Category Archives: Short Takes

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…

What Faculty Think About Religion

Faculty at American colleges and universities are more religious than many of us believe-65 percent say they believe in God and 46 percent claim a personal relationship with God. Still, they are far less religious than the general population, some 93 percent of which believes in God, with 66 percent reporting a personal relationship. While 80 percent of the public identify themselves as Christian, the comparable percentage of faculty is much lower-56 percent-primarily because Evangelical Christians account for 33 percent of the general population but only 11 percent of college faculty. These numbers show up in “Religious Beliefs and Behavior of College Faculty,” a report by the Institute for Jewish and Community Research. Some 6,600 faculty were surveyed.

One of the strongest findings is that political ideology is highly associated with attendance at religious services. Those who go to services every week, or almost every week: 24 percent of liberals, 44 percent of moderates, and 66 percent of conservatives. Non-religious faculty tend to be the most negative about U.S. policies in the Middle East and most positive about the United Nations and institutions such as the International Court of Justice. The vast majority of faculty listed North Korea, followed by the U.S., as the greatest threats to international stability. Continue reading What Faculty Think About Religion

It’s Gender Repression When I Say It Is

Joanne Creighton, President of Mt. Holyoke College, makes several worthy points on the behalf of women’s colleges in The Boston Globe today, but her case for the knowledge they convey is rather bizarrely ordered.

Consider the admirable facts that she could cite first:

1. Mt. Holyoke has produced, in the last forty years, more graduates that went on to earn doctorates in the life and physical sciences than any other liberal arts college in the country.

2. Women’s colleges enroll larger numbers of low-income students than peer gender-mixed institutions.

3. Graduates of women’s colleges include such estimable figures as Nancy Pelosi, Elaine Chao, and Madeline Albright.

Yet, before all of this, her first argument on these colleges’ behalf is:

Graduates are more able to see gender-repression when they encounter it and to distinguish between personal and systemic barriers to success.

A sophisticated grasp of gender repression? So that’s how Mt. Holyoke grads get into Physics PhD programs? And I had always imagined that they key was a sophisticated grasp of thermodynamics. Where does that factor in, President Creighton. Lower?

Dartmouth Victory!

Press Release: Dartmouth College Office of Public Affairs

Dartmouth Board of Trustees Elects Stephen Smith

HANOVER, N.H. – The Dartmouth College Board of Trustees has elected Stephen F. Smith as a trustee following a nomination vote by Dartmouth’s alumni from a slate of four candidates.

Smith, a 1988 graduate of Dartmouth, will join the board on June 11, following commencement ceremonies in Hanover. He succeeds Nancy Kepes Jeton ’76, who will step down in June after ten years of service on the board.

The Dartmouth Board of Trustees has ultimate responsibility for the financial, administrative and academic affairs of the College including long-range strategic planning, approving operating and capital budgets, managing the endowment, overseeing the educational program, leading fundraising efforts, setting tuition and fees, and approving major policy changes. The Board currently consists of 18 members, including eight alumni trustees nominated by alumni vote and elected by the board, eight charter trustees selected by the board, the Governor of New Hampshire (in an ex officio capacity) and the President of the College. In November 2003, the Board voted to expand the number of seats to 22 over several years.
A total of 18,186 voters, 28 percent of alumni, cast 32,941 votes using the “approval” method whereby voters can vote for as many of the candidates as they wish. Smith received 9,984 votes.

Read more here

Fewer Immigrants and Poor Accepted: Success!

The yield of the University of California’s “holistic” admissions process is now becoming apparent with the release of enrollment figures. Admissions were conducted under a novel system for the current year, a “holistic process” which was promoted as a means to improve the relative chances of disadvantaged students who lacked AP courses and other academic opportunities that wealthier peers enjoy.

Now that the matriculating class of 2007 has been selected, University administrators are hailing the result as a great success. So it proved a boon for low-income students? Well, no, not at all actually. The number of students from families with incomes under 30,000 declined from 955 in 2006 to an estimated 689 for 2007. The number of first-generation students fell by about 400.

What do University administrators have to say about the results? Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs Janina Montero declared to the UCLA Daily Bruin “We are certainly out of crisis mode.” Acting Chancellor Norman Abrams was “very pleased” with the result.

How is this? Well, black enrollment increased from 96 in 2006 to 203 for the present year. What would most rational persons call a policy that traded modest increases in black enrollment for much more severe declines in immigrant and other low-income enrollment? Flawed? Only a university administrator could look at such a result and declare themself pleased.

Freedom from Fear, Want, and.. Harassment in Print?

The Boston Globe reports:

A judicial panel at Tufts University on Thursday ruled that a conservative campus journal “harassed” blacks by publishing a Christmas carol parody called “O Come All Ye Black Folk” that many found racist.

The Primary Source, which published the carol, removed the lyrics from their site months ago, and replaced them with a rather sincere apology. The note makes clear that the carol was intended as an affirmative action parody. Does that make sense? Not to this panel. They issued a requirement that an editor sign all pieces, and “recommended that Tufts’ student government ‘consider the behavior’ of the magazine when allocating money.”

Bruce Reitman, the dean of students, found this financial threat, well.. rather elegant.

I’m proud of the committee,” he said. “I was pleased to see them balance both values of freedom of speech and freedom from harassment, without letting one dominate the other.

Aren’t we glad there’s someone like Bruce Reitman fighting against the domination of free speech? Thank heavens.