Category Archives: Short Takes

Don’t Kill the National Endowment for the Humanities

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

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

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

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

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

The Downgrading of American History

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Woman Assaulted by the Thugs at Berkeley

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

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

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

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

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

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

What to Do When Angry Students Plan to Cancel a Speech

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

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

Free Speech at Berkeley Once Again

Judith Butler and a dozen other Berkeley professors urgently wanted Milo Yiannoppoulos and his “Dangerous Faggot” tour banned from the campus, but University of California Chancellor Nicholas Dirks delivered a strong free-speech explanation of why he won’t cancel the speech and can’t.’’ In an open letter, he said, “From a legal perspective, the U.S. Constitution prohibits UC Berkeley as a public institution from banning expression based on its content or viewpoints, even when those viewpoints are hateful or discriminatory.”

He also rejected the argument that Yiannopoulos, an unusually sharp-tongued apostle of the far right, regularly engaged in so many “insulting behaviors” during his speeches that he should not be protected under free-speech principles. This was quite a good performance from Chancellor Dirks, singular only because ringing defenses of free expression are currently so rare on our campuses.

Dirks also argued that the speaker’s values “are at odds with the values of our campus.” Many of us will disagree with that (including the whole diversity juggernaut and its detractors, I would think).

Another noteworthy point: sponsors of the talk, the Berkeley Republicans, will pay a basic security fee for protection against disruption, but they won’t pay the jacked-up fee normally imposed on conservatives because of threats from demonstrators of the left. Charging conservatives a lot of money to cope with trouble from the left is a form of heckler’s veto, and it’s good to see that Berkeley is beyond that.

DeVos Attacked for Civil Liberties Donations

Betsy DeVos, who was nominated to be the Education Secretary, has been attacked because she and her husband made donations to a civil-liberties group, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education. FIRE is “a nonpartisan organization that defends free speech, religious liberty, and due process on college campuses.”

The DeVos family donations drew criticism from Senator Bob Casey (D-Pa.). He objects to FIRE’s criticism of mandates that the Obama administration imposed on America’s colleges and schools, micromanaging how they handle allegations of sexual harassment and assault. FIRE argues that the administration’s mandates undermine due process on campus.

Many law professors from across the political spectrum have argued that these Obama administration mandates were illegal since they imposed new obligations on schools without going through the notice and comment process mandated by the Administrative Procedure Act.

A May 16, 2016, letter from 21 prominent law professors says that “free speech and due process on campus are now imperiled” by the Obama administration’s mandates, which ignore “judicial precedent and Administrative Procedure Act requirements.”  The 21 signatories to that letter include former federal appellate judge Michael McConnell, and Harvard law professors such as Elizabeth Bartholet (who taught sex discrimination law for many years), Richard Parker, and Charles Donahue.

Ignoring such legal commentary, Senator Casey, joined by Senator Patty Murray, have claimed that “the Obama administration’s guidance to colleges and universities in 2011 ‘clarified longstanding policy at the Office of Civil Rights, dating back to at least 1995 and explicitly supported by the George W. Bush administration.’”

That claim of continuity is quite wrong: the 2011 guidance imposed new rules on colleges, and abolished longstanding protections for accused faculty and students on many campuses, as I previously discussed at this link. The Obama administration’s 2014 sexual harassment guidance also imposed new rules that conflicted with Supreme Court precedent.

Perhaps the most glaring way the Obama administration departed from past agency practice was in forcing colleges to investigate even off-campus conduct.

alleged to constitute sexual harassment or assault. That overreaching resulted in absurdities such as a Title IX investigation of Professor Laura Kipnis for an essay published off campus in the Chronicle of Higher Education, “Sexual Paranoia Strikes Academe”, which students nevertheless claimed constituted “sexual harassment.” (The students then accused Kipnis of “retaliation” when she took issue with their charges on twitter.  After an outcry from free speech advocates, charges were dismissed months later.).

The Obama administration ignored past OCR rulings authored by career lawyers and civil servants at OCR in forcing colleges to investigate off-campus conduct. Such “unexplained departures from” past administrative precedent are arbitrary and capricious, as the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals noted in Ramaprakash v. FAA (2003). The Obama administration also ignored two federal appeals court rulings, and language in a Supreme Court decision, by demanding that colleges do so.

As the Office for Civil Rights noted during the Bush Administration when I worked there, “A University does not have a duty under Title IX to address an incident of alleged harassment where the incident occurs off-campus and does not involve a program or activity of the recipient.

The Obama OCR’s contrary position is clearly at odds with court interpretations of Title IX as not applying off campus. For example, a federal appeals court rejected a lawsuit by a student over an off-campus rape in Roe v. St. Louis University, 746 F.3d 874, 884 (8th Cir. 2014), rejecting arguments that the rape had on-campus effects and created a sexually hostile environment.

This court decision rejecting liability for off-campus conduct paved no new ground: another federal appeals court ruling long predating the Obama administration’s guidance made the same point, rejecting a Title IX lawsuit against a university by a student assaulted by her instructor at his off-campus dental office. (See Lam v. Curators of University of Missouri (1997)). Under the Bush administration, unlike under Obama, the Office for Civil Rights properly followed such court rulings.

The Obama administration should not have committed these unexplained departures from past administrative precedent, much less ignored federal court rulings.

How Federal Student Loans Increase Tuition and Decrease Aid

Conventional wisdom says that expansions in federal student aid will result in a more affordable and equitable post-secondary education system. While this belief has motivated massive expansions of federal aid in the recent past, rapidly increasing tuition and student loan default rates are raising questions about this approach.

In a new study, I review the basic statistics and recent research, and conclude that: 1) further increases in federal support for higher education are likely to be counter-productive because they lead to higher tuition for all students, and 2) the system of student loans should be reformed to mitigate the student debt problem.

Related: Default on Student Loans? Bad Idea

Average gross tuition and fees for undergraduate studies increased more than three-fold in constant dollars from 1980 through 2014—even faster than the rate of increase in health care prices. The increase is widespread across several types of higher education institutions: private non-profit, public two-year and four-year—although private for-profit institutions have recently seen a decrease.

At the same time, government support for higher education in the form of tax benefits, grants (veterans and Pell), and loans has exploded since 1994, and especially since 2000. Grants and loans totaled almost $170 billion in 2014 (constant dollars), up from just over $50 billion in 1994.

Whereas earlier studies showed mixed results, recent studies using refined data and techniques consistently find that increased federal support for higher education leads to a significant increase in tuition and decrease in institutional aid. In fact, there is some indication that state aid for higher education is itself negatively related to the extent and nature of federal government support.

Related: Making  a Bigger Mess of Student Loans

Increases in federal support for higher education have been focused on student loans, yet these increases are actually detrimental to the finances of many post-secondary students. One study found that students’ college decisions were almost as responsive to the offer of loans as to grants, even though they have to pay back loans.

Different measures of student loan default rates and repayment burdens uniformly show significant increases in recent years (as much as a doubling), across all types of institutions and students. Furthermore, the expanded use of deferment, forbearance, and, especially, income-related repayment plans hides an even larger increase in losses to taxpayers on these loans than the rising default rates would indicate.

Students from non-traditional backgrounds seem to have been harmed most by the increase in federal student loan amounts available. They have not seen increased incomes as workers, often have not completed their educations, and are much more likely to default on their loans, while missing out on job-related income and training while enrolled in college.

In addition, enrollment in higher education, as a percent of the young adult population, and in the supply of college-educated workers as a percent of the workforce, has steadily increased over the past four decades. Almost 70 percent of recent high school graduates are currently enrolled in some type of college. The increase is most notable for public two-year and for-profit colleges. Except at the top 10 percent of colleges and universities, average student quality in higher education institutions has declined.

The earnings premium for a college education over a high school education has held steady over the past 25 years. This contradicts the claim by some economists that the relative supply of college-educated workers has been dropping and the earnings premium increasing. It also debunks the claim as an explanation for increased income inequality or a justification for even more government support for higher education.

Further increases in federal support for higher education are not needed and indeed are likely to be counter-productive because they lead to higher tuition for all students. The resultant increases in tuition, decline in average student quality, stagnation in wages, and increases in student loan defaults should lead policy makers to question whether the massive increase in federal support for higher education is achieving its goals.

It is quite likely that reducing subsidized student loan availability to upper middle-income families could be beneficial to the system by leading to a general lowering of tuition and reducing the loan burden on future workers.

The entire system of student loans, especially repayment options, needs to be rationalized and redesigned; in particular, the salience of loan repayment to students needs to be strengthened and losses to taxpayers reduced.

There are many indications that a system of universal higher education, which is where we have been heading, is wasteful. This is particularly true if college completion is mainly a signal of perseverance and effort more than actual preparation. Rather, a robust parallel system of on-the-job training, apprenticeships, and youthful practical work experience is needed—supported by changes in federal laws and regulations, such as lowering the minimum wage for younger workers, to encourage its creation.

This article was published originally in Economics21, a website from the Manhattan Institute.

Obama OCR Moves to Deter Any Trump Reform

As the Obama administration draws to a close, opponents of campus due process have launched an aggressive public relations campaign on behalf of their agenda, lest change comes with a new regime in the White House.

The highest-profile effort came from Joe Biden, who penned an open letter to the presidents of the nation’s colleges and universities urging them to continue to meet the “epidemic” of campus sexual assault. (This is seemingly the only violent crime “epidemic” in American history in which law enforcement is to have little or no role.)

Perhaps the most striking item in Biden’s letter was his assertion that “twenty-two years ago, approximately 1 in every 5 women in college experienced rape or sexual assault. Today, the number is the same.” Setting aside the absurdity of the statistic (which would imply hundreds of thousands of unidentified victims annually, just among college students), this claim amounted to an admission that the admission’s war on campus due process has done nothing to lower the number of sexual assault victims—which, according to Biden, is at the “same” percentage as 1995.

The Vice President did not once mention due process or civil liberties in his letter.

As Biden released his letter, Democratic senators Bob Casey and Patty Murray pressed the incoming Trump administration to retain Obama’s interpretation that Title IX requires schools to use the lowest standard of proof in sexual assault cases, give sexual assault accusers the right to appeal not-guilty findings, and discourage procedures in which sexual assault accusers can be cross-examined about their allegations.

Portraying campuses in the midst of an unprecedented wave of violent crime, the senators contended that “campus sexual assault is a widespread problem affecting millions of college students across the nation.” The senators did not identify the source for their claim that “millions” of college students are affected by sexual assault. Nor did they explain why these “millions” of crime victims should not be an immediate priority of the nation’s police.

Accusers’ rights groups such as Know Your IX got into the act with a social media campaign demanding that incoming Education Secretary Betsy DeVos make no changes to the Obama administration’s Title IX policies. The implicit message: any effort to restore due process or a semblance of fairness to campus tribunals will be denounced as hostile to “survivors.”

But perhaps the most consequential move to retain the war on campus due process came outside of the public eye. On January 4, the Harvard Crimson broke the news that Harvard’s Title IX administrator, Mia Karvonides, was planning to depart her position abruptly. Karnovides had overseen one of the most unfair adjudication systems for campus sexual assault anywhere in the country.

Karnovides’ new position? Enforcement Director at the Office for Civil Rights (OCR), the agency that has served as the center of the war on campus due process during the Obama administration. Her starting date? January 18, or two days before Barack Obama leaves office. It seems unlikely that Karnovides would have accepted the new position if she lacked civil service protections.

The midnight appointment can only be interpreted as placing a key figure in the bureaucracy to disrupt any Trump administration effort to restore a sense of fairness to Title IX enforcement. Will the new administration respond?

Nat Hentoff, a Great Journalist

If you spent any time on the streets of Greenwich Village in the 70s or 80s, you stood a good chance of seeing two great and prodigiously productive journalists of the era go by — Murray Kempton on his bicycle, usually headed toward City Hall, and Nat Hentoff walking along while reading a book.

For Hentoff, who died over the weekend at age of 91, there was no such thing as downtime (35 books, thousands of articles, published everywhere, from journals of the far left to those of the far right) so reading while dodging Village drivers was a sensible use of time.

Nat Hentoff
Nat Hentoff

Kempton, who died in 1997, defied liberal orthodoxy by saying occasional nice things (usually in obits) about people such as Cardinal Spellman and Jimmy Hoffa. Hentoff dissented from the left by opposing abortion and with his strong and hard-line defense of free speech both before and during the left’s current tolerance of censorship on campus and off.

In fact, Hentoff was the moderator in 1992 the night that the first high-profile, high-publicity censorship by the left took place. The pro-life liberal Governor of Pennsylvania, Robert Casey, had just been barred from speaking at the Democratic convention that nominated Bill Clinton for president.

The Village Voice, to its great credit, sponsored a talk by Casey at Cooper Union in the Village to let him say what the convention wouldn’t, but radical gays and radical feminists packed the hall, along with backers of convicted cop killer Mumia Abu-Jamal, and kept screaming, shouting and blowing whistles so Casey could not be heard. Hentoff wrote in the Washington Post: “They reminded me of the domestic brown shirts breaking up Jewish meetings in my youth, but these were howling soldiers of the left.”

I never detected any resentment in Nat, though he paid a heavy price with the left for his abortion stance, and though as a Jew growing up in Boston he was beaten up regularly by Irish Catholics kids, some of whom were later among the adults showing up at his anti-abortion lectures.

In his later years, I made no attempt to see him, because I had heard his health was bad, but I dropped a lot of material off for him at his apartment, three blocks from mine, and always got back a short note saying that I was doing important work here at Minding the Campus and must keep it up. I always thought that if atheists decided to set up a secular sainthood, Nat would be one of the early people installed.

Due Process Wins a Battle Against a University’s Kangaroo Court

Though federal judges tend to uphold a lot of unjust campus decisions in sex-assault cases, Judge Elizabeth Dillon, an Obama appointee, proved on December 23 that some campus procedures are just too outrageous to survive judicial review.

The judge’s due process ruling came in a case out of James Madison University. (You can read her opinion here.) After troubling appellate rulings in California (which approved a process one judge had compared to a kangaroo court) and in the 6th Circuit (where one judge suggested that military court martials represented an appropriate model for campus sexual assault cases), the Dillon ruling is important.

The James Madison case also illustrates the effects of an often- overlooked effect of the 2011 Dear Colleague letter—the requirement that colleges introduce allow accusers to appeal not-guilty findings. As in comparable cases at George Mason and the University of Michigan, at James Madison, this double-jeopardy principle created an additional layer of injustice. Indeed, in all other types of disciplinary cases at JMU, an accusing student can’t appeal a not-guilty finding.

Even in an environment that often features shaky claims, the JMU one was unusually weak: the accuser filed her claim (that she was too intoxicated to have consented) only after learning that the student she’d accused had moved on to another woman; the accuser offered varying dates for the alleged attack; and the accuser’s own roommate, who the accuser had called as one of her own witnesses, told the hearing panel that on the night of the incident, the accuser was “completely fine” and didn’t seem to be drunk.

Despite a hearing that hardly passed as a paragon of due process (the accused student was forced to present his defense before the accuser’s version was offered to the panel), the accused student was found not guilty.

But—thanks to the Dear Colleague letter’s change—the case wasn’t over. The accuser exercised her right to appeal the not-guilty finding, sending the case to a three-professor panel. And the appeals occurred amidst a campus frenzy over the issue of sexual assault. A few months earlier, OCR had commenced a Title IX investigation of the university. A student named Sarah Butters generated national controversy by claiming JMU had insufficiently punished the students who had raped her.

The fall 2014 semester had begun with an editorial from the student newspaper proclaiming that the university’s alleged softness on sexual assault was the issue that “had been on everyone’s mind for these past few months,” and indicated that “we cannot tolerate a culture of sexual assault at our school.” The editors indicated that “our goal is to give our readers the information necessary to empower them to stand up against sexual assault.” The editorial, signed by all members of the paper’s editorial team, did not mention due process as an issue of any concern.

Amidst this atmosphere, the university allowed the accuser to introduce three new pieces of evidence (each of which had been available to her at the time of her complaint) to the appeals panel.

First, she offered a report from a social worker asserting that she was prone to excessive intoxication when drinking because of medication she was taking. (This report had been introduced into the case file before the original panel made its decision, but was never shown to the accused student.)

Second, she produced a statement from a suitemate claiming that the roommate who testified against her had admitted to lying.

Third, she turned over a voicemail from what she claimed was the night of the incident in which she had discussed her intoxication. Sent, she wrote, right after she left the accused student’s residence, the voicemail “emphasizes that I was drunk and unable to give consent to sex.”

Armed with this “evidence” and the audio of the original hearing—but hearing no testimony from the parties, granting the original panel’s credibility determination no deference, and (it appears) using a definition of consent that differed from that in JMU’s own policy—the appeals panel ordered the accused student suspended for five-and-a-half years.

An e-mail sent to a JMU administrator suggested that the voicemail was critical in the outcome; a subsequent email amended the claim to the new witness statements as the key. Oddly, the panel did not issue a written explanation of why it overturned the original panel’s decision; it did not even indicate that it had found the accused student guilty. Its form only indicated that it had “increased” his (previously nonexistent) punishment.

The flawed procedures in this case yielded particularly flawed results.

First, according to subsequent testimony from members of the appeals panel, they credited the claim that the key exculpatory witness (the accuser’s roommate) had lied without ever giving her a chance to respond. Even more incredibly, under JMU policies, the accused student couldn’t ask the roommate to file a rebuttal statement with the appeals panel—because (since she was a witness called by the accuser in the original hearing) he was forbidden from contacting her.

Second, and in violation of JMU rules, the accused student never saw, at any stage of the process, the social worker’s statement. So he never had the chance to hire an expert of his own to rebut it.

Finally, the so-called ‘smoking gun’ voicemail was actually from the night before the incident. Indeed, its introduction suggested that the accuser might have tried to mislead the appeals panel—which the accused student could have pointed out if JMU had given him more than 24 hours to respond to this new “evidence” (which it sent to him in the middle of winter break).

Since he didn’t see the “evidence” in time, he thought he had no chance to impeach it. One of the appellate panelists, Education professor Dana Haraway, later testified that she considered the voicemail significant in her decision. She didn’t learn about the date error until the accused student’s lawyer deposed her in the due process lawsuit against JMU. It’s hard to imagine a more cavalier approach to one of her own institution’s student’s life and reputation. Professor Haraway did not respond to a request for comment.

All of this was too much for Judge Dillon. “No reasonable jury,” she concluded, “could find [the accused student] was given fundamentally fair process. Instead, the undisputed facts show that JMU denied [him] a ‘meaningful hearing.’”

The case, however, will only lurch along. The accused student’s life has been on hold since January 2015; he filed his lawsuit in May 2015. For the next two months, the two sides will present briefs discussing whether JMU should hold a new hearing. At best, he’ll be eligible to re-enroll in the fall 2017 semester (spring 2018 if JMU requests an additional hearing before Judge Dillon)—so would serve at least a five-semester suspension for an offense that appears never to have occurred, because of procedures that were fundamentally unfair.

Judge Dillon’s ruling addressed one other significant point. In 2015, Judge T.S. Ellis (in a factually dicey case out of George Mason) issued one of the most perceptive comments in any due process ruling about the effects of a guilty finding on the accused student. He noted that a university deeming a student a rapist would have enormous consequences on his future educational and earning opportunities—since he’d have no choice, as part of applying to a new school or to any job that required a background check, to produce educational documents showing the university judgment.

JMU’s lawyer denounced this decision, which he termed the “800-pound gorilla or the elephant in the room,” as “wrong” and a “mistake.” (You can read the hearing transcript here.) In JMU’s world, any student who wanted to conceal a wrongful finding of sexual assault could simply not produce his educational records. Judge Dillon rejected this suggestion as the false choice it was.

The Publisher Who Took Risks and Defied Orthodoxy

The publishing house Transaction has been a mainstay of unusual academic scrutiny and exploration for decades — one that the self-righteous priests of political certainty who run the field sought to exile from the arena of thought. It was the intellectual banquet served up for years by the prickly but brilliant Irving Louis Horowitz and after his passing by his formidable widow Mary Curtis and her associates in the firm.

As a publishing adventure, Transaction was immune to the forces of sentimental fashion. It sought out and worked to sharpen and polish promising material. It ran the outstanding social science journal, Society, and other magazines edited elsewhere, including some of the most arcane publications from often unexpected and neglected neighborhoods of universities.

Almost single-handedly among commercial publishers, it kept alive the healthy tradition of intelligent sociology pioneered by powerful analysts and synthesizers such as Max Weber and Georg Simmel. This was at a time when the discipline was overrun by fuzzy neo-theatrical concepts such as “role models” and “status seekers” and endless (some would say pointless) studies of the mating habits of college sophomores, all which could be done without leaving one’s office and without risking contamination by deeper notions of human hierarchy and brutal personal struggle.

Transaction kept itself apart from the melioristic view of sociological insight as a substitute for skilled political action. And it created an intellectual home for informed and sometimes oddball and cranky skepticism. How it managed its finances so that it could publish a respectable dossier of books each year and support a devoted and experienced staff was a mystery that often baffled scholars perusing its intriguing and catholic catalogs. These same scholars then turned around to submit their manuscripts with some confidence that they had a shot at reaching the wider world.

Meeting that agreeable if overwhelming challenge has now proved to be too much for Team Transaction and it has elected to be purchased by the Routledge publishing group. Scholars will wish them well while quietly humming “Adieu Transactors – and Thank You.”

U of Oregon Violates Free Speech in Halloween Costume Punishment

The University of Oregon suspended a tenured professor for wearing blackface at an off-campus Halloween party, and now is considering additional punishment.

The university admits the professor had no ill intent (reports suggest that she wore it in a strange attempt to honor a black physician, by dressing up as the title character in a black doctor’s memoir, “Black Man in a White Coat”). But it claims — falsely — that this off-campus expression of racial insensitivity on a single occasion constituted illegal racial harassment under federal law (Title VI of the Civil Rights Act). In punishing the professor, it has violated the First Amendment.

As law professor Josh Blackman notes, the controversy began after “Nancy Shurtz, a tenured professor at the University of Oregon Law School, wore blackface to a Halloween party” as part of a costume that “also included a white lab coat and stethoscope.” In response, “Shurtz was suspended with pay, pending an investigation. That investigation came to a close on November 30.”

The University of Oregon’s investigation concluded that Shurtz had created a hostile environment through this mere act, even though constitutional experts such as UCLA law professor Eugene Volokh had observed weeks earlier that the professor’s off-campus expression was protected by the First Amendment under court rulings such as Iota Xi v. George Mason Univ. (4th Cir. 1993), which ruled that even a mocking portrayal of blacks by students using blackface was protected by the First Amendment. Moreover, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals had ruled in Berger v. Battaglia (1985) that public employees have a First Amendment right to perform publicly in blackface while not on duty.

On December 23, notes Professor Blackman, “the Provost of the University of Oregon released a statement, along with a redacted version of the investigative report,” claiming that “Shurtz can be disciplined consistent with the First Amendment and principles of academic freedom. Here is the Provost’s summary:

Though the report recognizes that Professor Shurtz did not demonstrate ill intent in her choice of costume, it concludes that her actions had a negative impact on the university’s learning environment and constituted harassment under the UO’s antidiscrimination policies. Furthermore, the report finds that under applicable legal precedent, the violation and its resulting impact on students in the law school and university outweighed free speech protections provided under the Constitution and our school’s academic freedom policies.

The report’s findings of “harassment” are nonsense. Courts have ruled that far more offensive behavior does not rise to the level of illegal racial harassment, such as occasionally overhearing or witnessing the use of the N-word by co-workers. (See Bolden v. PRC, 43 F.3d 545 (10th Cir. 1994) and Witt v. Roadway Express, 136 F.3d 1424 (10th Cir. 1998)).

Unfairness in the Minnesota Football Rape Case

We don’t normally think of college athletes as prominent defenders of due process. Yet perhaps the highest-profile protest against the post-Dear Colleague letter demise of campus due process came last week at the University of Minnesota. Its emergence, the reaction to it, and its quick collapse speaks volumes about the relationship between due process and policies toward sexual assault on the nation’s campuses.

In September, several members of the Minnesota football team were accused of a particularly ugly gang rape. The police investigated, but the prosecutor ultimately declined to pursue charges, largely because a contemporaneous video of the incident (taken by one of the players) showed the accuser (in the words of a police report) “certainly conscious and aware of what is going on”—“lucid” and “alert.”

The university, however, conducted its own investigation and found at least some of the players guilty of the same offense (sexual assault) for which the local prosecutor had concluded he lacked probable cause to indict. Armed with that finding, the university’s athletic department suspended the players—in the process publicly identifying them. This move prompted other members of the football team to threaten to boycott the Holiday Bowl game, only to abandon their move under heavy pressure from the university and the media.

The Limitations of Due Process Protests

The timeline of the Minnesota football team’s response resembles that of the Yale basketball team’s response to the Jack Montague case. In both instances, the team began with examples of high-profile protest. Each member of the Yale team wore Montague’s warm-up shirt before a game. Each member of the Minnesota football team stood behind a statement indicating that university procedures had denied their teammates’ “due process,” in part by finding them guilty of the same offense for which the police had chosen not to bring charges.

Within 48 hours, under what appeared to be heavy internal and external pressure, the teams backed down and issued statements effectively retracting their original protests. In both instances, these statements were radically different in tone and substance from the teams’ original actions and read as if written by a university administrator rather than by college students.

Contrast both the Minnesota and Yale outcomes to that at the University of Missouri. When the Mizzou football team threatened to boycott on behalf of student protesters alleging racial discrimination on campus, the president was fired. The backdowns in the Minnesota and Yale cases, by contrast, provides a reminder of where the power lies in universities on due process issues and sends a message to other students that standing up for due process in sexual assault adjudications will be futile.

The Minnesota case includes one element absent in the Yale matter. Local reports suggest that the players’ unity was in part eroded by the release of the university investigative report. Even construing the incident in the light most favorable to the accused players, this lengthy document revealed an ugly, troubling episode in which the accused players were almost caricatures of unfeeling misogynists. Little wonder the other players then folded. (One of the players has subsequently maintained that the boycott nonetheless will ensure that future accused students are treated fairly, but no signs exist that Minnesota will in any way change its policies.)

Ironically, however, the leaking of the report (to a local TV station) heightened the due process critique the team originally made. The report, of course, was supposed to be confidential. Given its conclusion, and its highly negative character portrayals, it’s inconceivable any of the accused players leaked it. That leaves someone from the accuser’s legal team, or a university official, as the likely source—figures willing to waive the confidentiality requirements when they thought it would be helpful to their side of the case. The report’s leaking, in this respect, casts further doubt on the integrity of the Minnesota adjudication process. Just as with Yale and the Patrick Witt case, however, I wouldn’t hold my breath waiting for an investigation to identify the leaker who violated university policies.

Blue State Laws

The last few years have featured a wave of blue states passing “affirmative consent” laws, which effectively require accused students to prove their innocence. Minnesota hasn’t enacted such a law (though the university does employ the “affirmative consent” standard, thereby defining sexual assault differently than state statutes). But the state did enact a first-in-the-nation law requiring “training” of all campus investigators and adjudicators of sexual assault cases.

The football players’ case was one of the first to be adjudicated under the new standards. This summer, I had asked Minnesota’s Title IX coordinator, Kimberly Hewitt, for a copy of the new training material; she declined to provide it, with a cc to the university public relations office. (I then obtained it through a state public records request.)

I can see why Hewitt wasn’t eager for the material to become public. Minnesota has trained its sexual assault investigators by having them attend an event organized by the Minnesota Coalition Against Sexual Assault; sessions from the National Association of Colleges and Universities; participating in the “Minnesota Campus Sexual Violence Summit”; joining an AAU Survey of Sexual Assault and Sexual Misconduct Webinar; and completing a course organized by the ATIXA Institute, an organization associated with the anti-due process NCHERM.

Adjudicators receive briefings from the Minnesota Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action Office, the Student Sexual Misconduct Subcommittees, the university Office of the General Counsel, a local police chief, a university lecturer expert in addressing questions of credibility, the Director of Gender and Sexuality Center for Queer and Trans Life at the University of Minnesota, and the legal advocacy coordinator of the Aurora Center, a university organization that “provides a safe and confidential space for students . . . who are victims/survivors/concerned people of sexual assault.”

Adjudicators receive briefings from the Minnesota Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action Office, the Student Sexual Misconduct Subcommittees, the university Office of the General Counsel, a local police chief, a university lecturer expert in addressing questions of credibility, the Director of Gender and Sexuality Center for Queer and Trans Life at the University of Minnesota, and the legal advocacy coordinator of the Aurora Center, a university organization that “provides a safe and confidential space for students . . . who are victims/survivors/concerned people of sexual assault.”

The list of training, therefore, contains no defense lawyers. Nor does it feature a representative of a group devoted to campus civil liberties, like FIRE (or even the ACLU). So Minnesota trains its investigators and adjudicators exclusively from sources that are either neutral or who are ideologically inclined to believe the accuser (and therefore find guilt). Imagine the criminal justice context, of jurors in sexual assault trials (and only sexual assault trials) required to receive “training,” with the training material provided only by the prosecutor and not by the defense.

The effects of this training were apparent in the university investigator’s report. Both the accuser and the accused had inconsistencies in their stories. But the accuser’s inconsistencies enhanced her credibility—“we generally attribute the differences among [her] accounts over time to her gradual recollection of what she found to be a very traumatic experience,” the university report declared—while the accused students’ inconsistencies led the university investigator “to discount their credibility.”

Nothing in the one-sided nature of the training, of course, should obscure the ugliness of the undisputed conduct detailed in the report. (This was, in the light most favorable to the accused players, an episode of group sex amidst underage drinking, while the players were entertaining a high school recruit.) But despite the wording of a statement issued from the president’s office, Minnesota did not suspend several of the players because their behavior conflicted with university values; it suspended them because the university concluded they had engaged in behavior the state considers a felony—even as the prosecutor declined to seek indictments over the same behavior.

Media

Initial coverage of the players’ boycott statement was basically fair—at least in the local Minnesota media. That tone soon changed. It changed despite the fact, as Robby Soave has observed, this was a protest (from students of all races) alleging that authorities had denied due process rights to accused black males.

In the current national environment, in virtually any other context, this message –that young men of color had been mistreated by agents of the government who were investigating conduct that state law deemed to be criminal—would have been greeted with enthusiastic support from the mainstream media.

Yet (unsurprisingly, given the general media attitude regarding due process and campus sexual assault), the editorial and commentary response was overwhelmingly negative. This Sally Jenkins piece in the Washington Post is a representative sample; this Dave Zirin piece is a typically extreme manifestation of the attitude. In its editorial condemning the players who threatened to boycott, the Star-Tribune conceded that “there can be discussion over whether [preponderance of evidence is the correct standard and over the high level of secrecy involved in the disciplinary process at the University” and noted that there “has been pushback in other high-profile incidents across the country over the current system and the way standards are applied.”

In other words: the editors conceded that the due process concerns presented by the students had merit. After making the point, the editors nonetheless charged that, through their protest, the players threatened to “further damage the university’s reputation.” Is there any other context in which a left-of-center editorial page would advance such a claim about students advocating for other students’ civil liberties?

Beyond the choice of framing, both the Times (in a straight news story) and the Star-Tribune (in its op-ed) erroneously asserted that the University of Minnesota was required by “law”—even Obama administration officials (albeit very reluctantly, under prodding from Senators Lamar Alexander and James Lankford) have conceded that the Dear Colleague letter doesn’t carry the force of law. The Times quietly eliminated its error.

After the issue was pointed out on Twitter, the Times replaced, without acknowledgment, the claim that Minnesota had to use a lower standard of proof by law with the following passage: “Burdens of proof used in such investigations are frequently lower than the criminal justice system’s.” The false claim in the Star-Tribune editorial remains. The errors reflect the generally poor approach the media has featured in covering campus procedural issues.

The Minnesota football coach has said that his public support for the protest threatened his job. Given the current atmosphere on campus, he’s probably right.

Add Babson to the List Of Campus Hoaxes

The shoot-first-and-ask-questions-later mentality that has gripped our college campuses, currently basking — or wallowing — in a so-called diversity and inclusion phase, has visited Babson College, where members of the administration and faculty worked themselves into a lather over an incident of racial harassment that, it turns out, the most elementary investigation would have demonstrated never occurred.

This puts Babson, President Kerry Healey, and a number of administrators and faculty members in the uncomfortable position of having failed to adhere to an academic obligation — first determine the facts, then draw conclusions, and only then open your mouth.

The embarrassing imbroglio stems from an ill-fated and impulsive truck ride by two Babson students, Parker Rand-Ricciardi and Edward Tomasso, to Wellesley College on Nov. 9 to gloat over Donald Trump’s victory. Gloating is, of course, fully protected by the most elementary precepts of academic freedom, to which virtually all liberal arts colleges — including Babson and Wellesley — are committed.

Quickly, the word spread via social media that the pair had engaged in racist and homophobic slurs, including a targeted visit to Wellesley’s Harambee House, home to the college’s African-American cultural center. The reports of racial slurs were complemented by one report of spitting by the Babson duo.

But investigators were unable to substantiate any of these reports of hate speech. That they took root, then spread like wildfire, to the point of provoking condemnations from many of the supposed adults running Babson, tells us how far our colleges have fallen in the contest by administrators and professors to be seen as holier-than-thou when it comes to hot-button issues of race, gender, sexual orientation and other such categories.

Healey was joined by Dean of Students Lawrence Ward, and some 200 members of Babson’s faculty — none of whom apparently had bothered to look for evidence before condemning Rand-Ricciardi and Tomasso and effectively labeling them racists and homophobes. It was a classic example of the justice meted out by the infamous character Queen of Hearts in “Alice in Wonderland,” who pronounced sentences — “off with their heads” — before the inconvenience of a trial.

The unseemly faculty and administration rage was tempered only when Babson and Wellesley campus police reported they could find no evidence to support any of the allegations of racism. Babson’s campus ban on the two students was immediately lifted. Yelling “Trump 2016” and “Make America Great Again” out of the windows of a vehicle is not a crime in the USA, nor a recognized offense — at least not yet — on a liberal arts campus.

Perhaps the biggest surprise was the politically correct, premature and unsubstantiated condemnations that came from the mouth of Babson’s president, who, because of her business and political rather than academic background, might have been expected to exercise more skepticism and better judgment than we have come to expect from the typical campus administrator or professor.

Before accepting the Babson presidency, Healey had a vibrant career in the real world. Her departure from positions of prominence and responsibility into the academic mosh pit is a misfortune sadly demonstrated by what she’s chosen to do there — wrongly impugn the reputations and jeopardize the careers of two young men she happens to disagree with.

Reprinted with permission from the Boston Herald

The Inmates Are Running the Asylum

Radical sex warriors at Reed College tried to shout down Kimberly Peirce, partly because she didn’t use a trans actor in her 1999 movie Boys Don’t Cry, about the murder of a transgender male.  This is an excerpt from Robby Soave’s blog on the event at Reason.com:

“The most revealing comment came from Lucia Martinez, an assistant professor of English at Reed who identifies as a “gay mixed-race woman.” Martinez wrote:

“I teach at Reed. I am intimidated by these students. I am scared to teach courses on race, gender, or sexuality, or even texts that bring these issues up in any way—and I am a gay mixed-race woman. There is a serious problem here and at other [selective liberal arts colleges], and I’m at a loss as to how to begin to address it, especially since many of these students don’t believe in either historicity or objective facts. (They denounce the latter as being a tool of the white cisheteropatriarchy.)”

How many professors must confess that they live in terror of their far-left students before we start taking them seriously? Before we recognize that a thin-skinned, easily-offended super-minority of students has gained the power to censor academics and other students for broaching controversial subjects before we are prepared to do something about it? This is the elite American college campus: a place where even queer, leftist professors and filmmakers are afraid of being sent to the guillotine by self-professed radical students.

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

A number of prominent liberal intellectuals, such as Leon Wieseltier, acknowledge that the humanities are in trouble. There “really is a cultural crisis,” he said at a recent Aspen Ideas Festival. This is an improvement over the mass denial of a few years ago, when the standard retort to conservatives went something like this: “You just don’t like the direction the humanities have taken” or worse: “You old-fashioned types are angry that the humanities are no longer a Eurocentric dead-white-male thing—get over it.”

But when the politically-correct president of an Ivy League university recounts how far the humanities have fallen at her school, as Harvard’s Drew Gilpin Faust did at the same festival, it’s hard to dismiss the thesis.  The numbers Faust cited for Harvard are astounding.  Currently, she said, about 14 percent of Harvard undergraduates major in a humanities field.  That’s higher than the national rate, but it’s down from the 25 percent rate at Harvard when Faust started her tenure as president nine years ago.  Most of the withdrawal, she noted, was due to students heading toward the hard sciences (not the social sciences).  When it comes to enrollment in humanities courses in general at Harvard, the trend there is downward as well, a drop of ten percent over the same period of time.

Related: Are the Battered Humanities Worth Saving?

We can add to the testimony of liberal leaders at the administrative level a story in the Chronicle of Higher Education about literature professors who think that literary studies have become so cynical and paranoid that they are turning people away.

When English turned into a practice of reading literature for signs of racism, sexism, and ideology, it lost touch with why youths pick up books in the first place, said University of Virginia Professor Rita Felski.  And Duke professor Toril Moi told the Chronicle reporter, “If you challenge the idea of suspicion as the only mode of reading, you are then immediately accused of being conservative in relation to those politics.

And added to that story is the pile-up of reports demonstrating declining majors and enrollments, along with a dreadful job market for recent PhDs (see here, which shows that, in 2014, nearly half of all humanities doctoral recipients —45.7 percent—had no employment commitments:  We can’t dismiss the thesis of decay any more.  We may disagree about the causes of the slide, but everyone agrees that we need to rebuild and reinvigorate the fields.

Related: More Bad Numbers for the Humanities

The San Diego Union-Tribune recently carried a sad story on one attempt to revive the humanities, at the University of California, San Diego. The program foregrounds social themes, not works of beauty and genius.  The photo that introduces the story shows a panel speaking to a room of 30 or 40 people. The caption states the topic: “Challenging Conversations: Race and State Violence. “The question it raises is: Do the organizers really believe that an event such as this one will draw more first-year students into English, Art History, Classics, and French?

The problem isn’t just that discussions of race, violence, and politics have become so predictable and joyless.  It is that nothing in identity-focused discourse steers youths toward the humanities instead of toward the social sciences and fine arts.  If there is a campus symposium on how race played out in the last election, there is no reason to think that a humanistic approach to it will follow.  It sounds more like Political Science or Sociology than English or History.  So does the other event on the “News” page, “Community, Arts, and Resistance.”

The standard response to this disciplinary distinction is to insert humanities materials into the act.  Yes, the professors say, we talk about race and class and other topics traditionally at the center of the social sciences, but in our case, we examine the representations of them in novels and movies and culture in general.  This is not a step away from reality, they contend, because literature, art, music, and media do what is called cultural work.  They shape norms, impart values, construct stereotypes, and reinforce ideologies.  Analyzing humanities works, then, is essential to the understanding of society.

Maybe—but the claim is beside the point.  In this case, that is, regarding the material state of the humanities today, what counts is whether such approaches that foreground social issues in works of art and literature are going to encourage more undergraduates to choose humanities majors and courses. Unlikely.

First of all, if a 20-year-old has a particular passion for racial, sexual, or other identity themes, chances are that he isn’t inclined to filter it through Shakespeare or Wagner or Woolf.  A few of them will, but not because of their identity interests.  History is a stronger possibility, we admit, but when our youth looks at the requirements for the History major, he will find much of it lies outside his interest.  If you’re fascinated with race in America, you don’t want to spend much time on the ancient and medieval worlds.  Much better to choose one of the “Studies” departments.

Second, if students do come into college loving Victorian novels or foreign films or Elizabethan drama or Beethoven, it probably isn’t due to the identity content of those materials.  They love Dickens because a high school English teacher dramatized Miss Betsey so well, or because the students identified with David Copperfield (which is a whole different kind of identity-formation than the one academics have in mind when they discuss identity).  It’s not that undergraduates already interested in the humanities discount identity issues.  They accept them as part of the work, certainly.  But those issues are not the source of inspiration.  The first draw isn’t race, gender, sexuality, nationality, etc., in American film.  It is Intolerance, City Lights, Ambersons, Vertigo . . .  Students want works of art first, social themes within them second.

And so when the UCSD project breaks the humanities up four areas—Equity, diversity, and inclusion; global arts and humanities; public arts and humanities; and digital arts and humanities—one has little hope.  Why is equity at the top, especially when we consider how much great art emerged out of unequal societies?  Why invoke the bland divisions of global, public, and digital?

Here are the sentences that follow the four-part breakdown on the Institute’s web page: Through these wide-ranging and cross-cutting themes, we view the arts and humanities as a vibrant collection of different fields—including the humanistic social sciences and STEM fields—that interrogate the humanistic enterprise from complimentary [sic] and sometimes disorienting perspectives. The IAH thus values difference, cultivates exchange and prioritizes transformative ways of thinking and working together.

The language here is deadeningly abstract — “cross-cutting . . . interrogate . . . prioritize”—the very opposite of a humanistic turn of mind.  The statement goes on to claim that the Institute offers “exciting programs,” but where in this conception is the excitement of the haunting search for Anna on the island in L’Avventura and the uncanny sequence of images in the last five minutes of L’Eclisse?  Does this ethnic/politics focus for the humanities make space for the grand spectacle of Act II of Aida?  Does it allow for Nietzsche’s fiery words about nihilism in The Will to Power?  Does it respect the dark sublimity of the last paragraph of The Dead?

These are the things that lure students to the humanities and keep them there, not this adversarial social framework that turns the humanities into sociology for people who like art.

No Sex Talk, Please—This is Harvard

Harvard’s men’s cross-country team has been put on probation because members of the 2014 team made strong judgments on the sexual attractiveness of members of the women’s cross-country team.

What?

We wonder if male college students anywhere else have ever engaged in this kind of behavior—noticing that females often differ in their degree of attractiveness, thus generating male commentary, some of it tacky, even smarmy and probably not in the language that the commenters might use in speaking to their mothers.

Our guess is yes, other young men, perhaps even at Harvard, have concluded that sexual appeal is unevenly spread throughout the female population, and they have not always refrained from speaking out on the matter. Another guess of ours is that only at Harvard would men write down these sometimes crude, offhand judgments and file them away on spreadsheets for detractors to find.

Indeed, some of those detractors are descending on Harvard’s men’s sports teams with the grim zest of PTA mommies eager to deal with the pigtail-pulling behavior of eighth-grade boys. Pigtail-pulling of some sort is likely involved in other mommy interventions at Harvard, including the cancellation of this season’s men’s soccer team, not to mention the campaign to punish the mostly male members of various clubs and fraternities that have variously irritated large numbers of campus mommies, who are mysteriously determined to prove something or other.

Mommy spokespeople say the comments by the current cross-country team are not so bad, but comments by the 2014 team were horrible, though hard to punish since most of those team members are gone and unavailable for punishment. But current members will have to suffer training by the much-feared mommies of Title IX, plus another trainer, maybe even a male, who will help the errant cross-countrymen to shed as much maleness as possible. Apparently, this has already been accomplished at the Harvard Crimson, whose editors have expressed no reservations about all this.

Harmless College Jokes Punished at Mandatory Civility Seminar

At a Virginia college, inspirational slogans were recently posted in a residence hall to buoy the spirits of students cramming for exams. Resisting the inspiration, some students posted satirical  responses. “You are what you think you are, aim high!” drew the reply “You appear to be suffering from delusions of adequacy.” Another encouraging slogan, “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take,” drew the non-inspirational answer, “Yeah, but you miss 99% of the ones you do.”

Harmless, right?  No! A residential life officer was not amused and sent this message to all residents: “This is not a joke…. This is not ok. Our community is meant to be one of encouragement and acceptance and the posting of materials against this goes directly against what we are called to stand for. This is home, no one should be insulted or fear insults within the domain of their own house, apartment or residence hall. If you feel attacked by any of these notes, please know that I am here to listen and support you.”

The RA asked students to inform on the irreverent counter-posters, and scheduled a dorm-wide meeting, with attendance mandatory, to discuss “civility.” Underlining the gravity of the allegedly humorous prank, the RA continued: “I would like to remind you of the power of words. You do not know the affect your words may have on someone else. Words that mean nothing to you may trigger an emotional response to someone, you do not know everyone’s backstory. Because of this, I encourage each of you to think carefully before you speak.

“Tensions are high due to elections, and exams are around the corner; we all need to be at our peak performance to succeed. Take care of each other, don’t say anything that can hurt someone, regardless of whether you think it is funny. A person finding offense at your joke or statement is not their fault, it is not a result of them needing to change or of them being weak. The change needs to happen in your words.”

The mandatory civility session was set for “after the break,” apparently a reference to the Thanksgiving break, though the RA seems to have avoided the term as too religious. The student who sent all this information said the dorm was ready to organize a “secret Santa” gift-giving, but would call it a “secret snowflake“ instead since “Santa” seems to evoke the overly religious term, ”Christmas.”

How Governor Andrew Cuomo Is Weakening CUNY

I’ve worked at CUNY under four governors—George Pataki, Elliot Spitzer, David Paterson, and Andrew Cuomo. Pataki (and state Senate Republicans) didn’t allocate to the institution sufficient funding. But he was by far the best governor of the four for CUNY.

Pataki appointed a superbly-qualified chairman of the Board of Trustees, Benno Schmidt. He named other trustees—Jeffrey Wiesenfeld, Kay Pesile—who were both independent and committed to CUNY’s academic excellence. (And, despite opposition from status quo faculty, Pataki reappointed Wiesenfeld.) The board, in turn, appointed an excellent chancellor, Matthew Goldstein, whose policies helped to revitalize the institution. All the while, Pataki stood aside and allowed CUNY to flourish free from political meddling.

Neither Spitzer nor Paterson served long enough to leave much of a mark on CUNY—though both seemed to recognize the institution’s significant improvement in the Schmidt-Goldstein era and seemed disinclined to reverse the progress. Not so, however, Cuomo.

For his first term, Cuomo confined his CUNY policy to disinterest—though he distinguished himself as even less supportive of robust funding levels than Pataki or the GOP-led state Senate. But since winning re-election in 2014, he increasingly has targeted the institution. He offered a curious call for consolidating the CUNY and SUNY administrations, despite the radical differences between the two institutions. (For starters: CUNY schools are urban and non-residential; many SUNY schools are rural or exurban with on-campus residency requirements.)

As part of this effort, the Cuomo administration criticized CUNY’s decision to pay Goldstein as chancellor emeritus, which carried with it teaching and research expectations. (As the Times noted at the time, “By national standards, Dr. Goldstein’s compensation has always been moderate.”) And the governor brought to CUNY, which heretofore had a policy that was a model of fairness, his campaign to weaken due process protections for students accused of sexual assault.

In the meantime, Cuomo stacked the CUNY Board of Trustees with political cronies. Here’s a listing, from a recent New York Times summary: “[A] new chairman, William C. Thompson Jr., the former New York City comptroller, Fernando Ferrer, the former Bronx borough president; Robert F. Mujica, Mr. Cuomo’s budget director; Ken Sunshine, a public relations consultant; and Mayra Linares-Garcia, Mr. Cuomo’s former director of Latino affairs.” None have, to date, demonstrated any indication of independence from the governor.

Frustrated in his effort to consolidate CUNY and SUNY, the governor then took advantage of alleged financial misconduct by the former president of CCNY, Lisa Coico. The Cuomo-appointed BOT chairman, Thompson, publicly “requested” a university-wide audit by the state inspector general, who—contrary to normal practice—quickly issued an “interim” report. The report’s revelations—focusing on a tendency to hire outside counsel for sticky investigations (an approach that

The report’s revelations—focusing on a tendency to hire outside counsel for sticky investigations (an approach that has worked very well at CUNY) and purportedly excessive discretionary spending by college presidents—hardly seemed to be the type that would justify an “interim” report. Nonetheless, Albany responded with a statement containing a scarcely-concealed attack  on the upper-level CUNY administration.

Cuomo’s motives in targeting CUNY remain unclear. The Times quotes CUNY emeritus professor Kenneth Sherrill, who observed that Cuomo might want to distract attention from a scandal at SUNY-Polytechnic Institute. It’s also possible that CUNY has become caught in the battle between Cuomo and his chief rival in the New York Democratic Party, NYC mayor Bill DeBlasio. If so, CUNY is in deep trouble indeed, trapped between a governor who seems willing to use the institution as a political plaything and a mayor who’s an incompetent ideologue.

But, in the end, Cuomo’s motivation is irrelevant. An effective, independent administration at CUNY is critical given the ineffectiveness of the elected faculty leadership—especially the faculty union, the Professional Staff Congress, which has distinguished itself over the past 15 years for its opposition to every major effort to raise standards at CUNY.

Any vacuum caused by less independent trustees and administrators—the clear effect if not the intent of Cuomo’s policies—will only work to weaken education at CUNY overall.

Yale President Thumbs His Nose at Federal Law

Peter Salovey, president of Yale, posted this in the Yale Daily News

Since last week’s presidential election, many in our community have expressed concern about the new administration’s proposals to move toward much more aggressive enforcement of immigration laws. Students and others at Yale and around the country have called for the creation of sanctuary campuses.

Yale’s commitment to its students is long-standing, and I am dedicated to maintaining and strengthening the supports and resources we have in place. We admit students without regard to immigration status, and our financial aid policies assure that no student will be denied an education because of immigration status. These policies will continue.

Yale’s home city of New Haven has adopted practices that are designed to promote the safety of all who live here, regardless of immigration status, and the Yale Police Department has aligned itself with those same procedures. New Haven Police Department (NHPD) policies state clearly that a community member’s undocumented status will have no effect on how the NHPD interacts with that person. As a result, police officers do not inquire about a person’s status unless investigating criminal activity and do not inquire about the immigration status of crime victims, witnesses or others who seek police help. Moreover, the NHPD does not enforce the civil provisions of U.S. immigration law (which are the responsibility of federal immigration officials), and only shares confidential information when required by law.

I have asked Yale Police Chief Ronnell Higgins to review the department’s formal written procedures to make sure they reflect these practices, a request which he wholeheartedly accepts. Any law enforcement agent who wishes to enter our campus is expected first to check in with the Yale Police Department. Further, Yale does not permit access to our campus by law enforcement officers unless they have a search warrant….


Letter to Yale Daily News

J. GatsbyThere is a difference between legal and illegal immigrants. The unilateral nullification of the federal immigration law is a slap in the face to all of us who came to this country legally.

College Students Lose It over the Election

University heads are very concerned with their students’ feelings and fears about the presidential election.  A Chronicle of Higher Education article collected 45 university president statements on the election. The statements reveal how many presidents advocated acceptance of the election results and/or congratulations of the winner—approximately zero–as opposed to offering comfort and therapy of sorts for the allegedly traumatized losers.

They have nothing to say about citizens’ duty, in a democracy, to accept election results, even if their preferred candidate loses.  This is both shocking and a reflection of the higher education ideological monoculture (see Jonathan Haidt’s Minding the Campus interview) as well as survey results showing that about 25% of millennials reject democracy as a form of government.

U.S. flags were burned in protest at American University, Hampshire College and the University of Missouri at Columbia, among other places.

At Brown University, some students tore up a large number of small flags that were planted to mark Veterans Day. This was a breakthrough in flag-based antagonism: ruining other people’s flags, instead of just your own. A comment on the website of The Brown Daily Herald said, ” Their purpose was not only to honor veterans as a whole but specific members of our community. I am ashamed that our campus continues to have a problem civilly and rationally expressing opposing opinions. We are becoming an echo chamber and the liberal caricature that Fox News thinks we are.” And St. Mary’s College of Maryland announced that an investigation has shown that some of its students were responsible for shredding and lowering to half-staff a flag at a local post office.

And St. Mary’s College of Maryland announced that an investigation has shown that some of its students were responsible for shredding and lowering to half-staff a flag at a local post office.

The colleges’ endorsements and promotions of partisan animus are an ominous turn for American society.  Citizens who are unhappy with the election results should feel free to oppose the incoming administration (witness Mitch McConnell’s pledge to make Barack Obama a one-term president around 2009). But they should not feel free, as university presidents apparently do, to oppose the legitimacy of the result.  University presidents should be particularly wary of making academia more partisan than it already is.

Unfortunately, higher education is part of the license raj.  As a government-sponsored cartel (accreditation, professional certification requirements plus student loans), it considers itself exempt from outside pressures.  The result has been the removal of civics from curricula and capture by a radical identity politics ideology to the exclusion of a commitment to democracy or republicanism (small caps).

Liberal Academia in Donald Trump’s World

Within our privileged, cosseted circles we have gotten used to not only thinking that we are right, but that we are obviously so. By putting down “straight white men” with gleeful impunity, we gave poor white voters everything to apologize for, and nothing to believe in…. Nowhere has this benevolent but ultimately self-defeating myopia been more pronounced than on college campuses. We have dismissed our conservative peers in the classroom and taunted them on social media all while refusing to seriously engage their views. We have taken hard questions like affirmative action and abortion entirely off the

We have taken hard questions like affirmative action and abortion entirely off the table as if we had already provided an answer that should be immediately convincing to all. We have refused to consider a diversity of viewpoints on what constitutes “diversity.”… We have resolutely resisted paying more than lip service to socioeconomic inequality, rural alienation, and shifting patterns of exclusion while still purporting to speak on behalf of all marginalized people.  — Artemis Seaford in “The American Interest.”

Viewpoint Diversity

“Diversity is all the rage on college campuses. And for good reason. It is important for the diversity of our nation to be reflected in higher education and beyond. However, the people who champion gender, racial, and cultural diversity often shun viewpoint diversity. Universities have become increasingly ideologically homogeneous. This is especially the case in the social sciences; fewer than 10 percent of professors in these fields identify as conservative, and this number keeps shrinking. Conservatives have little influence in the scholarly disciplines that have the most to say about social and cultural life, family, and mental health.” —   Clay Routledge, Viewpoint Diversity, Scientific American

College Students Get Special De-stress Therapy After Trump Election

On our campuses, the election of Donald Trump is being treated as an emotional and personal disaster. It’s all about feelings. Classes have been canceled, therapeutic intervention offered and safe spaces filled. Here are three administrations in action, as reported on the Power Line blog:

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There Will Be a Self-Care Session with Cookies and Mindfulness Activities

Dear Students (of U. Massachusetts, Lowell),

We at the Multicultural Affairs Office hope this email reaches you and you are doing ok. We know many of you stayed up waiting to hear of the election results. These are unprecedented times. The nation as well as our community is reacting in many different ways. We are reaching out to each of you because we know that this was an intense election and we are already hearing a number of reactions, feelings and emotions. This is a critical time to make sure that you, your friends, classmates, neighbors are doing ok and seeking the appropriate support especially if they need a place to process or work through what they’re feeling.

You may hear or notice reactions both immediate and in the coming weeks, some anticipated and many that may be difficult to articulate or be shared. While it may take some time to fully take in all the recent events, please also know that the OMA office is here for you. Our UMass Lowell community is here for you. Do not hesitate at all to come in or ask for support.

Today there is a Post-election self-care session from 12-4pm in Moloney. The event will include cookies, mandalas, stress reduction techniques and mindfulness activities. Counseling and Health Services will also be available. We have sent out messages through our Social Media sites as well as encouraging students to drop in all week. Above all, take good care and know that there is strength in our community that you can lean on.

Kind regards,
Office of Multicultural Affairs Staff


Trump Has Views on Civility and Inclusivity at Odds with Mine

To our students (Oglethorpe University):

Dean Hall and I invite each of you to join us this evening (Wednesday, November 9) in the TLCC dining hall at eight p.m. for a conversation about the election last evening. I know that members of our community have differing political and social views. I know some of you cast your vote yesterday for Donald Trump, Others voted for Secretary Clinton or another candidate, and there were some of you who chose not to vote at all. I also know there are members of our community who were not able to vote, because of their citizenship status or because of a criminal record. I encourage all of you to come.

As a president of a university, who in some ways represents all constituents, I fully realize that expressing personal or political views will be viewed by some as inappropriate. I encountered this perspective a few years back when I chose to speak out on the issue of gun safety after the massacre at Sandy Hook. I have no regrets at all about that decision. I felt then and I feel now that on certain issues at certain times in our history, the failure to speak out is far more dangerous than keeping silent. Today, for me, is another one of those times. And again, as I did on the gun safety issues, I want to be clear that I express my views first as a citizen of this country.

I still find it difficult this morning to believe that the majority of voters in our country chose to elect a man whose views on civility and inclusivity are so at odds with mine and with the values of our Oglethorpe community. This morning, I can manage to get past his inexperience and lack of public service even though virtually every editorial page in the country, left or right leaning, failed to endorse him because of those traits. What I cannot get past, and I will refuse to overlook, is a future of America that is divided by race, religion, sexual identity, and country of origin.

I look forward to seeing you tonight.

President Schall


Dear Colorado University- Boulder community:

As a nation, we have just finished a particularly stressful national election cycle. I want to acknowledge that our campus is not alone in experiencing and witnessing a wide range of reactions today, from joy, to fear, to sadness, to sheer exhaustion. I’d like to share how proud I am of our entire campus community for hosting political speakers and events as well as engaging in respectful dialogue across campus during this election cycle. While we are not perfect or error-free, as a community we must remain committed to the values contained in our Colorado Creed.

You may find yourself with friends, classmates or colleagues who do not share the same reactions as you. These interactions may evoke strong emotions that can quickly intensify. In some cases, you, or others close to you, may feel you are experiencing or witnessing negative treatment or more subtle forms of oppression, perhaps related to the election or perhaps because of your race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity, religious affiliation, country of origin, political thought or other aspect of your identity. At CU Boulder, we respect and protect all of these expressions of identity on our campus.

In every case, we are here to listen, engage and support one another. If you are struggling with the personal impact of this stressful time in any way, we have resources available to you. The campus provides safe spaces for discussions on identity, empowerment, intercultural competency and the impact of the election.

This is a highly stressful time of year on the campus and for the nation at the end of this election. We recommend several strategies to care for yourself and to help you remain productive throughout the semester, including:

  • Acknowledge your feelings — check your emotional state before you engage in conversations. Are you in a space to dialogue?
  • Focus on tasks or events that are in your control.
  • Connect with friends, family, a community or a safe space to ground and support you.
  • Focus on the present and shift away from the future.
  • Monitor your social media use — check your reactions before and after taking in information and set time limits.
  • Opt out of unproductive conversations — pay attention to whether the discussion is going to benefit anyone or just increase stress levels.
  • Take care of basic needs such as eating, sleeping and drinking water. Incorporate activities that recharge and relax you.

Thank you for your engagement and investment in our national election process, and thank you for being part of our vibrant campus community,

Sincerely,

Philip P. DiStefano
Chancellor

Did ‘Deplorable’ Prof Unmask Extreme PC Culture at NYU?

NYU has been in tumult over far-right tweeting by a self-declared “deplorable” professor who revealed himself last week as Michael Rectenwald, assistant clinical professor of liberal studies. Yesterday he made another revelation in a Washington Post op-ed: his alt-right burst of opinions was a pose, a “thought experiment” intended to provoke an authoritarian reaction at NYU. He was placed on paid leave, but his saga took yet another turn when NYU said the leave was purely voluntary.

In his op-ed, Rectenwald wrote, “I’m not a conservative, or an alt-righter. I find Donald Trump repugnant. But over the last couple of weeks, I’ve become a campus pariah to some (and a hero, perhaps, to a few) in my nontenured NYU faculty job, thanks to the humorless, Social Justice Warrior-brand of campus culture run amok and a misunderstanding about a Twitter account. Enmeshed in a conspiracy — thinly disguised as sympathy — of my colleagues’ design, I’ve lost my academic freedom and I potentially stand to lose my appointment.”

Rectenwald excoriated “the predictable, censorious responses of so-called progressives, self-appointed thought police at NYU and elsewhere who have, in the name of maintaining a culture of civility on campus, policed their little corner of the Twittersphere.”

His op-ed listed a few PC excesses: the suggestion at some colleges that students report to authorities on inappropriate Halloween costumes, and the disaster last year at Yale where a house master was as abused and threatened over a mild Halloween-costume suggestion by his wife (an assistant housemaster) while four Yale deans looked on and said nothing.

Though his opinion of Trump is low, he wrote, “The whole episode makes me reluctantly agree with Trump’s assertion that political correctness “has transformed our institutions of higher education from ones that fostered spirited debate to a place of extreme censorship.”

The Daily Caller reported that NYU insisted his sudden departure on paid leave was purely voluntary. “It was not demanded by the University and is unconnected to his social media postings,” says chief spokesman John Beckham. “He requested the leave, and we look forward to having him back when he is ready. His leave has absolutely nothing to do with his Twitter account or his opinions on issues of the day.”

The editorial Board of Washington Square News, an independent NYU paper, said Rectenwald’s version of events “was quickly proven to be false when NYU released a copy of the email correspondence between Rectenwald and Liberal Studies Dean Fred Schwarzbach. The conversation revealed that his previous comments were inaccurate and that university officials had never forced him to take a leave of absence. … NYU officials have stated that they are ending his self-imposed leave and expect him to return to classes immediately.”