Category Archives: Short Takes

Honoring Criminals On Campus

Some universities are nervous about the Ralph Papitto controversy . Papitto, 80 years old and very wealthy, used the N-word in a discussion of diversity at a trustees meeting of the Roger Williams law school, which bears his name. After protests, Papitto requested that his name be removed. But that appears to be in response to heavy pressure from protesters and the university. Papitto said that the N-word “just kinda slipped out” and that the word, which he said has never been in his vocabulary, may have come to mind after he listened to rap music. Those unconvincing explanations made it seem that he very much wanted to be excused so that Ralph A. Papitto Law School could retain its name.

The removal of a donor’s name from a university school or building in the wake of a racial slur is very unusual. But universities are on alert because naming battles are now fairly common, mostly over buildings named for felon-donors from Kenneth Lay to Alfred Taubman.
While debate over naming raged, Seton Hall University students went to classes at Dennis Kozlowski Hall, passed through the Dennis Kozlowski rotunda on their way to the Frank Walsh Library or perhaps to the (Robert) Brennan Recreation Center. Kozlowski, former chief executive officer of Tyco, was convicted of 22 counts of conspiracy, securities fraud, grand larceny and falsifying records. Tyco board member Frank Walsh pleaded guilty to concealing a $20 million bonus and First Jersey Securities founder Robert Brennan is serving time for bankruptcy, fraud, and money laundering. The Kozlowski name was removed from the hall and the rotunda at his request and the university regents changed the name of the Brennan Center. Seton Hall kept Walsh’s name on the library on rounds that his offense was milder and that he pleaded guilty.

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Desegration/Resegregation, Huh?

Inside Higher Ed features a piece today by Gary Orfield, Erica Frankenberg, and Liliana Garces bemoaning the impact of the Supreme Court’s late desegregation ruling.

They foresee an associated collapse of minority applications to colleges, as they glimpse minorities sinking into underperforming all-minority schools. They bolster their case with citations from Eric Hanushek, who’s written convincingly on the poor performance of mainly-minority schools. Yet it might have done them good to read more of Hanushek. Read their claim first:

Colleges and universities, especially selective institutions, tend to draw their successful minority applicants from interracial schools and their admissions offices know well that many of the segregated minority high schools fail to prepare their students well enough to succeed in college. Research by the Civil Rights Project has shown that too many segregated urban high schools are “dropout factories” where the main product is dropouts and successful preparation for college is rare. Conservative economist Eric Hanushek found that the damage was worst for the relatively high achieving black students, the very students likely to comprise the college eligible pool. So making segregation worse cuts the number of well prepared students. In addition to academic preparation, students from segregated backgrounds are also often not ready to function socially on a largely white, affluent campus. It also means of course, that the most segregated group of students in American schools, whites, also have less preparation to deal successfully with diversity. So colleges may have won, but also lost.

Continue reading Desegration/Resegregation, Huh?

Ward Churchill And The ACLU

The Regents of the University of Colorado are meeting to determine Ward Churchill’s fate tomorrow, July 24th. The ACLU has written the University of Colorado arguing against Ward Churchill’s firing. This isn’t surprising – its letter repeats a central canard in the case – that the Churchill investigation was merely a pretext for larger, sinister pressures:

It is undisputed, however, that Professor Churchill’s views are protected by the First Amendment, and cannot serve as a legal basis for any adverse employment action. Nevertheless the University soon launched the investigation of Professor Churchill’s scholarship in an effort to find more defensible grounds for sanctioning him.

Churchill defenders willfully conflate all elements of the proceedings against Churchill – “the University” you notice, is here presented as judge, jury, and (perhaps) executioner. No difference is admitted in agency or person between the submission of a complaint as to Churchill’s work, and the creation of a University panel looking into the question; the processes are looked upon as one and the same. The timing of the complaint about Churchill’s research is viewed as an ineradicable taint, no matter what they unearth or how often they address the question directly of the reason for inquiry. Consider the Standing Committee on Research and Misconduct’s statement here:

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Only A Conservative Idiot Would Think I’m Biased

Peter Wood provides a much-needed rejoinder to critcisms of the Zogby poll on perceptions of professor bias. The poll, predictably, revealed that respondents were widely concerned about left-wing bias in the classroom. Nothing much new there – the true worth of the poll might have been in the sneering comments it provoked from those inclined to dismiss this as a sham. These criticisms ran something to the effect that simple-minded proles have been deluded by years of conservative rantings into thinking that professors are biased, when professors are, in fact, fairer than Jimmy Stewart, James Baker, or Solomon. Peter elaborates, with some piquant quotes from Inside Higher Education feedback:

Why do Americans think college classrooms are biased? The simplest explanation is that many college professors do indeed bring their biases to the classroom and many Americans have begun to notice. But some professors, having read the IHE summary, have reached for more elaborate explanations – along the lines that (a) the poll was poorly designed, (b) Americans are ill-informed and pretty stupid, or (c) Americans are gullible victims of conservative propaganda that has mis-portrayed the situation.

Zogby reported that 58.2 percent of 9,464 respondents believe bias is either a “very serious” or “somewhat serious” problem in college classrooms. No poll is perfect, but whatever the flaws in this one, the results closely match another poll, based on a completely different methodology, commissioned last year by the AAUP. The accusation that Zogby flubbed the research doesn’t hold up. What about the theory that Americans are ill-informed and stupid? Offering such a theory about one’s critics doesn’t seem an especially good way to shake an accusation of bias.

The sneer about the intelligence of the people who answered the questions, of course, blends into the accusation that conservatives have tricked people. Asks one respondent (who signs himself Skeptical) “How many of those who were polled had actually gone to college?” Blind Man adds “Hats off to the Coulters and their ilk for successfully alienating the public from academia.” Unapologetically Tenured writes, “We have confirmation that talk radio’s core demographic (older, white, male, conservative, and ignorant) has bought into the right-wing meme that dirty-hippie-commie professors are corrupting the minds of our impressionable young Eagle Scouts.”

Read on for more fine examples.

I’m A Quidditch Major

The Chronicle today reports on Harry Potter in the modern academy. It seems inevitable that Harry Potter would crop up in campus role-playing clubs, but now he’s being taught in the classroom?

Universities across the country are adding Harry Potter to the curriculum in a variety of disciplines – English, philosophy, Latin, history, and science – and professors say courses fill up as quickly as Honeydukes on a Hogsmeade weekend. When Sara C. Boland-Taylor, 21, picked up next year’s course schedule at Stephen F. Austin State University, she turned straight to philosophy. “I just saw ‘H Potter,’ and I completely flipped out,” she says. “I called Dr. Anne [Collins Smith], and I left a message – I was like, I will be there and I will bring all my friends.”

Philip W. Nel, an associate professor of English at Kansas State University, began teaching “Harry Potter’s Library” in 2002, advertising the course with fliers, “which now seems sort of quaint,” he says. Edmund M. Kern, an associate professor of history at Lawrence University and author of the reader’s guide The Wisdom of Harry Potter, says he could probably enroll more than 100 students in this fall’s course, but unless he falls under the sway of an “imperius curse,” he would like to preserve the university’s small class size.

Harry Potter’s Library – why, that must be just like Prospero’s books!

Diversity In Linguistics

Since the Supreme Court last week decided against Seattle and Louisville, Kentucky’s policies of assuring a certain degree of racial diversity in public schools, we have heard much about the undoing of Brown v. Board.

However, I have a hard time mourning the decision, though the brute notion that we must ignore race to get beyond it is, surely, simplistic.
Preliminarily, I think of the plethora of schools nationwide where all the students are brown and yet excellence is a norm. I think of the fact that to the extent that black teens tar excelling in school as “acting white,” it tends to be when they go to school with white people, as scholarly studies have shown.

Yet I openly admit that my discomfort with racial (as opposed to socioeconomic) preferences in education is also based in part on gut impressions – based on my own experiences in academia over, now, almost 20 years. Too often, commitment to “diversity” has nothing to do with recognizing the humanity and individuality of the persons in question, and much to do with reaffirming other people’s sense of moral legitimacy.

As it happens, it was ten years ago this week that I had one such experience.

Every two summers, linguists have a kind of summer camp, the Linguistic Society of America Institute, where linguists from around the world give mini-courses for students on a college campus. I was invited to teach at the one in 1997.

Continue reading Diversity In Linguistics

Everything’s Great

A new Zogby poll confirms what everyone suspected:

58% of respondents found political bias on the part of college professors a “serious” problem. That’s encouraging. Who was concered? 91% of those self-described as “very conservative” found bias a problem while a scant 3% of liberals believed so. None of this is very surprising.

Somewhat more interestingly, 46% of respondents indicated that they believed that the quality of a college education was worse than it was 25 years ago. Only 29% believed that it had improved.
A stirring vote of confidence in American higher education.

Historically Black Colleges and Sciences

In anticipation of a new U.S. Commission on Civil Rights report on historically black colleges and universities, Gail Heriot at The Right Coast has been doing some reading.

These institutions, which produce only 20% of African-American students, launch a striking 40% of all African-American science and engineering graduates. Heriot wonders as to this:

Why might this be? In 1996, Rogers Elliott, A. Christopher Strenta, et al. took a look at the why African-American and Hispanic students are less likely to follow careers in science than white or Asian-American students in “The Role of Ethnicity in Choosing and Leaving Science in Highly Selective Institutions.” They found that African-American and Hispanic students at elite colleges and universities are about as likely as white or Asian-American students to start off intending to major in science. But they abandon those intentions in larger numbers. The authors concluded that mismatch probably played a major role.

Heriot cites segments from the report:

Why are so many talented minority students, especially blacks, abandoning their initial interests and dropping from science when they attend highly selective schools? The question has many possible answers, but we will begin with the factor we think most important, the relatively low preparation of black aspirants to science in these schools, hence their poor competitive position in what is a highly competitive course of study. As in most predominantly white institutions, and especially the more selective of them, whites and Asians were at a large comparative advantage by every science-relevant measure …

It’d be interesting to see the hypothesis tested against African-American students’ performance at non-elite, non-historically black colleges. The study’s attention to a common level of academic preparation (without the lags that dog black performance at elite colleges) seems the most convincing factor. Perhaps they’re additionally better at providing encouragement to minority science careers than institutions of comparable quality? Hopefully the Commission’s report will shed additional light on this.

Letters To The Times

A colleague forwarded the following to me, found in The New York Times

Re “Young Americans Are Leaning Left, New Poll Finds” (front page, June 27):

As a professor who for years has spoken on the virtues of liberalism, I find it extremely pleasing to know that young Americans are once again beginning to lean on the left.
It gives me great hope that this new generation will go on to restore what has been taken away from us in the last seven years of the ultraconservative Bush administration and its collaborators in Congress.

While your conservative readers will accuse me of being yet another liberal professor indoctrinating students, it is more important to have voters who support universal health coverage for all, believe that gay marriage and abortion should be legal and that global warming is a serious problem, and finally, willing to vote for a presidential candidate who smoked marijuana, who is a woman or African-American.

In short, these voters will turn our nation into a kinder and gentler place and that is so much better than the current divisive, religion-suffocating, anti-science and war-filled living conditions.

Michael Hadjiargyrou
Stony Brook, N.Y., June 27, 2007

Well, if it makes the students kinder and gentler…

New Orientalism?

Why is the jailing of Haleh Esfandiari to be regretted? Well… because it will encourage Orientalists, of course.

Look to a novel account in this week’s Chronicle, where Fatameh Keshvarz registers her distaste for Azar Nafisi, Khaled Hosseini, and Asne Seierstad. Their fault? Well, failing to depict the “complexities” of life in the worse-governed portions of the modern Middle East. This troika simply plays to Western Orientalism (and Imperialism), Keshvarz asserts, by failing to depict Tehran, Kabul, and the like in suitably complex terms, or to provide sufficient attention to local culture. Nafisi, for one, is assailed for oversimplification (her 18 years at the University of Tehran are evidently insufficient experience for Keshvarz) while a number of bright lights in the Iranian cultural scene are highlighted as offering a better composite picture.

She highlights Shahrnush Parsipur,

a powerful postrevolutionary author of many successful novels, including The Dog and the Long Winter (1976) and Tuba and the Meaning of the Night (1989). Parsipur is also the author of Women Without Men: A Novella. I purchased the latter two novels in Iran last summer, although they are supposedly “banned.” In Women Without Men, she gives us Zarrinkolah, the charming prostitute. Shortly after the onset of the revolution, Parsipur’s women are out to “see the world,” and no one is going to stop them. When Zarrinkolah, a “little woman of 26 with a heart open like the sea,” decides to leave the brothel, she needs no one’s permission, no blessing from a holy man. She is her own source of holiness, the ray of light that brightens the brothel’s miserable life. A holy prostitute in postrevolutionary Iran has to be a miracle, you say. But that is exactly the point. Postrevolutionary Iran has towering women writers who make miracles possible.

Well, that’s great. So what’s become of her? “Parsipur has since left for exile in the United States.” Keshvarz’s principal example of overlooked Iranian female expression is… in exile? Keshvarz can buy Parsipur’s novels in Iran, but Parsipur can’t live there? Is that the societal complexity that the “New Orientalists” are missing?

Once again, Orientalist theory displays an exquisite sensitivity to any and all depictions of the Middle East, yet posits a monolithic West (which seems to consist, in their minds, of Dick Cheney, Fouad Ajami, and Bernard Lewis). Spirited criticism of problems in the Middle East, from any quarter, is always met by enfevered shushing – don’t encourage the neo-cons! Orientalism is a theory absurd enough when guiding readings of historical expression – it’s positively malignant when labeling frank criticism some sort of Imperialist collaborationist sentiment. When the Esfandiari jailing is occasion first for worries about Western Imperialism and only second about the Iranian political climate, it’s clear something’s gone wrong.

The Lessons of Antioch

Cary Nelson’s belle lettre to Antioch in this week’s Chronicle is enough to make anyone want to nail another board over the school’s windows. What did Antioch teach? Spunky ideas, like the following:

I used some of Lyndon Johnson’s antipoverty money to hire buses to take the program participants [inner-city children] to an antiwar demonstration in Washington, D.C. Needless to say, that experience was new to them as well. Bureaucracy being what it is, my little expenditure was never noticed.

The piece ends:

I always tell people, though they never believe me, that I could never have made it through any other college. There was no place like Antioch, with its mix of intellectual freedom, commitment to justice, and innovative program of courses and work experience. And if Antioch does indeed close, there may be no such place at all.

Yes. And?

Student Loans: All Better Now

Peter Wood has been active at the NAS site, issuing additional comment on the latest permutation of the ongoing student loan scandal (if you haven’t, do catch his initial summing-up of the case Those Scandlous Student Loans). This week, George Miller, Chair of the House Education and Labor Committee, introduced a bill to reduce federal subsidies of private loan providers and shift the related funds to direct federal loans. Democrats such as Miller have had considerable fun railing against fat-cat student loan companies in recent days (with good reason), but student-loans hardly ever qualified as a “private” enterprise in any traditional sense of the term. As Wood observes:

For decades, Republicans have been stalwart supporters of “private” lending for higher education, as opposed to direct federal spending. Of course, an industry addicted to federal subsidies and guarantees is private in a highly qualified sense. It has socialized its risks and privatized its profits. It would take rather advanced financial modeling to figure out whether the residual benefits of the private sector save the taxpayer more money than the industry managed to scam from the program.
In any case, the political balance has decidedly shifted in favor of a renewed effort to use direct federal loans to students. The opportunities for malfeasance, corruption, and inefficiency in this program are not to be underestimated either. But at least it will be a different malfeasance, corruption, and inefficiency — and that will feel good. Of course, the private student loan industry won’t be shutting down. The price of Sallie Mae has fallen, but the business will continue at a slightly less robust profit margin.

In other words, a sunny future. Read all of his thoughts at NAS.

Antioch: Gone

Antioch College, of fame for strident sexual interaction policies, and Abu-Jamal commencement speeches, has ceased to be.

American colleges are not in the habit of disappearing, but then, there are few colleges anything quite like Antioch, as Peter Wood today notes in What Happened To Antioch? on the site today. In a universe of left-inclined colleges, Antioch was really something tremendous:

So a plain and simple answer to “What happened to Antioch?” is that the college is no longer financially viable. The administrators admit that Antioch’s $36.2 million endowment cannot cover the shortfalls. We live, however, in a nation where over 16 million students attend college and in which many colleges that have pretensions to academic seriousness have long waiting lists. In this environment, colleges and universities can get away with offering programs of tic-tac-toe levels of triviality; and they charge tuitions equivalent to buying a new Prius twice a year – with no trade-in.

In other words, for a college to go under, it is not enough for it to be intellectually bogus; it has to take its misfeasance to a spectacular level. It has to get parents, in effect, to what might be called the “anyplace-but-Antioch” moment; and it has to persuade a fair number of otherwise curious students, “Maybe I’ll enlist instead. How bad can Baghdad be?”

Read the full account of Antioch’s curious history.

On Constitution Day

We’re featuring Brad Wilson’s excellent piece on Constitution Day from Academic Questions. He notes that colleges seemed taken aback, or positively dyspeptic, when faced with a 2005 federal requirement to make some sort of observation or commemoration for “Constitution Day” – September 17. Universities were widely alarmed at such an “intrusion” – even in very vaguely defined form. Many seemed to have no idea what might constitute such a commemoration, or actively regarded the thought of such an event as offensive. The author wonders:

Was the absence of a recognition of Constitution Day in our colleges (and no doubt our high schools) explicable in terms of a turning away, in a spirit of tolerance and inclusion, from prideful rituals of a broadly political nature – rituals that may make some alien, or alienated, group feel like it is not a full and respected member of the campus community? Perhaps that is what was meant by an emeritus professor of English in his letter to the Chronicle of Higher Education: “Such a [federal] mandate is deeply troubling and reflects a blind jingoism that should not be confused with patriotism.” But then how to account for the omnipresence of public campus celebrations of various “identities” that by their very nature are exclusive – to take one of countless examples, Princeton University’s annual celebration of National Coming Out Day, announced with great relish to faculty, staff, and students by the Dean of the College’s Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Center? Political, to be sure, and bound to annoy or alienate some parts of the campus community.

Read Wilson’s full thoughts on the Universities’ path away from civic education.

Tear Down What Wall?

According to a 2007 poll, 95% of Sweden’s young people between the ages of fifteen and twenty know what Auschwitz was, yet 90% don’t know what the word ‘Gulag’ refers to, despite the Russians having dispatched to these infamous labor camps thousands of innocent people.

This lack of knowledge is not the fault of the young, but of the media and of other social institutions, whose proper role is the capturing and transmission of truth. Sweden is a Socialist country, and one suspects that the failure to accurately portray Communism is a consequence of the sense of kinship the Swedish Left feels for Socialism’s rabid brother. Because of this betrayal of the truth, the generation about to assume leadership in Sweden will face that grave responsibility stuffed with false information. For example, some 43% of those polled believe that Communism has spread prosperity – not famine – wherever its chill grip has extended. Although they realize Communism has cost some innocent lives, 20% of these young people estimate that loss of life at 10,000. 43% come slightly closer to the mark, with an estimate of 1 million. Few, however, realize that the actual total exceeds, by 50%, the combined total deaths of the two World Wars. The correct estimate of lives destroyed by Communism already exceeds 100 million, a tally that continues to mount today.

Continue reading Tear Down What Wall?

Robert George and Cornel West: Partners.

Robert George and Cornel West have teamed up in an unlikely enterprise – co-teaching a Freshmen Seminar, “Great Books and Arguments” at Princeton. You can find the full story in the June issue of the Princeton Alumni magazine.

George and West seem to radiate enthusiasm about the collaboration, and, particularly, about the challenges to their ideas that it posed. It’s a fascinating example of genuine intellectual diversity at work. Here’s a piquant excerpt:

After alluding to certain groups that feel alienated on the Princeton campus, West finally identifies one such group as African-Americans.

“Ahhh,” says George, as if finally seeing the light. “I thought you were talking about conservatives.” Everyone laughs.

“We had a wonderful dialogue about it,” recalls West later. “And we began to see that actually there was significant overlap [in our views]. Robby wanted colorblindness precisely because he wanted to affirm humanity.”

Do read the whole piece.

Praising Discomfort at Middlebury

Stop the presses. The president of a well-known college has actually come out for diversity of ideas, rather than just the narrow form of diversity prized on campus (skin color, gender, sexual orientation). In a baccalaureate address at Middlebury College’s graduation, President Ronald D. Liebowitz talked about the “value of discomfort” in listening to and grappling with new ideas. Liebowitz said, “If the wariness about discomfort is stronger than the desire to hear different viewpoints because engaging difference is uncomfortable, then the quest for diversity is hollow, no matter what the demographic statistics on a campus reflect.” If the pursuit of diversity is to be intellectually defensible, he said, Middlebury can’t just exchange one orthodoxy for another.

At colleges, “discomfort” is a familiar buzzword justifying censorship or punishment for offending the sensibilities of students designated as “underrepresented.” That’s why coming out in favor of discomfort is a near-heresy in the campus monoculture.

Some students objected to Bill Clinton as this year’s commencement speaker, while a larger and more irritated group objected to Middlebury’s endowed professorship in American history and culture honoring William Rehnquist. Liebowitz noted that some members of minority groups on campus felt “invisible and disrespected” by the decision to honor Rehnquist and considered it an offense against diversity. Indignant objections to conservative supreme court judges are an old story on campus, including attempts to boycott Antonin Scalia at Amherst and Clarence Thomas at the University of North Carolina Law School.

Some objectors to the Rehnquist professorship claimed that the goal of a liberal education should be to advance social change, and since Rehnquist failed this test, he should not be honored. “I do not share in that narrow definition of a liberal education,” Liebowitz said. “Rather, liberal education must be first and foremost about ensuring a broad range of views and opinion in the classrooms and across campus…” Good idea. Will it apply to the hiring of professors as well?

John Ellis on the Academy

I’d advise all to speed to John Ellis’ essay, available above, (or here) from the marvelous Academic Questions. These items are generally unavailable without a subscription, but we’ve arranged to provide you some occasional glimpses. The piece is a bit long, but worth every page. Defenders of the modern academy often assert that reform-minded critiques are overblown; that not every professor has a copy of Fanon in one hand and a Molotov cocktail in the other. True, but this sidesteps the real critique – radicals might be a pole, and most professors are surely nearer a “center”, but in this playground, everyone’s sitting on their side of the seesaw. A political science department of a fiery post-colonialist and twelve mild-mannered social democrats is not “balanced.” Ellis speaks acutely to the “balance” point:

With respect to the two major strains of political thought, Mill said, “it is in a great measure the opposition of the other that keeps each within the limits of reason and sanity.” This remark gives us the meaning of the rise of radicalism within the campus left: where there are no right-of-center voices to keep the left intellectually on its toes, the once thoughtful analysis of the campus liberal left will degenerate into the incoherence of the radical left. The academic’s focus on careful analysis of and abstraction from all relevant evidence gradually gives way to the zealot’s selective use of partial evidence to bolster trains of thought fathered by political wishes and even fantasies, not by fact. Here Mill puts his finger on the mechanism that is at work as the one-party climate degrades the intellectual quality of the academy until, in his words, it breaches the limits of reason and sanity. This is where all of those campus horror stories come from; they are not atypical and isolated – they are the symptoms of a sickness that is systemic. Thus nonsensical conspiracy theories about 9/11 as the work of the U.S. government itself are what we must expect when the campus descends into a political monoculture.

Do read the whole piece.

“Liberal” Professorial Apologists For Radical Islam

Ian Buruma and Timothy Garton Ash are two of the leading critics of Ayan Hirsi Ali whom they deride as an “enlightenment fundamentalist” for her defense of free speech in the face of violent Islamic intimidation. They are also two of the leading apologists for the sophisticated Islamism of Tariq Ramadan, the grandson and intellectual heir of his grand-father Hasan al-Banna the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood from which flows Al Qaeda and other variants of Sunni salafism.

Buruma, Garton Ash, and Ramadan all have something in common – they are all university professors. Garton Ash is, inappropriately enough, the Isaiah Berlin Professorial Fellow at St Anthony’s College, Ramadan is his colleague at St Anthony’s while Buruma is the Henry R. Luce Professor of Democracy, Human Rights, and Journalism at Bard College. Free speech as evidenced by Buruma’s book on the murder of Hirsi Ali colleague Theo Van Gogh is evidently not a “human right” worth defending if it offends Muslims.

Fortunately Paul Berman, a writer in residence at NYU, has taken all three to the wood shed, in an extraordinary 28,000-word New Republic essay. Ramadan, Berman shows, is an expert at double speak. In a New York Times article in which Buruma served, unwittingly or not as Ramadan’s publicist, the Islamist theorist explained how his grandfather an admirer of the Falange and Mussolini , supported a politics entirely compatible with parliamentary democracy. Buruma’s response was to lie with silence. But then again, as Buruma explained it “we agree on most issues.”

Ramadan is at his best when he can prepare an elaborate explanation for why Islamist and liberal values are compatible. But when facing then French Interior Minister Nicholas Sarkozy, he stumbled when forced to respond on the spot. Sarkozy asked Tariq Ramadan if he agreed with his brother Hani Ramadan who had argued in line with Islamic law, that adulterous woman should be stoned to death. Asked to agree or disagree with his brother Tariq Ramadan said he favored a “moratorium” on such stoning. What was stunning about this exchange is that in the current intellectual climate established by multiculturalism, it was Sarkozy who was seen as regressive, even racist, for having forced the issue.

The parallels here with the Soviet apologists of the 1930s and 40s are striking. Then as now the argument is that Communists and liberals/Islamists and liberals are all in favor of human rights, they just have a somewhat different understanding of what they mean. Then to point out the differences was denounced as red-baiting, today it’s decried as racist. In the words of the Yiddish proverb, “A half truth is a whole lie.” Expect Buruma and his friends to reply to Berman’s direct hit.

The Forty-Year Diversity Plan. Fifty-Year?

John Rosenberg has an excellent post at Discriminations on, among other things, Lee Bollinger’s latest slippery utterances in the Chronicle of Higher Education. Rosenberg offers a superb paragraph’s description of the filigreed nature of diversity goals:

Since preferentialists speak in platitudes and not principles, their defense of racial preferences provides no guides to policy makers or guidelines by which to judge the policies they defend, other than the numbers of favored minorities they produce. How “critical” is having a “critical mass,” and how “massive” must it be? By what principle (can’t escape them), if any, should its size reflect the “mass” it attempts to represent, and where must that “mass” be – local, national, anywhere in the world? When, where, and why do differences, say, among Japanese, Chinese, and Koreans disappear into their presumably shared Asian-ness? Are Cherokees fungible, for representational purposes, with Cheyenne? If some discrimination is acceptable to produce the desired result, why not more discrimination to produce an even better result? Is there a limit, and if so where does it come from?

Any idea? I certainly don’t know. By all means read the rest of the post.

The Failure of Middle Eastern Studies In America

Martin Kramer, Fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Studies, spoke about the failure of Middle Eastern Studies at our colleges at a Center for the American University luncheon here in New York recently. He touched on the radical sympathies of many professors, flimsy research credentials, and prevalent anti-Americanism. Those unable to attend the event can now listen or watch in real audio or real video. Look for footage of MI Center for the American University events here in the future.

[REALAUDIO] [REALVIDEO] 

Henry Lewis Gates: Ward Connerly’s Latest Supporter?

Henry Lewis Gates, renowned Harvard professor of African-American Studies – which is to say, someone about as deep as can be gotten in the belly of the diversity-obsessed academic beast – said something quite remarkable the other day. Invited to address the graduates of Kentucky’s Berea College, founded in 1855 as the first integrated college in the South, from the speakers platform Gates trod very familiar territory. He lauded the benefits of affirmative action, and instructed the grads that it isn’t enough to “pay lip service” to diversity. But in an interview he gave an enterprising reporter for the Lexington Herald-Leader, things got interesting. Gates allowed that while he, the son of a janitor, had needed affirmative action to get ahead, his own privileged children did not; nor should they benefit from it. But poor white children should. “We need to get more black people into the middle class,” he concluded. “We need to get more white people into the middle class.”

One cannot help but wonder whether the learned professor realizes that such a position -support for economic affirmative action, but opposition to the kind based merely on skin color – is identical to that held by the nation’s leading crusader against racial preferences (and a man much detested by campus liberals and leftists), Ward Connerly. Indeed, in his successful fights on behalf of state initiatives to end race-based college admissions and government hiring in California, Washington and Michigan, Connerly has been bitterly denounced as a race traitor and worse for saying the very same thing; demanding, for instance, how affirmative action supporters can fail to see the elemental unfairness of a college admissions officer giving preference to the child of a black surgeon over the child of a white coal miner who would be the first in his family to go to college.

Continue reading Henry Lewis Gates: Ward Connerly’s Latest Supporter?

Radical Discourse at Columbia

It is hard to exaggerate the extent to which a left-wing ideology has captivated university life. I sometimes get the impression that the ghost of Antonio Gramsci is parading among academic faculties spreading his soteriology to “useful dupes.”

I recently participated in a discussion on Iran at Columbia University sponsored by the college Democrats, Republicans, Hillel and various political action committees on campus. Although it was not a formal debate, one member of the panel, a self described expert on Islam, injected a rather contentious spirit into the discussion by noting:

– Ahmadinejad is a legitimate political leader like others in the world
– There isn’t any difference between the Enlightenment world-view in the West and Islam
– Iran is not a threat to Western interests
– We should do nothing about its nuclear weapons program
– The U.S. is suffering from a form of national hysteria over Iran
– Suicide bombers could be compared to soldiers in World War I who were cannon fodder
– Ahmadinejad never said he wanted to wipe Israel off the map
– What difference does it make if Iran possesses a few nuclear weapons?
– There isn’t any movement within Iran to oust Ahmadinejad as its national leader

It was hard for me to believe that a serious scholar circa 2007 would be making claims of this variety. It was equally difficult for me to think that the majority of those assembled would embrace these fatuities. But I was wrong. As David Horowitz once pointed out, it is hard to caricature university life.

Continue reading Radical Discourse at Columbia

The Performance Gap

The Chronicle of Higher Education in this week’s issue points to a problem confronted by colleges: “the poor grades earned by many minority students.” Vacuous assertions that “diversity and excellence go hand in hand” tend to collapse when confronting figures like those found in the Chronicle piece:

Data for 2003-4 U.S. colleges contrasted the percentages of students earning mostly A’s and mostly C’s or lower within racial classifications.

19.3 percent of whites earned mostly A’s, while 24 percent earned mostly C’s or lower.

By contrast, 12.7 percent of Hispanics earned mostly A’s, while 34.6% earned mostly C’s or lower.

9.6 percent of Blacks earned mostly A’s, while 40.7 percent earned C’s or lower.

The true marvel of the piece is how reluctant college administrators seem to be to acknowledge that much of the root of this problem lies in their willfull enrollment of underqualified minority students. The problem worsens in upper-tier schools, where such diversity-passions are strongest; “researchers with access to the transcripts of students at selective colleges say the performance gaps are even more pronounced there.” The frequently-invoked justification that affirmative action provides a leg up to parity meets harsher fact in these figures. “Unless colleges can find ways to improve minoririty undergraduates’ performance, there is likely to be a drop in the percentage of black, Hispanic, and Native American students becoming doctors, lawyers, professors, and engineers.” Yes, and diversity coordinators will have twice as much work to do.

An obvious thought, that occurs to precious few administrators in the piece, is that the admission of underqualified minority students sets up these very students for lackluster performances or failure. The article profiles several laudable efforts at colleges to assist students that perform poorly, but most involved flinch from the obvious palliative – admitting fewer unprepared students in the first place. Perhaps they could then direct their concern in the right direction – ensuing adequate minority academic preparation in high schools – rather than continuing to foster an academic underclass in ther service of diversity nostrums.

Degree Switcheroo at U.Mass

Vijay Prashad employs an especially nimble means of comparison in The Boston Globe today. It seems that the University of Massachusetts is about to grant Andrew Card an honorary degree. Prashad objects to this, on a variety of grounds. That’s not surprising. University honors bestowed on any political figures (especially those rightward) tend to inspire spirited objection – the establishment of a Rehnquist Professorship at Middlebury was dubbed a “symbolic act of violence” by a professor. Presumably, due to his greater proximity to Asmodeus, Andrew Card would stand as an even more dangeous symbol.

Objections such as Prashad’s are not surprising – it’s the method of argument that he uses that is singular. His article sets up a contrast between the University’s iniquitous granting of the Card degree, and its recent, virtuous revocation of… Robert Mugabe’s degree. At the end of the piece, I gained the strong feeling that he felt, in a moral sense, that U. Mass had come out at best even in the degree exchange. In the scales of honorary degree evil only a murderous tyrant could hope to balance out a Bush administration member…