Category Archives: Uncategorized

China’s Propaganda Arm on U.S. Campuses

More than 100 U.S. colleges and universities have allowed Confucian Institutes on their campuses. These institutes, sponsored and paid for by the Chinese government, yield a good deal of sway to  China over the curriculum and hiring of teachers, sometimes outsourcing control. As a result, several universities, including the University of Chicago, have closed their Confucian Institutes, and the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) and the National Association of Scholars (NAS) have urged that they all be shut down.

In April, NAS issued a report on Confucian Institutes in NY and NJ, Outsourced to China: Confucius Institutes and Soft Power in American Higher Education, and this week two NAS officials—president Peter Wood and director of research projects Rachelle Peterson–sent letters to the Trustees of the SUNY system asking for the “soonest” closing of CIs at SUNY’s six institutions that have them: Stony Brook University, the University at Albany, the SUNY Global Center in New York City, Binghamton University, the University at Buffalo, and the State College of Optometry.

The letter said:

“An agency affiliated with the Chinese Ministry of Education, known as the Hanban, oversees all Confucius Institutes worldwide. The Hanban’s governing council consists of the heads of twelve Chinese government agencies, including the State Press and Publications Administration (which handles state-run media and propaganda) and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Hanban’s executive director, Xu Lin, is also a Counselor in the State Council, the 35-member top-ranking administrative arm of the People’s Republic of China….

“While each university selects a professor or administrator who serves as the American director of the Confucius Institute, and who then serves as the immediate supervisor of all teachers and classes, a significant amount of authority remains in the hands of the Hanban.

These measures permit the Chinese government an unparalleled degree of access to the college classroom. Many nations send teachers abroad to promote their language and culture. But most build separate, stand-alone institutions, such as France’s Alliance Française or Germany’s Goethe-Institut.  China is unique in insisting its cultural ambassadors are located at colleges and universities. Such direct influence on a college campus by a foreign government is alarming.

“The Hanban itself considers the Confucius Institutes to be key parts of the government’s propaganda initiative directed against Western societies. In 2009, Li Changchun, then the head of propaganda for the Chinese Communist Party and a member of the party’s Politburo Standing Committee, called the Confucius Institutes “an important part of China’s overseas propaganda setup.”

The University as Nursery

One of the implications of the shift of pressure against free speech from left-wing faculty and administrators to undergraduates is that the ideological framework of liberal bias doesn’t quite apply.  Yes, we have language of “racism” and “sexism,” along with demands that relics of US history that fail the PC test be torn down.  But the political thrust doesn’t gibe with talk about safe spaces and microaggressions.  That’s an idiom of therapy, not politics (even while it is used as a tool of power).

One prominent critic of higher education discerned the difference at work way back in May 1992 in a commentary in TLS.  The title was “The Nursery-School Campus,” and the author was Camille Paglia.  Here is the relevant passage:

By the early 1970s, American universities had become top-heavy with full-time administrators who took to speaking of the campus as a “community,” which faculty soon discovered was governed by invisible codes of acceptable speech, opinions, and behavior. . . . Many of the students, neglected by their prosperous, professional parents, are pathetically grateful for these attentions. Such coddling has led, in my view, to the outrageous speech codes, which are designed to shield students from the realities of life.  The campus is now not an arena of ideas but a nursery school where adulthood can be postponed. Faculty who are committed to the great principle of free speech are therefore at war with paternalistic administrators in league with misguided parents. 

Paglia gets right at what stands out in the protests today: not the political content, but the childish demands.  Grownups listen to them march, chant and think that it all looks more like a tantrum than a revolution.

This is not a trivial point, or a dismissive one.  We should take the brattiness seriously, but see it as a result we have created, not a starting point to which we should respond.  Paglia locates the evolution in the hiring back in the 1970s of higher-Ed administrators who had no teaching duties and no academic research background—in other words, bureaucrats.  They were hired to manage the swelling population of Baby Boomers flooding the colleges and requiring more and more investment in the overall college experience (and less focus on coursework).

Hence the emphasis on “community.”  It’s a word nearly all my colleagues, even the most liberal ones, wouldn’t use to describe their classrooms. But administrators loved it, especially those most invested in attracting and keeping female and minority students.  The term sounds warm and welcoming, especially, the administrators assumed, to youths whose parents never went to college and who might feel out of place.  The message was simple: “We shall take care of you—we care about you.”

But the old story of paternalistic dreams played out once again.  To create utopia, the social engineers had to order and regulate the conduct of the inhabitants.  The “codes” arrived, the underside of community organizing.  I’ve seen it happen repeatedly.  The people most fired with goodness and concern are the first to act—and overreact—against disrupters.  It’s not enough to maintain liberal principles of free speech and freedom of association and rights of conscience.  Those are formal rules that don’t have any positive content.  They don’t tell people what the True and the Good are.  They allow people the space to form their own conceptions of the True and the Good.  With that freedom, unless everyone arrives at the same ones, the community foundations crack and tumble.

When the campus engineers say, “We need to build a stronger sense of community,” then, what they really mean is, “We need to suppress the dissenters in the room, across the campus, throughout the discipline.”  People who oppose affirmative action, revere the classics, vote Republican, oppose abortion . . . they spoil the local culture. They make others feel bad.  How smooth and positive might our school and our department be if they were gone.

You see how the bureaucracy prospers in this set-up, whether it fails in its aims or achieves them.  To create a community in academia, you need a lot more than professors. You also need a legion of counselors, diversity officers, and various “campus life” personnel.  And when the inevitable frictions arise, such as disputes over admissions policies and student-faculty relations, you need more administrators, including lawyers to draft new speech and conduct codes. And when THOSE cause more collisions between a student religious group and anti-discrimination policies, then you need more officers to handle infractions and . . . . That’s how bureaucracy works: the more it stumbles, the bigger it gets.  And it justifies itself in the right and proper name of “community,” which is to say, student well-being.

As long as those efforts were confined to administrators, “community-building” practices were usually contained to passive-aggressive forms of advocacy and policing.  Officials generally knew not to step over the line into outright censorship or harassment.  They knew that bad publicity and upright alumni and donors wouldn’t like it.

But now that the safe-and-secure, racism-free, sexism-free, homophobia-free community-building vision has been adopted by the undergraduates, those constraints are gone.  Sophomores don’t care about bad press. They don’t listen to donors and alumni. They can demand and occupy and march all they want, and nobody will tell them “Stop!” They have lots of time on their hands—after all, they study only 14 hours a week—and they have solid peer pressure backing them up, which means a lot more to them than the authority of the faculty and president and deans.  We are, indeed, in the nursery-school campus. The difference is that the day-care providers don’t know how to say “No.”

Cornell’s Not Even Hiding Its Bias Anymore

A few highlights from the online site of Cornell University’s conservative student newspaper, the Cornell Review:

  • At her inauguration as Cornell’s new president, Elizabeth Garrett said, “We must heed the call to be radical and progressive.” Later she issued apparently contradictory statements on free speech, calling herself “an avid supporter of freedom of speech” at a press event in New York.Later, she said, “Speech can be regulated. Speech has to be regulated in the narrowest possible way to serve a compelling state interest.”
  • At a rally against “rape culture,” student Bailey Dineen said that the institutions promoting “rape culture”–Cornell, the Justice System, and the “white supremacist, imperialist, capitalist, cisheteropatriarchy”–must be destroyed.” The rally was sponsored by several groups,including Direct Action to Stop Heterosexism (DASH) and the Kinky Club of Cornell.
  • Though 96 percent of Cornell facultypolitical donations from 2011 to 2014 went to Democrats, government professor Andrew Little was quoted as saying that hiring a few Republicans would compromise the quality of Cornell’s faculty. “Placing more emphasis on diversity of political beliefs when hiring [would] almost certainly require sacrificing on general quality or other dimensions of diversity.”
  • Another government professor, Richard Bensel, said, “Our job is not to mold the minds of young students — they’ll go out into the world and do that for themselves…. Cornell does not have to be a banquet that offers every viewpoint.” He added that recent Republican debates have illustrated the deviation of “mainstream conservatives” from views that are widely accepted by intellectuals at reputable universities.

A One-Sided Law Meeting

In the week that a new organization, Heterodox Academy, was established to press for more ideological diversity in academic life, the learned association in my own profession showed how much it is needed. The Association of American Law Schools (AALS) sent around a notice of its prospective annual meeting, highlighting its most prominent speakers. Of the thirteen announced, none is associated predominantly with the Republican party, but eleven are associated with the Democratic Party. Many are prominent liberals. None is a conservative or libertarian.

Five are judges, including Stephen Breyer, all appointed by Democrats. Another is the incoming Senate leader of the Democrats. Three others contributed predominantly to Democrats. One for whom no contributions could be found held a fund raiser for President Obama. Another worked for the Democratic side of the House Judiciary Committee during the impeachment of President Clinton.

It is true that Michael Bloomberg is also speaking. He has been at various points a Democratic and a Republican and is now an independent. Perhaps the AALS thought that a single person could create diversity through his many political avatars! But seriously, Bloomberg, who has crusaded for gun control and limitations on permissible ounces in a sugary soda, does not resemble a conservative or libertarian. He ran as a Republican in 2001 for Mayor of New York City because it was the nomination he could acquire.

Now my point is not to disparage the highlighted speakers. They are all eminent men and women. Some have even taken positions friendly to ordered liberty.  Deborah Rhode has made excellent arguments for the deregulation of the legal profession. But when everyone shares largely convergent premises, intellectual discourse is stunted. And the lack of diversity is particularly embarrassing in the legal academy. As Professor Nicholas Rosenkranz of Georgetown Law School has observed about the homogeneity in law schools:

it is a fundamental axiom of American law that the best way to get to truth is through the clash of zealous advocates on both sides. All of these law professors have, in theory, dedicated their lives to the study of this axiomatically adversarial system. And yet . . . . on most of the important issues of the day, one side of the debate is dramatically underrepresented, or not represented at all.

And in my experience many of the panels at the AALS reflect the same lack of political diversity as the highlighted speakers. Indeed, the Federalist Faculty Convention, which is held at the same time as the AALS, assembles panels with a wide range of viewpoints that are more fruitful and entertaining.

The obliviousness of the AALS to need for political diversity stands in stark contrast to its relentless push for gender, racial, and ethnic diversity. Harvey Mansfield once noted that diversity in academics often approximates that in the famous Coca Cola commercial—a group of people from all over the world singing in happy harmony. For discussion of law, however, dissonant chords would create more memorable music.

Reprinted with permission from Law and Liberty

Expel 10 If One or Two Are Guilty of Rape?

At a House oversight hearing last week, Representative Jared Polis (D-Colorado) seemed deeply troubled by two arguments raised by FIRE’s Joseph Cohn: that trained police, rather than campus bureaucrats, are better equipped to investigate felony offenses; and that the current campus tribunals deny meaningful due process for students accused of sexual assault. In response, Polis asserted, “If there are 10 people who have been accused, and under a reasonable likelihood standard maybe one or two did it, it seems better to get rid of all 10 people. We’re not talking about depriving them of life or liberty, we’re talking about them being transferred to another university, for crying out loud.”

The Colorado congressman has now retracted parts of that assertion, in an op-ed that raises more questions than it answers. Polis writes that he “misspoke” when he “went too far by implying that I support expelling innocent students from college campuses, which is something neither I nor other advocates of justice for survivors of sexual assault support.” (Polis doesn’t explain why, if that’s the case, campus rape activists in the audience applauded his remarks.) But his chief justification for his policy shift appears to be tactical: He states that his “remarks have detracted from the substance of this debate.” (In fact, the activists’ applause provided a remarkable, if chilling, clarifying moment.)  Moreover, his op-ed leaves the impression that he simply spoke hastily or emotionally in a “back and forth exchange” the hearing, even though he reiterated his position afterwards in an e-mail conversation with Reason’s Robby Soave. Did he misspeak (or, I suppose, “mis-write”) to Soave, as well?

It appears, nonetheless, that Polis no longer believes that colleges should expel ten students accused of sexual assault if only one or two of them is guilty. But what about his other hearing statements?

Polis’ retraction comes in a defiant op-ed in which he expresses strong opposition to the concept that police, rather than campus bureaucrats, should handle the investigations of campus sexual assault. This is, he writes, a “deeply dangerous idea that demonstrates a cursory and superficial understanding of the issue.” (The congressman doesn’t say if he believes that campus bureaucrats should handle other serious student-on-student felonies, such as attempted murder or felony assault.) He also defends the Obama administration’s insistence that these campus hearings use the preponderance-of-evidence threshold.

In the hearing, Polis mused that colleges could use an even lower burden of proof—“reasonable likelihood,” which he defined as 20 or 30 percent chance of guilt. Does he still believe this? His op-ed doesn’t say.

In the hearing, Polis minimized the stakes for students accused of sexual assault. “For crying out loud,” he chuckled sarcastically, the worst that could happen to a falsely accused student would be transferring to another institution. Does he still believe this? As Eugene Volokh pointed out, Polis’ statement seemed either supremely cynical or flat-out misleading—since it would envision universities simply passing around actual rapists, or would involve Polis deliberately minimizing the difficulty of a transfer (not to mention subsequent employment opportunities).

Finally, Polis offers a new argument in his op-ed. “For those of us also concerned with the rights of the accused,” he writes, “dragging their name through the newspaper as an accused rapist through a criminal justice process will haunt them forever, even if they are found not guilty.” It’s heartening to see that Polis has suddenly discovered a concern with the rights of the accused. He oozed contempt toward Cohn, the only witness at the hearing who focused on due process for accused students; indeed, he suggested at the hearing that due process was irrelevant, since the accused student couldn’t be jailed by his college. (In his op-ed, he equates Cohn’s position with that of “most people who don’t know much about this issue”—an odd position for this newfound champion of rights of the accused to take.) In the event, Polis reiterated his belief that due process wasn’t the appropriate framework to consider the issue in his post-hearing e-mail discussion with Soave. Does he now repudiate that, as well?

Yet Polis’ only defense of the accused students’ due process—that the rules of campus disciplinary matters will keep their names out of the newspaper—is nothing short of extraordinary. The secrecy of campus tribunals provides no protection for the accused student; indeed, the secretary undermines due process. The closed nature of campus tribunals means it’s almost impossible for the media to discover (or the campus community to understand) that universities are branding students rapists after processes in which the accused student lacks meaningful representation from a lawyer, can’t cross-examine his accuser, and often has no right (or ability) to exculpatory or impeaching evidence.

Indeed, if I could recommend only one reform of the campus disciplinary process, it would be making hearings open to the public, to expose the kangaroo courts for what they are. As Louis Brandeis maintained, sunlight is the best disinfectant. It appears as if Congressman Polis, on the other hand, prefers the darkness.

Wesleyan Finishes off Its Frats

And then there were none.

In early August Psi Upsilon, the sole remaining residential fraternity house at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut, was suspended for the 2015-2016 academic year over an investigation by law enforcement over alleged illegal drug activity inside its house.

Until the fall of 2014, there were three fraternity houses at Wesleyan, plus a single sorority that lacked a house of its own—a pathetic number compared with, say, with the 40-odd fraternities and sororities at the University of  Virginia. But one of the three, Delta Kappa Epsilon (“Deke”) received the suspension axe for refusing to abide by a September 2014 university decree.

The decree, endorsed by Wesleyan’s trustees, gave all campus-linked fraternities three years to either admit women into their membership or lose their status as “program housing.” (Wesleyan requires nearly all its undergraduates to live in either dormitories or university-approved off-campus residences.) Around the same time in 2014 the third fraternity, Beta Theta Pi, was suspended after an apparently intoxicated female sophomore at Wesleyan fell from a third-story window in the frat house and was seriously injured.

Allegations of Sexual Assault

Psi U had already had problems—it had been barred from holding social events in its house during the 2014-2015 academic year in light of a pair of allegations of sexual assault (in only one of the cases had the accused student been found responsible). But Psi U had been the only Wesleyan fraternity agreeing to become co-educational, and it had held a co-ed spring rush earlier this year that resulted in several women agreeing to live in its house.

The Deke chapter, by contrast, whose national charter limits the fraternity to male members, filed a lawsuit against Wesleyan in February, accusing the University of violating, among other things, an implicit contract to allow the fraternity, which had operated at Wesleyan since 1867, to use its own criteria for selecting its members. The court papers filed by the Dekes pointed out that Wesleyan grants program-housing status to other residential spaces that exclude some classes of people:  Open House, which is for “non-normative sexuality and gender minorities” and Womanist House, a feminist-only dwelling.

The slow-motion demise of all-male fraternities at Wesleyan is the result of the fatal intersection of two phenomena. The first is a longstanding-old ideological war against fraternities conducted by progressive college faculty and administrators perturbed by Greek houses’ resistance to campus administrative control and their often politically incorrect culture. As soon as fraternities came into existence during the early 19th century, university administrators started trying to get rid of them.

Those latter efforts have been especially successful among the elite private liberal-arts colleges of the Northeast, where the progressive ethos is especially strong. Williams College in Massachusetts dismantled its fraternity system in 1962. Over the decades Amherst, Colby, and Middlebury followed suit, and 2012 Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut, ordered its all-male Greek houses to admit women, effectively neutralizing their identity. So Wesleyan was already an outlier by the early 2000s, with only about 150 men out of its 2,900 or so undergraduates living in the three fraternity houses that abutted but were not technically on the Wesleyan campus.

Flaws of the Greeks

But the Greeks at Wesleyan could also be said to have brought their troubles onto themselves by their own carelessness—another factor in their downfall. In 2005 Wesleyan’s ultra-liberal president, Douglas Bennet, ordered all three fraternities to allow women to live in their houses, although the frats didn’t have to make them members. Beta was the only holdout of the three—which meant that even though no Wesleyan student could officially live in the Beta house (many did anyway, while nominally renting dorm rooms), the college and its campus police force had no oversight over activities inside the Beta house, which reputedly included many alcohol-fueled parties and several alcohol-related accidents. A standoff lasting several years followed as Bennet and Michael S. Roth, Wesleyan’s current president, tried to cajole and then threaten Beta back into the “program housing” fold.

Then, in 2010, a freshman woman known only as “Jane Doe” was violently raped in an upstairs room at the Beta House while attending a Halloween party. The assailant was not a Beta member, but rather, a former high-school buddy of a Beta brother who had wandered into the party. He was arrested, pleaded guilty to several assault charges, and went to prison. In 2012 Jane Doe sued Wesleyan and the fraternity for $10 million, alleging that Wesleyan had violated Title IX, the federal law forbidding sex discrimination in education, by refusing to issue warnings or take action that could have prevented the crime. She claimed that the Beta chapter had a reputation as a “rape factory.”  (Wesleyan settled that lawsuit for an undisclosed amount in 2013.)

After the Jane Doe incident Roth issued an edict barring Wesleyan students from so much as visiting organizations not officially recognized by Wesleyan. This led to “Free Beta” rallies on campus and a protest from the campus-free-speech organization FIRE (Foundation for Individual Rights in Education). Eventually there was a truce, with Beta agreeing to return to program housing and to accept Wesleyan oversight.

No sooner, it would seem, had Beta resolved its problems than another female student at Wesleyan sued Psi Upsilon for $1 million, in March 2014, alleging that she had been raped by a naked Psi U pledge during a drunken strip show that was part of a raucous, booze-filled party in the Psi U common room in May 2013. The alleged assailant was expelled from Wesleyan. Her lawsuit alleged that this was the second recent incident of sexual assault involving the fraternity. Then, with Psi U on suspension, came the accident at Beta. Roth promptly banned Wesleyan undergraduates from entering the Beta house.

On September 22, 2014, Wesleyan’s trustees voted to give all three Wesleyan fraternities—including Deke, where there had been no allegations of sexual misconduct–a three-year deadline to become co-ed or shut down. The idea seemed to be that the presence of women in the houses would somehow forestall sexual violence.

Whether there is any substance to that theory is an open question. The much-publicized alleged rape in her (co-ed) dorm room that prompted Columbia student Emma Sulkowicz to carry a mattress around campus in protest for nearly a school year had nothing to do with fraternities. But a critical mass of Wesleyan students, faculty members, administrators, and trustees simply didn’t want fraternities around anymore. Thanks in part to the imprudence of the frat brothers themselves, they got their wish.

Academic Work May Not Be Worth Your Time or Effort

This is an excerpt from a September 8 article published by Vox,
“I Have One of the Best Jobs in Academia. Here’s Why I’m Walking Away.”

Despite all the finger-pointing directed at students (“They’re lazy! They’re oversensitive! They’re entitled!”), and the blame heaped on professors (“Out of touch and irrelevant to a man”), the real culprit is systemic. Our federally backed approach to subsidizing higher education through low-interest loans has created perverse incentives with disastrous consequences. This system must be reformed.

When I started out, I believed that government regulation could solve every problem with relatively simple intervention. But after four years of wading through this morass, I’m convinced these solutions should be reevaluated constantly. If they’re not achieving their objectives, or if they’re producing too much waste in the process, they ought to be scrapped. We can start with federal funding for higher education.

The quickest and most painful solution to the crisis would involve greatly reducing the amount of money that students can borrow to attend college. Such reductions could be phased in over a span of years to alleviate their harshness, but the goal would remain the same: to force underperforming private and public universities out of business. For-profit universities — notorious for their lack of anything resembling good academic intention — should be barred altogether from accessing these programs; let them charge only what consumers in a genuinely free market can afford to pay for their questionable services.

Without the carrot of easy access to student loans, enrollments would shrink. Universities would be forced to compete on a cost-per-student basis, and those students still paying to attend college would likely focus their studies on subjects with an immediate return on investment. Lower tuition costs, perhaps dramatically lower at some institutions, would still enable impoverished students eligible for Pell Grant assistance to attend college. Vocational education programs, which would likely expand in the wake of such a massive adjustment, would offer inexpensive skills training for others. The liberal arts wouldn’t necessarily die out — they’d remain on the Ivy League prix-fixe menu, to be sure, and curious minds of all sorts would continue to seek them out — but they’d no longer serve as a final destination for unenthusiastic credential seekers.

In the time that’s allotted to us to in life, we have to make many choices. Opting to pursue an unmarketable career solely because one loves it is an available option. But that decision has consequences. In a university system like ours, where supply and demand are distorted, many promising young people make rash decisions with an inadequate understanding of their long-term implications. Even for people like me, who succeed despite the odds, it’s possible to look back and realize we’ve worked toward a disappointment, ending up as “winners” of a mess that damages its participants more every day.

Had I known sooner, I would’ve given up on this shrinking side of academia many years ago, saving myself plenty of grief while conserving the most valuable quantity of all: time. No one should have to wait so long or sacrifice so much of it for a system like this. Time is money, and we must spend it wisely. Until something is done — something that isn’t just a quick fix, something that looks long and hard at the structure of the present university system and tears it up from the foundation, if that’s what it takes — the academy is no longer an investment of time worth making.


Oliver Lee is an attorney and assistant professor of history.

Why STEM ‘Diversity’? Just Because

Most reports, studies, proposals, etc., calling for more “diversity” — whether of faculties, students, coaches, whatever — either fail to provide any justification for the discrimination necessary to increase it or fall flat, sometimes fatuously, when they do attempt to provide a justification.

In reviewing a typical one, for example, MIT’s Report on The Initiative For Faculty Race And Diversity, I quoted from its various rationales and concluded, “In other words, ‘diversity’ is ‘core’ to MIT’s excellence because it is ‘intrinsic,’ because ‘one must … be inclusive,’ because it is ‘key,’ and because insufficient diversification would ‘constrain ourselves and limit our success.’ In other words, well, just because.”

That criticism, however, cannot be leveled against “Minority Ph.D.‘s Find Career Success in STEM,” an argument in the Chronicle of Higher Education for more STEM diversity by Frances M. Leslie (not Francis, as given in the Chronicle), which offers a commendably concrete and specific justification for producing more minority STEM graduates. Professor Leslie — dean of the Graduate Division and a professor of pharma­cology, and of anatomy and neurobiology, in the School of Medicine at the University of California at Irvine — is clearly a person of many talents, but her commendably concrete justification for producing more minority STEM Ph.D.’s suggests she could be equally successful as a stand-up comic or satire writer for The Onion.

“First of all,” she notes the “disparity” of minorities receiving “only 7.25 percent of doctorate degrees” in STEM fields, “far below their 30 percent representation in the general population.” This “disparity” matters, she claims, because the “U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that recipients of Ph.D.s and professional degrees have the lowest unemployment rate and highest full-time earnings in the country.” Then comes her justification for striving to make STEM Ph.D.’s demographically representative, a justification that is refreshingly free of “diversity” cant and camouflage:

So the dearth of underrepresented minorities with Ph.D.’s in STEM not only represents a substantial financial inequity but also reduces their potential impact on the nation’s economic strength.

Given these findings, it seems clear that universities should make a substantial effort to support underrepresented minority students in STEM graduate education.

STEM diversity, in short, is good not only for the diverse, who are enabled to make more money, but because of the positive impact their arguably higher earnings in STEM than in the occupations they would otherwise be pursuing has on the GNP.

In fact, even this slim reed of an argument is not persuasive. The fact that STEM Ph.D.’s may have the lowest unemployment and highest earnings does not mean that individuals who could have become STEM Ph.D.’s but did not would predictably make less money in other fields.

No wonder most arguments for “diversity” tend to avoid trying to specify its benefits.

 

 

 

 

ARE SCOTT WALKER’S UNIVERSITY BUDGET CUTS A WIN FOR STUDENTS?

Should college professors teach more? Specifically, should professors at public research universities devote more time to teaching undergraduates, and less to research?

In two states this, um, academic question has become a political controversy, one likely to crop up elsewhere. Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin, a Republican presidential candidate, has proposed a tuition freeze and budget cuts that would reduce the University of Wisconsin’s revenues by 13%. “Maybe it’s time for faculty and staff to start thinking about teaching more classes and doing more work,” he said when discussing how the university could function with less money.

In North Carolina, state senator Tom McInnis, also a Republican, has introduced legislation that would require all professors in the University of North Carolina system to teach eight courses per academic year. (Tenured professors currently teach an average of five, according to the Daily Tarheel.) In a statement criticizing the reliance on graduate student teaching assistants, McInnis said, “There is no substitute for a professor in the classroom to bring out the best in our students.”

Genuine Ignorance or Spite?

Predictably, educators are livid. Walker’s proposed cuts “will absolutely savage” UW’s “infrastructure and quality of teaching and research,” one Madison history professor said. A UNC Charlotte physicist, Greg Gbur, argued the “charitable” explanation was that McInnis is motivated by “genuine ignorance” about the amount and value of professors’ work. (Another possible explanation is that he’s motivated by spite and ideology.) Slate’s Rebecca Schuman adds that mandating an eight-course teaching load would “accomplish nothing less than the wholesale obliteration of the public research institution.”

These heated reactions suggest the weakness—political, financial, and logical—of the status quo. In an open letter to McInnis, for example, Gbur goes through a detailed explanation of the time needed to teach an undergraduate course: preparation, delivery, testing, grading, office hours. His conclusion? Teaching four courses a semester would be impossible without … working 40 hours a week.

The calculation omits some details, however. For one thing, the arduous 40-hour workweek unfolds, for professors, over a less arduous 36-week work year. Throw in the lifetime employment guarantee of tenure, and most civilians paying taxes and tuition to support public universities are going to find professors’ terms of employment enviable, not exploitive.

What about ‘Adjunctification?’

Furthermore, teaching four courses a semester is not unusual in institutions primarily devoted to undergraduate education rather than research. In particular, American colleges of all types have come to assign more and more of their teaching to untenured adjunct professors hired, on a course-by-course basis, from the vast reserve army of underemployed Ph.D.’s.

Many adjuncts teach four or more courses per semester, sometimes at more than one institution, and even then struggle to pay the rent. Jonathan Rees, a Colorado State University-Pueblo historian wrote, in response to the McInnis proposal, “As long as we [tenured and tenure-track professors] accept the idea that it’s OK for our adjunct colleagues to toil away with four or more courses and no living wage, we don’t have a leg to stand upon when they inevitably try to do this to the rest of us.”

Gbur’s threat—the eight-course teaching load will force many UNC professors to “pull up roots and look for employment elsewhere”—is not credible. The existing professoriate is complicit not only in what Schuman calls the “adjunctification” of college teaching, but in the perpetuation of redundant graduate programs, which turn out doctoral recipients who have little hope of ever landing tenure-track professorships.

As a result, there is not a single faculty opening, no matter how remote the location or obscure the institution, that does not draw dozens of highly qualified applicants. (Schuman has written that 150 Ph.D.’s apply for every opening in her field, German literature.) Professors and administrators can choose to either close down or maintain unnecessary graduate programs … but they can’t go on producing an excess supply of scholars and insist that the rest of the world treat this abundant resource as if it were a scarce one.

Tuition Supports Light Loads

What about the “flagship” public research universities, like UW Madison and UNC Chapel Hill? Won’t heavier teaching loads render untenable the model created by Daniel Coit Gilman, who turned Johns Hopkins into America’s first research university almost 140 years ago by insisting that teachers make the best researchers, and researchers the best teachers? Schuman points out that the McInnis bill applies to “all” UNC professors. As a result, she says, it will compromise the work of researchers finding cures for cancer, new treatments for burn victims, or doing cutting-edge work in molecular biology and engineering.

Her parade of horribles is selective, though. There’s not a single mention of the scholarly work undertaken by professors in social science and humanities departments. This omission reveals a vulnerability: if McInnis were to change his “all” to “some,” scholars in fields where the research does not yield clear or even comprehensible benefits would struggle to demonstrate why the flourishing of life in America requires the unabated flow of tax and tuition dollars to spare professors from teaching undergraduates 40 hours a week.

Most voters, in other words, have no trouble making a distinction between curing cancer and publishing an article in the Journal for the Study of Peruvian Folk-Dancing. Even if Gilman’s research university model is crucial for the former, we are not compelled to revere the way it sustains the latter. As Megan McArdle has argued, original scholarship in many hyper-specialized liberal arts fields is valuable only to a handful of other scholars in the same field. “Basically, these people are supporting an expensive hobby with a sideline business certifying the ability of certain twenty-year olds to write in complete sentences.”

If that sideline business were a roaring success, there would be an if-it-ain’t-broke-don’t-fix-it argument against requiring liberal arts professors at public institutions to teach more and research less. But the business is far from successful. A survey of 400 employers conducted last year for the Association of American Colleges & Universities found that only 27% considered recent college graduates “well prepared” in the area of written communication. Similar proportions, between 24 and 29%, were impressed with graduates’ ability to analyze and solve complex problems; locate, organize, and evaluate information; think critically; and work with numbers and statistics.

On the bright side, the survey also found that solid majorities of college students about to graduate rated themselves very highly on every one of the qualities the employers found lacking. It appears that when young Americans spend several years in the presence of our professors, they end up with very little in the way of useful knowledge and skills, but a robust, unwarranted sense of entitlement. That’s a funny coincidence, one some professor should investigate during a sabbatical.


 

College Students Now–the Good and the Bad

First, the good news:  My undergraduate students here at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, are quite literate, contrary to all the bad press and fears. Every week I give them a 20-minute writing assignment in class, the sole preparation for which is having done the week’s homework.  Turns out they write pretty well; arguably, in some cases, better than with at-home papers, which may cause them more stress.  This despite the fact that whenever I enter the room at the beginning of class, most of them are on their iPhones or otherwise engaged with electronic devices.

Now the bad news: For about the past week I’ve been taking note of the announcements that come to me via email from the university.  These relate predominantly to events in my particular areas of interest : Latin American studies;  languages and literatures; women’s studies – now renamed, like most such programs throughout the country,  Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies, which at least makes their focus clear, in case anyone was wondering.  But I also receive occasional emails about  university-wide special events, as well as Five-College events (since UMass Amherst is part of the Five College Consortium), though these latter are often related to the above fields.

Below is a listing of the typical items that appeared in my email in the past week or so –representative of the majority of announcements I receive week after week.

  1. The Chancellor of UMass Amherst announces that the newly-created post of Assistant Provost for Diversity has been filled.
  2. The Center for Latin America, Caribbean and Latino Studies announces a conference later this month on the “Intersection of Race, Gender, Sexuality, and Nation in Colombia, Brazil and Cuba.”  (I received seven separate announcements of this event over the past couple of days)
  3. A Five College Multicultural Theater Conference is taking place, which will address issues of representation, diversity and inclusion in multicultural theater today.
  4. The Five College Women’s Studies Research Center announces a faculty seminar and public talk on Race and Science, offered by a visiting professor of English.
  5. The Center for Public Policy and Administration in conjunction with the Interdisciplinary Studies Institute and a few other departments at UMass are sponsoring a panel discussion by experts from the non-Western Muslim world about the line between free speech and hate speech.  The event is called “Charlie Hebdo Attacks: Is Your Free Speech My Hate Speech?”
  6. The CLACLS (see # 2 above) is sponsoring a lecture and workshop on “The Politics of Cultura [sic] in a Minority Latino/a [sic] Community: What We Can Learn from Public Pedagogies of Food, Fun, and Fiestas,” as part of their year-long series “Re-imagining Latin@[sic] Studies in Higher Education.”
  7.  A talk by a feminist and reproductive rights activist,  called “Abortion in our hands: Clandestine Abortion Doulas’s Network in Argentina” – sponsored by WGSS, CLACLS, Social Thought and Political Economy (these at UMass), and the Third World Studies Program at Hampshire College
  8. The Center for Teaching & Faculty Development announces two remaining events in its Diversity & Teaching Series:  “Teaching Difference: A Faculty Panel,” and “Strategies to Engage And Sustain the Diverse Classroom”
  9. Finally – surprise! — Charles Krauthammer will be giving a talk here in about ten days, sponsored by the UMass College Republicans.

What rarely crosses my path are announcements designed to actually help students with their academic work as final exams/papers approach, or to appeal to their imagination and intellect in areas not related to the overarching agenda of “social justice” and “diversity.”  There are, however, many end-of- semester events designed for one or another identity group.  I’ve been noticing that these don’t clarify if they’re open to the public, or only to the particular identities being celebrated.

As for the actual work going on in many humanities courses, despite my pleasure in noting that many of my students can write decently, I also know that our academic standards have declined in terms of what is expected and demanded of our students (a problem that begins well before they arrive at the university, as evidenced by the striking fragility of their general level of knowledge).  Do literature courses these days assign students eight or so novels to read over the semester, as we certainly used to do?  My own experience is that students do watch films (an ever greater part of our curricula), yes, but are less likely to do assigned readings, though these rarely amount to more than perhaps a few dozen pages per week.

The university provides us with an online resource, Moodle, on which we can place assignments, readings, create discussion groups, post grades, and so on. It also allows faculty to see which students are actually accessing the assigned materials. Of course, we can’t tell how much time they actually spend on the materials, only the date and time that they have clicked on them.  I tell my students that their professors can do this, so that they can be aware of the far greater surveillance they may be subjected to, compared to the past. Despite this, some of them choose to skip much of the material for my course.  If I assign several short readings, some students will only bother with one or two of them. This is how I know they at least initially access and perhaps actually watch films. The difference between their activities reports on readings versus on films is marked.

The faculty groans and moans about the ever-decreasing level of work we can realistically expect of our students; it’s a persistent theme, but we more or less conform.  It seems impossible not to.   I can’t comment on what’s going on in non-humanities courses, where I do not have first-hand experience.

Furthermore, it is a fact that at UMass our semesters have become shorter and shorter (right now we’re at 13 weeks of actual instruction per semester).  And – another sign of the times — many General Education courses have been converted from three to four credits, without a proportional increase in classroom time.  Obviously, the result is fewer courses per college career, though the pretense is that these 4-credit courses are more intense and demanding.  When, a few years ago, I was on a Faculty Senate sub-committee discussing what we should require of professors seeking to make this change, I inquired:  “Why don’t we just demand that our students actually do the work we already assign?” That comment didn’t carry the day.

Still, my sketch of the current scene in my part of the university should in no way be taken as chiming in with the common complaint that we fail to prepare students for employment.  I actually believe an undergraduate liberal arts education is valuable in and of itself, and that the university’s main function is not to be a job-training school.  But if – despite the efforts of individual professors — we don’t even offer a genuinely high quality education, one that goes beyond the current shibboleths for which students actually don’t need to go to college, what can be said to justify our existence?  If we’re instead focused on rhetoric displays related to ersatz politics and the university’s supposed commitment to right the world’s wrongs, well, then, we’re not even doing the job we can reasonably be expected to do, and for which students are paying exorbitantly high prices.  Not to mention that of course we cannot even agree on how to go about improving the world, any more than do politicians who devote their full attention to this!  Instead, pathetically, the university routinely engages in verbal magic –still obsessed with identity politics as indicated by the ceaseless emphasis on terms such as diversity, inclusion, and outreach.

What does all this signify if not a depressing loss of confidence that education is itself of value and doesn’t need transmogrification into something else? No wonder so many students seem to want above all to get through college with as little effort as possible, rather than taking advantage of the extraordinary riches that ought to be available at any university.


 

Princeton Takes a Stand on Free Speech

Our university campuses are now islands of oppression in a sea of freedom.”—Abigail Thernstrom, 1990

So say many critics of our colleges, and, alas, in many cases correctly.  Here are the hallmarks of today’s college campus:

  • The implementation of hate speech codes
  • The stultifying strictures of political correctness
  • The greatly expanded notions of verbal harassment
  • The absence of right-of-center viewpoints among the faculty and high-level administrators
  • The disruption of talks given  by those on the  wrong side of issues like gay marriage and affirmative action
  • The denial of the most elementary rights of due process to students accused of sexual misconduct
  • The overt indoctrination of mandatory attendance at diversity orientation and sexual harassment assemblies

Amidst all such developments colleges and universities today are often highly politicized arenas in which students are required to check their free speech rights at the college gates

While civil libertarians and defenders of our First Amendment freedoms sometimes exaggerate the harms that they see, they are not wrong when they single out America’s colleges and universities for special rebuke.  It is largely because of the egregious situation they describe that organizations like FIRE and the Minding the Campus website are kept in business — doing yeoman’s work to provide a countervailing force to the stultifying atmosphere and outright repression of free speech found on so many of our campuses.

What Universities Could Be

The situation is particularly lamentable when one considers the high hopes once raised for the social role of universities in a democratic society.  Karl Mannheim, the Hungarian-born sociologist of a century ago, believed that modern universities should become places where broad-minded intellectuals holding diverse views on the many contentious social, political, and religious issues of the day.  The goal was to come together to mutually enrich and expand the understanding of each other’s alternative perspective and arrive at a more comprehensive truth about the nature of the issues at hand. Like John Stuart Mill, Mannheim believed that controversial public policy issues are usually multi-faceted and that the human mind naturally tends toward one-sidedness.

Mill’s On Liberty stated the basic idea with its author’s characteristic clarity: “Truth, in the practical concerns of life,” Mill wrote, “is so much a question of the reconciling and combining of opposites, that very few have minds sufficiently capacious and impartial to make the adjustment with an approach to correctness.”  In politics, morality, religion and other areas outside of mathematics and natural science, Mill believed, “popular opinions … are often true, but seldom or never the whole truth.  They are a part of the truth; sometimes a greater, sometimes a smaller part, but exaggerated, distorted, and disjointed from the truths by which they ought to be accompanied and limited.  Heretical opinions …are generally some of these suppressed and neglected truths.”  Mill continued, “Such being the partial character of prevailing opinions, even when resting on a true foundation, every opinion, which embodies somewhat of the portion of truth which the common opinion omits ought to be considered precious, with whatever amount of error and confusion that truth may be blended.”

In England during Mill’s time, rather than finding its home in universities, vibrant intellectual discourse was typically carried on in highbrow journals and learned societies (think of the Westminster Review and the Royal Society). Ideas were promoted mostly by freewheeling thinkers and virtuoso intellectuals (Bentham, Ricardo, Darwin, James Mill, etc.) rather than Oxford or Cambridge dons.  Some today would see parallels to the contemporary American scene, with much of the best discussion on issues of politics, religion, and morality taking place outside the universities in think tanks such as Brookings, Heritage, Cato, AEI, the Manhattan Institute and the like.  But however important institutions outside our universities may be, there is really no substitute for the potential that universities today can offer to achieve the high purpose that thinkers like Mannheim have ascribed to them,

Clarity and Force

In my time at Princeton since the late 1980s, few developments have given me as much reason to rejoice as what happened on April 6th of this year at a general meeting of the faculty.  Presided over by the university’s president Christopher Eisgruber, the faculty passed, with little or no opposition, a magnificent statement on the university’s commitment to freedom of speech.  The statement is a model of both clarity and force, and was patterned after a similar statement adopted by the University of Chicago last year.  Here is the Princeton statement in full:

Because the University is committed to free and open inquiry in all matters, it guarantees all members of the University community the broadest possible latitude to speak, write, listen, challenge, and learn.  Except insofar as limitations on that freedom are necessary to the functioning of the University, the University fully respects and supports the freedom of all members of the University community “to discuss any problem that presents itself.

Of course, the ideas of different members of the University community will often and quite naturally conflict. But it is not the proper role of the University to attempt to shield individuals from ideas and opinions they find unwelcome, disagreeable, or even deeply offensive.  Although the University greatly values civility, and although all members of the University community share in the responsibility for maintaining a climate of mutual respect, concerns about civility and mutual respect can never be used as a justification for closing off discussion of ideas, however offensive or disagreeable those ideas may be to some members of our community.

The freedom to debate and discuss the merits of competing ideas does not, of course, mean that individuals may say whatever they wish, wherever they wish.  The University may restrict expression that violates the law that falsely defames a specific individual that constitutes a genuine threat or harassment, that unjustifiably invades substantial privacy or confidentiality interests, or that is otherwise directly incompatible with the functioning of the University.  In addition, the University may reasonably regulate time, place, and manner of expression to ensure that it does not disrupt the ordinary activities of the University.  But these are narrow exceptions to the general principle of freedom of expression, and it is vitally important that these exceptions never be used in a manner that is inconsistent with the University’s commitment to a completely free and open discussion of ideas.

In a word, the University’s fundamental commitment is to the principle that debate or deliberation may not be suppressed because the ideas put forth are thought by some or even by most members of the University community to be offensive, unwise, immoral, or wrong-headed. It is for the individual members of the University community, not for the University as an institution, to make those judgments for themselves, and to act on those judgments not by seeking to suppress speech, but by openly and vigorously contesting the ideas that they oppose.  Indeed, fostering the ability of members of the University community to engage in such debate and deliberation in an effective and responsible manner is an essential part of the University’s educational mission.

As a corollary to the University’s commitment to protect and promote free expression, members of the University community must also act in conformity with the principle of free expression.  Although members of the University community are free to criticize and contest the views expressed on campus, and to criticize and contest speakers who are invited to express their views on campus, they may not obstruct or otherwise interfere with the freedom of others to express views they reject or even loathe.  To this end, the University has a solemn responsibility not only to promote a lively and fearless freedom of debate and deliberation, but also to protect that freedom when others attempt to restrict it.

Princeton’s version of the Chicago resolution was proposed to the faculty by Sergiu Klainerman, a professor in the mathematics department. “Although academic freedom is one of the university’s most basic principles,” the Klainerman letter began, “its meaning and significance often tend to fade over time.” The letter continued:

Every so often, then, it becomes crucial to reaffirm the importance of freedom of expression on our campus.  It is with this thought in mind that the University of Chicago recently published a report heartily reasserting its commitment to free, robust, and uninhibited debate and deliberation among all members of the university community. Several of us representing various scholarly disciplines at Princeton are joining together to propose that our university endorse the principles of the Chicago report.

The signers of the letter were disproportionately drawn from the STEM fields (particularly mathematics, physics, and computer science), but there were also among the endorsers many from social science and humanities departments.  I emailed Klainerman after the vote and asked why he sent the letter and whether he saw any specific threats to free expression on the campus. Instead of singling out a specific group, he said he “would rather point to a broad collective forgetfulness about the meaning of free speech on colleges and universities.

The editorial board of the Daily Princetonian hailed the new statement on free speech and urged the university to do more:

We suggest the University go one-step further and wholly replace the existing free speech code in the guidebook with the new statement.

The current code bears a “red light” designation from the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, due to policies that “both clearly and substantially restrict freedom of speech.” The present language allows for University sanctions against an individual whose verbal behavior “demeans” or “intimidates” another.

Here, as in many behavior codes, Princeton’s language of sensitivity dilutes the insistence on free speech. The university may well follow the editorial board’s suggestion, but for now, the faculty letter is an impressive win for free speech.

The faculty declaration became significant almost immediately after its passage as a controversy emerged in the second week of April over a skit performed by a campus group calling itself Urban Congo that was widely perceived as demeaning to Africa and Africans.  There were calls on social media to have the group officially reprimanded or disband, but there was also considerable support for a criticize-but-don’t-censor position.

One columnist for the Prince, who sympathized for those offended by the Urban Congo skit, nevertheless offered some practical advice about what to do about the situation that did not involve censorship.  “Free speech doesn’t mean that students harmed by others have no recourse except for a thicker skin,” the student columnist wrote. “If Urban Congo offended you, tell them why; tell other students why they’re wrong; ask your classmates to boycott or condemn the show.  Use your free speech against theirs.  Change the attitudes of your classmates; don’t police their behavior.”

Let’s hope attitudes like this prevail on other college campuses and that declarations like those of the Chicago and Princeton faculty become the new reigning norm.