Category Archives: Short Takes

After Summers Comes The Fall

So former Harvard president Lawrence Summers is once again paying for his sins, this time having a dinner speech canceled by the board of regents of the University of California. The regents caved because feminists circulated a petition announcing that Summers “has come to symbolize gender and racial prejudice in academia.”

This is the most devastating charge that can be leveled in a university setting, since the modern campus is deeply obsessed by race and gender, and not much else, apart from canceling speakers who think improper thoughts about race and gender.

“None of us go looking for a fight,” said University of California (Davis) professor Maureen Stanton, a leader in the effort to get Summers banned. “We were just deeply offended.” This is a sensitive person’s veto – if you are likely to hurt our feelings, why should we let you speak?

Stanton, an evolutionary ecologist, must understand what happens when politics intrudes on science. But intrusion sometimes comes from the left, as it did when feminists denounced Summers for his brief reference to research on sexual differences in the famous Harvard controversy of 2005.

Columnist Stuart Taylor, Jr, wrote at the time, “Until his disgraceful capitulation to the power of political correctness, Summers was making a much-needed effort to break the self-serving feminist-careerist stranglehold on honest discussion of gender imbalances.”
For three decades, researchers have shown that the bell curve for male math skill is much flatter than the curve for females, meaning that males account for more off-the-chart high achievement at one end of the curve and an equal amount of unusual non-achievement at the other.

Most girls do as well as most boys in math and science, but among the extraordinarily gifted, boys prevail. Vanderbilt’s Camilla Benbow, a commanding researcher in the field for years, reports sex differences in mathematical precocity before kindergarten, differences among mathematical reasoning ability among intellectually gifted boys and girls as early as the second grade and pronounced sexual differences among intellectually talented 12- to 14-year-olds. Yet Summers, in capitulating to feminist anger, announced that “the human potential to excel in science” has nothing to do with gender. That isn’t true. At the very top of the profession, where the geniuses reside, there will be more males than females – absent political pressure and arguments about “underrepresentation,” that is.

Research on sexual differences is still the elephant in the room that no one who cares about academic advancement is supposed to notice. Meanwhile the successful banning of Summers by the board of regents raises the possibility that ordinary McCarthyism may now escalate into a one-man blacklist. If he can be banned as a racist-sexist by the board that oversees the entire University of California system, other colleges around the country may take the hint and ban him too.

Bloom Bludgeoned

Donald Lazere offers a breezy and factless hatchet job on Allan Bloom today at Inside Higher Ed.

At first he seems about to offer a detailed critique of his works, asserting that they are “lofty-sounding ideological rationalizations for the policies of the Republican Party from Ronald Reagan to George W. Bush.” Stern words; Lazere follows them with examples from the text? No, just a dscriptive paragraph – wait, actually, a mere sentence: “Bloom rages against the movements of the 60s – campus protest, black power, feminism, affirmative action, and the counterculture – while glossing over every injustice in American society and foreign policy (he scarcely mentions the Vietnam War).”
The books are not mentioned again – Lazere blithely skips on to build his case on the basis of Bloom’s friendships and professional connections: “Bloom’s personal affiliations further belied his boast of being above “attachment to a party” and captivity to “the spirit of party.” His writing for Commentary, association with the John M. Olin center at the University of Chicago, and – of course, role as instructor for Paul Wolfowitz all place him ireedemably within a neo-con cabal.

It’s on the tour of Bloom’s iniquitous friends and bastard progeny that Lazere expands his aim from damning the man to damning, well, about anyone who knew him or now cites him. Bloom, to Lazere, seems first among many right-wing hacks who “vaunt their dedication to intellectual disinterestedness while acting as propagandists for the Republican Party and its satellite political foundations.” Lazere builds his subsequent argument less-than-convincingly. Consider his take-down of Commentary:

Continue reading Bloom Bludgeoned

Yes, Harvard Professor Really Would Like To Secede

The news about Harvard never stops. Jay Greene wrote last week on Harvard professor Howard Gardner’s hopes of secession. Gardner’s words, in the Harvard alumni magazine, were:

The right wing isn’t just taking over the country, it’s shanghaiing all our values. If there’s a Republican administration after the next election, I would join in efforts for some sort of secession. It’s not the same country anymore.

Jay suggested, pretty reasonably, that these sentiments were unpatriotic. He’s just alerted us to follow-up on Gardner’s point on Richard Bradley’s blog Shots In The Dark. A reader starts the thread off suggesting that criticism of “allegiance” sidestepped the substantive point, complaining that “Instead this empty talk about ‘allegiance’ and grumbling about seditiousness — and an implicit concession that the ‘shanghaiing’ charge sticks. Pathetic.”

Bradley then weighed in:

Yes, I agree. To be fair, though, I think that Professor Gardner opened the door with the word “secession.” It seemed a casual remark, a manifestation of frustration, but clearly these things are watched by people looking for Harvard bias.

Merely a casual remark! But no.. Howard Gardner himself appeared on the thread to clarify (it’s not certain that it is Gardner, but it’s also unclear why anyone would want to masquerade as him on a blog):

Continue reading Yes, Harvard Professor Really Would Like To Secede

Harvard Wins Hip-Hop Scholar, Is Unsure What Military History Is.

Harvard seems to be chugging in all the right directions as of late. Now that Harvard has escaped the nightmare-state of Summers apartheid the University is free to.. improve its standing in the field of hip-hop studies. The Crimson reports:

Marcyliena Morgan, a scholar of global hip-hop culture who was denied tenure under former University President Lawrence H. Summers, will be returning to Harvard in January with her husband, Lawrence D. Bobo, a prominent sociologist of race.

The couple left Harvard’s African and African American Studies Department in 2005 for Stanford, where they have both held tenure-level positions. At Harvard, Bobo was a full professor, while Morgan held an untenured associate professorship.

“Since the day they left, it has been my dream to get them back,” said Henry Louis “Skip” Gates Jr., the former chair of the African and African American Studies Department and the Fletcher University Professor.

Af-Am Chair Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham said that the change of leadership in the University was one factor that made Morgan and Bobo’s return possible.

University President Drew G. Faust contacted the couple in person to urge them to return to Harvard, Gates said….

Good to see President Faust hard at work for a modern Harvard. While the President is wheedling hip-hop scholars, it’s surreal to see that it remains to The Crimson , in an editorial today, to note that military studies are woefully slight at the university:

Continue reading Harvard Wins Hip-Hop Scholar, Is Unsure What Military History Is.

Things You Might Not Know About The Duke Case

Things you might not know about the Duke non-rape case if you haven’t read the new book “Until Proven Innocent” by Stuart Taylor, Jr, and KC Johnson:

* Collin Finnerty did not beat up a gay man in a homophobic rage outside a Georgetown bar in 2005, as much of the news media reported. Finnerty was one of several males involved in a beery confrontation. He pushed one of his antagonists but he did not hit anyone, gay or straight.

* Duke administrators were outraged that the lacrosse team had held a stripper party, but no such outrage greeted the more than 20 such parties held at Duke during the 2005-2006 academic year. Duke’s famous basketball team held one two weeks before, drawing no apparent criticism.

* Tara Levicy, the nurse who reported on the condition of Crystal Mangum after the alleged rape, shrugged off the absence of physical evidence of assault and the lack of lacrosse-player DNA with a feminist slogan: “Rape is about power, not passion.”

* Michael Nifong, whose parents had gone to Duke, was known for his hatred of Duke University and its students. According to Patsy McDonald, a law school classmate, he also had a “deep-seated antipathy to lacrosse players.”

* Sergeant Mark Gottlieb, who took over the case for the Durham police “hated Dukies and had an ugly history of abusing them, according to allegations by Duke students who dealt with him before the lacrosse case surfaced.” Gottlieb had jailed three times as many Duke students as the three other police supervisors in the area combined. In one case he jailed a female Duke student and a female friend and put them in a cell with a blood-covered, drug-addled woman who said she had stabbed someone. The charge against the two women was that they had failed to prevent a 19-year-old from taking a can of beer from a cooler during a party at their home.
* The news media churned out negative opinions of lacrosse players at Duke and other elite schools (Newsweek: “strutting lacrosse players are a distinctive and familiar breed on elite campuses… the players tend to be at once macho and entitled (and) sometimes behave like thugs.”) In fact, the authors write, the Duke players had no record of racism, sexism, violence or bullying. They studied hard, got good grades, and showed respect and consideration for minorities, women and workers who served the team. They also had a good record of community service, especially with a reading program that targeted black and Hispanic children.

* The notably fair and accurate journalists who covered the case (a short list) included Dan Abrams of MSNBC, Chris Cuomo of Good Morning America, Kurt Anderson of New York Magazine, Ed Bradley of 60 Minutes and the first New York Times reporter, Joe Drape, who was taken off the story shortly after concluding that the alleged rape looked like a hoax.

Darmouth To Alumni: Be Happy We Left You Anything

Anyone looking for a prime example of official huckster-speak should take another look at Dartmouth’s press release concerning the board restructuring. It makes the college’s reduction of alumni voting rights sound like, well, a warm bath.

First there’s a lot of mush about Darmouth’s unusually small board, which Dartmouth’s governance committee found was putting “the College at a competitive disadvantage versus its peers.” Well, perhaps. Then it explains the remedy:

By adding eight charter trustees nominated by the Board, Dartmouth will still have a smaller Board than many of its peers, but the Board will have more flexibility to add trustees who offer the specific talents and experiences that the College needs, which elections don’t ensure.[italics mine]

You can read “talents and experience that the College needs” as meaning “not those of Peter Robinson, T.J. Rodgers, Todd Zywicki, or Stephen Smith.” In that sense, yes, elections would ensure very little for an administration at odds with its alumni. Yet Dartmouth goes on to assure that it’s not eliminating democratic processes; it’s merely reducing them – strategically and tastefully, of course. It all sounds rather gentlemanly – although elections “ensure” nothing, they’ll keep holding some anyway. Let’s read on:

Retaining Alumni Trustee Elections and Reaffirming the Important Role of Alumni Nomination of Trustees in the Governance Process

The Board determined that it would retain the significant number of alumni-nominated trustees on the Board as well as the contested ballot election process that the College has used to select them. Dartmouth has the highest proportion of alumni-nominated trustees of any peer institution, and is one of the few schools that selects alumni trustees via contested ballot elections. The Board believes that having alumni-nominated trustees and elections gives Dartmouth’s alumni an important direct voice in the College’s governance and fosters greater alumni involvement in the College. Under the changes adopted by the Board, Dartmouth will continue to have one of the most democratic trustee election processes of any college in the country. [italics mine]

True, and if I was to replace a third of Congress with my own appointees, we could still call American governance pretty democratic – compared to the Arab League.

Happily, the New York Sun today reports that alumni are less than pleased with the colleges’ blandishments.

One alumni quoted in the story noted “It’s like abolishing the House of Commons and making it all the House of Lords.”

Leaders of the Dartmouth Alumni Association are mulling a suit. All luck to them.

A Political Target

Erwin Chemerinsky, a noted constitutional scholar and law professor at Duke for 21 years, has just been hired and then fired as the first dean of the University of California, Irvine, Law School, which opens in 2009. Irvine’s chancellor, Michael Drake, explained the firing by saying “he had not been aware of how Chemerinsky’s political views would make him a target for criticism from conservatives,” according to Brian Leiter’s Law School Reports, a blog on legal academia.
If the blog report is accurate, the treatment of Chemerinsky is a test case for conservatives who support free speech and argue vehemently against political tests for faculty and administration appointments. Do these principles apply only to conservatives, or do they protect liberals as well?

Chemerinsky is indeed very liberal and very outspoken. He particularly irritated many religious conservatives by lumping Christian fundamentalists with Islamic fundamentalists as threats to democratic principles. So argue with him, but don’t try to get him fired.

For one thing, the chancellor had plenty of time to think about the impact of hiring Chermerinsky, and to reject him if he chose. But it’s disgraceful to hire the man, fire him immediately and then explain that you are doing so to cave into political pressure. The chancellor, the school and Chemerinsky all suffer from this sort of amateurish behavior. And if the chancellor does not reverse course and accept Chemerinsky, he puts the next choice for dean in an untenable position – he will inevitably be seen as a safe nominee, so harmless that no political pressure group will try to oust him. The reputation of the law school would decline two years before opening.

“I’ve been a liberal law professor for 28 years,” Chemerinsky said. I write lots of op-eds and articles, I argue high-profile cases and I expected there would be some concern about me. My hope was that I’d address it by making the law school open to all viewpoints. He said he has begun to assemble a board of advisors that would have included conservatives such as Viet Dinh, a law professor at Georgetown, and Deanell Reece Tacha, a judge on the 10th Circuit Court.

Writing anonymously on the Wall Street Journal site, different Duke law students offered both praise and criticism for Chemerinsky. A pro-Chemerinsky opinion said: “To respond to allegations of anti-conservative bias – these cannot be further from the truth. Equal air time was always given to both sides during class, and with regard to his Con Law final, I wrote a final exam that could only be described as ‘Scalia-esque’ and received a 4.0.”

Do the right thing, chancellor, and re-hire Chemerinsky.

Schooling Activists

NAS today released an excellent report on the state of social work education at American colleges, “The Scandal of Social Work Education”. Talk of social activism pervades these schools from the very point of accreditation – listen to the report on this point:

“The Council on Social Work Education, the national accreditor of social work education programs, considers preparation for political advocacy an essential component of professional training, its Educational Policy and Accreditation Standards declaring that one of the purposes of social work is: “to pursue policies, services, and resources through advocacy and social or political actions [italics added] that promote social and economic justice.”

The report goes into considerable revealing detail about individual school mission statements, course descriptions, and case histories.

But I won’t belabor your attentions when you should instead:

1. Look directly to “The Scandal of Social Work Education” through our Must Reads reports.

2. And read John Leo’s column from above today, on that very topic.

The Dartmouth Headlines

What do news outlets have to say about the Dartmouth Trustee fracas?

Dartmouth News “Dartmouth Trustees Vote to Strengthen College’s Governance”
New York Times “Dartmouth Expands Board, Reducing Role of Alumni”
New York Sun “Dartmouth Guts Power of Competitively Elected Trustees”

Let me just suggest that one of these is less accurate than the others; I wouldn’t want to unfairly influence anyone’s judgment by saying more.

Bong Hits For Temple

The Supreme Court’s Morse v. Frederick decision was questionable on several grounds. In upholding a high school’s right to regulate student speech “reasonably regarded as encouraging illegal drug use,” the justices took the student banner “Bong Hits for Jesus” much too seriously. Was it an argument for student access to drugs or a jokey stunt that never should have gotten to the court? Besides the student was displaying the banner off campus, across the street from his school during a school-sponsored welcome for an Olympic procession.

Then there is the issue of general damage to free speech rights. Several free-speech advocates, including David French, then president of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education and now director of the Alliance Defense Fund Center for Academic Freedom, warned that censorship-minded universities would cite the Frederick decision as justification for campus speech codes. That has now happened. Temple University points to Morse v. Frederick as backing for its egregious speech code that prohibits “generalized sexist remarks and behavior.” The goal is to erode the wall between high school youngsters and adults at college, who traditionally enjoy greater free speech rights.

Attorneys for the Alliance Defense Fund filed the case against Temple, now before the court of appeals for the third circuit. FIRE’s amicus brief has been joined by an array of allies, including the ACLU of Pennsylvania, the Christian Legal Society, collegefreedom.org, Feminists for Free Expression, Students for Academic Freedom and the Student Press Law Center. It’s an unusually broad coalition for a college free-speech case.

Berkowitz On The University

Peter Berkowitz appears today in the Wall Street Journal writing on “Our Compassless Colleges.”

At universities and colleges throughout the land, undergraduates and their parents pay large sums of money for — and federal and state governments contribute sizeable tax exemptions to support – “liberal” education. This despite administrators and faculty lacking, or failing to honor, a coherent concept of what constitutes an educated human being.

To be sure, American higher education, or rather a part of it, is today the envy of the world, producing and maintaining research scientists of the highest caliber. But liberal education is another matter. Indeed, many professors in the humanities and social sciences proudly promulgate doctrines that mock …

And then the rest of the article vanishes, tragically, behind the subscription wall. Yet all is not lost – you can read the full piece from which the op-ed was adopted – in Policy Review – right here in our Must Reads.

Berkowitz, incidentally, is among the luminaries who will be appearing at our Center for the American University’s Allan Bloom Conference “The American Mind: Opening Or Closing?” on October 3rd.

Professors Make Fools Of Themselves

Jay Bergman has a fine new piece up at the NAS Forum, puncturing the sanctimony that surrounds the ever-expanding sphere of “academic freedom” in the minds of many professors (see “Ward Churchill, sober research scholar, victim”)

In response to the increasing contention that “academic freedom protects professorial speech in any circumstance Bergman cites the 1940 AAUP Statement of Principles, and its statement that “teachers are entitled to freedom in the classroom in discussing their subject, but should be careful not to introduce into their teaching controversial matter which has no relation to their subject.”

At Central Connecticut State University where I am a professor, this distinction is sometimes ignored. Last fall, a professor sent the students in one of her courses more than 100 e-mails containing articles advocating the professor’s opinions on matters entirely extraneous to the course — for example, that Israel committed war crimes while fighting Hamas in Gaza last summer, and that comparisons between the Bush administration and Nazi Germany are reasonable. She also invited students to join her in attending seminars, such as Workshops on Peace, that were designed to advance the professor’s political agenda.

What is even worse, during one class, as a way of demonstrating how the American colonists stole Indian land, the same professor took a student’s backpack without permission and in front of all the students emptied its contents onto the floor, naming each item one by one. It is hard to imagine a more egregious violation of a student’s privacy, or a more flagrant abuse of the power professors have over students by virtue of their grading them and writing recommendations for them for jobs after they graduate.

Unfortunately, this is not uncommon. In my 17 years at CCSU, about half of my students have told me, on their own initiative or in response to my asking them, that one or more of their professors not only interjected their political opinions in class on a regular basis, but did so in an effort to convert their students to their point of view.

Read on.

St. Andrews Runs Afoul Of Accreditors

ACTA comments on an accreditation tussle afflicting St. Andrew’s Presbyterian College. It seems that the Commission on Colleges of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (there’s a mouthful) is less-than enthusiastic about the college’s current expansion plans – and has placed it on an accrediting probation. ACTA is skeptical as to whether the commission should be second-guessing the board-created development plan, and notes, prudently, that such doubts should not endanger a college’s academic credentials:

As ACTA shows in its recent policy paper, “Why Accreditation Doesn’t Work and What Policymakers Can Do About It”, accreditors routinely overstep the bounds of their authority, and, as long as federal student aid hangs in the balance, there isn’t a lot schools can do to resist them. The system urgently needs reform, and the first step is to break the corrupting link between accreditation and federal student aid.

St. Andrews is a perfect case in point: an accreditor micromanaging financial matters that are best left to the board while ignoring the issue that should be its primary and determining concern, educational quality. St. Andrews has been singled out by U.S. News & World Report, the Washington Monthly, the Princeton Review, by Washington Post columnist Jay Mathews, and many others for its innovative and effective curriculum. Even more to the point, SACS itself has praised the caliber of the college’s programs. By SACS’ own lights, St. Andrews is succeeding in its educational mission.

And yet, St. Andrews’ future is uncertain because the overweening bureaucrats at SACS have decided to involve themselves in fiduciary matters and to second guess the trustees who are legally responsible for the institution. St. Andrews’ financial plan may be wise – or not. But that’s something for its trustees to decide, not its accreditor.

If federal student aid weren’t tied to accreditation, St. Andrews could simply forego accreditation and forge ahead on its own. But as things stand, St. Andrews will lose everything it has worked for if it loses accreditation. Without accreditation, students who need federal aid will not be able to attend the school; they will go elsewhere, and the student body will decline in both numbers and economic diversity. SACS has St. Andrews in a stranglehold – one that arguably benefits no one but itself.

The Varieties of Reform

Candace DeRussy, in Raise The Towers: A Call to Good Governance, a new paper from the Texas Public Policy Foundation offers a terse round-up of problems afflicting university governance, and offers a summary of several modes of reform. Her initial diagnosis is a sharp distillation of the problem:

Paradoxically, it is the elusive dual nature of university governance itself that sustains the imperviousness of campuses to necessary reforms. This arrangement is “collegially” referred to as “shared governance,” but it is more accurately defined as a duopolistic form of management resting on near complete control of academic planning by faculties and on the tending of finances by boards and presidents. The duopoly arose in conjunction with the birth of the huge research university between the two world wars. An expanding, ever more specialized faculty was deemed most capable of making educational decisions about curriculum, faculty hiring, and academic assessment.

Fatefully for the academy, the final responsibility for campuses’ educational mission was thereby handed over from presidents and boards to specialized (guild-like) faculty not equipped to oversee the institutions’ overall and long-term well-being. Barring blatant scandal, such as the now infamous Ward Churchill fiasco, presidents and trustees have effectively bowed out of academic matters.

This permissive situation has led to the creation of layers of vested-interest groups on campuses and bred costly inefficiencies, such as redundant, over-specialized, and sometimes even foolish academic programs. These problems could easily be glossed over in an era of free-flowing funds for all “constituencies,” but not in the present.

So that’s the two-headed mule-hydra. What to do about it? DeRussy offers a brisk tour of current reform proposals in a variety of areas.

Continue reading The Varieties of Reform

This Education Is Too Practical

John Noonan, at the Weekly Standard, writes on a novel problem affecting a sector of American higher education – too great a focus on practical education. And he offers a remedy of.. more liberal arts. A fantasy? No – the case at Service academies. There, Noonan observes, curricula is centrally grounded in math, science, and engineering – a state that’s prevailed since the war of 1812. He urges a different model:

An Army platoon leader would be better equipped to administer to tribes in Anbar province if he had a degree in International Affairs and a minor in Arabic. A Marine infantry Lieutenant might be more effective unifying warlords in Afghanistan if he spent his four years at Annapolis studying the history of central Asia. U.S. Special Forces have been deployed to over 180 different countries since 9/11, and, to be sure, the military offers them the education needed to meet that goal. But in all that training an academy cadet will only get as much foreign study as he can squeeze into his schedule between orbital mechanics and advanced calculus.

The British perfected this system at the height of their empire. Relying on a strong NCO corps (which America also enjoys), British officers were trained to perform the duties of regional governors while sergeants shouldered much of the responsibility for training and disciplining the men. That freed Lieutenants and Captains to manage tribes, recruit friendly warlords as allies, establish judicial systems and public works projects, and bolster the local economy. And look at the results. India and Pakistan were stable; the Muslim holy lands were quiet, and the Palestinian territories calm.

My alma mater, the Virginia Military Institute, understands that critical social element in officer development. VMI has a strong Arabic studies department, and their history and international studies curriculums are heavy in the military arts, national security studies, foreign language, and world history. VMI places a strong emphasis on study abroad opportunities, even if it means removing a cadet an environment of harsh military discipline for a semester. The methodology is simple: a cadet will benefit more from a semester in Morocco or Egypt than a semester spent shining brass and marching parades.

More study abroad, history, and foreign languages. Good for everyone.

Gettysburg On FIRE

FIRE recently added another institution to its Red Alert List – Gettysburg College joined Johns Hopkins and Tufts in that seemly line-up. The superb success rate of FIRE tempts the viewer to tune out the cases that they follow, but a glance at this list provides a pointed reminder of the continued relevance, and difficulty, of their work. Now, in an environment where over eighty schools receive a yellow rating, with “some policies that could ban or excessively regulate protected speech” and only nine schools hold a “green” rating – free of restrictions, a school must possess really flagrantly bad policies in order to merit a red light. There’s an element of conditional threat at the yellow schools – “could ban or excessively regulate”, but the challenges to free speech are unambiguous at the Red Alert schools.
Consider the latest addition: Gettysburg College:

Despite over a year of pressure from FIRE and significant media attention, Gettysburg has not revised its Sexual Misconduct Policy, which is so broad in scope that it draws no distinction between an innocent, spontaneous hug and forcible rape. Under the policy, students must “consent” to sexual interaction by “willingly and verbally agreeing (for example, by stating ‘yes’) to engage in specific sexual conduct.” Further, students must “give continuing and active consent” or else “all sexual contact must cease, even if consent was given earlier.” The policy’s broad definition of sexual interaction includes not only sex acts but also “brushing, touching, grabbing, pinching, patting, hugging, and kissing.” This dangerous policy criminalizes so much everyday student interaction that it cannot possibly be enforced across the board, therefore vesting the university administration with the power to arbitrarily punish innocent student conduct.

Antioch College might have died, but we can rest pleased that Gettysburg College is keeping its worst traditions alive.

Two Cheers For Ward Churchill’s Dismissal

The welcome news that Ward Churchill has been removed from the University of Colorado faculty is blighted by the fact that the means used has allowed the university to avoid the much larger problem that Churchill’s conduct pointed to. It was in early 2005 that the public learned of, and was appalled by, excerpts from an essay that had been posted on the web by Churchill, a full Professor of Ethnic Studies at the University of Colorado, on the subject of 9/11 terrorist attacks. Now, over two years later, Churchill has been fired after due process within the university for plagiarism and falsification of research. But what the public heard and responded to was not fabrication and plagiarism. Though these are certainly legitimate grounds for a dismissal, they could never have attracted the attention of the public, still less caused a widespread sense that something must be horribly wrong with a university that employed such a man as a professor.

The ACLU, basing itself on this undeniable discrepancy between the furor of the public’s response and the narrow grounds of the decision, has charged that the firing is illegitimate because the real motive is nothing to do with the ostensible reason that has been given for the university’s action. But that charge makes no sense. Al Capone may have been jailed for tax evasion when his far more serious offense was racketeering, but he was certainly guilty as charged, and so is Ward Churchill. Yet in both cases the limited grounds had the effect of removing one man from the scene while leaving a larger systemic problem untouched.

The manner of Churchill’s dismissal clearly sidestepped the issues that the public was so disturbed by. The ACLU maintains that the public furor was caused only by Churchill’s unpopular political opinions. Again, it is wrong. Far left political expression by professors is nothing new to the American public – Noam Chomsky’s views are just as extreme and unpopular, but they do not lead to calls for his dismissal. What the public reacted to was something much more than this. All of their own experience of what their teachers and professors had sounded like told them that the man they heard should never under any circumstances have been a professor at a major university.

Continue reading Two Cheers For Ward Churchill’s Dismissal

Trying To Answer Paul Berman

On June 4th of this year Paul Berman published an extraordinary 28,000 word New Republic essay on contemporary Islamic philosopher Tariq Ramadan of Oxford University and his liberal apologists, Ian Buruma and Timothy Garton Ash, who write for the New York Review of Books. Berman’s essay was criticized by some for being too long, too meticulous, for being too concerned with ironing out any misunderstanding that might be wrung from his words. But the just published tepid reply by Scottish Malise Ruthven, a Scottish historian of Islam, for August 13th issue of the New York Review of Books suggests that, for now, Berman’s tack has cornered his would be critics.

Ruthven finds the US denial of a visa for Ramadan to teach at Notre Dame in 2004 inexplicable. The only mark against Ramadan, says Ruthven, is that he once donated money to a Palestinian charity later put on a terrorist watch list. This is disingenuous. Here’s Berman on some of Ramadan’s history:

As early as 1993, at the age of thirty-two, he campaigned in Geneva to cancel an impending production of Voltaire’s play Muhammad, or Fanaticism. The production was canceled, and a star was born – though Ramadan has argued that, on the contrary, he had nothing to do with canceling the play, and to say otherwise is a “pure lie.” Not every battle has gone his way. He taught at the college of Saussure, where his colleagues were disturbed by his arguments in favor of Islamic biology over Darwin. This time, too, Ramadan shaped the debate to his own specifications by insisting that he never wanted to suppress the existing biology curriculum – merely to complement it with an additional point of view. A helpful creationist proposal. But the Darwinians, unlike the Voltaireans, were in no rush to yield.

Continue reading Trying To Answer Paul Berman

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.

Continue reading Honoring Criminals On Campus

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:

Continue reading Ward Churchill And The ACLU

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.