Category Archives: Free Speech

THE DARK SIDE OF THE CALL FOR CIVILITY

Civility is a watchword on campuses these days–partly because it is an admirable characteristic, partly because the word is always useful as an apparently benign cover for censorship.

From my work defending student and faculty speech for the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, I know that many faculty members already recognize civility as a velvet glove concealing an iron fist. It would be hard not to; trade publications like The Chronicle of Higher Education and Inside Higher Ed regularly feature stories of professors facing negative consequences for expression deemed too strident.

Firing Tenured Professor

Inside Higher Ed reported that Professor Victoria McCard of the University of North Georgia was suspended, banished from campus, and faces termination proceedings for allegedly being insufficiently polite to a visiting lecturer, whom she challenged during a public presentation. Professor McCard has been charged under the university’s employee handbook, which allows for punishment for “discourteous” behavior. That the University of North Georgia apparently sees fit to fire a tenured professor for being rude in public should worry faculty members everywhere.

Of course, that assumes that faculty members weren’t already worried about the consequences of being judged “uncivil” by their employers. To feel this chill, one need not share the views of Professors David Guth, placed on administrative leave by the University of Kansas for tweets critical of the National Rifle Association, or Steven Salaita, who infamously lost a position he had been offered following the focus on his tweets criticizing Israel. Rather, professors need only possess viewpoints that differ from those of their peers or supervisors.

Seeking to justify the revocation of Salaita’s offer, University of Illinois Chancellor Phyllis Wise argued that tenured professors shoulder “a heavy responsibility to continue the traditions of scholarship and civility.” Accordingly, per Chancellor Wise, “personal and disrespectful words or actions that demean and abuse either viewpoints themselves or those who express them” were therefore forbidden. But if professors may be subject to discipline for “abusing viewpoints,” and if “demeaning” an idea breaks with Chancellor Wise’s notion of civility,” then liberal scholarship—pitting ideas against each other in an ongoing search for truth—is impossible.

Students, too, are routinely punished for speech deemed to be uncivil. Examples abound, involving core protected expression like political protest and speech as fleeting and commonplace as muttered profanity.

‘Actions of Incivility’

San Francisco State University students Leigh Wolf and Trent Downes faced charges for “actions of incivility” and a five-month-long institutional investigation following their participation in a College Republicans “anti-terrorism rally.” During the rally, Wolf and Downes stepped on butcher paper that had been painted to resemble the Hamas and Hezbollah flags.

A formal complaint filed by a student nearly two weeks later charged that the two had “very evidently walked over and trekked over a banner with Arabic script . . . [that] represented the word ‘Allah.’” Wolf and Downes were investigated for violating school policy, which stated that students must be “civil to one another and to others in the campus community.” After a lengthy review, the students were cleared; after they filed a First Amendment lawsuit shortly thereafter, a federal magistrate judge issued an injunction preventing the California State University system from enforcing the policy.

On the other end of the spectrum, after receiving a poor grade on an Oral Communications assignment, Isaac Rosenbloom, a student at Mississippi’s Hinds Community College, told another student after class that the mark was going to “f–k up [his] entire GPA.” After his professor overheard his remark, Rosenbloom was found guilty of “flagrant disrespect” and involuntarily withdrawn from the class. (School policy prohibited “vulgarity.”) The forced withdrawal caused the 29-year-old father of two to lose his financial aid, effectively ending his studies. Two unsuccessful appeals followed. Only after FIRE secured legal representation for Rosenbloom did the college rescind the findings.

These are just two examples of discipline for impolite expression. FIRE’s case archives include many more: the student expelled from university housing for offending a rival college’s hockey coach via questions for a journalism assignment; the student forbidden from walking at graduation after a “negative social media exchange” in which he encouraged other students to attend a campus discussion on an institution’s flawed response to a tornado; and the student charged with “disorderly conduct” for sending the school’s parking services an email complaining about the lack of parking spaces for scooters. Recent headlines provide still further examples, as university presidents ignore the First Amendment and abandon due process in a rush to punish controversial orcrude speech.

For a nation exhausted by daily partisan brawling and incentivized offense, calls for civility evoke a vague nostalgia for the genial tranquility that surely reigned before “social media” turned us into trolls. (No matter that the good old days didn’t actually exist, at least not quite like that.) On campus, this powerful yearning for “civility” is already being manipulated to justify censorship of speech that campus administrators would rather not hear—and we should all be concerned about the consequences.


Will Creeley is Vice President of Legal and Public Advocacy at FIRE.

Why Universities Can’t Grant Religious Liberty

vanderbilt university.jpgFrom the site of the John William Pope Center for Higher Education Policy.

Not long ago, the university was seen as a world apart–an idyllic enclave where our studious youth learned the virtues of citizenship, cheered hard for the football team, and read the great classics of Western thought. The “ivory tower” was more an observation than the insult the term has become, an almost monastic reference to a place where thought was free and knowledge ruled.

Nostalgia, of course, is deceptive–life was rarely as good (or bad)
as we remember. However, nearly everyone will agree that our
universities have changed in the past four decades, educating millions
on vast campuses that my friend Greg Lukianoff, president of the
Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, has compared to “small
European countries.”

Continue reading Why Universities Can’t Grant Religious Liberty

Scholars Who Are Beyond Open-Mindedness

A phenomenon is taking hold in universities on both sides of the Atlantic. For lack of a better label, I call it the Absolute Truth brigade, i.e. intellectuals so sure of their views that they will not entertain contrary thought.

Friedrich Hayek used the following quote from David Hume on the front page of The Road to Serfdom: “It is seldom that any kind of liberty is lost all at once.” He did so to indicate the threat to freedom in our era. But despite the passage of seven decades since the publication of Hayek’s masterpiece, the words are not heeded.

Continue reading Scholars Who Are Beyond Open-Mindedness

Misconduct Hearings on Campus Are Rotten and Have to Change

This is the text of a speech given March 28, 2012 at a Manhattan Institute luncheon in New York City.

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silverglate.jpgI began representing students in 1969. A group of Harvard students took over University Hall in an anti-Vietnam War protest. There was a lot of violence, President Pusey called in the police, and 220 students were charged with trespass on the property of the President and Fellows of Harvard College. My law partners and I took the case, and they tried them in groups of 20 students at a time. Much to the consternation of the President and Fellows, and the district attorney of Middlesex County, the jury said not guilty to the first group. So they gave up the rest of the cases. They figured if the jury wouldn’t convict the first 20, they’re not going to convict the rest.

And that got me interested in this whole area. And two years later,
in 1971, I had my first student disciplinary case in front of the now
feared Harvard Administrative Board. That’s the disciplinary body. And
it was a rather interesting case, and I want you to see where I’m
coming from, what I experienced at the beginning of my career. And then
I’ll tell you a little bit about the last 20 years.

Continue reading Misconduct Hearings on Campus Are Rotten and Have to Change

‘Feelings’ as the Measure of Student Misconduct

Two of our best writers here at Minding the Campus, KC Johnson and Harvey Silverglate, spoke quite brilliantly at a Manhattan Institute luncheon last Wednesday on “Kangaroo Courts: Yale, Duke and Student Rights.” It is, in our opinion, the best possible short course for understanding the star-chamber proceedings that students face these days at campuses great and small. Duke, we should say, mostly got a pass. Outrages at Harvard and Yale were center-stage.

Continue reading ‘Feelings’ as the Measure of Student Misconduct

What Yale and the Times Did to Patrick Witt

Remarks delivered at a Manhattan Institute luncheon, March 28, 2012 in New York City. Professor Johnson and attorney Harvey Silverglate, whose talk will be presented here tomorrow, spoke on “Kangaroo Courts: Yale, Duke and Student Rights.”

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Silverglate and Johnson.jpgBefore the Patrick Witt case, I had some experience writing about how the New York Times handles cases of sexual assault allegations against high-profile college athletes–the Duke lacrosse case. After all that damage had been done, and after more than a hundred articles had been published in the New York Times, two Times editors, including Bill Keller, issued some half-hearted apologies for how the paper had mishandled the case, and “mishandled” is a generous word for what the Times did.

I had always worked under the assumption that when an institution
apologizes, it also takes steps to ensure that it doesn’t commit the
same kinds of mistakes again. But the Times obviously has a different
standard of apology than I do. And in the Patrick Witt case, the same
sorts of mistakes were made in coverage — a presumption of guilt when
the allegation is sexual assault, and a decision to ignore critical
procedural issue — because they don’t fit the preconceived storylines.

Continue reading What Yale and the Times Did to Patrick Witt

Checking In on Yale’s New Anti-Semitism Program

Did the shuttering last year of a Yale institute created to study anti-Semitism have anything to do with campus politics? The university denied it. But the Yale Interdisciplinary Initiative for the Study of Anti-Semitism (YIISA) was eliminated amid attacks from Palestinian representatives and anti-Israel faculty.

Continue reading Checking In on Yale’s New Anti-Semitism Program

The GOP “Turn” Against Colleges and Universities

We noticed an article the other day on The Atlantic web site, arguing that the Republican Party is turning against higher education. The evidence cited for this apparently alarming development was scant: Rick Santorum referred to colleges as “indoctrination mills,” and Mitt Romney told high-school seniors to shop around for low college tuition and not to count on government help.

Continue reading The GOP “Turn” Against Colleges and Universities

Addressing Anti-Israel Attitudes on Campus

The Kennedy School’s “One-State” conference provided only the latest reminder of the hostile on-campus attitude toward Israel. (Imagine the likelihood of any major campus hosting an allegedly academic conference ruminating about the destruction as a state of Iran, or Egypt, or Mexico.) In light of the conference and its controversy, it’s worth reviewing an excellent Tablet symposium, asking pro-Israel figures–mostly students, but also the David Project’s David Bernstein–along with a student representative of J Street about how to respond to the campus climate.

The symposium can be read in full here; I recommend it strongly. Two themes emerged the most strongly.

Continue reading Addressing Anti-Israel Attitudes on Campus

Professor Sanctioned for Siding with Rush

Inside Higher Ed reports this morning — surprise! — that “®oughly two-thirds of public and private college presidents say they plan to vote for President Obama in November.” Only two-thirds? Actually, that is a surprise.

I wonder how many of them are in states that have had to cut or reduce spending on higher education because of a lack of economic growth caused, at least in part (in my view, in large part) by President Obama’s economic policies. Liberals, of course, have a hard time comprehending why rubes and other conservatives would ever vote against what liberals are sure is in their interest. “For the life of me,” a typical one (unsurprisingly, a journalist) wrote in typical frustration on Democratic Underground several years ago, “I don’t understand what causes a person to vote against their own best interests.” Journalist, meet university president.

Continue reading Professor Sanctioned for Siding with Rush

How to Be President of Yale Forever (At Least)

Vartan Gregorian once said the way to become a successful college president is simple: stand up, give a speech on “diversity,” then sit down.

Richard Levin, president of Yale, is the longest-lasting president of an Ivy League university, and following Gregorian’s sage advice is surely one reason why. Whenever a serious incident occurs at Yale, Levin’s first instinct is to put out a resonant but off-key statement stoutly defending a point not really at issue.

Continue reading How to Be President of Yale Forever (At Least)

What Has Happened to Academic Freedom?

Dr. London, a senior fellow of the Manhattan Institute, received the Jeane Kirkpatrick Award for Academic Freedom on February 9 from the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation and the American Conservative Union Foundation. These were his remarks on the occasion.
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It is with enormous humility and gratitude that I accept this award from the Bradley Foundation that has done so much to promote liberty inside and outside the Academy. I am particularly pleased to receive the Jeane Kirkpatrick Award since I remember with great joy our discussion of her very important essay “Dictatorships and Double Standards,” which appeared in the November 1979 issue of Commentary.

To think that this distinguished scholar would be denied an opportunity to speak at American colleges demonstrates how far we have traveled down the slope of despair. Jeane fought back with her arsenal of well-placed barbs and could not be intimidated by academic thuggery. She will always remain one of my heroines.

This introduction is a reminder of why academic freedom must be defended and what it stands for. In 1940 the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) issued a “Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure.” As the AAUP saw it, academic freedom was a right and a privilege. It afforded scholars the opportunity to express their views freely, applying standards of critical judgment, objectivity, sincere inquiry.

This right to express one’s views unfettered by outside influence is unique. It is one of the two essential characteristics of academic freedom. The first of these is what the German gymnasium called lehrfreiheit. In offering this freedom, the Academy noted that teaching should foster integrity, a spirit of inquiry, and competence in one’s field of study. Some might describe it as the search for truth circumscribed by ethical standards.

The second feature of academic freedom is lernfreiheit, or the right of a student to express himself free from intimidation. Here is the presumptive classroom synergy: professorial freedom to inquire and student freedom to express opinions.

It is a privilege for the Academy to claim it is imperium in imperio. Since colleges are set apart from society, there is an implicit belief in self-regulation. Presumably just as the scholar can resist intervention from critics, the professoriate in general can resist pressures from the larger society, a form of collective academic freedom. That reality was recognized with some aberrations throughout this last century.

Now, however, there is a growing awareness, and I should hastily note an appropriate awareness, that academic freedom can be used to protect irresponsible behavior. In fact, for some faculty members, academic freedom has been so defined that any resemblance between the professional behavior outlined in the AAUP 1940 statement and present patterns of conduct are merely coincidental.

Alas, many college campuses have been converted into centers of orthodoxy for unwary students often too naïve to identify the propagandistic exercise of overzealous instructors. It is ironic that while most college administrators will reflexively adopt diversity standards on campus in an effort to have different racial and ethnic groups represented, these same administrators often reject the diversity of ideas that is the well spring of academic freedom.

It is curious that the professorial organizations created to protect faculty members from blacklisting and government intervention often have a political agenda of their own that repudiates the very principles they were organized to defend. This isn’t the first, and probably won’t be the last, example of organizations that have lost touch with their own principles, but for someone who has been in the academic vineyards for decades, it is disillusioning.

In the late sixties an Australian political scientist argued that it is more important “to win” than to teach. By “win” he meant convert the culture through the mobilization of student activists. Today there are many professors on this side of the Pacific who would agree with this proposal. Whatever happened to the spirit of inquiry? And when did the words “teach” and “preach” become indistinguishable?

In a Middle East Studies course at Columbia University, an instructor provocatively asked a student who had served in the Israeli Defense Force, “How many Arab woman and children have you killed?” Whatever happened to the avoidance of intimidation?  Could the student in question ever feel free to raise an opposing point of view in that classroom?

Last year, the Israeli Ambassador to the United States, Michael Oren – a noted scholar in his own right – was about to deliver an address at the University of California, Irvine. As soon as he went to the podium, representatives of the Muslim Student Association shouted him down and threatened further violence, thereby ending the engagement. When the Muslim students were indicted for promoting violence, the faculty raised money for their defense. Whatever happened to the dignity and openness academic freedom was intended to promote? What is the message faculty members are trying to convey on that campus?

The price of academic freedom, like the price of democracy, is eternal vigilance. A diminution of academic freedom and the principles residing in this concept affect all Americans. We should call on scholars and administrators alike to reaffirm the traditions of the past recognizing that academic freedom is not conditional. Scholarship worthy of that designation must be objective, rigorous, analytical, and disinterested. And we should have the courage to criticize those faculty members who have undermined academic integrity and the administrators who avert their gaze to the travesty on campus.

A Southern preacher filled with fire and brimstone gave a sermon to his followers on the End of Days. With great passion he said, “When the end of days comes there will be crying, wailing and the gnashing of teeth.” He repeated this lamentation several times. An elderly man seated in the front of the church stood up and said, “but preacher I haven’t any teeth.” Somewhat disarmed, the preacher thought for a moment and then replied, “At the End of Days teeth will be provided.”

We do not have to wait till the End of Days. Our teeth can be found in the principles associated with academic freedom. If you bare them, the activists will retreat allowing colleges and universities to return to the sensible openness that not so long ago characterized academic life.

Will Harvard Stop Trying to Impose Orthodoxies?

Harvard Building.jpg

Although our beleaguered universities continue their seemingly inexorable march from being institutions of higher education to resembling, more and more, political and social re-education camps for the young, every now and then the students demonstrate that they remain well ahead of campus administrations and faculties when it comes to appreciating the true role of our colleges and universities:  It appears that our universities’ efforts at attitudinal indoctrination have not been wholly successful.

We see the latest example at Harvard in an editorial in the college newspaper The Harvard Crimson. Headlined “A University, Not A Think Tank: Harvard should not issue a formal position on inequality” (The Harvard Crimson, December 14, 2011), the undergraduate journalists take their professors to task for continuing on the perilous journey of politicizing the institution by seeking to have the school, in the editorial’s words, “use its position to make a statement against social inequalities.”

The statement, triggered by the ubiquitous “Occupy” movement that recently swept the nation as well as many college campuses, was proposed at the December faculty meeting by Professor Susan Suleiman, acting chair of the Department of Romance Language and Literatures. While the student editorialists agreed with Professor Suleiman “that social inequality is an important issue to address in today’s society,” they warned against turning a university into a “think tank” by officially espousing political and social positions.

The Crimson editorial argues that Harvard’s primary responsibility is “to promote free discourse,” and that the university’s taking a formal and official position on “contemporary political issues…such as inequality” would inevitably move it in the direction of, for example, “endors[ing] a presidential candidate, or impos[ing] a political litmus test for faculty.”

In fact, this would hardly be the first time that the student journalists had to lecture their teachers on the contours of intellectual freedom and of the dangers in crossing the line from education to indoctrination. Whether defending a student’s right to parody seemingly incompetent administrators at the Business School, or castigating the attempted imposition of a racial speech code at the law school, the student editors of the Crimson have for the most part eloquently defended intellectual freedom against those who would constrain it.

But the push against open discourse and intellectual vibrancy at the university has been strong over the last two decades, as university administrators and faculty have made a veritable tradition of betraying these seemingly sacrosanct principles. In 2006 the faculty managed to drive out the university president, Lawrence Summers, for suggesting the existence of scientific evidence of women scientists’ gender-based overall predisposition not to perform at the highest levels, in contrast to their male counterparts. In 2009, the Dean of the Law School publicly embarrassed and castigated a student for a controversial private e-mail expressing the student’s interest in seeing more scientific research results on the hot-button issue of race and intelligence. And at the beginning of the last semester, the Harvard College Dean of Freshmen sought to impose on all new arrivals a “Freshman Pledge.” As explained in this space this past September, it was only because of considerable push-back that the dean retreated from his insistence that the oath be posted at every freshman dorm entryway with a signature line for every student, so that everyone would see which students were, and which were not, prepared to publicly declare their fealty to the notion that “the exercise of kindness holds a place on a par with intellectual attainment,” thereby “upholding the values of the College” that include “inclusiveness and civility.” (For a longer discussion of Harvard’s new tradition of betraying free speech, see this piece by Daniel R. Schwartz.)

And so even though the Dean of Freshmen failed (for the current year only – he vowed to return to the issue at the start of fall semester later this year) to stampede first-year students into pledging to kindness and inclusiveness as essential and mandated values rather than mere personal preferences, the acting chair of a major department tried to pledge the entire institution into solidarity with a social and political movement.

And unfortunately, we cannot be overly confident that the Crimson will maintain its longstanding policy as a bulwark against administrative and faculty overreach. In the last year alone, Harvard’s highly regarded student newspaper (“The University Daily Since 1873,” blares the masthead proudly) has failed twice to defend freedom of conscience at Harvard. In response to the pledge controversy, rather than support former Dean Harry Lewis’s unmitigated position against the pledge, the Crimson editorial board called for the imposition of amoral code. The code would, said the editors, represent “an explicit affirmation of the moral value set that should guide the Harvard community;” such “codification of morality” being necessary to “truly bring integrity, respect, compassion, and kindness on par with success.”

And two days earlier, the student editors reminded the faculty of the proper academic and intellectual mission of the liberal arts university, the same editorial page supported the December 6th vote of the Harvard College faculty to exclude from the Harvard Summer School catalogue two economics courses taught by Indian economist Subramanian Swamy. The reasons for Swamy’s effective expulsion from the faculty was his authorship of an editorial–for a newspaper in his native India–urging the Indian government to take drastic steps in response to Muslim extremism. This action by the faculty was taken at the behest of Comparative Religion Professor Diana L. Eck, who strained laughably to characterize Swamy’s newspaper column as something more sinister and dangerous than mere speech. This time the Crimson editorialists bit: “Swamy’s op-ed clearly constitutes hate speech, by even the most lenient definition,” they wrote. “As a matter of principle, there is no place for hate speech in the Harvard community.” While a clear misreading of the article–Swamy’s piece may seem radical, but calling it hate-speech is quite a stretch, and calling it incitement absurd–what neither Professor Eck and her faculty colleagues, nor the student editorialists understood, of course, was that in the society outside of the ivy gates, “hate speech” is accorded vigorous constitutional protection.

As the Crimson editorial’s warning to the university not to go overboard in adopting formal institutional positions on such political issues and economic inequality demonstrates, the students are still ahead of their teachers when it comes to preserving the academy’s unique devotion to freedom of thought and speech, and to intellectual pluralism. However, as the Swamy and pledge editorials equally show, even student editors are not completely immune from the increasingly dangerous politicization of the academy that threatens academic freedom and, indeed, the whole concept of a liberal arts education. The danger, of course, is that within another generation, the constant pressure from faculty and administration to water down the liberal arts university’s traditional mission will have converted the students into unquestioning followers of their politicized elders.

Harvard Faculty 1, Free Speech 0

Subramanian Swamy .jpgThe Harvard Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS) has done it again. This is the group that effectively drove former Harvard president Lawrence Summers out of office over a 2005 remark of his about possible differences between the sexes that didn’t sit well with hard-line feminists on the Harvard faculty. The FAS voted its “lack of confidence” in Summers’s leadership, and he tendered his resignation in 2006. Last week the FAS maneuvered another forced departure on political grounds. It voted to eliminate two Harvard Summer School courses taught by Subramanian Swamy, a former economics professor at Harvard who now lives in India but who has regularly traveled to Cambridge to teach in the university’s summer school.

Continue reading Harvard Faculty 1, Free Speech 0

The L.A. Times Downplays the Irvine 11 Trial

The Los Angeles Times penned a misleading, strangely-argued editorial, criticizing DA Tony Rackauckas for prosecuting the “Irvine 11.”

The basic outline of the affair is now well-known: members of the Cal-Irvine Muslim Students Organization conspired to disrupt a campus speech by Israeli ambassador Michael Oren. Eugene Volokh spells out the relevant statute under which the students were convicted: “‘Every person who, without authority of law, willfully disturbs or breaks up any assembly or meeting that is not unlawful in its character … is guilty of a misdemeanor.’ In re Kay (1970) held that, to be convicted under the statute, the prosecution must show ‘that the defendant [1] substantially impaired the conduct of the meeting by intentionally committing acts [2] in violation of implicit customs or usages or of explicit rules for governance of the meeting, of which he knew, or as a reasonable man should have known,’ and [3] ‘the defendant’s activity itself — and not the content of the activity’s expression — substantially impairs the effective conduct of a meeting.'”

Continue reading The L.A. Times Downplays the Irvine 11 Trial

Protest Versus Disruption at the University of Wisconsin

CEO_Logo.pngIt has been over a week since the University of Wisconsin at Madison was torn by the debate over affirmative action on September 13. The conflict was precipitated by the presentation of a study conducted by the Center for Equal Opportunity, which alleges reverse discrimination in UW admissions policies.

A lot has been written about what happened at the press conference announcing the event and the debate between CEO’s Roger Clegg and UW law professor Larry Church later that evening. Most publicly presented views have been supportive of the students who protested at these events, and have defended the UW’s admissions policies. But criticisms of how this conflict has been handled have percolated beneath the surface.

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The Feminist War on Fraternities

no means no.jpg

The Pope Center’s Duke Cheston has issued what is essentially a call for the abolition of college fraternities, adding a conservative battle cry to a war which hitherto has been largely waged by liberals: feminists, political correctness-besotted campus administrators, and, lately, the Obama administration’s Education Department. In an essay for the Pope Center’s website he wrote: “For the sake of students…colleges should find a way to drastically change fraternity culture–and soon–or get rid of them.” Cheston argues that fraternities, widely regarded as incubuators of binge drinking and–at least in the minds of some feminists (and, apparently Cheston himself)–a campus culture of rape. Citing an incident in which a college friend had shrugged off an alleged rape committed by one of the friend’s fraternity brothers, Cheston wrote: “joining a fraternity had encouraged my friend to think that rape wasn’t that bad.”

Cheston also links to an op-ed article I wrote in June for the Los Angeles Times in which I decried a “scorched-earth war against college fraternities” that I said threatened the freedom of speech and association, not just of members of Greek societies but of all college students. “Left out of Allen’s analysis, however,” Cheston wrote, “is the question of whether or not fraternities are a net positive influence on students.”

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Harvard Pressures Freshmen to Sign a Moral Pledge

Taking a pledge.jpgHarvard College’s Class of 2015 found something unprecedented awaiting their arrival on campus: an ideological pledge. It was framed as a request for allegiance to certain social and political principles. No such request had been made of Harvard students since the college’s founding by Puritans in 1636.

First-years are being pressured to sign a “Freshman Pledge” committing them to create a campus “where the exercise of kindness holds a place on a par with intellectual attainment” — all in the name of “upholding the values of the College” including “inclusiveness and civility.”

The request – originating from the Dean of Freshmen, in consultation with the secretary of Harvard’s feared disciplinary tribunal, its Administrative Board, and communicated via dormitory tutors who are the students’ main liaison with the administration – asked that students commencing their four-year journey of intellectual and spiritual awakening take a position on social and political issues that are much debated in our contentious times. “Inclusiveness” and “civility” have become, for better or worse, buzz words among those who argue over the extent to which harsh rhetoric should be avoided in the name of providing students protection from the hurt feelings that often result from vigorous arguments.

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Will the AAUP Sanction the New Republic?

The AAUP has now completed the final version of what NAS’ Peter Wood aptly termed a “firewall,” designed to protect academics from outside criticism, especially from conservatives and supporters of Israel. The organization’s new standards now face their first test–but from a most unexpected source.

In the left-leaning New Republic, Alex Klein has a blog post criticizing Yale’s Grand Strategy class, co-taught by Professors Charles Hill and John Lewis Gaddis. (The class was designed and for many years co-taught by Gaddis and Paul Kennedy, a specialist in international history who has written or edited 19 books.) I first heard (very good things) about the course several years ago, and co-taught a one-semester version of it at Brooklyn. It was a hard class to teach, in part because of its breadth: in our offering, a colleague and I started with strategic thought in ancient China and Greece and ended with contemporary matters.

Continue reading Will the AAUP Sanction the New Republic?

Campus Freedom, AAUP-Style

The American Association of University Professors has now issued its final report on “Ensuring Academic Freedom in Politically Controversial Academic Personnel groups.”) The basic principle is as unobjectionable as it is admirable: professors should not be hired, fired, or disciplined on the basis of their political beliefs. Yet the AAUP’s report is basically unchanged from the organization’s draft document, which I described at the time as “worse than nothing: it would have been far better for the organization simply to have issued a statement affirming that its job is upholding the views of a majority of its members, and that those professors whose views conflict with the academic majority can enjoy academic freedom rights only at the pleasure of the majority of their colleagues.”

The document’s final version retains nearly all of the weaknesses of the earlier draft. In the AAUP’s academy, virtually no check exists on the tyranny of the faculty majority. Outside criticism is inherently suspect. Students, trustees, and even “bloggers”–including, it would seem, academic bloggers who criticize the will of the majority–are portrayed alongside “talk-show hosts” as threats to the principle of academic freedom. (The report’s attack on students, who possess some academic freedom rights at nearly all non-religious universities, is particularly outrageous; anti-academic freedom students are described as those who “report and publicize offending classroom statements” made by faculty members, allegedly at the behest of “self-appointed watchdog groups.”)

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The Road to Censorship, Paved With Good Intentions

For more than a decade, universities have forced Christian student groups to fight a rather puzzling battle. In a campus environment where it’s assumed that Democratic student groups can reserve leadership for Democrats, environmentalist groups can be run by actual environmentalists, and socialist groups can have socialist leaders, Christian groups have been fighting for the right to Christian leadership. The conflict is between the civil liberties of Christian organizations and university nondiscrimination policies, which tend to prohibit “religious” discrimination but permit groups to discriminate on the basis of ideology and politics.

The first truly public fight occurred at Tufts University, where an openly lesbian woman attempted to lead Tufts Christian Fellowship, expressing disagreement not only with the group’s religious beliefs but also a desire to use her leadership platform to openly advocate her dissenting views. Not content to form her own group or to lead other Christian groups that promised to welcome her with open arms, she determined that every group on campus had to agree with her vision of sexual morality.

Continue reading The Road to Censorship, Paved With Good Intentions

The Unfortunate Case of Robert Klein Engler

Robert Klein Engler, an adjunct professor at Roosevelt University, told a small joke in his “City and Citizenship” class in 2010:

“There was a sociological study done in Arizona, and they discovered that 60 percent of the people in Arizona approved of the immigration law and 40 percent said, ‘no habla ingles.'”

His class was discussing Arizona anti-illegal immigration act SB 1070. Engler said the joke was just a way of stimulating discussion. “I wanted to get the students involved in a discussion on it so I told them I had heard this joke and wondered what they thought about it,” he said. But someone’s feelings were hurt.

Roosevelt University, which declined to comment on the matter, claims that Engler was fired for failing to cooperate in a harassment investigation. Mr. Engler offered to cooperate in the investigation, but only if the school put the details of the allegation in writing. When he brought a lawyer with him to the hearing, school administrators abruptly canceled the meeting. The University fired him not long after.

According to Roosevelt University’s student newspaper, the Torch, a student–Cristina Solis–who filed a written complaint against Mr. Engler over the joke is apparently pleased with Roosevelt University’s decision to terminate her former professor:

“If that [Mr. Engler’s firing] is what it took to give him a reality check, and to make sure that no other student has to go through that, maybe it’s for the best. It’s just something you don’t say in a classroom, not coming from a professor, and especially not at a school like Roosevelt University, which is based on social justice.”

That a school “based on social justice” (Roosevelt University’s website confirms Ms. Solis’s assertion) denied Mr. Engler a chance to fairly defend himself reeks of hypocrisy. If Roosevelt University is committed to the basic tenets of social justice–defined on their website as “a belief that fairness, honesty, integrity and impartiality should resonate throughout every institution within a civil society”–they should begin by explaining their actions to Mr. Engler.

Less Academics, More Narcissism

Reprinted from City Journal. 

California’s budget crisis has reduced the University of California to near-penury, claim its spokesmen. “Our campuses and the UC Office of the President already have cut to the bone,” the university system’s vice president for budget and capital resources warned earlier this month, in advance of this week’s meeting of the university’s regents. Well, not exactly to the bone. Even as UC campuses jettison entire degree programs and lose faculty to competing universities, one fiefdom has remained virtually sacrosanct: the diversity machine.

Not only have diversity sinecures been protected from budget cuts, their numbers are actually growing. The University of California at San Diego, for example, is creating a new full-time “vice chancellor for equity, diversity, and inclusion.” This position would augment UC San Diego’s already massive diversity apparatus, which includes the Chancellor’s Diversity Office, the associate vice chancellor for faculty equity, the assistant vice chancellor for diversity, the faculty equity advisors, the graduate diversity coordinators, the staff diversity liaison, the undergraduate student diversity liaison, the graduate student diversity liaison, the chief diversity officer, the director of development for diversity initiatives, the Office of Academic Diversity and Equal Opportunity, the Committee on Gender Identity and Sexual Orientation Issues, the Committee on the Status of Women, the Campus Council on Climate, Culture and Inclusion, the Diversity Council, and the directors of the Cross-Cultural Center, the Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Resource Center, and the Women’s Center. 

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How the Feds Plan to Violate Student Privacy

Though civil liberties groups have been slow to react, there’s a disturbing aspect to the Education Department’s new “gainful employment” rules pertaining to for-profit colleges: Starting in 2015, the Social Security Administration (SSA) will start turning over its data on the earnings of individual students at career colleges to the Education Department. This is so it can assess whether the students’ ratio of federal student loan debt to income complies with other gainful employment regulations issued by the department. Under the new rules, one of the metrics for deciding whether students can use federal aid (grants and loans) to attend a post-secondary vocational program is whether the average debt-to-income ratio of the school’s graduates is no higher than 12 percent (or 30 percent of the graduate’s “discretionary income” as defined by federal rules).
 
The idea behind the debt-to-income rule is to assess whether the graduates of vocational programs–including programs offered by community colleges and other nonprofit institutions as well as career colleges–are actually getting the jobs for which their training at tax-subsidized expense is supposed to be preparing them. But the SSA-Education Department arrangement–the result of an unprecedented agreement between the two federal agencies–raises serious problems related to both the privacy of the students involved and the transparency of the process of determining whether a school has failed to meet the debt-to-income threshold.
 
Most troubling is the involvement of the Social Security Administration–and also, indirectly, the Internal Revenue Service, which supplies earnings information to the SSA based on tax returns. After all, the SSA is supposed to be in the business of calculating Social Security benefits, not monitoring compliance with laws that have nothing to do with Social Security. The IRS, in turn, is supposed to be in the business of collecting taxes, including Social Security taxes, not helping the Education Department decide whether the University of Phoenix is in compliance with new gainful employment rules. Both agencies, the IRS in particular, are bound by strict laws forbidding the sharing of data except as explicitly permitted by federal statute, such as the one that allows the SSA to use IRS-supplied tax-return information along with filings by employers to determine benefits. Taxpayers have historically relied on the nearly complete confidentiality of their tax-return information as an incentive to honesty in reporting. Controversial provisions in the 2010 “Obamacare” health law that turn the IRS into an enforcement agency for compliance with the law’s individual insurance mandate have raised serious and justifiable objections. Now, thanks to an SSA-Education Department partnership that has no clear statutory authorization, both the SSA and the IRS will be complicit in an arrangement that has nothing to do with either agency’s statutory mandate.

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What Yale’s President Should Have Said about the Frat Boys

By Harvey Silverglate and Kyle Smeallie

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The Department of Education is currently investigating Yale University for allegedly maintaining a sexually hostile environment. No one can deny that the New Haven Ivy is in a difficult position. To wit, Yale enacted changes last month to lower the standard of proof in sexual assault cases, and last week, College Dean Mary Miller announced that a fraternity would be banned for five years, a result of an October 2010 incident in which pledges shouted sexually-graphic chants. Yale, by all appearances, is capitulating to federal pressure. It didn’t have to. Here’s how Yale President Richard Levin could have stood tall, on behalf of educators and liberal arts institutions everywhere, in the face of Washington’s unwelcome–and ultimately destructive intrusion.

Dear Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights Russlynn Ali:

Allow me to introduce myself. I am Richard Levin, President of Yale University. I’ve been at the helm of this great institution since 1993, making me currently the longest-tenured president in the Ivy League. As a long-time observer of higher education, and one who has praised its historical autonomy from the public sector, I feel an obligation to express my concern about recent developments from your office.

I’m writing today in response to a Title IX civil rights complaint for gender discrimination that your office has filed against my university, as well as a “Dear Colleague” letter sent by you last month to nearly every college and university,both of which concern the adjudication of sexual harassment allegations in higher education.

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