.

It’s interesting that a strong defender of free markets and opponent of big government like Jim Otteson can get a good reception at a college talk (notwithstanding the fact that Koch funds helped pay for it), while people with similar views get shouted down by students who are furious that such an individual is even allowed on campus. I think that Markson points at the explanation when she says the students went into his talk without any preconceived ideas.

At big, prestigious schools like Wake Forest, the left invests heavily in spreading preconceived ideas. In classes, many faculty members love to impart their notions about social justice, institutional racism, the evils of capitalism, and so on to their students. Moreover, the students learn that those who oppose “progressive” policies are not just mistaken, but malevolent. Therefore, whenever a wrong-thinking person is asked to speak, it is very easy for leftist groups to organize raucous, even violent protests. They’ve been conditioned to respond in anger when they hear names like Murray or Koch.

Getting People to Listen

The calm response to Jim Otteson’s talk at Wake Tech suggests that the default setting for American students is still, “I’m willing to listen.” The basically no-nonsense faculty and administration at Wake Tech have done little or nothing to implant in them the intolerant, “I’m not going to listen because I know you’re spewing hate speech” attitude.

That makes me slightly optimistic. Apparently, it isn’t the case that America’s students are becoming intolerant zealots. Only that those who get steeped in “progressivism” and its offshoots while in college become the kinds of rioters we’ve seen at Middlebury and Berkeley and Yale and Evergreen. That’s bad, but limited.

Or, to turn this around, it should worry all the leftist zealots that they seem to have gotten nowhere with students at an ordinary school like Wake Tech where the focus is on useful learning rather than political indoctrination.

A Bi-Polar Report on ‘Laggard’ Public Colleges

Right now, the biggest news in higher education is a controversial paper from Dimitrios Halikias and Richard Reeves of the Brookings Institution, arguing that “the upper middle class is substantially over-represented” in America’s universities, that “public investment…too often fails to produce either social mobility or socially beneficial research,” and that “the significant public subsidies spent on the education of the relatively affluent could be better spent elsewhere.”

The report, “Ladders, Labs or Laggards? Which Public Universities Contribute Most?” argues that the upper middle class is impeding the rise of less well-off Americans. It is amplified in Reeves’ recent book, Dream Hoarders, and by a New York Times column last week by David Brooks agreeing that “we in the educated class have created barriers to mobility” blocking the rise of the less well-off.

Too Focused on Economic Mobility?

Many of us in the field will accept the basic argument. For years, I have complained that we devote huge subsidies to support the comparative affluent students who dominate most American schools, individuals who in an earlier, poorer age, largely supported themselves. I have railed against “academic gated communities” that work to create a new sort of credentialed aristocracy inconsistent with the American Dream or the country described beautifully by Alexis de Tocqueville nearly two centuries ago. And I have questioned vacuous academic research, arguing that we are “overinvested” in higher education – meaning, to me, that we should reduce public support. With all of these points, there is solid supporting empirical evidence.

But then the authors go astray and their report turns bipolar. To them (neither of whom attended American state universities, one graduating from Oxford and the other Yale) the leading purposes of public institutions are “serving as engines of social mobility and producing world-class research.” Is that the core of what higher education does? What about diffusing knowledge and promoting wisdom, character building and leadership? And, as Robert Samuelson points out in discussing the Reeves book in the Washington Post, there is still a great deal of income mobility in America.

How Important Is Most Research?

To Halikias and Reeves, a school is a “laggard” if it is not top flight in research. Yet research prowess is defined by a crude Carnegie classification system that evaluates schools on research inputs (what it spends) and on the number of graduate students. According to these criteria, a dollar spent on research is better than a dollar spent on instruction; a graduate student admitted is good, an undergraduate is a dubious loss leader, at best a cash cow to subsidize more important graduate students, many of whom someday will publish articles for the Journal of Last Resort or its equivalent, read or cited by very few if any scholars.

Moreover, the authors decided to ignore private schools –the purest bastions of academic privilege for the affluent, many of which are indirectly governmentally subsidized as much or more than so-called “state” universities—why? Similarly, the authors arbitrarily exclude the nation’s historically black colleges and universities — they have a “specialized” mission, we are told. But they also have large numbers of low-income students, and the accessibility of American schools by poor persons was a central issue to the authors.

We are told the 342 schools sampled were “selective” admissions schools, a somewhat dubious categorization for many sampled universities where relatively few students are rejected for admission (e.g., University of South Alabama, Youngstown State University, University of Texas at El Paso).

Only 70 schools, 20 percent of the sample, were cited as  the “leaders” in higher education (having high-income mobility among the students, along with high levels of research among the faculty). I took six schools from the top 20 on that list: the University of Texas at El Paso, the University of New Orleans, the University of Texas at San Antonio, Wayne State University, the University of South Alabama and Cleveland State University. Using data from the U.S. Department of Education website College Scorecard, I observed that at all of these schools, a large majority (over 60 percent) of full-time students failed to graduate in six years –well above the national average. These “leaders” did not do what many of us consider Job One: graduate entering students.

A decidedly alternative interpretation: many schools prey upon the poor and academically unprepared: they admit them, telling them college is a ticket to a better, solidly middle-class life, knowing full well that most of them will fail to graduate –but will incur large student loan debts (at “leader” Wayne State, over 60 percent of students who borrowed had failed to pay at least one dollar of their student loans back –three years after attending). Yet these schools sucker academics of the Thomas Piketty perspective into believing they are “leaders” in the quest for intergenerational income mobility. A better than decent case can be made that some of the Halikias-Reeves “leader” universities should actually die: their social costs exceed the social benefits.

A good case can be made that progressive public policies have created much of the problem that the Brookings researchers lament. A third of a century ago, Charles Murray showed how generous entitlement policies of the federal government created a relatively permanent underclass of poor people who have lost the incentives and will to work and learn, qualities transmitted to their children. Teachers unions finance leftish politicians and their big spending, accompanied by their opposition to school competition, merit pay, and parental choice. All this has contributed mightily to the genuinely awful schools that dominate most inner cities inhabited by a large portion of the nation’s poor.

A Plug  for Vocational Education

The authors at one point do make one sensible suggestion: many students might benefit from vocationally oriented schooling that does not result in a four-year degree. The probability of completing that type of education is probably greater, costs are lower, and earnings of, say, plumbers, welders, or drivers of large trucks tend to compare favorably with those with B.A. degrees in gender studies from some obscure state school.

Universities were created mainly to create and disseminate knowledge and ideas. The case for public subsidy of them typically assumes that universities have enormous positive externalities (good spillover effects) and/or promote economic opportunity and income mobility. Frankly, I think the positive externality argument is more an article of faith than an empirical reality. And I think Halikias and Reeves are right that college does not promote income mobility –look at rising income inequality in the decades since higher education spread to the masses. So to me, the question is: why do we continue to publicly subsidize colleges?

Here’s What Happens as Campuses Turn Further Left

A couple of years ago, six social scientists published a paper describing a disquieting occurrence in academic psychology: the loss of almost all its political diversity. As Jonathan Haidt of NYU, one of the authors of the paper wrote in a commentary:

Before the 1990s, academic psychology only leaned left. Liberals and Democrats outnumbered Conservatives and Republican by 4 to 1 or less. But as the “greatest generation” retired in the 1990s and was replaced by baby boomers, the ratio skyrocketed to something more like 12 to 1. In just 20 years. Few psychologists realize just how quickly or completely the field became a political monoculture.

While the paper focuses on psychology, it briefly mentions that the rest of the social sciences are not far behind:

Recent surveys find that 58–66 percent of social science professors in the United States identify as liberals, while only 5–8 percent identify as conservatives, and that self-identified Democrats outnumber Republicans by ratios of at least 8 to 1 (Gross & Simmons 2007; Klein & Stern 2009; Rothman & Lichter 2008).

Related: How the Leftist Monoculture Took Over the Academy 

As these studies are now approximately ten years old, it’s quite plausible that the gap has widened further over the past decade (as it has in psychology) meaning that these figures most likely underestimate the current left-to-right ratio across the social sciences.

In response to this problem, Haidt and others formed the Heterodox Academy website, which is dedicated to arguing for a more intellectually diverse academy and now has almost 900 members.

*   *   *

One shouldn’t draw conclusions too hastily, of course, and there are many plausible explanations for this trend. For example, economist Paul Krugman argued on his blog that data suggests the Republican Party has moved rightwards over the past few decades, dragging with it the definition of a “conservative,” thus driving academics away from both the Republican Party and from conservative orientation.

Krugman suggests that this is especially true of scientists, even more so than non-scientist academics, due to a perceived hostility towards climate change data and evolutionary theory within the Republican Party. (He doesn’t distinguish social scientists from scientists in general. Although to be fair, the Heterodox Academy has marketed itself as addressing a general problem in academia.)

Professors Moved Sharply to the Left

A more detailed examination by political scientist Sam Abrams doesn’t lend support to Krugman’s hypothesis. Abrams found that party and ideological affiliation has remained relatively constant among the American population over the past 25 years; while it has shifted markedly to the left among professors:

Professors were more liberal than the country in 1990, but only by about 11 percentage points. By 2013, the gap had tripled; it is now more than 30 points. It seems reasonable to conclude that it is academics who shifted, as there is no equivalent movement among the masses whatsoever.

What is particularly striking about this shift is that the number of moderates has dropped sharply among professors. This seems to be the strongest argument against Krugman’s hypothesis. If professors were driven away by a rightward shift in the Republican Party, one could reasonably expect a build-up of moderates. Yet, this has not happened at all.

In fact, Haidt recently reported on a remarkable survey that was conducted among the Society for Experimental Social Psychology, which, as Haidt notes, is … a professional society composed of the most active researchers in the field who are at least five years post-PhD. It’s very selective—you must be nominated by a current member and approved by a committee before you can join.

As part of the survey, members were asked to identify their political affiliation on an eleven-point scale, from “very liberal” to “very conservative.” (One point in the center and five on each side.) The results are telling. Only percent cent of respondents chose a conservative point, and only 8.3 percent chose the center-point, meaning that 89.3 per cent identified as left-of-center.

Social psychologists’ self-ratings of their political orientation. Taken from Bill von Hippel and David Buss’s survey of the membership of the Society for Experimental Social Psychology, 2016.

Intriguingly, the least popular point among the left-of-center points was the most moderate one (5.8 per cent), and the second-least popular was the second-most moderate one (15.6 per cent). More than two thirds (67.8 per cent) chose one of the three points furthest to the left on an eleven-point scale, and more than a third (38 per cent) chose one of the two points furthest to the left. And 16 per cent chose the furthest possible point to the left on an eleven-point scale.

This means that there were almost as many people who chose the furthest possible point to the left as there were who chose all the conservative points, the center-point and the most moderate left-of-center point combined (16.6 per cent).

The members were also asked to rate themselves on nine specific political issues and mention who they voted for in the 2012 election, which also showed an overwhelmingly left-leaning attitude. I find the general political placement the most interesting, though, because it shows how these members think of themselves politically in the abstract.

People that freely self-identify as far-left in the abstract, in other words irrespective of specific political issues, seem to me to be signaling something: that they are committed to an ideology. The fact that such a large portion of the most influential people in academic social psychology do so suggests that this ideology is entrenched in their field.

‘Social Justice’ an Entrenched Ideology

And there are signs that point in that direction across the social sciences. Sociologist Carl Bankston paints a picture of a field that has institutionalized “social justice” ideology on all levels over the past twenty years:

To attend a conference these days can feel like taking part in a rally of true believers. These associations are not government entities, one may argue, and they are entitled to become exclusive clubs of the committed.

The problem is that the embedded ideologies of academic professional organizations are bound up with the embedded ideologies of universities. When we hire new faculty members or when we tenure or promote professors, one of the points we consider is whether the individuals concerned have been active in professional associations, especially the national association. Because the associations so strongly push political perspectives, universities implicitly encourage professors to hold and express the “correct” socio-political orientation.

From Bankston’s description, it seems clear that any non-leftist would find working in sociology almost unbearable. The research in the original paper suggests that the leftward shift in social science is likely due to a combination of self-selection, hostile climate, and discrimination.

In Haidt’s commentary, referring to the hostile climate, he includes part of an email from a former graduate student in a top 10 Ph.D. program, which he says is representative of several he received:

I can’t begin to tell you how difficult it was for me in graduate school because I am not a liberal Democrat. As one example, following Bush’s defeat of Kerry, one of my professors would email me every time a soldier’s death in Iraq made the headlines; he would call me out, publicly blaming me for not supporting Kerry in the election. I was a reasonably successful graduate student, but the political ecology became too uncomfortable for me. Instead of seeking the professorship that I once worked toward, I am now leaving academia for a job in industry.

With regard to discrimination, a recent article in Quillette presents a sobering anecdote from someone (who considers himself on the left) going through the process of applying to prestigious graduate programs, and how he was consistently steered toward the expression of far-left ideological views by well-meaning advisors who presumably know what review committees are looking for.

Here he summarizes the process:

As a brief disclaimer, none of what I say here should be interpreted as a criticism of my advisors – not of their job performance and especially of their personal predilections. If anything, I think they did their jobs well. Given what I perceive as the entrenched far-Left political ideology in the world of academia, I’m confident that their advice improved my applications in the eyes of review committees. I can honestly say that by the end of the process, I felt as if the only way to be considered a serious candidate – by the Rhodes Trust, Harvard Admissions, etc. – was to present myself and my proposed research as conforming entirely to a far-Left political narrative.

An Increasingly Radical Ideology

It seems likely to me that there are self-reinforcing mechanisms at work. As the ratio of liberals to conservatives increased, a tipping-point was reached where conservatives were actively excluded from the social sciences, and as they have disappeared the more radical liberals are now outnumbering the moderates to the point where they too are being gradually excluded. In other words, it appears that social science is undergoing a purity spiral towards an increasingly radical left-wing ideology. The anecdote above suggests just this.

I suspect there is some truth to Krugman’s hypothesis, and the Pew Research data that Krugman links to does suggest there is a large group of politically unaffiliated scientists. Unfortunately, the data doesn’t separate natural scientists and social scientists. This suggests that Abrams’s data understates the extent to which both liberal and moderates have disappeared from the social sciences and supports the idea of a purity spiral in these fields.

If there has been a build-up of moderates among natural scientists, it means—since the number of moderates has decreased sharply among professors as a whole—that even more moderates must have disappeared from the other areas of academia. (It’s likely that the humanities have followed a similar development to the social sciences; a recent Quillette article by a classicist suggests as much, at least within their field.)

*   *   *

This is a much more serious problem than the number of conservatives in the field. If the social sciences were full of people who were moderate or apolitical, it wouldn’t be that much of a problem. But the fact that a specific ideology has become so entrenched, and is increasingly becoming more and more so as others—even moderate leftists like the graduate program applicant above—are gradually disappearing from the field, is highly disturbing.

So, what is this ideology?

In the paper, it is labelled the liberal progress narrative, articulated by sociologist Christian Smith:

Once upon a time, the vast majority of human persons suffered in societies and social institutions that were unjust, unhealthy, repressive, and oppressive. These traditional societies were reprehensible because of their deep-rooted inequality, exploitation, and irrational traditionalism. . . . But the noble human aspiration for autonomy, equality, and prosperity struggled mightily against the forces of misery and oppression, and eventually succeeded in establishing modern, liberal, democratic… welfare societies.

While modern social conditions hold the potential to maximize the individual freedom and pleasure of all, there is much work to be done to dismantle the powerful vestiges of inequality, exploitation, and repression. This struggle for the good society in which individuals are equal and free to pursue their self-defined happiness is the one mission truly worth dedicating one’s life to achieving.

No doubt most social scientists would nod their heads to this. Unfortunately, it’s so simplistic, and so full of vague, emotionally charged words that it’s not very informative. To understand leftist ideology, we need it to be more specific. What actual things in the current world does it want to replace, and what specific things would it put in their place?

Haidt, appearing on author Sam Harris’s podcast, gave a somewhat more specific description when he described leftist ideology as the following (starting at 01:02:09, lightly edited for clarity):

So, I take part in a lot of discussions, I’m invited to all sorts of lefty meetings about a global society and… you know… the left usually wants global governance, they want more power vested in the U.N., I hear a lot of talk on the left about how countries and national borders are bad things, they’re arbitrary. So, the left tends to want more of a universal… I’m just thinking about the John Lennon song… this is what I always go back to, Imagine. Imagine there’s no religion, no countries, no private property, nothing to kill or die for, then it will all be peace and harmony. So that is sort of the far-leftist view of what the end state of social evolution could be.

Related: The Normalization of Bad Ideas

This is more specific than Smith’s narrative, suggesting initiatives such as reducing national power and redistributing property. This, of course, is a much broader definition of fighting oppression than for example abolishing slavery.

One could argue that as slavery and feudalism have been eradicated, terms like oppressionexploitation, and inequality have increasingly become dysphemisms for power differences of any kind. In this view, the fact alone that one country, group, or person is wealthier or more influential than another is sufficient for the label oppressive.

This isn’t to say that everyone who subscribes to Smith’s liberal progress narrative agrees with Haidt’s extension. The point, rather, is that the liberal progress narrative is so vague and emotionally charged that it’s probably unclear even to most liberals themselves what these terms mean when referring to the specifics of the modern world.

(I should note that Haidt now considers himself a centrist rather than a liberal, so he’s not claiming to describe his own position.)

*   *   *

Why is it a problem that the liberal progress narrative is so vague, yet has come to dominate social science?

Well, the liberal progress narrative is not new. Nor is extrapolating it into the future. In fact, one of the most influential documents in recent history, The Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, does exactly this.

Their central argument is that human history is a succession of systems, each less oppressive than the previous, until it reaches its conclusion in communism, a system with no oppression because everyone is equal. Aside from the historical extrapolation, Marx and Engels use much of the same terminology as Smith. The words oppression and exploitation and their derivates feature prominently, and capitalism is referred to as slavery—notably similar to the dysphemism suggested above.

Consider the following:

[The bourgeoisie] has resolved personal worth into exchange value, and in place of the numberless indefeasible chartered freedoms, has set up that single, unconscionable freedom—Free Trade. In one word, for exploitation, veiled by religious and political illusions, it has substituted naked, shameless, direct, brutal exploitation.

Take away the specifics in The Communist Manifesto, such as the definition of classes, and it becomes almost indistinguishable from Smith’s liberal progress narrative. Compare for example Smith’s last sentence with what Marx and Engels write at the end of Chapter II:

In place of the old bourgeois society, with its classes and class antagonisms, we shall have an association, in which the free development of each is the condition for the free development of all.

The Communist Manifesto, along with Marx’s later works, played a key role in energizing and coalescing communist revolutionaries, and several societies throughout the twentieth century declared themselves in accord with Marx’s theory. The results, however, have been consistently disastrous.

Very few social scientists are communists, I imagine. But why? If most social scientists subscribe to Smith’s liberal progress narrative, and communism is (arguably) the logical conclusion of the liberal progress narrative, then shouldn’t they subscribe to communism as the ideal human society?

The answer for many, presumably, is that they don’t subscribe to communism because it produced disastrous results. But if the main lesson social science has learned from the failures of communism is that eliminating private property is a bad idea, then it has learned far too narrow a lesson.

What it should have done is asked itself this: if communism is the logical conclusion of the liberal progress narrative, and communism has consistently failed disastrously, what does this tell us about the liberal progress narrative—or as Haidt calls it, Universalism?

What’s interesting about Haidt’s alternative interpretation of the liberal progress narrative is that he mentions two elements central to the narrative—private property and nations. And what has happened to a large extent is that as the failures of communism have become increasingly apparent many on the left—including social scientists—have shifted their activism away from opposing private property and towards other aspects, for example globalism.

But how do we know a similarly disastrous thing is not going to happen with globalism as happened with communism? What if some form of national and ethnic affiliation is a deep-seated part of human nature, and that trying to forcefully suppress it will eventually lead to a disastrous counter-reaction? What if nations don’t create conflict, but alleviate it? What if a decentralized structure is the best way for human society to function?

What if the type of mass-scale immigration currently occurring in Europe, containing relatively large amounts of people with different nationalities, cultures, and religions, is going against some of the core features of human nature? Maybe it isn’t, but if it is, do we have to wait until after the fact to say ‘well, globalism doesn’t work’, as we did with communism? Surely there is a better way.

*   *   *

Let’s set aside the liberal progress narrative for a while and consider a different narrative. Let’s call it the scientific progress narrative:

Once upon a time, human beliefs and practices were crude, steeped in superstition, and tightly regulated by central authority. Consequently, humans were at the mercy of not only an unpredictable and punishing environment, but also of each other. But the human aspiration for truth and stability eventually prevailed, as humans piece by piece began to assemble a model of not only their environments, but of human nature itself. With this understanding came the blueprint for establishing a robust, dynamic society that could withstand environmental pressures while effectively regulating human interaction.

Thus, societies learned to harness human potential by working with human nature, not against it. Again and again, theories that were believed unquestionably true were replaced by better ones, often after heavy resistance. There is much still to be understood, but it’s clear that the struggle for a good society must be led by an uncompromising search for truth, however uncomfortable it might seem at the time. Any society that forces humans to behave against their nature is bound to eventually fail, and only truth can prevent this from happening.

Now, it’s not clear that this narrative contradicts the liberal progress narrative. In fact, for most of the past few centuries, the two—or some variants of them—have been held to be two sides of the same coin. Maybe they are. But it’s not obvious that they are, so it’s important not to conflate them. They both describe the past reasonably well. But what about the future?

Well, they appear to be diverging. The most important cause of the divergence is the advances in cognitive science, evolutionary psychology, and neuroscience, which has led to a model of human nature that many leftists find unacceptable because they perceive it to threaten the liberal progress narrative. As Steven Pinker wrote in The Blank Slate (1992a0:

Related: Some New and Narrow Versions of Academic Freedom

The taboo on human nature has not just put blinkers on researchers but turned any discussion of it into a heresy that must be stamped out. Many writers are so desperate to discredit any suggestion of an innate human constitution that they have thrown logic and civility out the window. Elementary distinctions—“some” versus “all,” “probable” versus “always,” “is” versus “ought”—are eagerly flouted to paint human nature as an extremist doctrine and thereby steer readers away from it. The analysis of ideas is commonly replaced by political smears and personal attacks. This poisoning of the intellectual atmosphere has left us unequipped to analyze pressing issues about human nature just as new scientific discoveries are making them acute.

The second point of divergence is when scientists uncover negative effects of programs attempting to implement the liberal progress narrative. Consider Carl Bankston:

In 1976 the president of the American Sociological Association, Alfred McClung Lee, led a movement to expel prominent researcher James S. Coleman from the association because Coleman had dared to draw the ideologically unacceptable conclusion from research data that busing and other means of forcible school desegregation were actually exacerbating segregation by intensifying white flight. To the ASA’s credit, the expulsion effort failed, but only after many attacks on Coleman’s character and motivations.

Now consider both these points in relation to, for instance, globalism. If the suggestion that national, or ethnic affinity (or more broadly, tribalism) is deeply rooted in human nature is considered taboo, and likewise any attempt to describe cultural clashes and lack of assimilation in, for example, Europe is forcefully attacked, this can accumulate to become a significant blind spot.

Add to that the practice within the social sciences of using dysphemisms like xenophobia to refer to non-Universalist attitudes towards globalism, and you have a situation where the pursuit of truth is being hampered in the quest to support the liberal progress narrative, and where there appears to be a disturbing lack of learning from the disasters of communism.

It is important that people stand up for science, even when it clashes with the liberal progress narrative – or Universalism, as Haidt calls it. Yet, as non-leftists and increasingly also moderate leftists are being excluded from the social sciences, there appear to be fewer and fewer people willing to do so. The consequences could be grave.

Reprinted from Quillette with permission.

How Colleges Promote Censorship and Undermine Free Speech

In Brave New World, Aldous Huxley writes: “There isn’t any need for a civilized man to bear anything that’s seriously unpleasant.”  In his sanitized future, general happiness and social stability are achieved not via threats of legal action but rather through perfect genetic and behavioral engineering, endless indoctrination, anodyne feel-good phrases and drugs, and organized outlets for intense emotion and lust.  “That is the secret of happiness and virtue–liking what you’ve got to do,” explains Huxley’s Director of Hatcheries (where test-tube babies are produced).

Alas, we’re not there yet, hence the recourse to crude legal instruments backed up by moral grandstanding is still essential. Given the pesky First Amendment, however, thus far valid in contemporary America despite ever more frequent attacks, not just any claim to hurt feelings can be used to shut down others’ speech. Learning which words are most effective in preventing the expression of views and comments we don’t like is, therefore, a crucial step if one wants to be successful in ushering in the utopian future.

In more legalistic terms, offending words and gestures can be said to deprive college women of the right to an equal education, thus constituting illegal discrimination. That is the language of Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sex in educational programs that receive federal funds.  Expanded over the years to include such categories as “hostile environment harassment,” Title IX turned out to be a godsend to those determined to go through life free of unpleasant words, vulgar jokes, suggestive glances, and, as has become clear, ideas and viewpoints they dislike. In today’s academy, insisting that one feels unsafe or threatened is a routine and usually effective opening move in attempts at controlling others’ words and attitudes.

A recent example:  A student group called Feminists United has filed a Title IX lawsuit against the University of Mary Washington, alleging that by declining to ban access to Yik Yak, the school failed to protect them from disagreeable posts on the anonymous app.  The requisite linguistic expertise was on full display, with the suit referring to the “overtly and/or sexist/threatening” anonymous messages on Yik Yak, which allegedly created a “hostile environment” for the group.

True, there are slight glitches in the group’s charges. The Supreme Court standard (established in the 1999 case Davis v. Monroe County Board of Education) stipulated that harassment becomes discriminatory conduct for which schools are liable only when it is “so severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive that it effectively bars the victim’s access to an educational opportunity or benefit.”

Susan Kruth, staff attorney at the indefatigable Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), a non-partisan organization defending the First Amendment on American campuses, has explained why the university in the Yik Yak case did nothing wrong.:

Universities should respond to true threats and to serious allegations of sexual harassment, and they can provide non-punitive resources to people who encounter offensive speech. But to the extent that remarks are merely sexist or offensive, a public university must recognize that such language is protected under the First Amendment and decline to take unlawful steps to censor it. Throughout their complaint, the plaintiffs conflate alleged threats and a pattern of conduct that they claim deprived them of educational benefits with remarks or behavior that made them uncomfortable.

In commenting on the lawsuit recently, another FIRE staffer, Communications Manager Daniel Burnett, cited the 2003 Supreme Court case Virginia v. Black, which defined  “true threats”—valid  exceptions to the First Amendment–as “those statements where the speaker means to communicate a serious expression of an intent to commit an act of unlawful violence to a particular individual or group of individuals.”

However, because courts have regarded intimidation as a type of true threat, it becomes advantageous for complainants to assert that they indeed were placed in fear of bodily harm or death. These magic words then set in motion a series of potentially draconian consequences, with the alleged perpetrator usually denied due process as schools, trying to save themselves from lawsuits or perhaps joining in with current campus orthodoxies, cave in to complainants in short order.  Ironically, it is only when sued by those charged with such offenses that universities are likely to rediscover the beauties of First Amendment protections.

A further irony of the current campus climate is that it is not speakers who incite the audience to violence but rather outraged students who threaten speakers and their supporters with violence. Yet universities are acting as if this potential for violence is a reason to prevent unpopular views from being heard – a perfect example of the power of a “heckler’s veto” to silence speakers in an arena where free and full discussion ought to be promoted: the university.

The result is that campus speech censors have a positive incentive to overreact.  They become agitated, claiming they feel unsafe, and threaten violence—in response to which administrators and even campus police rapidly capitulate.  And in the downward spiral that has been played out on numerous campuses over many years now, students ironically demonstrate ever greater physical and verbal aggression as they insist on their discomfort, vulnerability, and fear.

FIRE’s Susan Kruth has highlighted the role of the Office of Civil Rights (OCR), charged with enforcing Title IX, in promoting a redefinition of sexual harassment and sexual assault so broad and vague that it covers mere “speech or conduct of a sexual nature,” which in practice means whatever anyone finds offensive. The low standards encouraged by the OCR, in conjunction with colleges’ natural aversion to lawsuits, have resulted in the campus environment by now familiar to us all, even though these low standards would never carry the day in a court of law.

Apart from the unconstitutionality of such broad definitions, it is well worth asking whether we really want to live in a society where you can’t even make a sexual allusion or tell a joke, where any thoughtless, critical, or offensive comment—not to mention an unpopular viewpoint–can be construed as harassment.  According to many would-be censors, the answer is yes, provided it’s the other guy whose speech is to be curtailed, never mine.

One has to marvel at the touching innocence of so many American students. Lacking experience of what it’s like to live in a society in which some speech is prohibited ostensibly for the greater good, they apparently have little imagination of what such a society would entail. It seems not to occur to them (or to their faculty and administrative abettors) that the very vagueness of what could cause offense means ever more words will need to be avoided, just to be on the safe side.  Yet numerous accounts exist of all the countries around the globe where speech is or has been curtailed by the state and its institutions, with frightening and violent consequences.

It’s an old observation, but nonetheless routinely ignored by campus vigilantes.  More than twenty years ago, for example, FEMISA, an electronic list devoted to feminism, gender, and international relations, was discussing kicking out some men who posted comments women on the list didn’t like.  I was among the very few who argued on that list for the importance of free speech, which–in that particular context–meant tolerating the messages of male contributors whose words were making them unpopular.

Excluding those whose views we did not like, I said, would soon enough lead to instituting censorship, public humiliation, shunning, ganging‑up‑on, etc., so as to protect the feelings and views of the rest.  I contended that even men thought to express obnoxious views should not be struck from the list, and that intolerance of ideas we dislike can quickly move into the prohibitory mode as if the people with whom we disagree had no right to speak freely.  This was a dangerous turn, as I knew then and have had confirmed numerous times since.

Kate Zhou, a political science professor originally from China, sent a long message to FEMISA supporting my position and explaining her own:

I am a feminist from China. For many years, sexist language was banned by the Chinese state (at least in the urban public sphere). Urban Chinese women were very much “free” from sexist verbal attacks. Many women including myself were willing to give up freedom for some degree of protection and security.  When everyone lost the freedom to speak, women’s independent voice was also gone. When women’s voices were silenced, women suffered.

 Yes, we did not have to be bothered by sexist language and pornography. But we could not complain that we had to line up two or three hours for basic food. We had to take less interesting work because we had to take care of the family.  It was not politically correct to complain about the double burden.

Is it clear to feminists that there has been no feminist movement in those countries that practice state censorship? My experience in China seems to suggest that women are often victims of any kind of censorship. As a feminist, I believe that women have the ability and power to defend their interests if given a chance. We should welcome complex and diversified debates. Difficult and complex debates help to train us. If we try to shut someone up because we dislike what he has to say, we just confirm our weakness and sexism.   [Kate Zhou, May 5, 1995].

Not surprisingly, FEMISA did not heed this sound advice. Instead, after more comments from argumentative men –who in some cases merely pointed out that women routinely posted hateful language about men, while men’s objections and rejoinders were treated as intolerable flames–the list owners barred various men from posting and moved the entire list onto “moderated” status, the better to control its discussions.

A similar case affected me directly. For nothing more than disagreeing with the predominant views on certain subjects on the Women’s Studies E-mail List (WMST-L), I (unlike virtually all the other 5,000 subscribers to that list) was placed on “moderated” status for ten years, so that no message of mine could be posted without first being vetted by the list’s overseers.  The result was, of course, as intended: Not eager to waste my time, I participated ever less on the list, to the point that my contributions decreased to almost zero. Why should anyone on the list have to be upset by divergent viewpoints?

Now, however, entire institutions do this dirty work for fragile feminists and others demanding protection from the verbal slings and arrows of people who dare voice dissenting views.  The state and its apparatuses must, of course, keep its grubby hands off our bodies, but please, please, let it control words, gestures, even thoughts.

We’ve come a long way, baby.

Stanford’s Wildly Popular ‘Self-Help’ Course

Mechanical Engineering 104B!  The most popular course offered at Stanford University, Silicon Valley incubator and home of one of the top engineering schools in America, ranked #2 in the country by U.S. News, just under M.I.T. And you, lucky Stanford student, can take Mechanical Engineering 104B just because you got into Stanford and made it to your junior or senior year—it’s upper-division and graduate level only. There are no prerequisites. No math, no science. You don’t have to know a single thing about mechanical engineering, much less major in it, and you might even still be thinking that “engineering” means keeping a train running on its tracks.

The class is titled “Designing Your Life,” and one of its co-instructors is William Burnett, a former designer for Mattel and Apple and adjunct engineering professor who heads Stanford’s undergraduate program in product design. Product design at Stanford is a rigorous major that requires a raft of math, physics, psychology, studio art, and above all, mechanical engineering courses in order to graduate—as well it should, because just think of all the technical skills you’d need just to design an office chair that someone might want to sit in all day.

Anyone Can Do It

But in Mechanical Engineering 104B, no worry about any of that actual engineering stuff. “This isn’t a technical course,” its webpage reassures soothingly, and you’ll never have to design one thing in order to pass (the course is pass-fail anyway). “There may be some simple projects…, but nothing that takes any prior design or fabrication experience. Anyone can do it and it’s a great thing to learn.”

Instead, what “Designing Your Life” offers—and what attracts a full 17 percent of Stanford juniors and seniors to sign up for it, so many that the course is offered continuously throughout the three-quarter terms that make up Stanford’s academic year—is what Burnett and his co-instructor, fellow Stanford adjunct David Evans (leader of the team that developed the first Apple mouse), call “Design Thinking.” And “Design Thinking” sounds an awful lot like…plain old-fashioned self-help.

Need to figure out what to do after graduation? Find a mate? How about filling up those long days after you retire? How about losing weight? “I’ve lost 25 pounds, reconnected with close friends and refocused my energy on specific goals and habits,” wrote New York Times health columnist Tara Parker-Pope reporting on Design Thinking in January 2016. “Design thinking has helped me identify the obstacles that were stopping me from achieving my goals, and it’s helped me reframe my problems to make them easier to solve.”

Keeping a ‘Gratitude Journal’       

Indeed, the Design Your Life course’s relation to actual product design seems to be strictly metaphoric. Juniors and seniors who sign up for the two-credit course, monitored by Evans and Burnett with the help of guest lecturers and a flock of student-volunteers who lead discussion groups engage in such activities (according to a Fast Company report) as keeping a “gratitude journal,” working with “a deck of cards featuring problem-solving techniques,” and drafting “odyssey plans” for their first five years out of school. For Stanford sophomores, there is a starter course, Mechanical Engineering 104B, “Design Your Stanford,” in which they can earn another two credits plotting out the rest of their education. And For grad students and postdocs, there’s Engineering 311B, “Designing the Professional,” offering the opportunity to draft career-based “odyssey plans.”

As for Stanfordians unlucky enough to have graduated before Evans and Burnett launched Design Your Life in 2010—and for those whose SAT scores weren’t high enough to get them into Stanford in the first place—Evans and Burnett have a best-selling 2016 book, Designing Your Life: How to Build a Well-Lived Joyful Life. Alternatively, knock-off, or perhaps parallel, Design Thinking classes and workshops have been sprouting up like ailanthus trees around the country: at the University of Vermont, the Chicago-based online school IDEO U, and K-12 teachers’ conferences everywhere.

Looking for Moral Order

How Stanford’s prestigious and rigorous engineering school got into the touchy-feely purveying business most likely has to do with two factors: the desire of engineers to feel less like slide-rule pushers and more like creative artists and the yearning of hyper-educated young people for meaning and moral order in a post-religious world. (A 2008 study by the Templeton Foundation found that only a fourth of college juniors attended regular religious services, and 38 percent of them never set foot in a house of worship.) During the mid-1960s Stanford had created a “Joint Program in Design,” (often called the “Stanford Design Program”) an inter-departmental collaboration between its art and engineering departments predicated on the then-novel idea that design engineering should be “human-centered,” as one of the program’s founders called it. It offered undergraduate and graduate degrees in both mechanical engineering and fine arts/design. All students had to take a class called “visual thinking” in which they took “voyages” in a 15-foot geodesic dome featuring light shows aimed at stimulating their creativity.

Then, in 2004, Stanford mechanical engineering professor David Kelley, apparent coiner of the phrase Design Thinking to describe a project-based methodology for solving problems and heavily involved in the design program, used a grant from German software billionaire Hasso Plattner to help found—and erect a multi-million-dollar campus building for—the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design, known informally as the “d-school.” The d-school doesn’t grant degrees, but its warehouse-like open-plan structure does offer an atmosphere that satisfies many people’s ideas of what creativity is all about: whiteboards for scribbling ideas, sticky notes all over the walls, and cool vintage cars and minimalist furniture as decoration.

Most significantly, the d-school offers undergraduate and graduate-level courses that have the coveted Stanford “mechanical engineering” label attached to them, even as they sometimes skirt the more demanding aspects of mechanical engineering. The course-takers typically hail from Stanford’s other schools besides engineering who can earn credits for taking such courses as “Civic Dreams, Human Spaces,” “Designing for Extreme Affordability,” and “Beyond Pink and Blue: Gender in Tech.” Neither Burnett nor Evans is officially on the d-school faculty roster, but Design Your Life is definitely from the d-school template

From Engineering to Life Design

Lately, though, Stanford’s School of Engineering has been distancing itself from the d-school’s free-for-all ethos. For example, it has discontinued the 1960s-era Joint Program in Design, whose last class graduated a few days ago in June. The school replaced the graduate-level program with a tough-minded master’s program in “design impact engineering” that includes no art courses, accepts no art majors, and requires all its applicants to have solid engineering or hard science backgrounds. A page on the program’s website diplomatically explains that the master’s program has no connection to the d-school, which, it says, was set up to give Stanford students “confidence in their creative ability,” not teach them “depth and expertise in design.”

Still, that hasn’t thrust any sand into the well-oiled—and clearly lucrative–gears of Design Your Life. On the Burnett-Evans website, you can learn about the Design Your Life TEDx talk, the Design Your Life workshops coming up in August, and the fact that Northern Arizona University selected Designing Your Life as its freshman book read. Oh, and “Designing Your Life for Women”: a $950 two-day immersion in “odyssey plans,” “group ideation,” and “your three potential futures,” plus meditation and kundalini yoga for an extra $45. You won’t get Stanford mechanical engineering credit for this, but you will, it’s promised, “flourish.”

Napolitano and the Decline of Berkeley

Complicity or incompetence: those two alternatives describe a good deal of policing in the Bay Area these last few years. Peter Shrag writes, “California or even the whole West Coast is in a liberal bubble in the age of Trump” and that “the Bay Area is a bubble within a bubble”—as manifested by its leaders’ politically correct deference to violent mobs from the left. Schrag notes how Oakland’s authorities have “fuss[ed] with their agenda of political correctness” while downtown businesses in the city have been repeatedly vandalized since the Occupy protests of 2011. Rioters shut the Port of Oakland, the nation’s fifth busiest. The Oakland Police Department is notoriously undermanned, mostly to the detriment of minority neighborhoods, while the city authorities spend $300,000 a year for a department of Race and Equity.

Schrag puts it nicely: “On April 27, when Anne Coulter was supposed to have spoken, and when militants threatened more violence, UC and Berkeley in effect confessed their role in allowing the disturbances of the prior months.”

Their delay in doing their duty, however, is going to cost California taxpayers half a million dollars to reimburse neighboring police agencies. Alameda County Sheriff Gregory Ahern estimated the cost to his department at about $80,000, a sum he expects the University of California to pay. UC, at the time of this writing, does not have an official estimate of the total cost. It says it is working with other agencies for eventual reimbursement.

This, however, is only one manifestation of the way the University of California mismanages its affairs. Another was uncovered two days before the April 27 demonstration, with the release of a state audit of the finances of the UC president’s office.

Related: UCAL Regents Strike Back at Napolitano

The University of California, Berkeley denies free speech to selected individuals and groups by deferring to left-wing terror tactics. As a corollary, the university administration has encouraged lawlessness that endangers both individuals and public property. Furthermore, by permitting the metastasizing politicization of the university, the University has both violated its fiduciary responsibility to the taxpaying citizens of California and betrayed its mission as an institution of higher education.

To put the violation of fiscal responsibility in perspective, let’s go back to a case at UC Davis in 2011. Students staged a sit-down protest on campus to protest a hike in fees.

When the campus police ordered them to move, they refused to do so. Instead of carrying the protestors away, as has been done in the past, one officer used pepper spray to disperse the crowd. A recording of the incident went viral over the internet, which caused an image problem for the university. To counter the negative effects, Chancellor Linda Katchi used public money to hire a Maryland public relations firm to help scrub the internet of references to the protest.

This by itself raised ethical questions. An investigation conducted by Melinda Haag, former United States Attorney for San Francisco, uncovered further irregularities, which led UC President Janet Napolitano to describe the chancellor’s administration as “deeply flawed.” It showed “poor judgment,” she said, and “violated multiple university policies, misled, even lied to, superiors, the public, and the media.”

Katchi offered her resignation, which Napolitano immediately accepted.

At the same time as the free speech and violence issues erupted, a series of audits had uncovered poor judgment in Napolitano’s own office. In 2017, Assemblymen Phil Ting (D-San Francisco, chairman of the Assembly Budget Committee) and Kevin McCarty (D-Sacramento) called for another audit, this time over concerns about increased university spending and rising tuition and fees. Elaine Howle conducted the audit and released it two days before the scheduled demonstration in Martin Luther King Jr. Park. The audit showed that Janet Napolitano’s office used poor judgment and had violated ethical standards. It had also misled the public, the media, and her superiors at the UC Board of Regents. The investigation further revealed mismanagement, waste, and a cover up. State legislators proclaimed their ire in a two-hour grilling of Napolitano.

A Slush Fund Discovered

While the UC system struggled with a $150 million deficit, Napolitano’s office had spent lavishly on perks such as expensive parties. It had also increased spending on cell phones, iPads, and other such devices. Her administration also paid its bloated staff higher salaries than those of their counterparts in the California State University system and the state government. At the same time, Napolitano’s office had been calling for yet another hike in tuition and fees—which had doubled since 2006-2007. Moreover, the president’s office had amassed a hidden slush fund of $175 million.

California Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom, who also sits on the UC Board of Regents, had said that Trump’s threat to withhold federal funds from the university “is asinine” and “showed zero awareness of the real-world,” and that to do so “would only create more innocent victims [the students] and more Trump carnage.” But, then, what had Napolitano and her administration done to students when they spent lavishly and hid money for their own use while raising student tuitions and fees? Newsom, of course, deplored the situation uncovered by the audit, saying that it was “outrageous.” But what else could he say?

He also treated Napolitano with deference, blaming the situation not on her but on the faceless bureaucracy. “I remain a supporter of Janet’s and her office,” he concluded. “I still believe in her.” He was still confident, he said, that she “has the political skills to smooth things over with the legislature. The fact that she hasn’t, doesn’t mean that she won’t and can’t.” Newsom found a (nameless) scapegoat while closing party ranks in defense of his fellow Democrat.

Even more serious than hidden funds, excessive salaries, and extravagant perks were the auditor’s conclusion that the “Office of the President intentionally interfered with our audit process,” which prevented “us from drawing valid conclusions.” The auditor had sent confidential surveys to each of the UC campuses to learn more about the system’s finances and expenditures, and to determine if there was any duplicate spending. Napolitano’s office appeared to have tampered with the results.

Republican Assemblyman Dante Acosta said, “Often, where there’s smoke there’s fire. Here I think we might have a mushroom cloud.”  And indeed, there was, for emails reported by the San Francisco Chronicle revealed that administrators at UC Santa Cruz, UC San Diego, and UC Irvine had removed statements critical of Napolitano and her staff at the direction of Napolitano’s office. Furthermore, her office had arranged a system-wide conference call to coordinate responses among campuses, when the surveys were supposed to have been independent and confidential.

‘Outrageous Tampering’

Howle said that this “tampering was outrageous and unbelievable,” while Ting compared Napolitano’s office’s actions to those of a professor who “magically … changes the grade [of a failing student] and passes the student.” When some lawmakers at the hearing asked Howle about the possibility of criminal violations, she replied that she didn’t know, because she wasn’t an attorney, but that in her seventeen years as auditor she hadn’t seen “interference of this kind.”  Ting, along with other Democratic Assembly members, plans to introduce a bill in the Legislature to create penalties for obstructing the state’s auditor. Some Republican legislators have called for a subpoena of documents from the president’s office, while Democrats want stricter controls over how state money is spent by the university.

Democratic Speaker of the Assembly Anthony Rendon told the Los Angeles Times that he is “frustrated with the lack of communication coming out of the office of the president.” Governor Jerry Brown said that the state would withhold $50 million dollars from the university until it reduces its spending, and Democratic Assemblywoman Sharon Quirk-Silva called on Napolitano to resign, saying, “President Napolitano no longer engenders the public trust required to perform her duties.” An ironic echo of what Napolitano herself had demanded of UC Davis Chancellor Katchi.

Assemblyman Ting also said that “the fact that the president already tampered with a state audit is very serious,” and that the Board of Regents should look into the matter. Assemblyman Acosta said of the regents that he is “a little shocked at how out of touch they have been,” for it is their duty to oversee the operations of the sprawling UC system. But Monaca Lozano, chair of the Board of Regents, like Lieutenant Governor Newsom, defended Napolitano. Lozano said that she stands with the president, who has harnessed the university’s size and brain power to take on “great social challenges.” Lozano did not elaborate on what that means, or on why educational and financial challenges seem to take second place in Napolitano’s administration. Lozano instead said that “we have confidence in [the president’s] leadership,” and called Napolitano “a capable and effective leader.”

What will happen now? Napolitano will probably continue in office. Dan Schnur, a former Republican strategist, now at the Annenberg School of Communication at the University of Southern California, told the East Bay News Group that it is understandable why people would want to avoid open conflict with Napolitano. “She might be wounded at the moment,” he said, but “she’s going to recover, and she probably has a long memory, so there’s not much incentive for anyone to get in her dog house.”

In the light of all this uncomfortable publicity, the Board of Regents agreed to hire an outside consultant to investigate interference in the audit. This issue is too big for them to ignore—although they continue to disregard the decline in UC student performance and the increasing politicization of the university.

The Role of the Regents

The University of California holds a prominent and privileged place within the three-tiered system of public higher education in California, a system of mass higher education that has been described as a model for the world. At its base are community colleges that are conveniently located and affordable, offering courses required for the first two years for the bachelor’s degree, as well as technical and vocational courses of study. The next level is the California State University (CSU) system, which offers bachelor’s and master’s degrees in the liberal arts, the sciences, business, teacher training, nursing, engineering and other technical specialties. At the pinnacle of the pyramid is the University of California, which offers degrees from the BA to the Ph.D., as well as degrees in law and medicine. UC also carries on high-level scientific research on its ten campuses, as well as in the three laboratories that it supervises.

In 1879 the legislature made UC an autonomous branch of the California government, “equal and co-ordinate with the legislature, the judiciary, and the executive,” to be overseen by a Board of Regents whose members are appointed from among the citizens of the state. The board of regents thus functions within the state government in a manner similar to that of the boards of directors of business corporations. The Board’s autonomy was intended to insulate the university from the control of politicians. It is obvious from the results of the state audit that the board has failed to exercise either its fiduciary duty to the taxpayers of California or its obligations to its students.

As State Senator Cathleen Galgiani (D-Stockton) said, the Board has been “tone deaf” in its approval of decisions by the administration, such as when it raised the pay of its staff while cutting student services and raising tuition. As a remedy, she has proposed a constitutional amendment that would change the status of UC, and bring it more in line with the relationship that exists between the legislature and the CSU.

The only objection to such a measure is the one that led California to grant UC autonomy in 1879:  weaken the university’s autonomy and it will become vulnerable to political meddling. Yet, as demonstrated at length in the National Association of Scholars’ (NAS) report Crisis in Competence (CIC): the Corrupting Effect of Political Activism in the University of California (2012). the university has already become steadily politicized: not by meddling politicians, but by its own faculty and administrators.

CIC’s lead author was John Ellis, a former dean of Graduate Studies and Research at UC Santa Cruz, and then president of the California Association of Scholars, the California state affiliate of the National Association of Scholars. CIC notes the fall in measurable skills among students, along with reduced study-hours by students and reduced academic expectations by the faculty. CIC stated that as the public becomes increasingly aware of that slippage, it will recognize that college increasing lacks the capacity to improve reading, writing, or reasoning skills much less to provide the general knowledge necessary for success. Adding insult to injury, this collapse of UC’s academic quality has been accompanied by ever-rising tuition.

CIC then states that the collapse of college education in California has come about in large part because of politicized teaching, which has led to a shift in instruction from how to think to what to think. The report extensively substantiates that claim and recommends that the University of California take a different direction in its teaching. The report was addressed to the UC Board of Regents, the body responsible for the quality and the reputation of the university.

Rather than placing the points made in the report on the agenda for discussion, Ellis says that the regents were evasive, “ducking and weaving” to avoid the evidence, acting not as watchdogs in the interest of the university and the public, but rather as lapdogs of the administration that they are supposed to oversee. The regents can’t avoid addressing their failure with respect to financial problems and the way the administration has deceived them, but they can and will dance away from the question of politicization and its effects on the educational quality and the reputation of the institution for which they are responsible.

UC’s ideological conformity, appeasement of leftist violence, bloated administration, left-leaning faculties, political correctness, censorship, and self-serving administration are all connected to one another as part of a general decline of higher education at the University of California. But UC is not alone. As Stephen Hayward puts it, UC is just “a microcosm of an American higher education archipelago of ideological intolerance and detachment from reality,” in which the university “can’t control its spending and won’t control its kooks.”

The Ideal and the Real

Robert Gordon Sproul, after whom the UC Berkeley administration building and the plaza are named, was the president of the University of California from1930 to 1958. During that time the university transformed itself from a regional university to a nationally respected institution of higher education. UC then exemplified the ideal of what a first-rate university should be. Since the 1960s, however, UC and its peers across the country have abandoned that ideal. Universities today, says Victor Davis Hanson, are Potemkin villages: “their spires, quads and ivy-covered walls are facades” that mask a crisis not only of free speech but also of university finance, plummeting test scores, grade inflation, and student debt. UC is scarcely worth attending anymore.

  1. R. Reno, editor of First Thingswrites, “American elite universities today are cold, soulless places” because “they’re run for two purposes, both of which treat students as means, not ends in themselves.” One of those purposes is to “provide legitimacy to the American ruling class,” and the second is to “promote the greater wealth and glory of the university itself.” At one time the best American universities were quite explicitly for the social elite. During a brief meritocratic interlude, these universities sought out and welcomed the most qualified students, regardless of their background. After the 1960s, the elite universities returned to group consciousness in the form of affirmative action admissions—a policy designed to legitimate the university on the grounds of “social justice.”

Elite universities continue some meritocratic recruitment; if they didn’t they couldn’t maintain their status as premier academic institutions. They also continue to serve America’s elite, recruiting their less stellar children via the rubric of legacy admissions. The extension of meritocratic recruitment to foreign students now helps these universities to brand themselves for the global marketplace. Publicly funded universities also often give preferences to out-of-state and foreign students, since they pay higher tuitions than in-state students.

The problem with racial and ethnic preferences, however, is that far too many minorities have been brought up in conditions where education is not emphasized and where schools are poor, thus putting promising minority students at a disadvantage in the faster paced elite institutions. Thomas Sowell coined the term “mismatch” for such policies, policies which assert the social virtue of the university at the expense of students. Professor of law and economics at UCLA Richard H. Sander and legal journalist Stuart Taylor Jr. conducted a study that showed that mismatch indeed very often works in that way.

Reno says that admissions, therefore, serve the university’s purpose, not necessarily that of students and the public, by ensuring that “the establishment’s power remains legitimate,” and that the elite university itself remains “super-eminent”—and well-funded. Universities, he says, are thus on a trajectory to “becoming rigid, mechanical and artificial communities dominated by rent-seeking faculty, populated by alienated students, and governed by administrators,” and thus unable to “attract loyalty” or to “create a culture for the future.”

Student alienation manifests itself in several ways. One is when the doctrine of permanent victimhood and identity politics (which the university promulgates) leaves many minority students seething with resentment rather than focused on the advantages that American society offers. This doctrine orients minority students towards divisive race-based identities rather than towards a unifying identity as Americans. Since these alienated students know quite well that university administrations will yield to their demands because of their privileged position within the institution, many have banded together in organizations determined to impose their will on compliant institutions.

Takeover at UC  Santa Cruz  

The latest example at UC took place this April at UC Santa Cruz. There, the African Black Student Alliance (ABSA), a racially defined organization, occupied the administration building, while accusing the university of fostering “a hostile climate.” The protesters locked the doors and plastered the windows with posters, saying that they would disrupt university administration until their demands were met. Those demands centered on segregated campus housing and ABSA-designed mandatory propaganda sessions for all incoming students. Chancellor George Blumenthal was willing to negotiate. He was afraid, however, to go near the occupied administration building. Instead, he met with ten representatives of the group in another building, where he submitted to all ABSA’s demands.

Press interviews of students revealed other forms of alienation. Some who supported the protesters identified with their cause, saying that the climate on campus was indeed hostile, no matter what the administration, faculty, and students did to make them feel welcome. And some white students who agreed in principle with diversity ideology were puzzled by the fact that certain groups wanted further special treatment when so much is already being done for them.

In sum, universities have become institutions run by the administration for the administration’s own purposes, much as corporations are run by their managers and boards of directors, while the politicization of the faculty and the resultant student alienation remain unaddressed. The high costs of college education and rising student debt also remain unaddressed. With every passing day, the taxpayers of California are given further reason to doubt the value of a UC college education—for which they pay so dearly.

The long march of the authoritarian left has succeeded in capturing the institutions of higher learning, and they have imposed their anti-liberal and anti-intellectual agenda upon institutions that once supported a free marketplace of ideas. Illiberal administrations and boards of directors disregard the missions of the institutions they are charged with governing. These institutions are financed by student tuitions and fees, by donations from alumni, businesses, and philanthropic organizations, and by taxes, government subsidies, and tax-funded grants. Perhaps it is time to rethink our unquestioned support of institutions that are failing to fulfill their missions in so many ways.

Excerpted with permission from the author and the site of the National Association of Scholars.

Mitch Daniels’ Bold Move Into For-Profit Education

Who gains as Purdue University acquires on-line Kaplan University? For Kaplan, the sale has strong appeal. For-profit companies have been maliciously maligned by politicians and leftist ideologues, and the Obama Administration tried to kill them through regulations that largely did not apply to traditional not-for-profit institutions. Students will like the prestige of the Purdue name, so enrollments will grow, helping Kaplan receive fees from performing non-academic back-office functions.

Shedding the For-Profit Stigma

For Purdue, the deal jumpstarts its comparatively anemic presence in on-line education, buying expertise it simply does not have. It allows it to join the likes of Western Governors University and Southern New Hampshire University, on-line providers that have flourished in part because they don’t have the “for profit” stigma associated with them.

Purdue President Mitch Daniels views this as a natural extension of its land-grant mission, just as agricultural extension services and branch campuses have provided ways for individuals to learn at affordable prices. Daniels, previously a lawyer, budget guru, seasoned business executive, and governor, sees the deal as nearly no-risk for Purdue. Andy Rosen, CEO of Kaplan who, like Daniels, I know and respect greatly, sees this as a winner, as does, no doubt big stockholder Donald Graham.

Yet according to news accounts, the Purdue Faculty Senate said the deal “violated both common sense educational practice and respect for the Purdue faculty….” A long-time nemesis of for-profits and the architect of much of the Obama Administration’s war on them, Robert Shireman, referred to the Kaplan-Purdue deal as “a dangerous long-term marriage between a public university and a firm answerable to Wall Street investors.”

The biggest threat to the deal probably comes not from the faculty, but from the cartel that controls entry into higher education, notably the Higher Learning Commission, Purdue’s regional accreditor. It would not let Grand Canyon convert from for-profit to not-for-profit status, and may do the same to Purdue. The defenders of the status quo (faculty interests, other universities) will try to use accreditation to stop this effort by Purdue to do the equivalent of creating another branch campus. This is another reason why accreditation as we know it should die.

To me, the deal makes a lot of sense. Purdue uses expertise it does not have to expand its educational outreach and improve access. Kaplan probably will gain too, partially just because the word “Purdue” is worth more than the word “Kaplan.” If the new entity is truly part of Purdue, the faculty will ultimately gain some control over curriculum content and teaching. At my school, the main campus faculty has only limited control over those at the branch campuses, and it is not a big issue. I suspect the same will become true at Purdue.

Faculty Want in

What this controversy really is about, however, is ownership. As the late Henry Manne pointed out first over 45 years ago, so-called “not-for-profit” universities like Purdue really generate financial surpluses (“quasi-profits”) that get distributed –much as they do at private corporations. These distributed surpluses are often like dividends.

The problem is the ownership of Purdue, unlike that of private companies, is ambiguous. Legally, probably the state of Indiana owns the institution, and the state turns its ownership interest over to university trustees for administration. Yet the faculty call for “shared governance” is as much a call for “shared ownership.” The faculty thinks, “There would be no Purdue without us —we are entitled to an ownership interest in the enterprise. We want to share in the surpluses.” Yet the Trustees, Mitch Daniels, and Indiana taxpayers may disagree – they are other claimants for at least some ownership rights.

President Daniels has been disruptive of traditional arrangements. He has not raised tuition fees during his tenure. Higher tuition fees are revenues to be distributed, at least in part, as “dividends” to faculty, administrators, and others. He has personally accepted a lower base salary than most university presidents, wanting to be rewarded by bonuses for superior performance. He occasionally sits with students during football games instead of indulging in the perks of the presidential suite. I suspect the students love him –as did the voters who twice elected him governor by solid majorities. He does not bow excessively to collegiate elites.

Too Many Going to College

So, despite having a faculty orientation embedded in my DNA, I am supportive of Daniels move. Higher education is in a bit of a crisis –yet much of it does not know it, being largely shielded by public (state government appropriations, federal student tuition assistance) and private largess (endowments, alumni donations). Enrollments in the aggregate are falling as costs continue to rise and benefits stagnate or even fall.

“Creative destruction” (Joseph Schumpeter) or “disruptive innovation” (Clayton Christensen) are needed to make higher education more nimble, efficient, productive, and responsive to societal needs. Thus, a good case can be made for Daniels’ latest in a long series of innovations that includes the tuition freeze, Income Share Agreements, textbook deals with Amazon, etc.

The strongest case against pushing a big on-line expansion actually is an argument the faculty would emphatically not support: there are simply too many kids going to college, and Daniels’ move is likely to aggravate that problem. The private rate of return on college investments is falling, and the so-called “positive externalities” of higher education are, conservatively put, overstated.

That said, given the policy environment and the attitudes of Americans, higher education, while beset with problems, is not going away soon. Educational entrepreneurs like Mitch Daniels are responding to the changing environment, in the process transforming American higher education. albeit too slowly.

More Bad News about College

What was the most noteworthy finding of the recent Gallup survey of people who have attended college? Half of the 90,000 respondents regretted one significant decision made as an undergrad, such as picking the wrong major. In journalistic terms, this is known as burying the lede — downplaying the major point of a story while elevating some minor point.

The major finding—stunning really–appears under the heading, “Most U.S. Adults Say They Had a High-Quality Postsecondary Education.” Gallup asked respondents whether they received a “high-quality” education, and they answered overwhelmingly in the positive.

Fifty-eight percent of those who earned a bachelor’s degree assigned their school a 5, the highest testimony, while another 31 percent graded them a 4.  Even those who never earned a degree came out at 40 percent a 5 and 30 percent a 4.

But most college students in America today do not receive a high-quality education. Academically Adrift, the 2010 book that struck the world of higher education like a bombshell, proved that only a small number of students make significant gains in critical thinking and problem-solving from freshman to senior year. Every survey of employers, too, shows them complaining about poor reading and writing skills.

Related: College Students Now, the Good and the Bad

One poll is particularly relevant here. When the Association of American Colleges & Universities commissioned a poll of college students and employers that focused on the latter’s workplace readiness, an astonishing gap was revealed. While 65 percent of students said that they were “well prepared” in written communication, only 27 percent of employers agreed. Similarly, wide discrepancies showed up in areas of critical thinking, problem-solving, and critical thinking.

Coincidentally, a week after the Gallup poll was published, The Wall Street Journal published an investigative report from Collegiate Learning Assessment on the scores of dozens of colleges and universities dating back to 2013 titled, “Many Colleges Fail in Teaching How To Think.”  The results are embarrassing, and they reinforce the judgments of Academically Adrift authors Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa.

The Journal reported that at more than half of 200 schools tested, at least a third of seniors were unable to make cohesive arguments, assess the quality of evidence in a document or interpret data in a table. This is a devastating finding. International rankings show U.S. college grads in the middle of the pack on numeracy and literacy and near the bottom when it comes to problem-solving.

The gist paragraph reads, “At some of the most prestigious flagship universities, test results indicate the average graduate shows little or no improvement in critical thinking over four years.”

Related: How to Make College as Bad as High School

The data comes from public records requests, and so the Journal’s findings apply to public institutions, not private ones. The biggest point gain didn’t come from top research universities. Plymouth State University in New Hampshire led the list.  The University of Kentucky and University of Texas-Austin students didn’t show much improvement at all. Those schools no longer use the test.  University of Louisiana—Lafayette scored low as well, and it, too, has dropped the test.

The Journal quotes a 2011 Lafayette graduate who recalls, “I wasn’t as focused as I should have been, but in a lot of classes, we just watched videos and documentaries, then we would talk about them. It wasn’t all that challenging.”  He now works in a local coffee shop.

I have no doubt that any other objective measure of actual learning that takes place from matriculation to graduation—except for the competitive areas of pre-med and STEM fields—will replicate these disappointments. Even if super-selective institutions point to the strong scores that their graduates earn on the CLA, they will not be able to show much value-added impact. That is, their students came in with sound critical thinking skill, and they left with, oh, a bit more of it.

Those data points force another interpretation of the high ratings people give to the quality of higher education. Instead of proving the actual rigor and excellence of undergraduate instruction in the United States, the sanguine estimates evince the low educational standards of American millennials. They just don’t know what actual excellence is. How could they when grade inflation in high school and college has reached such an absurd level that nearly half of all college grades are in the A range. If their teachers awarded them the top mark, well, then, they learned a lot in the course.  If the work that was required of them during the semester seemed suspiciously light, well, that may be due to the sparkling intelligence of the student, not to a cushy workload.

Or, perhaps, the faith that they received a high-quality education only proves their high gullibility. Every college has abundant marketing materials that proclaim the wonderful education they provide, and the students trust those pledges of superiority. It soothes their vanity. After all, the more superb the education they received, the more educated they are. The respondents in the Gallup poll are early in their adult lives, searching for jobs and for spouses, they want to believe in their own special condition.  Acknowledging a crummy education hampers their self-confidence. They need the power of positive thinking.

Millennials have been encouraged ever since kindergarten to overestimate their own abilities. They aren’t going to stop once they graduate. It takes several years of the realities of the American workplace to contain their judgment.

900,000 Costly Bureaucrats Work on Campus—How Many Do We Really Need?

For universities and many colleges, this is the age of administrative bloat. The Office of the President of the University of California has roughly two thousand employees – doing no teaching or research. In just the Diversity and Engagement area of her office (which probably did not even exist 50 years ago), there are five senior administrators with the words “vice provost” or “director” in their title, and 25 other identifiable support personnel. And this, of course, includes none of the administrators at any of the ten campuses where students are actually taught. If these 30 diversity and engagement employees abruptly fired, would learning or research be impaired in the slightest? Who was Socrates’ Diversity Coordinator?

More ‘Administrators’ Than Faculty 

Over the last ten years, at the California State University System, “the growth in the number and compensation of management personnel significantly outpaced other employee types,” nonacademic according to the state auditor. The Cal State experience is repeatable all over America.  For all American four-year public universities, for example, the National Center for Education Statistics tells us that from 2007 through 2014, spending for “student services on academic professional personnel) rose 18.8 percent in inflation-adjusted terms, nearly double the 10.6 percent rise in spending for “instruction.”

There are more “administrators” broadly defined, than faculty at most American universities. For the year 2015, I added up the number of full-time employees in “management,” “business and financial operations,” “office and administrative support,” and “student and academic affairs” and compared that with the total number of faculty. There were 911,428 in the administrative category, far more than the 807,032 faculty (some not teaching).

Deliberately Hard to Track Numbers?

The U.S. Department of Education, I suspect deliberately, has increasingly made it difficult to track the trends in administrative staff, changing employment categories, recently including most administrators in a very broad category of “other” employees. Nonetheless, after reviewing a lot of historical data, I am reasonably confident that, even after adjusting for enrollment growth, there are nearly twice as many administrators today as there were in the mid-1970s, while the number of enrollment-adjusted faculty has grown only very modestly.

Two explanations are often advanced to explain this. First, federal regulations have increased substantially, requiring more administrators.  Examples include safety requirements surrounding use of laboratory materials, rules on investigating human subjects, regulations regarding discrimination in hiring, admitting students, and contracting, and the infamous 2011 Federal “guidance” regarding campus sexual assault.

Second, we are providing so many more services today for students than previously –- it takes administrators and other workers to maintain the climbing walls, indoor running tracks, and lazy rivers that we provide students. Universities are now as much country clubs as they are learning communities –my school (Ohio University) employs workers just to run the golf course’s pro shop and schedule tee times (ah, the heavy burdens of academic life!)

Layers of Bureaucracy

When I began working at Ohio University in the mid-1960s, there was no Provost, but a Vice President for Academic Affairs who had one assistant.  Enrollments have risen about 50 percent, but now our Provost office has an administrative staff of 16, including a “senior vice provost for instructional innovation” and, our equivalent of a Secretary of State, the “vice provost for global affairs.”

So it goes across the country. At some schools, two levels of bureaucracy oversee an already large campus administrative staff. Take the University of Texas. There are a large number of campuses, including the Austin flagship, but others at locations such as Arlington, San Antonio, Dallas and El Paso. Overseeing them is a university-wide administrative apparatus. But on top of that is the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, an organization with over 200 administrators overseeing not only the University of Texas but other public schools like Texas A & M, the University of Houston, and Texas Tech University.

Why is this happening? As they say in analyzing felonious (as opposed to merely wasteful and inefficient) behavior: look at means, motive, and opportunity. Regarding opportunity, the faculty have lost an enormous amount of power on campuses to non-academic apparatchiks. It used to be difficult to recruit professors, but now in many fields in academia it is a buyer’s market –there are often dozens of applicants for every position. Increasingly, the faculty are hired hands, not persons with real clout. Decision-making is done by administrators, who have not only seized opportunity but have ample motives to expand their own empires of underlings to do irksome chores.

Buying Peace on Campus

The federal student assistance programs have enabled higher tuition fees, providing the means to hire more staff. Rising fees mean more revenues. To be sure, some added staff are fundraisers, as universities become more aggressive about begging for money from alumni and others to continue their profligate ways.

Some of the administrative expansion reflects attempts by university administrators to buy campus peace and tranquility. Loyal alums who equate university excellence with student ball- throwing prowess demand that schools hire lots of coaches and weight training experts –and pay some of them far higher salaries than the university president. Environmental activists pressure universities into spending vast sums on sustainability coordinators and economically dubious alternative energy projects. Minority students demand all sorts of “diversity” related positions or special services. Thus presidents will create positions to reduce discontent, or, less politely, bribe militants to behave.

An interesting academic exercise is to ask: how much more affordable would American universities be if the administrative bloat of modern times had not occurred?  Looking at public universities, in recent years spending on “public service,” “student services,” “academic support” and “institutional support,” all largely administrative staff categories, has almost precisely equaled the revenues raised from tuition fees. If spending in these areas had been reduced 20 percent, which historical data suggests would have been possible, then tuition fees could likewise probably be reduced about 20 percent. Are rising administrative costs an important factor in rising tuition fees? The answer seems clearly “yes.”

What can be done about this? Passing laws restricting administrative staff growth is tempting, but the cure could be worse than the disease if one-size-fits all rules are indiscriminately applied. Reducing the fuel supply (financial support) for the administrative apparatus is another, perhaps more promising approach, by restricting federal student financial aid that enables universities to promote high tuition fees, and by state governments continuing recent trends towards restricting financial support.

Student Grievance: Righting Imaginary Wrongs

In the persistent demands for submission to the current campus orthodoxy of verbal policing, there is evidently not a shadow of concern for the creation of ethical individuals capable of thinking for themselves. Instead, a distinctly authoritarian streak is proudly proclaimed in the assaults and threats angry students launch at others.

Ironically, the less there is to be angry about, the angrier student agitators get and the more vociferous their demands that the entire university is forced to conform to the particular terms official victim groups prescribe. And since anger, like the alleged pain of triggers and microaggressions, is the new currency of moral righteousness, those around them must genuflect and then rush to appease and heal the supposed wounds.

Surely only people used to enormous personal freedom are capable of willingly tossing it away in the name of righting wrongs that are ever more imaginary. How did it happen that the appeal to authoritarianism – the state and its institutions, the university and its administrators – has arisen in a modern liberal democracy as the path by which a better society is to be forged? Do students today lack all knowledge of the actual sordid history of the imposition of goodness (usually in the name of equality) throughout the world?  Or might it be not ignorance but a drive for power that leads many people today to embrace as solutions the very restrictions on freedom that have resulted in the death and destruction of millions?

Anger and accusations, it turns out, serve as powerful weapons, bringing administrators, faculty, and other campus reprobates to their knees. Perhaps it is the obeisance demanded and received that makes student protesters ever more aggressive, more extreme. Principles vanish, accusations grow more hysterical, reasonable voices are shouted down, claims to victimhood abound. What actually transpires, who does what to whom, who suffers what ills — none of this matters. Only the identity of the players counts.

And so, relinquishing reason and evidence bit by bit, we’ve come to the present pass, in which the presumptive powerlessness of minorities has turned into a strong and ever available weapon, just as the supposed powerlessness of women has become an effective bludgeon against men.  Abject apologies are extracted, careers are ended, resignations forced. Verbal disagreement is not to be tolerated. Nothing but capitulation will do.

No doubt the thrill of power so easily achieved is hard to resist.  But the groundwork for this new spectacle was laid decades ago, when well-meaning academics accepted double standards by which whites were permanently on the defensive, forever needing to apologize for their “white privilege.”

The language of white privilege wasn’t that common back in 1989 when Peggy McIntosh’s article on the subject began to wend its way through education programs.  Who could have anticipated such wild success, as the term became a tireless mantra for those taking up McIntosh’s call for curriculum reform and an “anti-racist pedagogy”?  And who could have foreseen such rapid surrender on the part of school faculty and administrators, as if they were in endless need of atonement?

Calm disagreement, when expressed, is treated these days as further incitement, as demonstrated by the reaction in 2014 to Princeton undergraduate Tal Fortgang’s article refusing to apologize for his supposed privilege. His words caused a storm, and the ensuing tempest was picked up by national media.  But Fortgang’s explanation rested on some details that undermined his own cause.  He was Jewish, and his family had fled Nazi-occupied Poland (those who didn’t were killed). In fact, he should not have had to offer such a defense.  The child of, say, wealthy Protestant parents should have the same right to not constantly apologize for his existence, for once identity politics are unleashed, no one is immune.

Indeed, the logic of demanding that people “check their privilege” is hard to grasp unless it is merely a verbal gesture (one so many academics are apparently willing to make).  Are they to hand it over? In what form and to whom? As in China? Cambodia? Eastern Europe? Or simply apologize for it forever more – as so many people who attacked Fortgang’s article seem inclined to do?  Yet it is telling that the meas culpas written to protest Fortgang’s and similar articles tend to be written in highly confident and assertive tones, perhaps in the belief that such self-criticism, so familiar a sight in totalitarian regimes, might spare the writers from personal attacks.

Do these good souls eager to “check their privilege” really aspire to live in a society that imposes ideological conformity and rhetorical policing on all its citizens? Or do they just want to display their own sterling credentials and moral superiority?  In fact, saying “Yes, I am privileged, I am guilty” changes not a thing.  It is an act of acquiescence to ritual humiliation.

The logical fallacy of this offering was beautifully displayed at Harvard in March 2016: During a formal debate ostensibly about renewable energy, two black debaters decided instead to attack their opponents’ skin color, and suggested that since “white life is based off black subjugation,” the ethical thing for whites to do is to kill themselves. “Affirmative suicide, that’s cool,” one experienced debater declared. “It’s one little step in the right direction.”

Related: Working Hard to Convince Freshmen They Are Victims

In the light of such statements, the recent attacks on Professor Bret Weinstein at Evergreen State College are mild—students merely shouted obscenities at him and demanded that he be fired. Evidently, even polite disagreement with the new campus dogma is not allowed. Weinstein’s great offense was to express the opinion that the college’s Day of Absence (whereby whites are asked to stay off campus for a day, an inversion this year of the annual ritual by which black students and faculty leave the campus to demonstrate how sorely they would be missed).

It is intolerable that Professor Weinstein should say, as he did: “On a college campus, one’s right to speak – or to be – must never be based on skin color.” No, according to his student critics, the mere expression of such a view provides incontrovertible evidence of the professor’s racism, which must be punished.

When the supposed oppressors knuckle under, either because they really believe in their guilt or because they’re trying to protect themselves from similar attacks by being vocal “allies,” a healthy society of individuals not subjected to group-think evaporates quickly. All that is left is arguments based not on reason and evidence but on blackmail and threats of violence. The rapid capitulation to the presumably correct politics of inflamed students has been visible for decades; it just wasn’t so cravenly embraced by administrators most of the time.  But now it is.

A Nation of Whiners and Grovelers

Claiming to feel unsafe—but only when the claim is put forth by a member of an official oppressed group–is the facile new campus device for preventing unpopular speech. News flash: life is dangerous, full of risks. Being safe from the words and attitudes of one’s neighbors isn’t possible in any absolute sense.  Never having to hear a discouraging word is incompatible with a society of free people, who, yes, are capable of being unkind, thoughtless, even mean and nasty.

It’s difficult to let go of highly emotional accusations that take no account of changing conditions or individual agency. Is the U.S. the same now as it was in the 1960s, the 1980s?  Hardly. Yet today, in the sub-legal environment of college campuses, any hurt feelings can be turned into a weapon, and the truth of an accusation counts not at all, merely the identity of the accuser and the accused.

We have created categories positively designed to stimulate accusations and aggravate resentments, and it should surprise no one that this is precisely what is taking place, as self-righteous students believe ever more deeply in their right to control others. Evidently, it is far easier to play this game of gotcha than to go about constructing a positive life for oneself.  The herd mentality is at work. We’ve become a nation of whiners and grovelers. Are all such demands for greater equality destined to founder and become mere reversals of privilege? Is that the new ideal of American citizenship?

In this topsy-turvy world, speaking truth to power has morphed into endless lies about our social reality. Everything in life is supposedly stacked against those whose forebears may indeed have experienced prejudice and marginalization, even if they have no experience of it in their own lives.  Who would wish to admit to not actually being a victim, when the payoffs are lavish, in sheer emotional indulgence, destructiveness to those around one, and the actual power to bring them down? How much more gratifying and, indeed, economical, than trying to work hard, learn, and forge a path through life. Claiming victimhood denies any agency while paradoxically fully displaying it in the too often successful attempts to destroy others over a comment or opinion.  Why not threaten violence in order to suppress expression of the “wrong” opinions?

What Fun to Attack Their Elders

The need to count grievances, and to invent them if none are readily available, creates a new social reality. But no one calls this the social construction of grievance. No; it’s simply called reality, and presented as if it were a fact of contemporary life. And like all other closed systems, there is no way to combat or contradict this representation, since to do so immediately marks one as a defender of privilege, a loathsome enemy of those suffering souls clamoring for justice.

That those suffering souls are college students in modern-day America evidently does nothing to modify this caricature.  Identity is all – except, of course, in those cases where one simply decides to adopt another identity (e.g., males “identifying as female”), in which case that simple declaration must be respected by all.

So, what have we? A real reality, in which race, sex, and class actually do exist and matter? Or a make-believe reality of which I am a victim if I say so and you an oppressor if I say that? Of which not referring to me by my preferred pronoun is a grievous injury?

In today’s academy, all offenses are treated as the same offense. When a cruel word is the same thing as a physical assault, a skeptical attitude about claims to perpetual victimization is simply not to be tolerated.  The inmates are running the asylum; the doctors have capitulated, afraid of losing their jobs or merely being stigmatized by people whose newly acquired virtue consists in insisting they are victims.

Enraged students these days evidently have too much time on their hands. Their school work is ever-less demanding, and their energy seems to find no outlet in positive activities – say, learning. Thus they must seek out alternatives.  What fun to attack their elders, those who dare imagine they have something to teach them, those whose lives will (if they don’t lose their jobs) continue in these educational institutions long after the irate students have gone on to greener pastures.

Or maybe not. Perhaps not using their time in college to actually learn about the world beyond their narrow little vision of villains and victims will have some cost in their future lives.  Maybe one day they’ll realize they wasted a great opportunity, that they weren’t in college to do moral grandstanding, to engage in risk-free politics, to create little storms endlessly magnified by the media, but to actually explore the world, to get beyond frantic recriminations and gain some understanding.  To do that, however, they’d have to value the opportunity to study, open their minds, give up their puerile grievances, and grow up.

Of course, if the elders around them can’t get beyond abject apologies and groveling, the adult world doesn’t look very enticing.  In which case, it makes sense to just continue with the same drama, the same recriminations, forever more. After all, it seems to pay—at least for now, at least on the very dangerous terrain of the modern university.

When Universities Go Out of Control

Edgar Rice Burroughs foresaw the situation at Evergreen State and other campuses. He described it in Tarzan Untamed, a 1919 novel in which the hero finds himself in the lost city of Xuja.

Xuja, hidden in a secret valley, cut off from the rest of the world, resembles the typical American campus today in that the Xujans are also given to occasional eruptions of insanity. A citizen might be walking down a street, conducting a rational conversation when he will be suddenly enraged (triggered, you might say). His eyes will go dull, enameled by some obscure idea, and he will assault a fellow Xujan, and beat him savagely.

The entire country feels like Xuja now—a circus of the Id. It’s not just the universities. Donald Trump is the President of Xuja. A hitherto respectable citizen of lesser rank (Congressman-elect Greg Gianforte, let’s say) will erupt in a mad fit and throw a reporter to the floor.

If Edgar Rice Burroughs was a racist, it is not evident in the Xuja story: His villains in the tale—aside from the crazies in the lost city, who are sort of white, or something—were Kaiser Wilhelm’s Germans, who appear earlier in the story; they had been marauding in East Africa in the years just before Burroughs wrote the novel.

Too many American colleges — sometimes I think all of them — have become satellite campuses of the University of Xuja. They have aspects of the insane asylum (in which the patients are of course not responsible for their actions). Giving the matter a different emphasis, you might call them institutions of higher daycare.

Evergreen State is an especially vivid case because of the widely shared video in which students confront Professor Weinstein outside his classroom. Professor Weinstein is a professor of evolutionary biology; here we see him in dialogue with the adolescent reptilian brain.  Amazing.  The students are perfectly moronic in their virtue. Send the video over to the anthropology department. Jean Cocteau once wrote: “Stupidity is always amazing, no matter how often one encounters it.”

The Red Guards in China’s Cultural Revolution behaved in this fashion—banging through the institutions, humiliating their elders and now and then destroying a professor’s life’s work.  Pol Pot’s youthful idealists did the same before they got down to the hard work of Cambodian genocide.  This is human nature in its state of raw and most profound stupidity— murderous and yet astonishingly sentimental about itself. What could equal the chivalrous indignation of a Mississippi lynch mob assembled on a Saturday night in 1910 to vindicate the virtue of Southern Womanhood?

What’s at work in the campus eruptions is not a virtue or social justice; it has nothing whatever to do with learning or knowledge or the life of the mind.  It’s the other way around. These performances — a travesty of education — do not expand the mind, they devour it.

College authorities — a term of irony, a perverse oxymoron — are desperate for the approval of the children. That’s what is essentially wrong. The college sets up bouncy castles in the quad. They go over language and Halloween costumes with a fine-tooth comb, seeking not truth or knowledge or insight, but, rather, evidence of micro-aggressions. Brains shut down and become Play-Doh.

Yet, at the same time: they are given over to a permanent state of agitation – to hysteria. Learning to tend the fires and ceremonies of their grievances, they acquire plausible historical and ideological excuses for not studying — and indeed for not thinking. Ideology does the thinking. Some parents pay something in the high five figures for four years to have their sons’ and daughters’ minds systematically disabled.  Pre-frontal lobotomy would be cheaper.

The Evergreen president’s message to his students — after they had assaulted one of his professors and demanded the destruction of that honest man’s career and livelihood, on grounds of an imagined ideological slight — was a masterpiece of the sniveling and craven. Although Evergreen President George Bridges announced that progressive professor Bret Weinstein wouldn’t be suspended, Bridges said that he would comply with the long list of demands brought by the students, whom he called “courageous.”

University presidents in the twenty-first century have perfected this form of self-abasement. It is one of their tools of survival.

The sane response at Evergreen, Middlebury, Yale and elsewhere would be to expel the students involved:  Not to warn them, not to counsel them, not to suspend them, but to expel them. In no other way will the virus be brought under control. At Yale,  angry students who abused and threatened the husband and wife professors drew no punishment, but the innocent professors were driven from the campus as the students demanded, and the president of the university took no action.

A good education, ardently pursued, would go a long way to curing crises of identity and to composing differences.  But those presiding over the ideologies have no wish to cure; the point is to use the crises and to inflame them.

In loco parentis, indeed.  The elders (so many of them veterans of the Long March of the nineteen sixties, now holding the presidencies and chancellorships and tenured professorships) busy themselves at making the young as fatuous — as intellectually lifeless — as themselves, bundled up in the neurotic vocabularies of Caring.  It is an ignoble business.

Self-confidently virtuous students and college presidents might take a few hours to study Robert Jay Lifton’s extraordinary 1986 book, The Nazi Doctors: Medical Killing and the Psychology of Genocide, which has just been reissued in paperback.

A quote: “As Bavarian professors were told by their new minister of culture: ‘From now on, it will not be your job to determine whether something is true, but whether it is in the spirit of National Socialist Revolution.’”

Of course, zealous American students and educators claim that they are, quite precisely, fighting Nazis. If so, they should be more careful not to imitate them. They should look in the mirror, and then look a second time, and a third, and try to see how, with an entirely different eye from theirs, history will see them.

What is at stake is not students’ racial, ethnic, or gender identity. Such issues, believe it or not, are transient.  The twenty-first century is moving on at the speed of light and has far more serious business in mind.

As for the universities, their very reason for being is at stake. Right now, it seems to me that they are in the active process of trying to destroy themselves.

Angry Students Turn on Another Progressive Prof at Evergreen

Evergreen State College Biology professor Bret Weinstein is surprised. Indignant. Alarmed.

Weinstein is the new Allison Stanger—the progressive Middlebury professor still suffering a concussion from the attack by the masked anti-Charles Murray rioters on March 2. Weinstein is also the new Laura Kipnis, the progressive Northwestern professor hauled up on Title IX charges in 2015 by her university after she published an article in the Chronicle of Higher Education in which she criticized the “sexual paranoia” of some of her fellow campus feminists.

Kipnis now faces a “Jane Doe” lawsuit from a former Northwestern student Kipnis called “Nola Hartley” in her book, Unwanted Advances.   Weinstein also has some kinship with Jordan Peterson, the social democratic professor at the University of Toronto who has been mobbed by protesters for his objections to proposed legislation that would require faculty members to use “non-binary pronouns” such as “zhe” and “zir.”

Weinstein, Stanger, Kipnis, and Peterson are all left-of-center faculty members who are—or were—at peace with the progressive agenda whipping through higher education like a wind-driven prairie fire in a drought.  And they all found themselves suddenly on the wrong side of the flames.

Year of the Shout-Down

Judging by his op-ed in The Wall Street Journal, Professor Weinstein remains puissantly in favor of Evergreen College’s progressive approach to higher education and its octopus embrace of diversity, racial grievance, and victim identity.  He is no backslider from the core doctrines of contemporary academe as advanced by the last generation of leftist ideologues. He just hasn’t kept up. He’s aware of the new positions, which have evolved from the old ones, but he somehow cannot get himself to march to the new music.

The essence of the Weinstein story is that he was perfectly good with Evergreen’s “Day of Absence,” when “students and faculty of color” left campus for a day to remind those left behind how much the community as a whole was enriched by their everyday presence.  But this year Evergreen flipped the theatrics and asked the white students, staff, and faculty to make themselves scarce. Weinstein objected, and then met his classes as usual on the day in question, April 12. Nothing happened.  But someone was keeping track, and on May 23, some fifty students invaded his class, yelling obscenities, calling Weinstein a racist, and demanding that he resign. He now lives under a threat of violence from these students, and Evergreen’s president, George Bridges, has allegedly told the campus police to “stand down.”  Weinstein is left to fend for himself.

That last detail would seem hard to believe except that it so closely matches what has happened on other campuses. Stanley Kurtz has put together a nice compendium of “The Year of the Shout-Down,” and more than a few of the incidents involve college authorities simply deciding not to enforce their institution’s own rules against disruptions.  Middlebury president Laurie Patton “vowed” accountability to the disruptors, but then handed out wrist slaps of a leniency similar to a mandatory application Oil of Olay hand cream.

Patton and the other presidents who stand by and do nothing are not just appeasers of the student mobs; they are diffident admirers. They dare not say outright that the raw authenticity of black students tearing the place up with the connivance of white “allies” gladdens their progressive hearts. They know the alumni wouldn’t like that.  But these presidents will do all in their considerable power to protect their cohort of mischievous social justice warriors.  Those mobs threatening conservative speakers and insufficiently enthusiastic progressive professors are a badge of honor for the college presidents whose greatest fear is that they will be left out of the Great Historical Moment.

White Racism—Is It Relentless?

Perhaps the biggest question for those outside the academy is: What is that Great Historical Moment?  It is probably best grasped as Ferguson, though it could as easily be named Trayvon Martin, Black Lives Matter, or even the Obama Era.  It is the moment defined in Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me, in which the fading residue of institutionalized racial discrimination is amped up to a belief that white hatred of blacks pervades every aspect of American society, and nothing short of a revolution will end it.

The less actual evidence there is of racial animosity coming from whites, the more important it is to conjure its insidious presence, and the more urgent it is to teach the coming generation of black Americans to ground their lives in victimhood, resentment, and robust resistance to surrounding society.  This apotheosis of resentment, of course, is not limited to blacks.  Any collection of people willing to band together into an identity group based on a history of victimization can do the same thing.  Women, Hispanics, Native Americans, illegal immigrants, and sexual minorities of all sorts can adapt both the logic and the techniques of revolutionary existential despair.  But black Americans define this territory; the others merely emulate.

The Great Historical Moment comes with the realization that this movement must discard all the old forms of civility that governed society in general and the university in particular.  Willingness to listen to arguments on the other side is a sign of weakness.  Toleration of dissent from the views being asserted today only vitiates the solidarity of the movement.  Deference to the individuality of people in all their diversity dilutes the purity of the group’s will to power.

Professor Weinstein is blind to most of this.  He persists in thinking that he is engaged in a defense of liberal or even progressive principles.  In his op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, he sees himself as a critic of President Bridges’ campaign to substitute the principle of “equity” for the formerly reigning shibboleth, “diversity.”  The “equity agenda” at Evergreen ramps up the demand for hiring people on the basis of race rather than ability or accomplishment.  The diversity agenda, of course, did the same thing, but lightly disguised the proceedings with an appeal to the good will of all involved.  “Equity” removed the velvet wrapper from the iron fist.  And Weinstein sees this as finding support among the campus postmodernists.

Here Comes the Equity Agenda

He is not wrong about the postmodern element.  He is speaking of those academics who can no longer credit the idea that there are foundational truths, and who instead see the world is little more than fragments of attention spent on a perpetual struggle for power and privilege.  These folks, holding forth in the humanities, have no basis on which to stand against an organized grievance group.  Unable to oppose it, they either accede to it or adopt it as their own.

Jonathan Haidt has drawn some plausible conclusions from the Weinstein affair, coming on top of other such descents.  Haidt observes that the rules appear to be: (1) “Never object to a diversity policy publicly”; (2) “Do not assume that being politically progressive will protect you”; (3) “If a mob comes for you, there is a good chance that the president of your university will side with the mob and validate its narrative”; and (4) “If a mob comes for you, the great majority of its members will be non-violent, [but] you must assume that one or more of its members is willing to use violence against you.”

Alas, these are sound points.  But they probably do not go quite far enough.  What I have called the Great Historical Moment is a delusion that lives in the heads of a great many faculty members, college presidents, and even some trustees.  It has found fertile ground in the minds of a generation of students who have been marinated for their entire education in progressive ideology and who have but the thinnest comprehension of human nature, civilization, the rule of law, and American history.  They have a rage to destroy, and only utopian fantasies to put in place of what they would tear down.

Like all utopian movements, this one will also fail.  The great Historical Moment is a figment of their collective imagination.  But the failure is bound to be costly, not only to the students themselves but also to the institutions that have fostered it.

Evergreen College was a somewhat silly experiment when it was started in 1967.  It belongs to a small category of “alternative” colleges opened in that era, including Hampshire (1970) and Prescott (1966), which replaced traditional curriculum with a surfeit of progressive novelties. What the Weinstein affair really teaches is that the experiment has run its course.  But it may take a few years for Evergreen to realize that.

Universities, Free Speech and the Rise of the Spit-Viper Left

Free speech on campuses has come on hard times. By now, we are all too familiar with the litany: invited speakers disinvited, talks by honored guests disrupted by shouting protesters, vandalism and riots forcing the cancellation of events, campus security announcing it cannot guarantee public safety.

The disruptions and attacks come almost entirely from an emergent Spit-Viper Left (as I call it), drawn from a motley collection of campus grievance groups that are angry, uninformed, anti-intellectual and uniformly illiberal in their attitudes and beliefs.  They may describe themselves as feminists, defenders of civil rights, or advocates for sexual minorities, but they are very different from the older, and more tolerant versions of such advocacy groups, and far removed from any manner of liberalism by their authoritarian ways and intemperate rage.

Whatever else may be among the concerns of this newly emergent Left, furthering its cause through rational discussion isn’t one of them. The 60s-era radical Todd Gitlin, distraught at this transformation of the campus Left, suggests it may subconsciously feel that reason and argument are no longer on its side. Free speech, a fruitful exchange of ideas, mutual intellectual enrichment — these are not its modus operandi. And those among the most illiberal segments of the Left on college campuses often attract to their protests even more radical and more illiberal supporters from beyond the university, who bring with them a love of violence, confrontation and disruption. Mayhem can be exhilarating for some people — especially young males —  and outside anarchists and nihilists come to join in the fun.

Related: Do Free Speech Students Outnumber the Snowflakes?

It is important to realize just how far this newly emergent Left has strayed from the American Left of the immediate post-WWII decades.  During the Cold War, it was often Social Democrats and other anti-Communist leftists who were leaders in the struggle to defend free speech, whether on college campuses or within the broader society.

People like NYU philosopher Sidney Hook, Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas, Village Voice columnist Nat Hentoff, Harvard historian Arthur Schlesinger Jr., Yale chaplain William Sloane Coffin, former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, University of North Carolina President Frank Graham, and perennial American Socialist Party presidential candidate Norman Thomas were in the forefront of those defending a very broad understanding of free speech in America and its central importance to a vibrant, well-functioning democracy.

Together with influential organizations like the American Civil Liberties Union and the Americans for Democratic Action, these left-leaning defenders of free speech proclaimed in unison the ideal attributed to Voltaire: “I may not agree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”

Stalinists and other Communists, of course, never bought into such an ideal, but in the post-war decades, especially after Khrushchev’s famous 1956 Secret Speech denouncing the crimes of the Stalinist era, old-line Communists in America became increasingly marginalized, not least among the democratic Left.  This attitude carried over to the beginnings of the New Left, which in its founding Port Huron Statement praised American universities as “the only mainstream institution that is open to participation by individuals of nearly any viewpoint.”

The New Left first came to national attention in 1964 with a largely peaceful demonstration by students in Berkeley, California, as part of a Free Speech Movement challenging the university to live up to the free speech ideals it proclaimed.

Related: Their Violence Is Free Speech, But Our Speech is Violence

In the Cold-War years, it was usually members of the anti-Communist Right who sought to restrict the range of speakers permitted on college campuses. William F. Buckley, Jr., the founder of National Review and America’s leading conservative intellectual, considered it one of his great early achievements when he successfully convinced Yale University (his alma mater) to rescind a previous invitation to a prominent Communist to speak on the Yale campus. Dis-inviting invited guests didn’t start in the current century or with the Left.

The opposition to free speech on campus by the anti-communist Right, however, was hardly comparable in its scope or impact to the broad-based assault on free speech that we see today launched by the Radical Left. The anti-communist Right during the Cold War sought almost exclusively to deny hardcore Communists the right to speak — those seen by almost all Americans as not only odious but as traitors giving aid and comfort to America’s implacable enemies.

Aside from the views of pro-Soviet Communists, there were few views expressed on college campuses during the Cold War years that the Right sought to ban. Controversial speakers routinely came on campus with little opposition from organizations of the Right. There were no campus riots, the shouting down of lecturers, threats of violence, bomb scares and false fire alarms, strong-arm scuffles, acts of vandalism and arson — tactics that have become common among the Radical Left today.

And the targets of such assaults by the Radical Left are typically not those holding intolerant or extremist views like Klansmen or neo-Nazis, but often people of great moderation, decency, and an eagerness to engage those holding opposing views with sympathetic understanding and reasoned argument.

When people like Condoleezza Rice, Christine Lagarde, Charles Murray, Suzanne Venker, Ben Shapiro, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Heather Mac Donald and others like them are forbidden to speak on various college campuses — or their invitations to speak suddenly withdrawn — we know we are in a big-time crisis far removed from the minor-league opposition to free speech on college campuses that existed in the 1950s and 1960s.

Elsewhere I have referred to the Spit-Viper Left as “snowflake Jacobins and crybaby fascists.”  This designation was intended to draw attention to the fact that those who comprise the Radical Left on college campuses today — many of whom were brought up in excessively protective and indulgent parental households — manage to combine an overly sensitive and thin-skinned temperament unable to tolerate criticism, with an anti-liberal ideology and fascist-like authoritarianism.  And these Black-Shirted Snowflakes gain the support of at least small numbers of radical faculty members — and the cowardly indulgence of many college presidents.

Related: The Seven Deadly Sins of Higher Education

Most troubling is the fact that there seems to be a significant number of people outside the academy who are not themselves radicals or leftists but who agree with the Radical Left that those espousing offensive viewpoints ought not to be permitted to speak on college campuses.

A recent poll (April 27-30, 2017) by the firm of Morning Consult found an alarming number of Americans who support an extreme speech-restrictive viewpoint.  The following was one of the questions asked of a representative national sample: “Universities should not allow guest speakers to appear on campus if the guest’s words are considered to be hateful or offensive by some.”

If you scratched your head and asked, “Who could possibly agree with such a broadly proscriptive statement?” you are not well attuned to public opinion today. A very significant minority of Americans believe that only speakers should be invited to college campuses whose message does not seriously offend anyone and is not considered by anyone to be hateful.

The poll showed that support for such an “offense-takers veto” differs considerably by demographic groups. Women were much more likely than men to support the “don’t allow offensive speakers” position (36 percent vs. 23 percent), Blacks more likely than Whites (43 percent vs. 28 percent), and Democrats more likely than Republicans (41 percent versus 28 percent).

When gender and political categories are combined, the statistics looked particularly grim: Close to half (47 percent) of female Democrats agreed that offense-giving speakers should not be allowed to speak on college campuses versus only 18 percent of male Republicans. When one considers that females as both students and administrators often outnumber males on many college campuses, that at Ivy League and other elite institutions students identifying as Democrats often far outnumber those identifying as Republicans, and that many of the most politically engaged students are drawn from departments like Sociology, Women’s Studies, and Comparative Literature that are dominated by female Democrats, one gets a sense of the fragility of any free speech consensus on American campuses today.

Why should we worry about free speech on college campuses? How important is free speech on or off campus?  These are perennial questions that need to be addressed now more than ever.  I’ll just say briefly that for answers we could hardly do better than turning to the defense of open discussion and free speech in John Stuart Mill’s classic On Liberty, or to the defense of the university as the place where people of differing backgrounds can come together and share their differing perspectives found in Ralph Mannheim’s long neglected Ideology and Utopia. A brief word about each.

Mill starts out with the sensible claim that on many issues of public controversy, truth is often not monopolized by any one side.  While the human mind tends toward simplicity and one-sidedness, the fullness of truth, Mill believed, usually requires the interweaving of the partial truths contained in varying and often conflicting positions. Free speech and a vigorous confrontation with viewpoints differing from one’s own are indispensable to realizing this goal. Common opinions, Mill says, “are often true, but seldom or never the whole truth.  They are part of the truth, sometimes a greater, sometimes a smaller part, but exaggerated, distorted, and disjointed from the truth by which they ought to be accompanied and limited.”  “In the human mind,” he goes on, “one-sidedness has always been the rule, and many-sidedness the exception.”

The only way that anyone — even the wisest and smartest — can ever come to know the truth on complex issues of morality and public policy is to listen attentively to the best presentations of the various opinions held on these subjects and then weld together whatever insights can be gained from a fair-minded assessment of each. “No wise man ever acquired his wisdom in any mode but this,” Mill writes, “nor is it in the nature of human intellect to become wise in any other manner.”  Such a process, of course, requires open, vigorous, and often contentious debate.

Even if an expressed opinion has no truth in it whatever, it can serve an important function in the truth-seeking process, Mill explains, in that its refutation requires understanding why it is not true and why an alternative view is better. Above all, disapproved opinions must not be prohibited if the goal is to know the truth and to know why it is true, and to know why competing views are not true or not the whole truth. “The peculiar evil of silencing the expression of an opinion,” Mill writes, “is that it is robbing the human race — those who dissent from the opinion, still more than those who hold it.  If the opinion is right, they are deprived of the opportunity of exchanging error for truth; if wrong, they lose, what is almost as great a benefit, the clearer perception and livelier impression of truth, produced by its collision with error.”

Mill’s defense of freedom of thought and freedom of expression in On Liberty is still the most eloquent and intelligent treatment of its subject in the English language.  It should be on every college reading list for entering freshmen.

Mannheim has a view similar to Mill’s regarding the complexity of truth in the area of controversial political issues and he shares with Mill the belief in the natural one-sidedness and parochialism of the human mind.  And like Mill, he believes that the only way that this limitation can be overcome is by bringing together people representing contrasting viewpoints and integrating the truth within each into a more comprehensive whole.

“It has become incontrovertibly clear today,” Mannheim writes, “that all knowledge which is either political or which involves a world-view, is inevitably partisan. All points of view in politics are but partial points of view because historical totality is always too comprehensive to be grasped by any one of the individual points of view which emerges out of it.”  He continues: “The fragmentary character of all knowledge is clearly recognizable.  But this implies the possibility of an integration of many mutually complementary points of view into a comprehensive whole.”

Mannheim believed that this integration process would be easiest to achieve by university-educated intellectuals who would attend institutions where they could receive a similar educational experience that would enable them to share with one another their varying perspective viewpoints. The unifying bond of such educational institutions would be the shared conviction that all could learn from one another and that a vigorous exchange of contending ideas would enrich everyone’s understanding.

Today the central ideas of both Mannheim and Mill could be used to defend some kind of university focus on “diversity” in its faculty and student body though it would be a very different kind of diversity than what is currently understood by that term in most of today’s institutions of higher learning.  The most important kind of diversity for Mannheim and Mill was ideological or viewpoint diversity, especially in regard to politics, economics, morality and religion. The fact that on many of these subjects contemporary American universities are often among the least diverse institutions in American life would clearly be seen by them as a tragic failure.

The systematic silencing of voices challenging the Left, and even within the Left a narrowing of permissible opinions to those of angry, anti-intellectual grievance groups, is a betrayal of a central mission of a university education. We have allowed the barbarians to destroy what should be one of the citadels of our civilization.  That, at least, would be the judgment of the older liberal defenders of universities and free speech like Mannheim and Mill. The Spit-Viper Left has spread its venom far and wide and paralyzed the work of one of the few institutions democracies rely upon for their sustained vibrancy and good health. There remains for us — whether liberal, conservative, libertarian, or social democrat — the work of reconstruction.

Some New and Narrow Versions of Academic Freedom

The right to breathe is not generally understood as the right to choke others.  The right to move freely is not widely understood as the right to slip into your neighbor’s house in the middle of the night unannounced.  The right to listen to Neil Diamond’s greatest hits is not universally interpreted as the right to make other people listen to “Sweet Caroline.”

And yet these days more than a few people have decided that “academic freedom” guarantees your right to silence other people who are attempting to express views you disagree with.

This sounds like a joke, but it has been put forward in earnest by many student protesters in the last few years.  I first heard the “I’m-exercising-my-academic-freedom-to-shut-you-up” rationale in connection with the Black Lives Matter protesters who invaded the Berry-Baker Library at Dartmouth in November 2015.  But it has since become the common currency of lawless protesters, whether at Berkeley, Middlebury, or Claremont-McKenna.

Perhaps the open letter from Pomona College students to President David Oxtoby demanding that he “take action against the Claremont Independent editorial staff for its continual perpetuation of hate speech, anti-Blackness, and intimidation toward students of marginalized backgrounds,” is the perfection of this conceit.  The Pomona students decided that “free speech” has become “a toll appropriated by hegemonic institutions.”

Campus Life Not Like a Baseball Game

Actually, on that last point, they are right.  Colleges and universities are “hegemonic institutions.”  I don’t know if those students understand their own catchphrases, but translated into plain English, this simply means that colleges impose broad control over their community of faculty members and students.  They have rules above and beyond the rules of the surrounding society.  If you go to a baseball game, you are free to boo the other team and scream at the umpire if you think he made a bad call.  On campus—at least in principle—you must listen quietly when someone argues a point you disagree with, and if the moderator in a debate makes what you think is a bad call, your only legitimate option is to explain why you think it is wrong.

Those rules are part of what we mean by “academic freedom.”  Clearly, academic freedom is not the natural way people behave towards each other.  It is an artificial thing, a “social construct,” as we say these days.  And because it is artificial, it only works in special circumstances where people agree to forego their right to boo the other team, shout imprecations at the umpire, or move beyond words to the kind of hard buffets that put professors of political science in the hospital.

Three cheers for institutional hegemony, without which no would have academic freedom.  “Good times never seemed so good,” Sweet Caroline.

But how is it that good old Hegemony U has found itself so incompetent in upholding its most basic rules of the road?   Observers have offered some pretty persuasive answers to why Middlebury President Laurie Patton has been so feckless; why UC Berkley Chancellor Nicholas Dirks displayed the steadfastness of a saloon door; and why Claremont McKenna President Hiram Chodosh has risen to the occasion with the moral dignity of a fidget spinner.

The answers include the continuing descent into postmodern insouciance, where no encompassing principle presides; the swarming animosities of identity politics, which have stung all the beekeepers into submission; and the progressive left’s willingness to kick away the ladder of free speech by which it climbed to dominance, lest anyone else try that ascent.

Up for Grabs for a Century

I have one small addendum to that list of explanations for why our defenders of academic freedom went out to lunch and never came back.  I suspect that some of them got confused by the menu.  “Academic freedom,” an artificial thing, a “social construct,” isn’t amenable to scientific precision.  It isn’t Mars or Jupiter, sitting in the heavens as a definite planet.  It is more like Pluto or one those other trans-Neptunian objects with strange names, such as the dwarf planet Haumea:  detectable but not settled into any plain definition.

Because “academic freedom” isn’t any one, definite thing, it has been up for grabs for over a century.  The grabbing began in 1915, when the newly formed American Association of University Professors offered its “Statement of Principles,” that in twenty-some pages of stately syntax and high-minded declaration laid out a commanding vision of the intellectual rights of America’s university faculty.  The 1915 AAUP statement didn’t settle anything.  For the next 25 years, the AAUP and college presidents went on wrangling, with numerous summits and unsatisfactory attempts to reach

For the next 25 years, the AAUP and college presidents went on wrangling, with numerous summits and unsatisfactory attempts to reach an agreement.  In 1940, they did, at last, reach an agreement of sorts and issued a much shorter and—in many ways—less satisfactory statement.  The 1940 AAUP Statement remains in force at the vast majority of American colleges and universities as their basic position on academic freedom.  But having discovered the fluidity of the idea, the academic world could not stop with just two statements.

There are in fact now many thousands of statements, interpretations, codicils, redactions, and expostulations about academic freedom.  The World Catalog lists nearly 100,000 books on the topic.  “Look at the night and it don’t seem so lonely,” Sweet Caroline.

My colleague David Randall and I have undertaken the task of providing a little bit of order to this chaos.  We have just posted a chart that offers an easy comparison of what we take to be the top ten authoritative treatments of academic freedom.  It gives the reader the opportunity to see at a glance which definitions are rooted in the pursuit of truth, which ones connect tenure, and which ones call for sanctions against violators, and so on through 25 categories.  It is a work in progress if we are still allowed to talk about progress in the post-modern anti-hegemonic hegemony.

I offer this in part as a service to Presidents Paton and Chodosh and Chancellor Dirks. They can now pick the definition that best lends itself to doing nothing while their students riot, or imposing “sanctions” on violators that have the permanence of a Snapchat message.  “Charting Academic Freedom: 102 Years of Debate” may also, however, prove to be of some value to others who have found little clarity in the swirl of conflicting claims about academic freedom.

Explore, and find the most compelling definition and sing in your best imitation of Neil Diamond, “How can I hurt when I’m holding you,” Sweet Caroline.  Well, you can and will, but you will still be better off knowing that some definitions of academic freedom are a lot better than others, at least if you care about creating a civilized place for learning.

Printed with permission from the National Association of Scholars

The Withering Away of the College Professor

An excerpt from the book American Heresies and Higher Education

Some conservatives say that the main cost-control issue in American higher education today is tenured faculty who don’t teach enough. It would be better if their lazy self-indulgence could be better controlled by more accountable administrators. Tenure, from this view, is a kind of union, and “faculty governance” is collective bargaining.

It would be better if administrators could be empowered by the “right-to-fire” situation found in our more entrepreneurial states. What the union-taming governor wants, he doesn’t understand that the administrators have already been achieving. In the industrial world, the war against unions is suddenly becoming more aggressive and more effective because unions can’t deliver the goods anyway, given the dynamic realities of the twenty-first century’s globally competitive marketplace.

No Need to Fight Tenure

The same is true of the war against tenure. Tenure is withering away, and astute administrators know better than to launch a frontal assault that would result in really bad public relations and many unnecessary casualties.

The truth is that the number of tenured faculty is rapidly diminishing as a percentage—the tenured and those on a “tenure track” now are a still fairly unoppressed and, I admit, often fairly clueless minority—of the “instructional workforce.” There are doubtless good reasons why, at some places, tenured and tenure-track faculty should teach more. It would be better if more students had their “personal touch,” just as it would be better if they graded their students’ papers themselves at research institutions.

 Teach More, or Teach Less?

But, given how cheap adjuncts are, it’s a big mistake to believe that tenured professors taking on an additional class or two would be a significant saving. It’s often even the case that administrators would rather they not teach more.

At some places, at least, the situation seems to be that the administrations are buying off tenured faculty with low teaching loads and various research perks. That incentivizes them to be compliant with the transfer of instruction to adjuncts and other temporary faculty.

There Goes Content

It also allows them to accept the emptying out of the content of “general education” as requirements focused on the content and methods of the academic disciplines—such as history, literature and philosophy—are replaced by those based on abstract and empty (or content-free) competencies.

Tenured and tenure-track faculty often come from highly specialized research programs where, even in history and literature, the tendency is to know more and more about less and less. There are also allegedly cutting-edge approaches, such as neuroscience, “digital humanities,” rational-choice theory, and so forth, that take the researcher away from being attentive to the content that’s been the core of undergraduate instruction.

And then there’s the pretension of “undergraduate research” (which originated in the hard sciences and makes a lot more sense there) that it’s best for students to bypass the bookish acquisition of content about the perennial fundamental human issues and questions and get right down to making some cutting-edge marginal contribution.

All in all, it’s often not so hard to convince specialists to surrender concern for merely general education. Or at least to convince them that the imperatives of the marketplace and the increasingly intrusive accreditation process demand that the value of their disciplinary contributions is reconfigured in terms of competencies. That way, they’re led to believe, they’ll be able to hang on to their curricular “turf.”

The study of history (or philosophy or whatever) can be justified, after all, as deploying the skills of critical thinking, effective communication, and so forth. One problem, of course, is that those skills can be acquired more easily other ways, ways that aren’t saddled with all that historical or philosophical content.

And when the disciplines of liberal education are displaced by competencies, institutions tend to surrender the content-based distinctiveness that formed most of their educational mission.

Philosophy and Theology

The biggest outrage in higher education right now, for example, is not this or that report of students or administrators whining about microaggressions or being insufficiently trigger-warned. It’s that Notre Dame might be on the road to surrendering its requirement of courses in philosophy and theology for all students for competency-based goals. What distinguishes or ought to distinguish Notre Dame is the seriousness by which it treats philosophy and theology as disciplines indispensable for all highly literate Catholic men and women, or not primarily by its provision of a Catholic lifestyle.

As institutions surrender their liberal arts substance (while sometimes retaining their classy liberal arts brand), they become pretty much identical in terms of their educational goals. Lists of competencies always seem to me vague and rather random, but they still seem to turn out about the same everywhere. Their measurability usually depends on multiple-choice questions and the sham exactitude of points distributed on rubrics. And, in general, the data gets its veneer of objectivity through the intention to aim at sometimes stunningly low and only seemingly solid goals. It’s easy to mock the earnest redundancy of the competency phrases themselves. “Critical thinking”—well, if it wasn’t critical, it wouldn’t be thinking. “Effective communication”—well, if it wasn’t effective, it wouldn’t be communication.

What Is Being Communicated

In any case, the thought being surrendered is that the dignity of thinking and communicating must have something to do with what is being thought or communicated. It’s just not true that the same methods of thought and communication can be applied in all circumstances. Thinking about what or who is a man or woman is way different from figuring out how to rotate your tires or even maximize your productivity.

Communicating information is different from “winning friends and influencing people” (or persuasion and manipulation) and from communicating the truth through irony or humor or esoteric indirection— through the parables of the Bible or the dialogues of Plato. The forms of communication that distinguish the great or even good books that provide most of the content of liberal education elude measurable outcomes, and it’s not immediately obvious that they have much value in the marketplace.

Actually, the kind of insight they provide can be invaluable in marketing, as anyone knows who’s watched an episode of Mad Men or read one of those eerie, philosophical, uncannily effective pitches of Don Draper. But the administrators would reply, “Well, sure that Don’s a genius, but he’s so damn unreliable. We don’t want professors like that!”

As the low but seemingly solid goal of competency becomes about the same everywhere, the delivery of education can become less personal or quirky and standardized according to quantitatively validated best practices. Courses can become more scripted, and then delivery can be increasingly open to the use of the screen.

So the “intellectual labor” of college administrators—the number of which is “bloating” and the perks of which (at the highest level) are coming to resemble those of corporate CEOs—is directed in much the same way as it is in other sectors of the economy. What’s going on, for example, in the Amazon warehouse or in large chains such as Panera Bread, is occurring on our campuses.

A Class-Based Agenda

The idea of “competency” being enforced by the accrediting agencies—basically run by administrators and following a “class-based” administrative agenda—serves the goal of disciplining instruction through measurable outcomes and then displacing actual instructors, as much as possible, by education delivered on the screen.