Real Diversity At The University Of California

Fear that Proposition 209 has whitewashed the University of California? A majority of students at seven of the nine undergraduate campuses at the University of California are now foreign-born or have one foreign-born parent, a new study by the Center for Studies in Higher Education at UC Berkeley reveals. Chinese, Latino, Korean, Vietnamese, Filipino, East Indian, Pakistani, Japanese, Pacific Islander, and white immigrants now constitute a majority at all UC schools save for UC Santa Cruz and UC Santa Barbara – where students who are immigrants or have one immigrant parent still make up almost 40% of each student body.

The report contained other striking revelations; socioeconomic diversity is on the rise as well; 24% of attendees reported annual parental income of under $35,000. Surprising? Well, it’s not unrelated. The report additionally indicates that those students immigrant backgrounds are “much more likely” to come from lower socioeconomic backgrounds than their peers. 74% of those in the under-$35,000 bracket grew up speaking a principal language other than English, or English along with another language.

What does this all mean? Well, the report’s explanation is simple, and convincing:

UC is becoming increasingly racially and ethnically diverse in complex ways that reflect major demographic changes in the state, with Chinese students largely from immigrant families now representing the second largest identifiable racial/ethnic group in the UC system, followed by Chicano/Latino and then Korean and Vietnamese students.

The representation of Asians in the UC system is a continued success story, but the encouragingly high Latino\Chicano rate of attendance, at 14% of the undergraduate body, is an encouraging rejoinder to objections that Proposition 209 decimated Latino attendance rates. Latinos constituted a bit over 13% of the UC population prior to Proposition 209, according to the California Research Bureau. They’ve clearly now achieved comparable results free of preferences.
What’s more, the report posed a number of questions about students’ priorities at college. The more affluent students were, the more likely they were to skip classes and to value “social involvement – time spent on fun” over “academic involvement – time spent on academics.” The students from less affluent backgrounds, by contrast, were most likely to report never skipping classes, and valued academic involvement over social involvement by the greatest margin. The changes in the UC student body reflect a clear shift towards greater seriousness in student performance. Hopefully we’ll see more of the same.

University: We’re Making It Up As We Go Along

The University of St. Thomas has now, predictably, re-invited Desmond Tutu to speak, after revoking his invitation over earlier concerns about his thoughts on Israel.

The Chronicle of Higher Education reports:

Rev. Dennis J. Dease, president of the university, sent a letter to students and members of the faculty and staff on Wednesday, saying he had changed his mind about the archbishop’s appearance and would now like to formally invite him to visit the university, in St. Paul.

In the contemporary academy, no speaking invitation is ever secure, nor, it seems, is one ever really canceled. Yet another proof of the gossamer public stances of university administrations.

Professors: Just As Liberal, Or More Moderate?

The Chronicle of Higher Education, the voice of liberal academia, says that an important new study shows that liberal dominance among professors is much less than commonly believed. Not really. The study, by sociologists Neil Gross of Harvard and Solon Simmons of George Mason University, found that in 2004, 78 percent of faculty voted for John Kerry (77percent) or Ralph Nader (1 percent), while only 20.4 percent voted for President Bush. Among social science professors, Ralph Nader and “other” received a percentage of the 2004 vote as large as that of President Bush.

Other findings:

* Liberals outnumber conservatives by 11-1 among social scientists and 13-1 among humanities professors.

* 25.5 percent of those who teach sociology identify themselves as Marxist. Self-identified radicals accounted for 19 percent of humanities professors and 24 percent of social scientists.

* Although business school professors are believed to be predominantly conservative, professors of business voted 2-1 for Kerry. These professors were barely more conservative than liberal.

* Only 19.7 percent of respondents identify themselves as any type of conservative, compared to 62.2 percent who say they are any type of liberal.

* At elite, Ph.D-granting schools in general, 60.4 percent of faculty members are Democrats, 30.1 percent are independents and 9.5 percent are Republicans.

* Gross and Simmons believe that liberals are losing ground to moderates among faculty, though conservatives are not gaining at all. Faculty members who are 35 or younger are less likely that their elders to be left-wing, and less likely to be conservative as well.

Continue reading Professors: Just As Liberal, Or More Moderate?

Colleges Bilking Students Again?

Business Week reports on many colleges’ increasingly cozy relations with banks. In the most common formulation, the colleges permit their ID cards to double as debit and ATM cards for particular banks, in return, typically, for some portion of the profits.

Parhaps it does work, but as Barmak Nassirian, associate executive director of the American Association of Collegiate Registrars & Admissions Officers comments in the article: “It’s unfortunate that there are colleges that have begun to view every point of contact with students as a potential profit center.”

College Admissions, Let’s Not Break The Law

David Leonhardt, an economics columnist for the New York Times, recently visited the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) and took a careful look at the current admissions process of that campus in the wake of Proposition 209, the California ballot initiative that outlawed race and gender preferences in public education, as well as in public employment and contracting. In particular, Leonhardt examined the application and the fate of one Francis Harris, a black student from Sacramento, who became the case study for his article. Here is how Leonhardt describes Ms. Harris:

She has managed to do very well in very difficult circumstances, and she is African-American. Her high school, in the Oak Park neighborhood of Sacramento, was shut down as an irremediable failure the spring before her freshman year, then reopened months later as a charter school. Midway through high school, her father developed heart problems and became an irritable fixture around the home. She also discovered that he was not actually her biological father. That was a man named Leroy who, when her mother took Harris to see him, simply said his name was George and waited for her to leave. In Harris’s senior year, her mother lost her job at a nursing home and the family filed for bankruptcy… Harris, for instance, scored a 22 on the ACT test – slightly above the national average and well below the U.C.L.A. average.

The underlying question posed by Leonhardt with regard to Harris is the extent to which her “disadvantages” should factor into her application for admission to U.C.L.A. As did Leonhardt, most college admissions officers look primarily at one facet of Harris’s life: “…she is African-American.” They start from the premise stated by Peter Taylor, a good friend mentioned in Leonhardt’s column, that “race has an enormous effect on the lives of applicants.”

Continue reading College Admissions, Let’s Not Break The Law

Duke Lacrosse Story To The Big (Small) Screen

Variety reports that HBO has acquired the rights to Stuart Taylor Jr. and KC Johnson’s Until Proven Innocent. After our featuring the authors here in New York, we’re surprised it took this long for a screen deal. Our prodigious influence aside, the Duke case fully merits a fuller media treatment, and there’s no better account to use than Until Proven Innocent.

I’m curious as to what exactly HBO is going to do with the story. The story notes that they “will develop a movie exploring the dynamics of racism and class issues that made the case a national story.” There’s obvious cracking legal/political thriller material here, but the “dynamics of racism and class issues” here run so thoroughly contrary to the usual television themes, it’s a wonder how HBO will possibly handle it. Will they put the group of 88 in?

Universities: You’re Not Wanted Here, Or Maybe You Are

Inside Higher Ed today reports on yet another canceled college speech:

Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who won the prize for his nonviolent opposition to South Africa’s apartheid regime, was deemed unworthy of appearing at St. Thomas because of comments he made criticizing Israel – comments the university says were “hurtful” to some Jewish people. Further, the university demoted the director of the program that invited Tutu after she wrote a letter to him and others complaining about the revocation of the invitation…

Will colleges ever get tired of this? Summers invited, then disinvited. Ahmadinejad invited, then disinvited, then invited again. Chemerinsky hired, fired, then re-hired. Gilchrist invited, interrupted, re-invited, disinvited. Tutu invited, disinvited. Who’s next to be slighted?

As if we needed any more proof of the essential spinelessness of university administrations. Trying to discern some larger principle in their policies is impossible, as they contort themselves to fit every changing wind.

I’d quote Michael Palin and ask “What do we mean by no, what do we mean by yes, what do we mean by no, no, no.” For Universities, not much.

The Humanities: A Laughing Stock?

An excerpt from the new book Education’s End, Why Our Colleges and Universities Have Given Up on the Meaning of Life by Anthony T. Kronman, Sterling Professor of Law, Yale Law School (Yale University Press)

By the early 1970s, the humanities were floundering. Ideological rifts were widening. Traditional ways of teaching had lost much of their authority, and there was worried talk of a “crisis” in the humanities. To many it seemed less clear than it had a quarter century before, when Harvard published its famous report on the aims of liberal education, what the humanities are supposed to do and why their doing it is important. In this anxious and excited environment, a new set of ideas began to gain currency. The first idea was an outgrowth of the civil rights movement and is associated with the concept of diversity. The second generally goes under the name of multiculturalism, and reflected the deepening suspicion of Western values provoked, in part, by the Vietnam War. The third, which provided philosophical support for the other two, I shall call the idea of constructivism, though its supporters have given it a variety of other names (“postmodernism”, “antiessentialism,” and the like). Loosely inspired by the work of philosophers as different as Marx, Nietzsche, and Foucault, constructivism affirmed the artificiality of all human values and the absence of any natural standards by which to judge them. It insisted, in particular, that the values of the West have no inherent superiority over those of other civilizations and are merely instruments of power in disguise that must be unmasked and resisted as weapons of colonial oppression. Together, these three ideas are the source of the culture of political correctness that has dominated the humanities for the past forty years.

Each has something to recommend it. Each has a core of good sense with intellectual and moral appeal. And each draws its appeal from a feature it shares with secular humanism, which also acknowledged the diversity of human values and the need to construct one’s life by making a choice among them. Together these ideas have helped to maintain the confidence of many in the humanities that they do in fact have something special to contribute to the work of higher education. They have helped define a new and distinctive role for the humanities, organized around attractive moral and political values – one that fills the void that opened up when teachers in these fields abandoned their role as guides to the question of life’s purpose and value in favor of the research ideal. And they have done this in a way that appears consistent with the values of secular humanism itself.

Continue reading The Humanities: A Laughing Stock?


The Manhattan Institute’s Center For the American University is hosting a conference today here in New York celebrating the 20th Anniversary of Allan Bloom’s The Closing Of The American Mind.

The book was an astonishing best-seller on the misdirection of the University, and the Center for the American University has assembled Robert George, Mark Steyn, Roger Kimball, Peter Berkowitz, Gary Rosen, Heather MacDonald and others to consider the relevance of Bloom’s critique today.

Works from the conference will appear in the future in the New Criterion and at this site; but you needn’t wait that long to read about Bloom. Here’s plenty to keep you occupied until then:

– Allan Bloom, on “Our Listless Universities”, the core of his later volume, from National Review in December 1982

– Roger Kimball’s original New York Times review of The Closing Of The American Mind

– The Intercollegiate Review’s Spring issue, featuring essays on The Closing by Peter Lawler, Wilfred McClay and R.V. Young

And, most significantly – we asked current undergraduate and graduate students to write on the continuing relevance of The Closing of the American Mind. Do read the winners below:

First Place: Daniel Geary, Boston College: “The Permanent Questions Are Still Permanent”

Second Place: James Crowley, Georgetown University: “The Hungry Student: Reopening After The Closing Of The American Mind”

Third Place: Aaron Roberts: The University of Chicago: “Bloom’s Closing Revisited”

Second Place – Bloom Essay Competition

“The Hungry Student: Reopening After The Closing of the American Mind”

At the end of the introduction to Allan Bloom’s Closing of the American Mind, Bloom mentions that only Socrates knew that he was ignorant, albeit “after a lifetime of unceasing labor.” Bloom observes at the time of his writing that every high school student knows he is ignorant. Like the psychology professor Bloom describes in his introduction, the goal of many a professor is to rid students of prejudice so that they can know that they do not know, so that like Socrates, they can be open-minded. But as Bloom finds, harkening back to Plato’s Republic, the professor’s endeavor to rid students of prejudice enervates the very imagination that projects images onto the cave wall. That is, the professor’s endeavor actively dissembles civilization and burns its parts so that they may never be reassembled into a whole. And students are somehow more like Socrates as a result? At issue in Bloom’s essay is the end to which education, particularly higher education is directed. Does opening minds, as liberal learning through reading Great Books, involve some taste, as remote as it may be, of a love or eros of wisdom? Where does such liberal learning cease? And has it? Bloom finds that while the endeavor of American higher education has sought to open minds, it is directed toward ends which do the opposite. Perhaps Bloom is correct. But after Closing, perhaps there is some conscious attempt among a select few to rekindle the eros that characterizes liberal learning in the university.

Cosmopolitanism, tolerance, specialization, and devouring nature’s fruits. These are the ends to which the modern university would appear to be directed. My own university places a premium on these self-described virtues. But it does so having uttered the language of its Jesuit heritage: ‘educating the whole person.’ Presumably the university attempts to implant in its students the theoretical and practical knowledge which together are crucial to love of truth and passion to live a good life, as the elementary reader of Aristotle knows and Bloom is quick to note. Nevertheless, in practice, these classical ideals, which surface in Closing, today often materialize as something less than the liberal learning that Bloom describes. That is, while students are required to study literature, theology, philosophy, and perhaps even political philosophy, much less is made of reading great old books than of learning critical methods for denigrating the thought of “dead old white men” or conceptualizing them as products of history. Few are those courses that engage in sincere dialogues with the great old writers who perhaps are esteemed enough to be regarded as lovers of wisdom. While American students are fortunate to have some attempt at liberal learning, gone are the days when Alexandre Kojeve could read his students’ term papers and see that they refer to Aristotle as ‘Mr. Aristotle’ as though he were a contemporary engaging in living discussion on matters of truth, right, and beauty.

Replacing ‘Mr. Aristotle’ is too often a mode of education that intends to ‘educate the whole person’ as a citizen not of any particular city but of a soulless world. And in order to graduate from such education, one must be void of all prejudices. One must be simply a material animal without any activity of soul that exhibits excellence. As in Plato’s Republic, the civilization that resides in the cave and the philosophic endeavor to ascend from the cave are usually not the ends of most cities today. That is, rather than cultivating one’s soul within one’s own city, as is the original meaning of culture, citizens abandon their cities for a more cosmopolitan place, the world. Culture is no longer an activity of cultivation within cities but a source of understanding without prejudice. In Max Weber’s thought, which Bloom in light of his teacher traces to the root of most modern social science endeavor, the student cannot make a truth claim as to the value of one culture or mode of cultivating one’s soul over another. The end of the professor is to foster not love of truth but love of toleration. Toleration in this light precedes truth. In opening the student to a cosmopolitan world, the university then closes the student from any interest in truth.

There are students at almost all American universities who dedicate their time to more inward pursuits than this brash cosmopolitanism, which Bloom sees as replacing dialogues with the great writings of human history. These are often the students who not only embrace the division of labor in Western thought, but do so without any desire for a vision, misguided or not, of the whole. And if they seek some vision of the whole, it is usually not a vision at all but a taste of nature’s fruits. These students, in their course of study, do not seek to be graced by nature’s grace in tasting nature’s fruits. Rather they seek to conquer nature and to devour it. For them, my own university is currently constructing two new buildings to occupy the physical center of campus, a business school and a science research center. Indeed, the economics of the household, which characterizes the pursuit of the businessman, occupies sizeable space in Book I of Aristotle’s Ethics and thereafter in much of the Western canon. And science as natural philosophy teaches any student a great deal about his nature as a human being. But both these pursuits in their current states are instrumental to overly specialized utilitarian ends at best. They are hardly concerned with the meaning of human nature. Much of the research that will take place in the new science center on campus will not seek some knowledge of the whole aware of the “sanctity of human nature.” Rather, it will seek to conquer human nature and nature more broadly. That these buildings should occupy the physical center of campus reflects a withdrawal from the dialogue for love of wisdom and passion for the good life in place of some utilitarian ends. It is still true today that the physicist gains nothing but mild “spiritual uplift” from reading Shakespeare and seeks nothing more too often.

Cosmopolitanism and the tolerance it requires redirect the student’s interest in truth. Specialization marked by a desire to devour nature’s fruits through conquering nature limits the student’s ability to make even an attempt at grasping knowledge of the whole. As a student, I fear that if the university does not look back to an earlier pursuit, one interested in cultivating virtuous citizens and teachers, then our society more broadly will be susceptible to the danger that Bloom evokes from Tocqueville – a society’s enslavement to public opinion or passions. Our universities still lack the philosophic experience that Bloom sees as the lifeline to philosophic endeavor more broadly. If we as students cannot distinguish the laws that killed Socrates from laws that enable his survival, philosophy is doomed. And if philosophy is doomed in our society, we find ourselves living in nihilism. The university as the bastion of liberal learning can be the preserve of philosophy. The university can be the place where we the citizens and students bring ourselves from the cave that our ancestors dug beneath the original cave. To do this, we must read things which much of our core curriculum has abandoned in place of things cosmopolitan or things specialized for the sake of instrumental knowledge. We must ask those ultimate questions in the academy, and not limit ourselves to learning techniques in glorified trade schools. Our professors must let students know about classic philosophers. With all these needs facing our starving universities, Bloom leaves us with a choice: embrace a rebirth of liberal learning or fall deeper into the cave.

Despite the replacement of cosmopolitanism and tolerance for citizenship and truth in most curricula, and despite the new epicenter of the college campus in the instrumental sciences, the neo-Gothic towers of the old campus have not yet been demolished. Like the pseudo-Gothic spires of the University of Chicago, which Bloom describes as his first discovery of life, or the life dedicated to contemplation, these Gothic towers still reflect the contemplative life in the university. And while few and far between, courses are available for the student to read the writings of great thinkers and engage in a living dialogue about truth, beauty, and right. Academic forums for students that seek to revitalize liberal learning are sprouting up across the country. But these forums are still in their infancy. Perhaps a few students with the help of a few professors at leading universities will start to seek those ultimate questions from education. Perhaps those students and professors will call for a reopening of the American mind in true liberal learning. For love of truth, beauty, and right, the last bastions, a few professors and a scant offering of courses, I the hungry student feed on the only food I find nourishing. And I hope. I hope that the American moment in world history, “the one for which we shall forever be judged,” as Bloom describes, is a success. A reopening of the American mind.

Third Place – Bloom Essay Competition

“Bloom’s Closing Revisited”

It may well be that a society’s greatest madness seems normal to itself.

Fifteen years after his death, Allan Bloom still commands a rapt audience. This past April, his thoughts once again filled a University of Chicago lecture hall. Though he was a brilliant essayist, translator, and educator in his own right, he is remembered for his New York Times Bestseller.

On the Twentieth Anniversary of the publication of Allan Bloom’s The Closing of the American Mind, we are confronted by a sort of intellectual imperative to re-examine the arguments contained therein. However, I wonder if I – as former St. John’s College student and someone whose present coursework at the University of Chicago consists principally of the study of the Greek language and of dead white males – should truly have much first hand experience of “the state [of] intellectual pluralism at today’s universities.” Nonetheless, my experiences as an American youth and as a student on various campuses have prepared me to attest to the veracity of much of Bloom’s analysis. However this may be, twenty long years after Bloom’s devastating critique, I can feel some confidence in asserting that humane learning does still continue in North America – though not as we should like it to be.

The Closing, 2007:

As someone born in the 1980’s, I write as a second generation student of Bloom – myself, a student of a student of Bloom’s. Though dedicated “To [his] students,” Bloom’s Closing was purchased in droves by the parents of his students, who yearned for insight into the minds of their close-lipped sons and daughters. Twenty years later, my generation has accidentally become the new – although, perhaps anticipated – audience of this book.

Few of us still revel in the music of Mick Jagger. Yet we are in the peculiar position of both living the world that Bloom describes and are simultaneously prepared with the critical tools and insights presented in Bloom’s Closing. Like the generation of the late 1960’s, we too are the generation afraid to say to his lover, “I love you.” But we are the first generation to know that we are afraid to say the words, “I love you.” We are the first generation both to fit Bloom’s description and to be equipped with – i.e., to know well – Bloom’s criticism.


Bloom’s book, I believe, helped me to articulate and understand my upbringing and beliefs of youth. It provided me some of the language and analysis not yet present in my own thoughts. Though I am tempted to say that this very observation sufficiently attests to the truth of the criticism, it might be objected that Bloom’s book simply became for me a false hermeneutic by which to understand my experiences of post-adolescence. To this I would rejoin that although the trans-Atlantic etiology of the cultural crisis Bloom describes may be up for debate, his description of the phenomena is as insightful as it is accurate. I have sufficient insight into the psyche of my post-adolescence to attest to the accuracy of Bloom’s portrayal.

Today, any child can flatter his hollow intellect in declaring everything to be culturally relative. But this is simply the “insight” of the lazy. It is non-philosophical and strictly dogmatic. Unwilling to confront difficult questions, they instead withdraw into their pseudo-intellectual cave. In zealously undermining all traditions of men, modern theory has created a void, which presently yearns to be filled. The truly educated and civilized yearn for higher things.

Bloom – following Tocqueville – aptly teaches that the founding principles of our society (freedom and equality) exist in a fundamental tension with one another. Unfettered and unrestrained freedom can be, and frequently is, inegalitarian. Freedom commands that the dictates of equality be muted, but equality will not have this.
The confusion over the relationship of the one to the other (freedom to equality) probably manifests itself as a confusion in our own minds regarding what is good. Owing to this confusion, these principles were further radicalized in my mind. They came to mean for me permissiveness and license, and the unseating of authority. For reasons still difficult to articulate, I grew, unawares, into an adolescent who believed in no ultimate principles but the principles of self-indulgence and Karamazovian sensualism, the expression of “individuality,”and the pursuit of worldly gain or the satisfaction of my vanity (which seem to be one in the same thing today).

Have America’s youth become a mass of relativists, of nihilists, of hedonists, of materialists? Perhaps. But underlying it all, they are simply in a state of confusion stemming from a more fundamental confusion about the appropriate ends of a human being. But, as Bloom has so aptly put it, “All this is a thin veneer over boundless seas of rage, doubt and fear.” Worse yet, American democratic culture appeared to be permissive of this confusion. Is it a coincidence that every American adolescence is haunted by pangs of loneliness, alienation, and dejection? Bloom accurately saw this in our preference for Catcher in the Rye – my favorite novel of youth – and Camus. We may be said to have become souls without longing, as Bloom had originally titled his manuscript – emotionally absent, psychically impoverished, and “flat-souled.”

The State of Education:

There is no word for “culture” in Greek. The closest word, one might say, would be the word paideia, or “education.” As such, a scholar of the classical world, would see the failures of a culture inextricably linked to that culture’s education. Having co-opted the method of the social scientist, Bloom examined the psyches of the “sample” available to him: the best and brightest in American universities. The psyches of the students at America’s elite universities are an image of the state of American culture, insofar as they are the product of a very high, intellectual tradition filtered down through the schools.
According to Bloom, we face today a profound educational crisis, coextensive with the crisis of our civilization. That crisis consists in the observation that we have formally defeated reason through the use of reason. Whatever we might understand liberal education to be, it is at least clear that it has partly – or in some cases, altogether – withered and died at some of America’s most prestigious universities and colleges.

There no longer exists a coherent image of what it means to be an educated human being. The departments within academia today deny the natural unity of human thought, yet they present their individual, partial perspectives as complete and comprehensive. The “new kind of education,” which Bloom saw, militantly sought to reduce all highs in man to lower motives, thereby stunting the growth of the minds of our nation. Multiculturalism in the humanities – for the mere sake of multiculturalism – has further obscured our purposes in education, having become an end in itself: openness to the “Other.”

What is Liberal Education?:

As stated above, education plays a reciprocal role with culture. Strangely, however, Bloom departs from the subsequent inference that Dewey had made, that higher education should become the handmaiden of liberal democracy. In point of fact, Bloom’s book was written in implicit but essential opposition to Dewey. Higher, theoretical thought – and hence, the university – is not naturally in the service of the city. Rather, at its best, it is the healthiest aristocratic element within a democratic society, promoting what is best and highest in man, without concern for the common denominator.
As Socrates is symbolic of the function of the university, the civilized and “humanizing” themes of a true liberal education involve the Socratic-Aristotelian question of the good life for a man. Education is said to be truly liberal (i.e., liberating) only if it promotes that single life that exercises that part of man that is peculiar to man, his mind. Humane learning should be dedicated to higher things and provide those “ideals” to which we might aspire.

True liberal education must actively engage us as human beings. Liberal education has as it end “the goal of human completeness,” but we may only fulfill our humanity in the use of reason. Philosophy – or any simply theoretical science – may be indefensible in terms of utility, but it represents something in man that establishes him as a being worthy of dignity. The static quality in all considerations of man is his nature. Humane education must pose those sempiternal questions which belong to man as man.

The very essence of liberal education for Bloom is the cognitive liberation borne of the knowledge of alternatives. True intellectual freedom is awareness of alternatives, a breadth and wealth of perspectives. However imperfect that tradition may be, the “best [minds] of the past” provide us with more reliable standards of thought and life than the ephemeral and present pieties and opinions. Thus philosophy is most needful, insofar as it is the function of philosophy to dismantle popular pieties and received opinions in the ascent from opinion to knowledge; darkness to light.

All this requires a return to the philosophical books undergirding our society. However, we must not read Rousseau, Socrates, or writers of their ilk as historical artifacts, but rather as living ideas. In order to treat of them seriously, we must understand them as they understood themselves. In so doing, we are under obligation to lay aside our faith in the superiority of modern knowledge, which we can do in recognition of the fact that the progress of the modern mind has borne rotten fruit: it has given us value-relativism and nihilism. This is what liberal education can do for us, but always with an awareness that liberal education is not essentially instrumental. (Even the things most needful can be also non-instrumental in the last appraisal.)

The Future of Humane Thought:

Humane learning is not yet dead in North America. Today one place with which I am familiar is that tiny enclave called “political philosophy” within many of North America’s departments of political science. There, scholars of the highest caliber still treat of the classics, with the seriousness of a Machiavelli. It is troubling, however, that this group represents a specialization, which definitionally seems to defy the concept of humane learning. Nevertheless, this group, and others like them, have answered the imposing question, why study Greek books? They have taken to heart Bloom’s exhortation:

For the first time in four hundred years, it seems possible and imperative to begin all over again, to try to figure out what Plato was talking about, because it might be the best thing available.

Today, there are still those who come to the university yearning for that je ne sais quoi that will complete them. There are even those who, like myself, came to the university eager to push through to a JD, MBA, or MD but somehow got diverted along the way by the ideas they encountered there. Today, it is not entirely uncommon to find eighteen and twenty year-old lovers of Mozart or Bartok – some of whom are without much formal music training or encouragement from their parents. Some of us do still long for the Continent and everything high which it represents. We long for Europe: to visit, to study, to live. Contrary to Bloom’s pronouncements, some of us do use Aristotle both as a means to understand ourselves, but also as source for reflection on our own practical or theoretical quagmires.
Humane learning is not altogether dead or dying in North America.

First Place – Bloom Essay Competition

“The Permanent Questions Are Still Permanent:
A Reflection on Allan Bloom’s The Closing of the American Mind”

Allan Bloom’s The Closing of the American Mind, “a meditation on the state of our souls, particularly those of the young, and their education”, ultimately reflects on a problem that goes back to Socrates: the tension between the philosopher and the regime that he or she inhabits. Because this problem is a perennial one, this book is just as relevant as it was when first published twenty years ago, and it will remain relevant so long as there are people who courageously seek answers to the permanent human questions about the true, the good, and the beautiful. While philosophy has always been at odds with various factions, attitudes, and opinions within society, the crisis of philosophy in liberal democracy today is that the institution that had become its last home, the university, has embraced those premises of the regime that threaten the philosophic way of life. Through his discussion of students, the universities they attend, and the ideas that have come to animate the American regime, Bloom challenges us to reconsider the nature and purpose of a liberal education, as well as examine whether we are living truly human lives.
“The essence of philosophy,” according to Bloom, “is the abandonment of all authority in favor of individual human reason” in “the quest for and even discovery of the truth according to nature.” The person who undertakes this quest is generally moved by a sense of being incomplete and has a desire – indeed, an Eros – to achieve wholeness through knowledge of the truth. Therefore, he or she must maintain, initially at least, that there is a truth to be found and reason is capable of finding it. Although the true philosopher will never find perfectly satisfactory answers to the permanent questions – “Socratic dialectic.. always culminates in doubt” – the philosophic enterprise does promise liberation from one’s previously held opinions, typically false and typically those of society-at-large. As Bloom states, “One has to have the experience of really believing before one can have the thrill of liberation.”

Today’s brand of American democracy, however, has formed the souls of its inhabitants in such a way as to make them especially resistant to making the Socratic turn. In observing the students of elite U.S. colleges and universities, Bloom recognized that the vast majority of young people lack both prerequisites for the philosophic life. First, they lack the belief that there is an objectively good and just life to be pursued. As Bloom claims in the Introduction, “There is one thing a professor can be absolutely certain of: almost every student… believes… that truth is relative.” Second, most undergraduates lack the angst and yearnings that would drive them to seek answers to the permanent questions; “The eroticism of our students is lame.” This condition of their souls has resulted from growing up and living in an environment that is relatively comfortable and pervaded by a “mood” that Bloom describes – and explores in Part II – as “American nihilism… [a] nihilism without the abyss.” The students’ unreflective relativism, access to immediate gratifications, and pursuit of happiness in “ways determined by [the] language” of this nihilism have seriously enervated their interest in the permanent questions, and consequently, their disposition towards liberal education.
The ways in which the lives of today’s undergraduates reflect this “American style” nihilism differ little from those that Bloom observed in the 1980s. For starters, students are still addicted to rock music – if Bloom could have only seen the iPod. Likewise, televisions, DVD players, and video game systems are to be found throughout dormitories, and the Internet, with its plethora of mindless delights ranging from YouTube to Facebook to Homestar Runner provides added distractions from reading and contemplation. Furthermore, with an ever growing gym culture, it is still quite accurate that “students have powerful images of what a perfect body is and pursue it incessantly. But… they no longer have any image of a perfect soul, and hence do not long to have one. They do not even imagine that there is such a thing.”

Students’ relationships, another target of Bloom’s critique, can also indicate and contribute to their being “flat-souled.” His observation of the “pervasive feeling that love and friendship are groundless” does apply to the lives of some students, though it is somewhat exaggerated since he is arguing in terms of the philosophic life. While few undergraduates at elite universities become friends in common pursuit of wisdom via philosophy, there are not a few students, many of whom share religious, political, and other convictions, that forge friendships that go beyond superficiality; and there is a portion of students that actually dates during college and gets married after graduation. Yet at the same time, the “privileged debauchery,” to quote a friend, exhibited in Tom Wolfe’s I Am Charlotte Simmons should not be understated. Many college parties resemble what Bloom writes of the “youth culture” of rock music: “so loud [that] conversation [is] impossible, so that much of friendship must be without the shared speech that Aristotle asserts is the essence of friendship and the only true common ground… illusions of shared feelings, bodily contact and grunted formulas… are the basis of association.”

Another factor that discourages students from pursuing a liberal education is their own Lockean diligence. Like their fellow citizens, American undergraduates are good “Lockeans: recognizing that work is necessary… and will produce well-being.” Bloom notes that students who “have a fixed career goal” and are “obsessive[ly] concerned” with “[g]etting into… elite professional schools” are generally not open to a challenging, life-changing liberal education. Moreover, with people graduating from college in greater numbers, the top MD, JD, and MBA programs and prestigious entry-level jobs have become increasingly competitive. As a result, students feel an immense pressure to make top grades and do time-consuming internships to pad their resumes, making them, in many cases, more overworked and overstressed than when they enter the “real world,” an important reality of college life that Bloom somewhat overlooks. Even students who would be interested in contemplating the permanent questions simply lack the necessary leisure. Combine this state of affairs with the students’ desires to satisfy their “natural inclinations” and “passions,” though in a “balanced,” reasonable, “Lockean” fashion – in other words, to have a social life – what results on elite campuses is a hyper form of liberal democracy, in which “Nobody really believes in anything anymore, and everyone spends his life in frenzied work and frenzied play so as not to… look into the abyss.” Sunday through Thursday, many students are up until 2:00 a.m. hitting the books, only to descend into bacchanalia on Friday and Saturday, and then repeat the cycle during the following week.
The fact that numerous forces within the American regime fashion and encourage souls to be so remarkably impervious to philosophical inquiry gives even greater urgency to the university’s purpose, which is, “in the first place, always to maintain the permanent questions front and center.” Yet because the university has embraced elements of the same anti-philosophical spirit that has influenced most students, even those few undergraduates who go to college desiring a liberal education may be left disappointed. According to Bloom, the university “must provide [students] with experiences they cannot have [in democratic society] …The universities never performed this function very well. Now they have practically ceased trying.”
The university manifests its aversion to seriously facing permanent questions in numerous ways, beginning with the standard “core” curriculum. Bloom argues that for courses to provide a student with a liberal education – as opposed to a technical or vocational one – they must have “the specific intention to lead to the permanent questions, to make the student aware of them and give him some competence in the important works that treat of them.” Yet most universities do not present to students in the curriculum a “vision… [or] set of competing visions, of what an educated human being is” and the alternative ways of facing the permanent questions. Relativism has rendered all comprehensive responses to such questions to be of equal worth. Therefore, the content of introductory courses can vary depending on the instructors’ tastes, and students are free to fulfill their core requirements in remarkably haphazard ways. For example, a student may fulfill the literature requirement with courses on gothic horror and Italian autobiographies of the twentieth century and graduate without having studied seriously Shakespeare or Dante’s The Divine Comedy. This problem relates to and is exacerbated by the university’s division into natural sciences, social sciences, and humanities, and further subdivision into departments, which entails that the various disciplines “do not address one another” and “The problem of the whole… is never systematically posed.”

In addition, the university tends to avoid serious confrontation with the permanent questions about truth and justice because doing so necessarily entails praising certain ways of life and criticizing others, the latter of which now connotes intolerance. As Bloom explains in his discussion of what “openness” has come to mean in liberal democracy, “indiscriminateness is a moral imperative because its opposite is discrimination.” To avoid appearing judgmental with respect to certain issues, universities have embraced some of the language and premises surrounding value relativism. Consider, for example, the way in which elite universities eagerly support students to form groups representing their cultural heritages. This is a perfectly safe route in a liberal democratic regime that values peace and seeks to avoid conflict, since “culture” actually originated in an attempt to maintain “the old attachments to family, country, and God” while ignoring that “real differences among men are based on real differences in fundamental beliefs about good and evil, about what is highest, about God.” The same can be said about institutional efforts to promote “dialogue” with no end beyond enhanced mutual-understanding, a far cry from dialogue in the Socratic sense that aims to distinguish true opinions from false ones.

Along with describing how the radicalized democratic spirit has flattened the souls of America’s youth and corrupted the university, in Part II, Nihilism, American Style, Bloom provides the intellectual history behind this mood’s development. Although Bloom’s analysis is interesting in its own right, perhaps more importantly, this section justifies his later claim that “Philosophy is still possible.” The command to “know thyself” will always exert a claim on human beings, and Bloom shows us how to pursue this knowledge by engaging the great thinkers, whose thoughts have been preserved in great books, who also took this mandate seriously. As Bloom states, “We need history, not to tell us what happened, or to explain the past, but to make the past alive so that it can explain us and make a future possible. This is our educational crisis and opportunity.”
For all its discussion of apathetic students and the debasement of institutions of higher learning, The Closing of the American Mind is really a book about the state of philosophy and its future in the United States. Towards the end of the book, Bloom remarks that the “story [of philosophy] defines in itself our whole problem.” Provided human nature does not change, there will always be souls inspired by the permanent questions. Concomitantly, there will always be forces in their regime that conspire against the pursuit of the truth. Therefore, the key question for the elite American university is whether it will once again provide a safe home for philosophy and encourage a liberal education for students. While the future in this regard is far from certain, the fact that people continue returning to Bloom’s book after twenty years is at least one promising sign.

College Sports Bonanza

Senator Grassley, the Chronicle of Higher Education reports, has turned his attention to the tax status of collegiate athletic programs – wondering “what gives the IRS comfort that they have met the requirements of being a charity.”

The Chronicle furnishes Grassely abundant cause to wonder, reporting that athletics donations now amount to more than a quater of funds received by some universities:

The fresh concerns came in response to a Chronicle article, published online last week, suggesting that contributions to sports programs are eating up an ever-larger share of donations to colleges, and that some athletics programs entice donors with perquisites like free seats on teams’ charter flights.
“When I hear stories about top donors to college athletic programs getting a free seat on the team plane,” Mr. Grassley said in a written statement, “I wonder what the public gets out of that. We need to make sure that taxpayer subsidies for college athletics-program donations benefit the public at large.”

Grassley’s very right to wonder about this. The second Chronicle article is sure cause for alarm, detailing sophisticated athletics fundraising operations operating independently of University development departments. Its unclear what if any benefit these increasingly self-contained operations are providing schools, and good cause to examine their tax status accordingly.

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Do Elite Universities Exclude The Poor?

In an Op-Ed in last Monday’s New York Times, UC-Berkeley sociologist Jerome Karabel painted an alarming picture of our elite universities as institutions that systematically discriminate against poor and middle-class students. In Karabel’s words, these schools are “serving less as vehicles of upward mobility than as transmitters of privilege from generation to generation.” This is a depressing analysis of our top academic institutions, but it also happens to be a false one.
While it is true that economically disadvantaged students sometimes get the short shrift in elite college admission, it is equally true that Karabel has used highly biased numbers to argue his case. When the statistical flaws are corrected, a truer picture emerges, one that suggests that the economic diversity at our top colleges is far greater than class warriors such as Karabel would admit.

Most of Karabel’s data in the op-ed comes from a single 2004 study done by the liberal Century Foundation. While the actual economic backgrounds of the students in the survey is somewhat difficult to determine because the study combined economic and non-economic factors, it is virtually certain that the study’s claims are dramatically exaggerated. To understand why, consider the similar claims Karabel made in his recent book, The Chosen.

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The Perils Of Fake History

The University of Colorado’s dismissal of Ward Churchill for academic fraud was not only a welcome decision in support of scholarly standards, it will also go some way towards discrediting one of the most depressing tendencies of our era, the politicisation of history.

In Australia, Churchill has long been frequently cited by historians of Aboriginal affairs. In their introduction to a special “genocide” edition of the academic journal Aboriginal History in 2001, the editors supported Churchill’s contentions that colonialism in America and the Pacific was worse than the Holocaust and that the British were the most murderous of Europe’s imperial powers.

Thirty-five years ago, when academic fashions were quite different than today, one of Churchill’s precursors in the history of American Indian affairs, Francis Prucha, put the traditional view of how scholars in the field should practice their trade:

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Another College Aid Boondoggle?

President Bush just signed into law the College Cost Reduction and Access Act, passed by both houses of Congress on September 7. CCRAA – think of a crow signaling to his buddies that dinner is served – comes with the tag line, “The largest investment in higher education since the GI Bill – at no new cost to taxpayers.” The legislation certainly rearranges student financial aid in the United States.
The basic idea is that some of the funds that used to be spent subsidizing private lenders to make loans to college students will now be spent to increase the size of Pell Grants, cut the interest rates students pay on federally subsidized loans, and – in principle – reduce the federal deficit. CCRAA is also stuffed with other morsels. Eligibility for Pell Grants will expand. Students who commit themselves to becoming teachers in “high-poverty communities” will get extra assistance. College graduates who pursue careers in public service will have their loans forgiven after ten years. Historically Black Colleges and Universities, Hispanic-Serving Institutions, Tribal Colleges, Alaska Native and Native Hawaiian Institutions, and the brand new categories, “Predominantly Black Institutions” and “Institutions Serving Asian American and Pacific Islander and Native American Students” will divvy up a $510 million windfall over five years. And a multi-partner scheme will provide “matching challenge grants aimed at increasing the number of first generation and low-income college students.”

What does all this mean? In part it means that the private lenders paid dearly for their transgressions. The still-unfolding student loan scandal that began in January with New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo’s investigation into Sallie Mae, and that I wrote about here, put the (mostly Republican) defenders of “free market” mechanisms for distributing federal student aid in an untenable position. The “free market” in this case was never anything close to lean and efficient. To the contrary, it was (and still is) inefficient and frequently corrupt, dominated by players who found it easy to bribe college officials, wring favors from politicians by means of campaign contributions, bilk the Department of Education, and live off generous subsidies.

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No Free Speech, Please – This is Columbia

Ann Coulter seems to be the first writer to guffaw over Lee Bollinger’s statement that Columbia University has a “long-standing tradition of serving as a major forum for robust debate…” There is no such tradition, and very little debate at Columbia, particularly if one of the proposed debaters or speakers happens to be conservative.
Last October, Columbia radicals stormed a campus stage, knocking over furniture, creating pandemonium and preventing speeches by Minutemen leader Jim Gilchrist and a colleague. Nobody seemed very upset about this, least of all Lee Bollinger, who issued a tiny bleat about free speech before referring the issue to a committee where it languished for three months. Awakening briefly on Christmas weekend, the committee administered an undescribed slap on the wrist to an unknown number of unidentified members of the censoring rabble and there the matter ended.

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), now the most powerful free-speech watchdog in the country, dismissed Bollinger’s “say-one-thing-do-another-act” and noted that Columbia “has a long and distinguished record of suppression of free speech.” Mayor Bloomberg echoed the thought, urging Bollinger to get his arms around the problem, because “There are too many incidents at the same school where people get censored.”

Several people, myself included, suggested that if Bollinger is as interested in free speech as he keeps saying he is, then he should reschedule the Minutemen and introduce them himself, with enough security around to discourage the reappearance of last year’s stormtroopers in training.

A few weeks ago, it looked as though Columbia was about to make a rare lurch in the direction of free speech. Students re-invited the two Minutemen, but after these proposed speakers bought plane tickets, Columbia’s pro-censorship DNA re-asserted itself and the two men were once again disinvited. Not a peep out of Bollinger.

One of Columbia’s favorite tricks is to cancel a speaker, or reduce the size of the audience, on grounds that violence might break out. Last fall most of a large crowd that gathered to hear former PLO terrorist-turned-anti-Jihadist Walid Shoebat was turned away over securities worries. Only Columbia students and 20 guests got in. The same thing happened to Dinesh D’Souza, myself and several other speakers in 1999. A large crowd, including many from other New York campuses, had tickets, but the administration (this was a pre-Bollinger year) ruled that only Columbia students could attend. This was not the deal that had been agreed on, but Columbia was adamant. Rather than speak to a tiny remnant on campus, the speakers withdrew to a park nearby. As I spoke, one student shouted “Ha-ha. We’re inside. You’re out here,” an excellent six-word explanation of how Columbia’s robust free-speech tradition actually works.

What Happened At Hamilton

By Robert Paquette

On 17 September, Constitution Day, my two co-founders (professors Douglas Ambrose and James Bradfield) and I unveiled the Alexander Hamilton Institute in a historic mansion about a mile from the Hamilton College campus. Our goal is to promote the study of American ideals and institutions. This was not our first try. A little over a year ago , we were celebrating its founding at the college, as the Alexander Hamilton Center for the Study of Western Civilization. We intended to offer a rich menu of extras – conferences, colloquia, internships, fellowships, and awards – to Hamilton College undergraduates. In August 2006 we were toasting a signed agreement with the President and Dean of the Faculty; several weeks later, the initiative collapsed, only now reborn outside of the college. What happened?

The opposition was partly bureaucratic, partly ideological. On the modern campus, programs to study Western institution and culture tend to meet quick resistance. The activists win subtly and incrementally, in several different ways: by choosing the people who teach such courses; by abolishing core curricula that contain a strong American history or Western civilization component; by insisting that Western thought cannot be “privileged” at the expense of other offerings on, say, race, gender, class and sexuality.

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Administrators The Real Threat In Indoctrinate U

[this also appeared in the Washington Examiner]

Last week’s withdrawal of a speaking invitation to Lawrence Summers by the University of California’s Board of Regents placed the spotlight on a central member of the radical campus constituency – the administrator. Recent spats over radical professors have obscured this corner of the university – where the most solidly-entrenched threats to academic rights and the free expression of ideas can be found. In his new documentary, Indoctrinate U, Evan Coyne Maloney, sheds incisive light on university administrators. Maloney’s worthy film offers a brisk tour of the political afflictions of the modern academy, displaying repressive speech codes, expectations of minority behavior, and political imbalances and intolerance. As Indoctrinate U makes clear, the wild-eyed radical professor might be contained within their classroom; it’s the nondescript university bureaucrats that race to enforce their friendly dictums that pose the far-reaching threat to all students.

Widespread ideas of diversity have given rise to women’s centers, minority centers, and an assortment of items designed to advance particular, progressive causes. Most of these seem fuzzily nice, yet those questioning their utility are typically subject to swift punishment. Those who vocally disagree with these projects, making light of sacred doctrines of affirmative action, political correctness, or feminist politicking require a harsh lesson in civility, according to prevailing mores of college administrations. Indoctrinate U documents many such cases; a student at California Polytechnic was threatened with expulsion for circulating a poster for a black conservative’s lecture which read “It’s ok to leave the plantation.” This was labeled “harassment.” After months of pressure and legal threats, the university dropped its case. It never had much of one to begin with, but colleges never lose enthusiasm for quashing “objectionable” speech.

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The AAUP Straw-Man Statement

If anyone hasn’t realized that the new AAUP Statement on academic freedom is a sham, then there are two excellent means to inform yourself today.

First, Erin O’Connor’s new piece here at the site, on the AAUP’s ducking of almost every serious complaint to which it pretends to respond.

A small but telling indicator of the larger problem: When interviewed about the statement by The Chronicle of Higher Education, Nelson said that it is ultimately designed to encourage professors to say to outside critics, “Don’t mess with me.” In other words – by Nelson’s own admission- it’s less a rigorously reasoned policy statement than it is a confrontational ultimatum disguised as a policy statement.

Those additionally interested in the topic should look to Peter Wood and Stephen Balch’s voluminous response (Erin also mentions it) on the NAS site.

The AAUP report omits the most serious questions posed about professorial abuses, and provides warm examples of non-offensive behavior. Both Erin and Peter cite what’s surely the statement’s most ridiculous construction of farcical criticism:

There is, however, a large universe of facts, theories, and models that are arguably relevant to a subject of instruction but that need not be taught. Assessments of George Eliot’s novel Daniel Deronda might be relevant to a course on her Middlemarch, but it is not a dereliction of professional standards to fail to discuss Daniel Deronda in class. What facts, theories, and models an instructor chooses to bring into the classroom depends upon the instructor’s sense of pedagogical dynamics and purpose.

It would be interesting to live in a world where the omission of Daniel Deronda from a curriculum was the greatest threat to classroom professionalism – the AAUP knows this example is worlds away from the criticism that professors actually receive. They’ve chosen to dodge all of that – read more on their non-response in both of the pieces above.

AAUP To Critics: What, Us Biased?

Last summer, AAUP president Cary Nelson announced that the AAUP would be issuing a back to school statement on academic freedom in the classroom. Now that statement has gone public – and it makes for very interesting and informative reading.

Written by a subcommittee of the AAUP’s Committee on Academic Freedom and Tenure, “Freedom in the Classroom” acknowledges that professors have been accused in recent years of indoctrinating rather than educating, of failing to provide balanced perspectives on controversial issues, of creating a hostile learning environment for conservative or religious students, and of injecting irrelevant political asides into class discussion. And as such the statement is ostensibly meant to address the very real issues surrounding faculty classroom conduct that have arisen of late. As anyone who follows higher ed news knows, concerns about whether professors are abusing their pedagogical prerogatives have been repeatedly voiced; and, as the American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA) and other groups have repeatedly noted, those concerns should be addressed in a manner that is simultaneously respectful of students’ rights to learn and professors’ academic freedom to teach as they see fit. The AAUP is right to take up the issue of classroom speech, and it is right to seek to parse exactly where faculty academic freedom begins and ends.
The trouble, though, is that the AAUP’s statement does not take seriously the questions and complaints to which it purports to respond. A small but telling indicator of the larger problem: When interviewed about the statement by The Chronicle of Higher Education, Nelson said that it is ultimately designed to encourage professors to say to outside critics, “Don’t mess with me.” In other words – by Nelson’s own admission- it’s less a rigorously reasoned policy statement than it is a confrontational ultimatum disguised as a policy statement. This maneuver was not at all lost on The Chronicle’s Robin Wilson, who wrote that while the statement “is billed as a tool to help professors decide what they can and cannot safely say in the classroom – particularly when it comes to hot-button cultural and political issues,” it comes across “more like a defense of the professoriate in the face of heavy criticism” coming from outside the academy.

Continue reading AAUP To Critics: What, Us Biased?


You can read a passel of editorials on Ahmadinejad above, and if you’re enterprising, you can easily find another, oh, thirty of so op-eds on the topic of his appearance. None of these, except for one, address any substantive findings from Ahmadinejad’s speech, because there weren’t any.

That one exception, The Columbia Spectator now urges that “students, professors and administrators must think critically about what we have learned from him – particularly his provocative thoughts on the plight of the Palestinians, Iran’s nuclear program, and how Western imperialism has helped shape the Middle East.” Provocative thoughts? Is there a single person who wasn’t aware of his precise views on these topics?

Bollinger’s bromides against Ahmadinejad made clear that there was no real exchange or debate, or honesty expected, from the start, and that was exactly the case. Did we learn anything from him that we didn’t know already – aside from the fact that Iran doesn’t have homosexuals like this country? Bollinger’s new rhetoric of boundless free speech clouded another important scale; that of academic worth. Columbia provided a spectacle to the public, and a jolt to op-ed pages, but it’s still not clear what academic benefit it provided its students.

Bollinger Impressive, Still Confusing

President Bollinger is displaying a new-found talent for confounding expectations. After barring Ahmadinejad from Columbia last year, he suddenly invited him back on Wednesday, to widespread criticism, for offering a platform to a despot. Then, Bollinger further surprised with a caustic introduction and a roundup of pointed questions about Iranian nuclear ambitions, persecution of women and homosexuals, Holocaust denial, the jailing of scholars, aid to insurgents in Iraq, and the execution of minors. At this point, Bollinger did not simply wait to hear Ahmadinejad, but summed up a blistering (that seems to be everyone’s word for it) statement:

Today I feel all the weight of the modern civilized world yearning to express the revulsion at what you stand for. I only wish I could do better.

Bollinger, continues his shock-the-world week in displaying a heretofore unknown capacity for indictment. Suffice it to say that Ahmadinejad was not much of a sparring partner. Bollinger is now basking in a well-deserved tide of compliments for his comments. His worthy broadsides haven’t swept aside any of the larger questions concerning Ahmadinejad’s apperance, though. The event took a form that was far from everyone’s expectations – to Bollinger’s considerable credit. Ahmadinejad was not accorded the place of respect that many feared he would enjoy, but instead roundly condemned. That’s good.

There’s still something very odd about Bollinger’s attitude towards the event, though. If he viewed it as a conditional occasion to barb Ahmadinejad, then good for him – but he seemed to think that hosting the Iranian President was now a duty.

This is the right thing to do and indeed, it is required by the existing norms of free speech, of Columbia University and of academic institutions.

This is not the Bollinger of last year, who canceled Ahmadinejad’s speaking appearance – and was well within his rights in doing that. But now Columbia must host him? There’s no doubt that universities tend to be far more censorious and inattentive to free speech than they should, but Bollinger’s free speech epiphany doesn’t shed a single bit of light on the topic of campus free speech. What exactly is “required?” To receive Ahmadinejad now? To receive world leaders? To receive vulpine Iranians? Bollinger displayed admirable clarity in condemning Ahmadinejad today, but that shouldn’t cloud the fact that otherwise he has continued on his usual path, as the most confusing “first amendment scholar” of our day.

Coatsworth: Would Invite Hitler, Divest From Israel

You might have seen John Coatsworth, the acting dean of Columbia’s School of International and Public Affairs posing questions to Ahmadinejad today. It was Coatsworth who declared that he would invite Hitler to speak at Columbia.

He was also a signatory to a “Joint Harvard-MIT Petition for Divestment from Israel” when he was a professor at Harvard. See his name here. That petition begins: “We, the undersigned are appalled by the human rights abuses against Palestinians at the hands of the Israeli government, the continual military occupation and colonization of Palestinian territory by Israeli armed forces and settlers, and the forcible eviction from and demolition of Palestinian homes, towns and cities.”

Apparently, it is fine to host dictators but not to invest in democracies.