Category Archives: Short Takes

A Catholic Professor’s Problems at a Catholic College

Anthony Esolen is an embattled professor at Providence (R.I.) College, an aggressively Catholic believer at an institution run by Dominican priests but less forthrightly Catholic than he is. Esolen teaches Renaissance literature and the development of Western culture. Among his books is a translation of Dante’s Divine Comedy regarded as one of the best. He is also a well-known personality on Facebook, dealing with subjects from the erudite to the playful.

His articles in conservative Christian journals critical of the diversity movement and identity politics have made him the target of activist students of the left and some professors (most prominently those in the black studies program). These detractors have generated a petition seeking his ouster from his college for “publishing articles that are racist, xenophobic, sexist, homophobic, and religiously chauvinistic.”

Esolen has a low opinion of identity politics and the diversity movement and has referred to some of the activists as “narcissists” who want to study only themselves. In an interview with Rod Dreher of the American Conservative last November Esolen said: “The dirty not-so-secret is that the same people who for many years have loathed our Development of Western Civilization program — the focus of curricular hostility — also despise the Catholic Church and wish to render the Catholic identity of the college merely nominal.”

Support for Esolen by the college president, Father Brian Shanley, has been tepid, of the sort sometimes issued by Catholic administrators embarrassed to be interrupted while converting a Catholic college into a formerly Catholic one. Over the weekend, in a Facebook post, Esolen said of his scheduled speech, “Christ and the Meaning of Cultural Diversity,” that if he tried to give it, he had been told that activist students would shut it down. He said on Facebook: “It is no longer clear to me that Providence College would qualify as ‘worth attending’.”

Image: Anthony Esolen

Harvard Discovers a New Marginalized Minority Group

Harvard University has just made another of its weathervane decisions, based on the prevailing academic winds. This time out, the English Department has announced that the new curriculum will focus on authors who have been “marginalized for historical reasons.” The decision was made, according to James Simpson, Chairman of said department, in response to a “very reflective” letter sent by a student. It stated that Harvard’s standard curriculum short-changed certain minorities and that this injustice should be corrected by the creation of a diversity course. Since the contents of the letter were not made public, green students (and their parents) could only wonder.

It goes without saying that the neglected writers would have to be members of overlooked or ignored groups. But which groups? Women? Yet there is the anti-slavery novelist Harriet Beecher Stowe, who with a meager gift but an indomitable will helped raise the consciousness of a generation. Indeed, upon meeting the author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, President Abraham Lincoln is said to have declared, with only a hint of jocularity, “So this is the lady who started the Civil War.” And Stowe’s sisterhood is widely recognized and praised—Emily Dickinson, Jane Austen, the Bronte sisters, George Eliot, et. al.

Would the neglected writer be African-American? But here is Frederick Douglass, born into slavery, turned into a fiery abolitionist and advocate of women’s rights, widely published memoirist, commemorated on a U.S. Postage stamp. And Douglass was followed by such literary icons as Richard Wright, Zora Neale Hurston, W.E.B. Dubois and scores of others.

Would he or she be Native American? But here is Vine Deloria Jr.’s bestselling Custer Died for Your Sins. This forthright declaration, enumerating the ways in which the white man spoke to the tribes with forked tongue, was published way back in 1969 before any of the Crimson undergraduates (and many of their parents) were born. And there are other books on the shelf by authors of similar background, among them novelist Louise Erdrich, poet Simon Ortiz, and Harvard’s own Winona LaDuke.

How about Asian authors? But there is Maxine Hong Kingston (China Men), Amy Tan (The Joy Luck Club), David Henry Hwang (M. Butterfly) and dozens of their brilliant colleagues. None of the above have been ignored in college curricula.

What about those in the LGBT category? Well, Woolf’s Orlando addressed the switch of sexual identities early on; and since the trials of Oscar Wilde, there have been writers as flamboyant as Truman Capote, as intellectual as Edmund White, as self-confessional as W.H. Auden. Indeed, many colleges offer majors in Gay Studies.

Still, somehow, somewhere, there had to be a literary vein untapped. And suddenly, for those looking closely, it all became clear. The Harvard English department must have unearthed the obscure volume The Stuffed Owl, compiled by the British writer Windham Lewis. Subtitled “An Anthology of Bad Verse,” the 1930 anthology includes execrable rhymes, incoherent thoughts and outright doggerel from famous and obscure versifiers. William Wordsworth made the cut; so did the English Poet Laureate Colley Cibber. But the lodestar of the collection is Julia Moore, otherwise known as the Sweet Singer of Michigan. A quatrain in praise of a colleague:

Lord Byron was an Englishman
A poet I believe
His first words in old England
Was poorly received

She crafted this one too:

While eating dinner, this dear little child,
Was choked on a piece of beef.
The doctors came, tried their skill a while,
But none could give relief.

Surely Ms. Moore deserves the attention of freshmen and sophomores. A bard from across the pond, the 19th-century aristocrat, the Earl of Lytton, should have equal time:

She sat with her guitar on her knee,
But she was not singing a note,
For someone had drawn (ah, who could it be?)
A knife across her throat.

Thus, the Harvard English Department is about to provide a unique service, ceding class hours to that hitherto neglected minority—the untalented, the maladroit, the inept who have been left behind in the Academic sweepstakes.  One of Cambridge Mass. favorite aphorisms: “If you think education is expensive, try ignorance.” Manifestly, having provided the former for three centuries, Harvard is now offering the latter.

How to Make College as Bad as High School

While ersatz “credit recovery” and grade inflation devalue the high school diploma by boosting graduation rates even as NAEP, PISA, PARCC, SAT, and sundry other measures show that no true gains are being made in student achievement, forces are at work to do essentially the same thing to the college diploma.

Observe the new move by CalState to do away with “remediation” upon entry to its institutions and instead to confer degree credit for what used to be the kinds of high-school-level content and skills that one had to master before gaining access to “credit-bearing” college courses.

The new term for these bridge classes for entering college students is “co-requisite” and California isn’t the only place that’s using them. One study at CUNY—dealing with community colleges, not four-year institutions—says greater success was achieved when ill-prepared students were placed in “regular” college classes but given “extra support” than when they were shunted into “remediation.” Perhaps so. Perhaps placement tests aren’t the best way to determine who is actually prepared to succeed in “college-level” work. But that’s not the same as saying—as CalState seems to be saying—that anyone emerging from high school, regardless of what they did or didn’t learn there, deserves entry into “regular” college classes.

That essentially erases the boundary between high school and college, and not in the good way being undertaken by sundry “early college” and “Advanced Placement” courses, the purpose of which is to bring college-level work into high schools. Now we’re seeing high-school-level work being brought into college, there to count for credit toward bachelor’s degrees.

This will surely cause an upward tick in college completions and degrees conferred (much as credit recovery has done for high school diplomas) but it will also devalue those degrees and cause any employer seeking evidence of true proficiency to look for other indicators. In the end, it will put pressure on many more people to earn post-graduate degrees and other kinds of credentials, thus adding to the length of time spent preparing for the “real world” and adding to the costs—whether born by students, families, or taxpayers—of that preparation.

All this is, of course, a consequence of misguided notions of equity and opportunity. But what it really does is perpetuate the illusion of success in the absence of true achievement and weaken all versions of academic standards at the very moment most states have been taking steps to strengthen them.

The Office of Civil Rights Is Still Out of Control

As it left office last year, Barack Obama’s administration made one final move in its crusade against campus due process: it requested a massive increase—$30.7 million, or 28.7 percent—in funding for the Office for Civil Rights (OCR). The previous year, at a time when discretionary federal spending was barely rising, the office had received a 7 percent increase.

The Trump “skinny budget” contained an overall cut for the Department of Education, but included no specifics about OCR (or any other Education Department office). Based on its performance of the last six years in higher education, OCR deserves a dramatic reduction in its funding—rather than the huge boost it desires.

The Obama-era request envisions OCR hiring 157 new staff investigators. (OCR had asked for 200 new employees in fiscal year 2016 and received funding that allowed around 50 additional hires.) At a time of limited hiring by the federal government, why would OCR have demanded such a massive personnel increase?

A clue came in a recent article from BuzzFeed’s Tyler Kingkade. Over the past six years, Obama OCR heads Russlynn Ali and Catherine Lhamon—joined by grassroots accusers’ rights organizations such as Know Your IX—encouraged campus accusers to file Title IX complaints against their institutions.

These filings served multiple purposes for Lhamon and Ali. First, each Title IX complaint would give OCR jurisdiction to investigate individual universities, at which point the federal government could impose a “voluntary” resolution letter on the affected institution. These letters lock into place procedures for that school, even if the Trump administration eventually withdraws the Dear Colleague letter.

Second, Title IX complaints provided an opportunity for the Obama administration to stoke the public frenzy around the purported campus rape epidemic. In a highly unusual move, OCR publicized the identities of schools under investigation. This approach pressured the affected institutions to settle quickly while also leaving the impression that many of the nation’s elite institutions were indifferent to the large number of rapists in their midst.

Finally, the complaints provided a rationale for ever more frantic demands for more funding from Congress. As the 2016 budget justification explained, complaints addressing “sexual violence” were “both more complex and more high profile,” and “inadequate staffing” led to intolerable delays in handling the questions.

The resulting surge from a couple of dozen to hundreds of Title IX complaints against colleges and universities might have provided more than enough work for OCR. But, incredibly (and without announcing the shift publicly), Lhamon seized even more authority. According to Kingkade, who would have had no reason to misstate the claim (indeed, his reporting has consistently defended the accusers’ rights cause), Lhamon “expanded all Title IX sexual violence investigations to become institution-wide, so investigators reviewed all cases at a school rather than just the cases that sparked federal complaints.”

To translate: on her way out the door, Lhamon wanted to hire nearly 200 permanent employees, who would work under a true believer (Harvard’s ex-Title IX coordinator), because she had decided OCR would investigate not merely the complaints it received but thousands of other cases, even though no accuser had filed a Title IX complaint about any of these individual cases. On this matter, as on virtually all OCR-related matters during the Obama years, no sign of congressional oversight existed.

It would be difficult to imagine a more wasteful use of federal funds. Reducing OCR’s budget would help to bring the rogue office back under congressional oversight, and likely would force the new OCR head to (at the very least) temper Lhamon’s investigatory zeal.

The new administration will need to make key decisions not only on OCR’s funding level. Trump’s Education Department continues to enforce the flawed 2011 and 2014 guidance for sexual assault cases, which required colleges to use a preponderance of the evidence standard, discouraged cross-examination, instituted double-jeopardy regimes allowing accusers to appeal not-guilty findings, and urged subordinating public university students’ constitutional rights to due process to OCR’s interpretation of Title IX.

The slowness with which Trump has filled executive appointments has maximized the power of Obama holdovers. This situation is especially problematic with OCR, whose current head of enforcement, former Harvard Title IX director Mia Karvonides, dropped into her civil service position a mere three days before Trump was sworn in as president. Karvondes’ rushed appointment leaves the impression that the outgoing administration intended to maintain the unfair Obama rules regardless of what Trump did. Every day that passes without Trump staffers in OCR allows Karvonides to implement her agenda unchecked.

Finally, the Jeff Sessions-led Justice Department must decide to whether to defend Obama’s OCR overreach. The key lawsuit challenging the 2011 Dear Colleague letter—a case from the University of Virginia, which remains pending—was coordinated by FIRE, and filed by lawyer Justin Dillon. The UVA adjudicator, a retired judge, admitted that “there were signs” that the accuser “may have been capable of effective consent,” but nonetheless found the student guilty, in a case that she deemed “very close” and “very difficult.”

The most recent filing in the case came around a month before Obama left office. The Justice Department urged dismissing the student’s complaint on grounds that OCR policies are, basically, set in stone. Since UVA “knows” that “OCR considers the preponderance of the evidence standard to be the only standard consistent” with Title IX, the university would have no choice but to maintain its unfair procedures under threat of punishment from federal bureaucrats—even if a federal court overturned the Dear Colleague letter. Sessions used the excuse of a pending legal fight to reverse Obama’s era Title IX guidance designed to protect transgender teens. Will he defend the Dear Colleague letter, which actually harms accused students?

Moving beyond the Obama-era’s OCR abuses will take years. But Congress exercising the power of the purse is a needed first step in the process.

Paycheck Unfairness Under Cover of Diversity

The College and University Professional Association for Human Resources (CUPA-HR) has just published an extensive research report on pay and representation of racial and ethnic minorities in higher education administrative positions that ought to be a bombshell, documenting as it does widespread pay discrimination on the basis of race. The devotion to “diversity” that pervades higher education, however, prevents the report’s authors as well as Inside Higher Ed, which published a long review of it, from seeing this discrimination for what it is.

“The good news for minority administrators,” the report states, is that “minority administrators as a whole are paid equitably in relation to their non-minority (White) colleagues. In other words, minority pay matches non-minority pay dollar for dollar. What’s more, this salary parity has remained fairly steady for the past 15 years.”

According to CUPA-HR director of research Jacqueline Bichsel “Higher education has been really progressive in maintaining that equal pay,” she told Inside Higher Ed. “We were pleasantly surprised to find that.” Since equal pay for university administrators has been constant for the past 15 years, I find it odd that the research director for the professional association of those administrators would be “surprised” (whether pleasantly or not) to find it, which suggests that she expected the administrators who hired those administrators to discriminate.

Actually, they do discriminate, although neither CUPA-HR nor Inside Higher Ed call it that. As noted above, the report found that minority administrators “as a whole” are paid equitably in relation to whites. But in two of the four regions of the country, the Midwest and Northeast, minority administrators are actually paid more. “It appears that in regions where there are fewer minorities in administrative positions,” the report concludes, “there may be a special effort to attract and retain them.” In the quaint and original language of the report, both of those regions “exceed pay equity” for minorities.

Another CUPA-HR report on pay gaps by gender, published last month, similarly found that, although in general women earned less than men in similar positions, “in positions where women are less represented, they tend to be paid more.” Often much more. Women chief facilities officers, for example, “earn 17% more than their male counterparts.” The report concludes that “this may indicate that …  higher ed institutions recognize the need to recruit and retain women in key leadership positions.”

Neither the CUPA-HR authors nor Inside Higher Ed recognize that paying some administrators more than equitably on the basis of race or sex means paying others less than equitably, i.e., discriminating against them.

Unfortunately, by now it is no longer surprising that devotees of “diversity” turn a blind eye to the racial discrimination necessary to produce it. That discrimination has been defended — successfully, so far — by the arguments that it is necessary and essential to provide a good education, i.e., that it is not, in Justice Powell’s often quoted words from Bakke, “[p]referring members of any one group for no reason other than race or ethnic origin” since that would be “discrimination for its own sake,” and that “the Constitution forbids.”

But why is it necessary or essential for university administrators to be “diverse”? Precisely how is any student’s education enhanced when a chief facilities officer is female or a vice president for finance is black? What, in short, justifies paying female and black administrators more simply because they are in fields or regions where they are “underrepresented”? There may well be few Muslim chief facilities officers. If so, is that a problem? If not, why not?

With regard to hiring administrators, diversiphiles have forgotten their own justifications for diversity, perhaps because they never really believed them. Certainly, Justice Powell’s admonition is nowhere to be found in Inside Higher Ed’s article, linked above.

“Look only at the trend line showing the slowly climbing percentage of higher education administrative positions held by minority leaders,” that article begins, “and it appears colleges and universities are inching toward a day when their leaders reflect the diversity of their student bodies.” It claims that appearance, however, is misleading because “a substantial representation gap exists between the percentage of minority administrators and the makeup of the country.

Further, the ethnic and racial makeup of administrators isn’t changing fast enough to keep up with broader demographic shifts — the line showing the percentage of minority higher education leaders is not growing closer to lines that show the country’s minority population or the percentage of minority college graduates.”

For CUPA-HR as well as Inside Higher Ed, “diversity” means nothing more than “equitable” representation. “Despite decades of diversity initiatives, ”its report states, “the gap in minority representation for leadership positions remains persistent.” Although it found pay equity — and, as we have seen, minority pay that was more than equitable— it remained deeply troubled by “the large and growing gap between the U.S. minority and higher education administrator populations.”

As applied throughout higher education and articulated explicitly here, the emphasis on terms like underrepresentation and representation gap and reflect reveal that “diversity” means preferring blacks, ethnic minorities, and occasionally women for no reason other than race, ethnicity, or sex.

Another Speaker Shut Down by College Students

Add Jordan Peterson to the list of professors shut down as visiting speakers by angry university students.

Since last fall, Peterson, a professor of psychology at the University of Toronto, has enraged many people by refusing to use the growing vocabulary of pronouns preferred by transgender people. On Friday night at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, Peterson was set to serve on a four-person panel to discuss the use of these pronouns, but three of the people dropped off the panel and a student mob shut down the event featuring Peterson alone. “It’s like being pecked to death by a bunch of ducks,” Peterson said later.

On Saturday night, Peterson spoke without incident at the University of Western Ontario. At McMaster, Peterson sent people to guard the fire alarms, which are often activated to stop lectures that displease students.

Margaret Wente wrote in the National Post, “They argue that the very idea of two genders is a restrictive system that cruelly discriminates against many. They demand the right to construct their own reality as they see fit. Some want to be known (singularly) as “they.” Others think “they” isn’t the right fit either and prefer to choose from an ever-expanding list of made-up pronouns such as “xu,” “hir,” “ze,” and so on. Conrad Black, the founder of the National Post, wrote on the pronouns issue:

 “Every legally competent individual has a perfect and absolute right to declare their sex, but not to create a new legal status and legally require the use of a new vocabulary for those in flux between the only two sexes we have, mercilessly binary though their finite number may be. The individuals in that condition may change their registered sex each day if they wish, but not treat anyone who declines to address them in terms that debunk the gender-binary world as guilty of a hate crime, punishable by imposable fines.”

Peterson has posted 500 videos on YouTube, many or most of them criticizing Bill C-16, legislation to amend the Canadian Human Rights Act by adding gender identity and gender expression to the list of prohibited grounds of discrimination. Peterson said, “If what I put up on YouTube objecting to an unpassed piece of legislation is enough to cost me my career, then I can tell you that the university’s days are done.”

At Western Ontario, the university forced the group sponsoring Peterson to pay the $1200 security fee. Marc Mercer, president of the Society for Academic Freedom and Scholarship, says Western Ontario is responsible for providing security during University of Toronto professor Jordan Peterson’s sold-out Saturday lecture.

“If there are security fees to be paid for a campus group that is sponsoring an event, (they) should be assumed by the university as part of the mission to promote discussion and dialogue,” said Mercer, a London-born philosophy professor at Saint Mary’s University in Halifax.

Duke Reports a Sexual Assault Rate 5 X as High as Our Most Dangerous City

Over the last few years, we have become all but immune to what, under any other circumstances, would be a fantastic claim—that one in five female undergraduates will be victims of sexual assault. This rate would translate to several hundreds of thousands of violent crime victims (with almost all of the incidents unnoticed) annually, and, as Emily Yoffe has pointed out, implies that about the same percentage of female college students are sexually assaulted as women in the Congo where rape was used as a war crime in the nation’s civil war.

Even within this environment of pie-in-the-sky statistics, a recent survey from Duke stands out. According to the survey, 40 percent of Duke’s female undergraduates (and 10 percent of Duke’s male undergraduates) describe themselves as victims of sexual assault. This data would mean that each year, a female undergraduate at Duke is 5.5 times more likely to be a victim of violent crime than a resident of St. Louis, which FBI statistics listed as the nation’s most dangerous city in 2016. And yet, incredibly, parents still spend around $280,000 to send their daughters into this den of crime for four years.

But 88% of Women Feel Safe

As always occurs with these surveys, the internal data renders them highly unreliable. But in this case, the internal data suggests a survey at war with itself. A few examples:

The survey indicates that 88 percent of female undergraduates say they feel safe on campus. So—at a minimum—28 percent of Duke female undergraduates say they feel safe at a school where they experienced sexual assault. Similarly, 74 percent of female undergraduates consider sexual assault a big problem on campus—meaning that at a minimum, 52 percent of female undergraduates feel “safe” on a campus where they think sexual assault is a “big problem.”

The most startling rate of self-described sexual assault victims comes among lesbian and bisexual female undergraduates, 59 percent of whom say they were sexually assaulted while at Duke. And yet, according to a later table, zero female undergraduates list a female as the perpetrator of their assault. Even assuming that every bisexual student surveyed said she was assaulted by a man, this figure would suggest that a significant portion of Duke lesbians are having some type of sexual contact with men (nearly all of whom, it appears, then turned out to have been sex criminals). Could anyone take such data seriously?

If true, these figures would suggest a violent crime epidemic not merely for Duke but for the city of Durham. Significant percentages of the alleged sexual assaults occurred in a category described as “off-campus/local,” thus falling within the jurisdiction of the Durham, rather than the Duke, Police Department. Yet no signs exist of the Durham Police paying more attention to this purported crime wave in their midst, or that the Duke leadership has asked them to do so.

‘Fundamentally Unfair” to Men

At heart of the issue is the extraordinarily broad definition of sexual assault—a term with a common cultural and legal understanding—used in surveys like the Duke one. The survey lumps together being “touched or grabbed” in an unwanted way (61 percent of the self-described victims) with sexual assault by force or threat (22 percent of the alleged victims) as if the severity of the offenses were the same. Even the survey takers appear to recognize the folly of this approach; 41 percent of self-described female sexual assault victims describe the experience of being sexually assaulted as not very upsetting—or not upsetting at all. The university’s response? Asking whether this figure indicated “a need for broadly disseminated programming on the impact of sexual misconduct.” Duke already has increased “the number of staff providing counseling and support services and conducting investigations.”

Perhaps the saddest item from the survey: 57 percent feel that students accused of sexual assault are treated fairly. They’re responding to a system in which Duke has had two negative judicial decisions, the most recent of which featured Judge Orlando Hudson characterizing the Duke procedures as “fundamentally unfair.” There is, of course, no reason to believe that most students have any idea just how unfairly Duke treats students accused of sexual assault.

Intimidated Faculty Find a New Way to Capitulate

Last week’s campus irritant,  a story in the Wall Street Journal, “Faculty’s New Focus: Don’t Offend,” claimed that an increasing number of professors are changing the contents of their syllabi.

The story exposes the advent of bias response teams and undergraduates demanding a supportive, untroubled campus experience, along with the Obama Administration’s “Dear Colleague” letters on sexual matters, has intimidated teachers and made them self-protective. They don’t want to provoke a student complaint about an assigned book that has the n-word or a scene of sexual violence or even humor.

The Lens of Grievance

Although the story doesn’t explain further, we can say that it won’t matter if the complaint is groundless or absurd. The fact is that the offended student is a hypersensitive, self-dramatizing adolescent who, apart from his personal issues, has been keyed up by other professors and administrators who see the world through the lens of grievance.  Even if the professor is entirely cleared of any wrongdoing, who wants the aggravation? With the Federal government involved, the process can go on for weeks or months. The administrators, too, aren’t there to support their teacher colleagues. They’re there to protect the institution.

Professors know this. They know, also, that once the procedural gears of a complaint start turning, their colleagues and admiring students will be of little help. Many of them won’t want to get involved, and those who do will be frustrated by the question: How? When a group of principled professors approaches the dean about halting a ridiculous persecution, all the dean has to say is, “I know, I know, but the Office of Civil Rights in the U.S. Department of Education makes us take every one of those complaints VERY seriously. My hands are tied.”

A Rational and Smooth Exit

And so, says The Journal, professors are taking the rational and smooth way out. They are removing materials from a class that might offend racial, sexual, and other politically correct scruples. A film teacher in the story admits that he has pulled Birth of a Nation, The Bank Dick, and Tootsie from his courses. The first film is white supremacist propaganda, the second, with W. C. Fields, pokes fun at blandness, and the third trades in “gender stereotypes.” (I won’t comment on the more serious problem with Tootsie, namely, that it is one of those insufferably cute ’80s films that should be shelved forever.)

The academic objection to this revision is obvious, but such capitulations to political correctness have been happening so often and for so long that it is hard to get exercised over them anymore. The history of higher education for the last half-century clearly says that it wasn’t going to take long for the ideals of higher education to give way to this rising demand that offense never transpire.

I sense in my colleagues, liberal and conservatives both, a certain fatalism about the whole thing. Many liberals regret the hypersensitivity that pressures them to delete Huck Finn and the operas of Wagner. They know that the absence of D. W. Griffith’s epic from a course in the history of film distorts the actual history of film. They realize, too, that sensitivity is an anti-intellectual condition, and that they would prefer to examine racist elements from the past, not pretend that they didn’t exist.

Offended by “The Bank Dick”

But all those hesitations don’t alter what they believe is a juggernaut that smashes anything that gets in the way. Is it really worth standing up and risking a two-month headache when all you have to do in your week on 1930s Hollywood comedy is drop The Bank Dick and insert It Happened One Night? This is the smart way to run an academic career, especially when you find that academia has numerous apologists for the sensitivity regime such as the professor of educational leadership who tells the Wall Street Journal:

There’s a tremendous amount of research in higher education showing different experiences for people by race, gender or sexual orientation or religion…. [These students] need a place to go to get support and report issues they are having.

The vagueness of the language–“different experiences,” “report issues”–is deliberate, and it has the effect of making professors uncertain. A professor not only has to choose his words because of their truth, that is, on the grounds of their correspondence to the object under discussion. He also must consider their impact on the students — not on the students as a whole, but on each group identity represented in the chairs throughout the room.

It’s a recipe for guardedness. The more the rules operate by insinuation, the less free and open is the classroom. The more sensitive the students are (and encouraged to report any discomfort they undergo), the more circumspect the teachers will be.

The days of the strong mentor and the teacher who is powerful and engaging enough to inspire disciples and alter students’ lives are numbered.

Middlebury Will Either Defend Democratic Norms or Capitulate

Below is an excerpt from an article by Rod Dreher in The American Conservative on Middlebury students shouting down and harassing visiting speaker Charles Murray:

Middlebury College is on trial now. Its administration will either forthrightly defend liberal democratic norms, or it will capitulate. There is no middle ground. … These little Maoists studying at elite colleges and universities like Middlebury are on the fast track to move into the American ruling class. You see what they will do to dissenters. They must be resisted — and resisted strongly.

If Middlebury and institutions like it do not believe in their mission enough to defend it against barbarians like that student mob — and defend it enough to expel the worst of them, without apology or appeal — then it deserves contempt and shunning by all people — left, right, and center — who believe in education, who believe in the free exchange of ideas on campus, and indeed, who believe in civilization.”

Another Breakthrough in Feminist Mathematics

I have written many pieces over the years about the massive attempt to enroll more women in STEM fields, noting in one essay here that “Readers of the higher education press and literature may be forgiven for supposing that there is more research on why there are not more women in STEM fields than there is actual research in the STEM fields themselves.” Now comes a new book, Inventing the Mathematician: Gender, Race and Our Cultural Understanding of Mathematics (State University of New York Press), by Sara N. Hottinger, interim dean of arts and humanities and a professor of women’s and gender studies at Keene State College, suggesting that the problem may not be with women but with math.

In a revealing, just published interview with Hottinger, “Hidden Figures: Women’s studies meets mathematics in a new book arguing for a more inclusive cultural notion of numeracy,” Inside Higher Ed notes that her book’s “ultimate goal is to deconstruct our individual and cultural ideas about math — then build them back up again in a more inclusive fashion.”

Here are some highlights of that interview in which Prof. Hottinger mounts a vigorous challenge to conventional understandings of women and math. I have numbered these selected nuggets to facilitate later discussion of them.

  1. During my senior year of college, I did an independent study on psychoanalytic theorist and philosopher Jacques Lacan and ended up writing my final paper on the connections between mathematical topology and Lacanian theory. I wrote my women’s studies senior thesis on feminist pedagogies in the mathematics classroom and the ways in which feminist approaches to the teaching of math allowed marginalized students to understand and work with mathematical knowledge in innovative new ways.
  2. … the content of any science is profoundly constrained by the language within which its discourses are formulated; and mainstream Western physical science has, since Galileo, been formulated in the language of mathematics. But whose mathematics? The question is a fundamental one, for, as Aronowitz has observed, “neither logic nor mathematics escapes the ‘contamination’ of the social.” And as feminist thinkers have repeatedly pointed out, in the present culture this contamination is overwhelmingly capitalist, patriarchal and militaristic.
  3. I continued this work in my doctoral dissertation, where I made the epistemological argument that mathematical ways of knowing are shaped within communities…. And, now, in this book, I consider the cultural construction of mathematical subjectivity and argue that mathematics plays a significant role in the construction of normative Western subjectivity and in the constitution of the West itself.
  4. … recently, feminist and poststructuralist critiques have demystified the substantive content of mainstream Western scientific practice, revealing the ideology of domination concealed behind the façade of “objectivity.”
  5. In much the same way that feminist education scholars have shown, via discourse analysis, the incompatibility between femininity and mathematical achievement, both Walker and Stinson show the complex ways successful black mathematics students must accommodate, reconfigure or resist the discursive construction of a normative white, masculine mathematical subjectivity.
  6. The teaching of science and mathematics must be purged of its authoritarian and elitist characteristics, and the content of these subjects enriched by incorporating the insights of the feminist, queer, multiculturalist and ecological critiques.
  7. Because mathematics is understood to be the ultimate manifestation of the human ability to reason, mathematical achievement is a clear marker in the construction of an ideal subjectivity. If these multiple associations — between reason, masculinity, subjectivity and mathematics — are teased apart, we can better understand why mathematical subjectivity and the ability to succeed in mathematics is so difficult to achieve for those in marginalized groups. For example, if mathematical subjectivity and the ability to reason is constructed within Western culture as masculine, then women will continue to find it difficult to see themselves as mathematical subjects. Women will have to choose between being good mathematicians or being “proper” women.
  8. See Ginzberg (1989), Cope-Kasten (1989), Nye (1990) and Plumwood (1993b) for lucid feminist critiques of conventional (masculinist) mathematical logic.

I suspect Minding The Campus has few readers who will be persuaded by this deconstructionist argument. Indeed, many readers may find it disconcertingly familiar while others will suspect I’m perpetrating some sort of hoax.

Right on both counts!

Paragraphs 1, 3, 5, and 7 are, as I claimed, from Prof. Hottinger’s interview with Inside Higher Ed. But paragraphs 2, 4, 6, and 8 are quoted from NYU Physicist Alan Sokal’s famous 1996 hoax published in Social Text, “Transgressing the Boundaries: Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity,” which claimed that “physical ‘reality’ … is at bottom a social and linguistic construct.”

Sokal’s “Ridicule Didn’t Work,” James Piereson and Naomi Schaefer Riley wrote recently in the Weekly Standard. “The trends that Sokal spoofed remain trendy in academic liberal arts. “‘You might have thought that humanities scholars, and particularly those working in subfields of cultural studies, would have been mortified with embarrassment, like a pretentious man who got caught mistaking his son’s finger-paintings for Jackson Pollock originals,’ says intellectual historian Wilfred McClay. ‘But they weren’t much embarrassed, and those fields have not suffered noticeably.’” In fact, their influence is even greater than before, “because highly ideological fields such as gender and race studies have broken out of the academic hothouse and into the mainstream of American life and politics.”

Thus what Sokal spoofed remains true of much of contemporary social science, especially cultural studies attempting to deconstruct, reconstruct, or otherwise transform our understanding or race, gender, sex, etc.: it’s often hard to tell the parodies from the real thing.

False Rape Reports in Sacred Heart

Last week featured a rarity—the filing of criminal charges against a campus sexual assault accuser. Ashe Schow has a full write-up of the case, which originated when a Sacred Heart University student named Nikki Yovino accused two of the university’s football players of sexually assaulting her.

An affidavit prepared by the local police indicated that the football players were suspended, and thus presumably found guilty. (Sacred Heart has disputed the extent of the students’ punishment.) But Yovino later admitted to police that she made it all up, seeking to engender sympathy from another male student she wanted to date. As Schow points out, this motivation resembles the Jackie case at UVA.

What most struck me, however, was the defense offered by a university spokesperson: “Whenever there is any kind of incident at Sacred Heart University, we go to great lengths to ensure due process for all parties involved. The way that this particular case is playing out certainly demonstrates the validity of our procedures.” [emphasis added] Again, this was a case in which Sacred Heart’s procedures led to the punishments of students who were falsely accused.

Though Sacred Heart promises a “fair process,” nothing in its procedures suggests fairness. The university begins by announcing its dedication to “providing information and resources to the Sacred Heart University community about the risks and myths that contribute to sexual misconduct.” What these “myths” are the procedures don’t reveal, and a Sacred Heart spokesperson did not respond to a request for the information.

The university also uses an affirmative consent policy, which effectively requires accused students to prove their innocence. “Consent,” at Sacred Heart, “cannot be inferred from the absence of a ‘no’; a clear ‘yes,’ verbal or otherwise, is necessary.” The procedures are silent on how “otherwise” can yield a “clear ‘yes,’” and despite a claim to the contrary, other sections of the guidelines outline a policy in which anything short of an ability to prove a verbal “yes” is likely to yield a guilty finding.

The university considers “persons who are intoxicated” while having sex to be victims since they are “lacking the physical and/or mental ability to make informed and rational decisions or judgments.” The policies don’t explain what happens when both students are intoxicated.

Once a charge is filed, the Title IX coordinator, rather than an independent party, investigates. If the coordinator concludes it’s more likely than not that the accused student is guilty, he goes before a hearing panel of two administrators and one professor. This panel hears “the facts of the case from both parties”—but the accused student has no right to cross-examination, no right to call witnesses, and no right to full legal representation.

These procedures are no worse than those employed at many universities, though they also give the lie to the spokesperson’s claim that the institution goes “to great lengths to ensure due process for all parties involved.” But Sacred Heart’s sexual assault procedure has a clause I’ve seen at no other school.

“An allegation that is both intentionally false and malicious,” Sacred Heart explains, “may [emphasis added] be a violation of the Sacred Heart University Student Conduct Code.”

Consider this provision for a moment. A false rape allegation, in and of itself, is not a violation of Sacred Heart’s code—the allegation must be “intentionally” false. (The code provides no description of the distinction between a false and an intentionally false claim.) But even an “intentionally false” claim isn’t a violation—the claim must also be “malicious.” (The code provides no description of the distinction between an intentionally false and an intentionally false/malicious claim.)

But even then—even if Sacred Heart has encountered a sexual assault claim that’s both “intentionally false” and “malicious”—the accuser only “may” be guilty of a code violation. So under certain (unspecified) circumstances, a Sacred Heart student who filed an intentionally false and malicious sexual assault claim against a fellow student still didn’t violate the university’s disciplinary code. It seems that Nikki Yovino found the perfect university to attend.

Panic Over Sex Assault ‘Crime Wave’ Overtakes Yale

In a 2012 resolution agreement with the Office for Civil Rights, Yale became the nation’s only university required to document all sexual assault allegations on campus. The reports, prepared by Yale deputy provost Stephanie Spangler, are generally bare-bones (and became even more so last year after Spangler announced she’d decided to supply less information about some unresolved complaints) but nonetheless provide a peak into the deeply unhealthy atmosphere—at least at elite campuses—regarding the investigation and adjudication of sexual assault complaints. The most recent of the Spangler Reports, which covers events in the last six months of 2016, has now appeared.

Minding the Campus has covered each of the previous Spangler reports, which have included such items as:

As always, Spangler notes that the university “uses a more expansive definition of sexual assault” than does either Connecticut state law or the federal government (through Clery Act requirements). The university has never offered an explanation as to why it does so. The current report, which discusses allegations filed between July and December 2016, adds a vague assertion that it “assigns complaints to general categories such as ‘sexual assault’ . . . that encompass broad ranges of behavior”—but, again, why sexual assault should “encompass broad ranges of behavior” beyond the common legal or cultural understanding of the term remains a mystery.

Fueling the Panic

The Spangler reports always have had the feel of existing to feed the frenzy (while appeasing OCR and justifying Yale’s sprawling Title IX bureaucracy) more than providing accurate information, but the current report seems to go overboard on this matter. It portrays a campus in the midst of a terrifying wave of violent crime—or, more likely, in the midst of a moral panic.

There were 81 reports of some type of sexual harassment at Yale in the last six months of 2016. Spangler seems almost giddy at the news, since “we have noted a sustained increase in the number of complaints brought to the university’s attention in the three reporting periods following” the AAU survey from 2015 (which, using deeply flawed methodology, suggested the nation’s preeminent campuses were hotbeds of felonies).

Spangler never pauses to consider whether this surge of reporting might be fueled by a panicked campus atmosphere to which she, and the Yale administration, have contributed. Instead, she believes that her previous reports—which indicated that a typical female undergraduate at Yale had a greater chance of being a victim of violent crime than a resident of Detroit, which FBI statistics have identified as the nation’s most dangerous city—have shown an insufficiently low number of campus crime victims. The university, she declares, therefore needs to “identify and address barriers to reporting” of sexual assault at Yale. What those barriers could be, given the frenzied atmosphere on campus in recent years, Spangler does not reveal.

Responding to the Yale Crime Wave

Spangler promised only two specific steps to take to meet this campus crime wave. The first is almost comical. “We are,” Spangler writes, “working to shed more light on Yale’s procedures through the creation of additional ‘hypothetical case scenarios’ that address a broad range of behaviors and are tailored to local campus communities.” The existing version of these scenarios was (deservedly) mocked by Cathy Young; and, in any case, they don’t shed light on its procedures—as Yale demonstrated when it didn’t follow them in the Jack Montague case, a point raised in his lawsuit against the university.

The second, however, raises grave academic freedom concerns. Interns in the Title IX Office, Spangler explains, have developed a program to address “patterns of academic and social life particular to the graduate and professional schools.” This program “has been offered in numerous departments.” Yet “academic” issues at the level of academic “departments” are supposed to be the purview of the faculty—not student interns responsible to a Title IX bureaucrat. Yet not only has this initiative not aroused any academic freedom concerns, according to Spangler “demand is high” for future workshops. Faculty, instead, appear to have bowed to the inevitable, as this jargon-laden sentence implies: “Schools and departments across the campus continue to introduce initiatives aimed at identifying and impacting factors that influence local culture.”

Despite the top-line assertion of 81 complaints of sexual harassment, Yale’s disciplinary tribunal, the UWC, handled only one case of sexual assault involving undergraduate students during this six-month period. (The student, unsurprisingly given the guilt-presuming procedures, was found guilty.) One case remains pending, and another withdrew instead of bothering going through the UWC.

New Developments

The current Spangler report departs from its predecessors in five interesting ways. First: several faculty members faced serious allegations, and therefore got a taste of the procedures to which their students have been subjected for years. One was found not guilty of sexual assault, but guilty of violating the school’s policy regarding teacher-student relations. A second is still facing the same charge, with two others currently under investigation on this policy. A fifth was found guilty of sexual harassment—in a case initiated not by any students, but by a Title IX “coordinator.” The professor was suspended for a semester, and prohibited from having any leadership positions or advising any students for five years. And the Title IX office is investigating two other professors for making “inappropriate comments.”

Second: the report features several cases in which students filed complaints not to have another student expelled, but solely to receive an academic accommodation (such as a delay on an exam or paper) from the Title IX office. And some of the allegations were remarkably broad. In two instances, for example, the student complained that another student “paid unwanted attention” to her. By that definition of sexual harassment, any student asking another out for a date would be risking a sexual harassment complaint. The ability of students to game the system by filing complaints to get accommodations is present in all Title IX matters, especially at elite schools.

Third: there appear to have been two cases in which a male filed a complaint against a female. It’s not clear whether there were sexual assault or harassment cases. It’s not clear whether they involved undergraduate or graduate students, or what their disposition was. But it is a trend worth watching.

Fourth: in the last few Spangler reports, a disturbing pattern emerged of Title IX coordinators—rather than accusers—filing sexual assault complaints against Yale undergraduate students. These moves came despite severe restrictions in the Yale guidelines regarding the filing of these complaints. One of the victims of this process was Jack Montague—and after his lawsuit brought attention to the matter, the restrictions vanished. But so too, at least for this reporting period, did the filing of charges against male undergraduate students by the Title IX office. Did the administration instruct the office to lay low on the matter until the Montague suit is resolved?

Fifth: seven sexual assault allegations by undergraduate students received no description from Spangler at all—yet they counted toward her top-line total of 81 cases, helping to fuel the campus panic. Previous Spangler reports would describe this kind of case, which often involved a claim by a student that a second student (whose identity she didn’t know) was sexually assaulted by a third student (whose identity she also didn’t know). Providing this type of information, of course, demonstrated the absurdity of the allegation. So, beginning with her last report, Spangler dropped it.

She wouldn’t want to provide inconvenient facts that might undermine the narrative.

Why Won’t the Media Review the Campus Rape Book?

Campus Rape Frenzy, the new book by KC Johnson and Stuart Taylor. Jr. deals with the gross unfairness and lack of due process for males accused of sexual assault on campus. It has been reviewed by The Wall St. Journal, National Review, The Daily Caller, American Conservative, Real Clear Politics and Campus Reform. Notice any trend in that list? Yes, they are all conservative outlets.

So far we haven’t noticed any mainstream or liberal outlet reviewing the book, though it’s possible that we or Google have missed one or two. MTC didn’t expect The New York Times to review it since The Times rarely reviews conservative books. In this case, the book demonstrates that in one case after another The Times produced slovenly, misleading and inaccurate reporting on the subject as it did in the Duke lacrosse fake rape case. But all, or almost all, other outlets boycotted the book too? Under pressure from campus feminists and liberal orthodoxy, our press corps, like our universities are signing on to massive dishonesty.

Here is an anonymous online commenter making a similar point:

“I’m trying this on for size for why I avoided the book. The book is simply too depressing and discouraging. We have gotten to the point that, under powerful pressure from the Federal government and others, most of our universities, supposedly the bedrock of our intellectual life and important repositories of our knowledge of the past, have created systems that are massively unfair and inconsistent with our historic principles of justice.

The average person dares not question this massive apparatus without the high risk of personal or professional woe and possibly destruction. The underlying source of this is the power of the state, which has taken a well-intentioned statute and turned it into a weapon of political and cultural destruction. This has happened in plain sight. Our politics, our media, our educational leaders and so far our courts have proved to be timorous and so far ineffective counterweights to this power. I already know this. It’s discouraging to drag myself through it again.”

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)).